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caption: Protesters form a circle and block traffic at the intersection of Broadway and East Pine Street after the Seattle Police Department cleared the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, CHOP, early Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Seattle.
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Protesters form a circle and block traffic at the intersection of Broadway and East Pine Street after the Seattle Police Department cleared the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, CHOP, early Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

A lot to do and time is running out for Washington lawmakers

Days after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty for the murder of George Floyd, the momentous moment is still weighing heavily on people’s minds.

At the same time, the Washington Legislature is wrapping up an action-packed session during which lawmakers passed several bills that will significantly change the way police departments operate in this state, and the way our state handles protests.

It's been a banner year for Progressive Democrats at the state capitol. And they're closer than ever to obtaining their holy grail: a capital gains tax.

That's been on the progressive agenda for years, says Joni Balter, host of Civic Cocktail on the Seattle Channel. But House and Senate Democrats will have to reconcile differences around a voter referendum before they adjourn on Sunday.

And with the death of George Floyd top of mind — former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty for Floyd's murder earlier this week — lawmakers have tackled police use-of-force and intervention and banned the open carry of guns at permitted demonstrations on public grounds; that was inspired by heated political clashes that led to shootings near the capitol building in Olympia last year.

It's been a busy session, and the final stretch will be no different.

In addition to a final compromise on the capital gains tax proposal, lawmakers are still hashing out the state's drug possession law.

In February, the state Supreme Court delivered a surprise ruling that basically forced the Legislature to rewrite the state’s simple drug possession law.

The decision was met with mixed feelings from lawmakers.

Brian Callanan, host and producer on the Seattle Channel, says some progressives immediately called for an end to the ineffective war on drugs in favor of a treatment-first approach. They saw an opportunity to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of controlled substances, like heroin or cocaine, as Oregon voters did last fall.

But that didn't go over well with moderate Democrats nor Republicans. That means lawmakers may favor a bill to increase treatment options and reduce criminal penalties to a misdemeanor, Callanan says.

"A lot of advocates would tell you police should not be involved in simple drug possession cases in the first place," he says. "It can lead to violent interactions. But I’d say our state is making some significant changes on the drug policy front this year."

Balter and Callanan joined KUOW's Angela King to talk about politics this week. Listen to the conversation by clicking the audio above.