Jan 8, 2024 - Politics

Fentanyl, housing, highways top Washington lawmakers' agenda

Illustration of the Washington State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Washington state lawmakers are looking at ways to combat fentanyl addiction, homelessness and housing unaffordability as they convene for a new session Monday in Olympia.

  • They're also under pressure to bolster mental health services and tackle the ballooning cost of state transportation projects.

Why it matters: Between now and early March, the Legislature will make updates to the state's two-year budget, which could mean adding hundreds of millions more dollars for state programs.

  • Lawmakers will consider hundreds of bills on issues ranging from K–12 education to policing to the environment.

State of play: While Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature and the governor's office, Democratic leaders said last week there isn't enough money to support all the changes Democrats would like to see.

Plus: Citizen-led ballot measures that appear headed to the November ballot aim to repeal money-raising programs like the state's Climate Commitment Act and capital gains tax.

  • That may leave legislative leaders more hesitant to spend some of the extra money they have available.

Here's a closer look at a few items on the agenda.

Fentanyl crisis

Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed adding $64 million to address the state's fentanyl crisis, including by expanding access to the overdose reversal medication naloxone and increasing treatment options.

Of note: King County alone had more than 1,000 fatal fentanyl overdoses last year, a 47% increase over the previous record set in 2022, the Seattle Times reported.

Mental health

The state is under a court order to provide more timely mental health services to people in jails — and recently was hit with a $100 million fine over its failure to do so.

Transportation projects

Several major highway and ferry projects are expected to cost far more than lawmakers originally budgeted, leaving lawmakers scrambling to fill a shortfall between $4 billion and $5 billion.

  • Delaying some projects likely will be necessary, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) said at a press conference last week.
  • Tolls may need to be raised on certain corridors, such as I-405, to keep projects on track, House Transportation Chair Marko Liias (D-Edmonds) said.

Homelessness and housing

A proposal to limit rent increases to 5% per year for many properties may be a heavy lift this year, House Majority Leader Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Seattle) told Axios last week, but it's something Democrats are exploring.

  • Republicans want to focus on encouraging more housing construction instead, House Minority Leader Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) said at a press conference last week.
  • Meanwhile, Inslee wants to spend another $100 million to build more housing for people who are living in encampments. The governor also wants to add another $10 million to continue clearing encampments.
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