Crunch Time in Olympia: Bills Getting Traction (and Those That Aren’t)


Wednesday marks the deadline for when bills must skedaddle out of the opposite chambers’ policy committees. Any that do keep their head above water will head on over to the fiscal committees where they have until Monday, Feb. 26, to advance.¹ Some casualties will result.

Meanwhile, the Senate took some wind out of Housing’s sails this week after it carved up three housing bills and buried another. For the past few weeks, the Senate Committee on Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs has become a killing field for housing proposals. The executive session on Tuesday morning saw members sink even more carve-outs into their pages.

Take House Bill 2252. The neighborhood cafe bill passed the House without a single no vote, but per a striking amendment from Local Government Chair Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, the bill would amount to a glorified recommendation for local governments. Cities could opt in or out at will — something the Association of Washington Cities loves to read in print. Local governments would also get to write up rulebooks on “noise, signage, and freight traffic,” basically another way to write off aspiring mom-and-pop businesses.

The real head-scratcher is the striker’s proposed ban on alcohol sales at neighborhood eateries. Would this keep Seattle’s Volunteer Park Cafe & Pantry from selling beer or wine? Would Pete’s Supermarket in Eastlake be able to maintain its famous wineshop? 

Folks tell us that not allowing booze would throw a Mt. Rainier-sized wrench into local zoning laws and could very well brand said establishments as “non-conforming structures” or unwitting lawbreakers. Translation? Local governments would get the strenuous chore of bringing them up to code. This is Exhibit A for why a lot of cities don’t like the Legislature behind the wheel of stuff like this. Per another big amendment from Lovelett, House Bill 2071 would no longer force local governments to do anything to allow passive house buildings and rip out tree-retention protections.

And as for that massive transit-oriented development bill, a striking amendment from Sen. Claudia Kauffman would allow local governments to carve out 25% of the developable land around bus rapid transit stations in exchange for increasing the floor area ratio for developments. House Bill 2160 would also subject housing around station areas to review by the State Environmental Protection Act.

One bill that died entirely in the committee was House Bill 2474, which would have turned the task of siting transitional and supportive housing to the state. Lovelett made the case in committee that the bill risked sparking too many unintended consequences for cities at the ground level. HB 2474 drew scathing testimony from mayors and city councilors, which couldn’t have put many minds on the committee at ease in an election year. (Tim Gruver)

Medical merger bill clears House committee 

The contentious medical merger bill from Sen. Emily Randall made it out of the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee Tuesday on a 6-5 vote.

Senate Bill 5241, also known as the Keep Our Care Act, would require health entities wishing to enter a merger and acquisition to submit to a public review process with the attorney general’s office, before the consolidation. The review process would go beyond the typical antitrust and consumer protection authorities to assess what, if any, impacts the merger and acquisition could have on healthcare access. 

The Bremerton Democrat’s measure was triggered by the acquisition of her hometown hospital by a Catholic chain. But it’s a sweeping measure that would apply to many medical practices, not just hospitals.  

Supporters of SB 5241 include Attorney General Bob Ferguson and reproductive rights organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Pro-Choice Washington and the Washington Community Action Network. These groups argued that the bill would protect access to sensitive health services such as abortion, gender-affirming care, and death with dignity. Detractors argued the bill creates an arduous process around mergers and acquisitions in health care, which could negatively impact the business of health care in Washington and lead to less access overall. 

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the weaknesses of the U.S. health system, and many health facilities and hospitals are grappling with persistent staffing shortages, infrastructure challenges, and other operational hurdles, all on narrow margins. Sometimes, failing health systems have no choice but to consolidate to continue providing care in the community. Rural areas are particularly vulnerable to health system’s shuttering and consolidation. Bigger healthcare systems don’t automatically lead to better patient experiences or cost savings. Research shows that healthcare costs for commercially insured patients typically increase after consolidation and that patient satisfaction is lower overall.²

The health care landscape has changed in Washington through consolidation. In 1986, Washington had 98 independent hospital systems; in 2017, that number dropped to 76.³ The power of religiously affiliated hospitals is part of that story, as the share of Catholic hospitals among all hospitals in the state increased from less than 10% in 1986 to 25% in 2017. Data analysis by Nina Shapiro at The Seattle Times showed roughly 48% of all hospital beds in Washington were religiously affiliated in Feb. 2023.⁴ 

The House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee passed an amendment that lifted the size of a covered organization — measured in annual revenue – from $10 million to $25 million. With just a handful of days left in the biennium session, we’ll see if it goes up for a vote on the House Floor or is a casualty of the process. A variety of medical-industry players are fighting the bill tooth and nail. (By Sara Kassabian)

Sen. Sam Hunt calls it a career; Bateman jumps in for 22nd District seat

Senate State Government & Elections Chair Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, announced this week that he won’t seek reelection this fall. Hunt has represented the capital city in the Senate or House for 24 years, and he turned 81 in December. In a letter to colleagues, Hunt cited several achievements in the elections arena, including “vote-by-mail, online and election-day voter registration, paid return postage for mailed ballots, secure state-funded ballot drop boxes, and a meaningful presidential primary election.”

Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia. (Photo by Tim Gruver.)

Hunt plans to serve out his term, which will create an open contest for his replacement.⁵ Given that the Olympia district is among the bluest in the state, look for that to play out in the August primary. 

Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, one of the Legislature’s foremost activists on housing policy, threw her hat in the Senate ring Wednesday morning with endorsements from Hunt, seatmate Beth Doglio, Lt. Gov. Denny Heck, and U.S. Rep. Marilyn Strickland. Doglio, D-Olympia, told us she’s happy as chair of House Environment & Energy. 

Bateman has become a proven mover and shaker who can get tough things done in Olympia. The two-term lawmaker passed last year’s middle housing bill, House Bill 1110, which cities like Seattle are now planning around. She’s also carried more than a few bills in the healthcare arena as vice chair of the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee – expanding abortion access, easing barriers to the behavioral health workforce, etc.

Bateman tells us she sees what the Legislature passed in 2023’s fateful Year of Housing as low-hanging fruit compared to what she has in store for the Senate. That means taking a hard look at taxes and fees, easing the permit process, converting commercial properties, and shoring up manufactured homes — all stuff that’ll help homebuilding move at less than a glacial pace. (By Paul Queary and Tim Gruver)

Maycumber jumps into 5th Congressional District race

Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber jumped into the already crowded race to replace U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in Congress. The Republic Republican⁶ joins at least two other GOP hopefuls for the solidly red 5th Congressional District. Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner and former Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward are also reportedly mulling bids. Notice the similarities between 2024 Jacquelin Maycumber and 2004 Cathy McMorris⁷, who also represented the 7th District in the state House before her ascension to Congress. (Paul Queary)

Strippers hit the Capitol Campus

Hard-pressed strippers treated people on the Capital Campus to a different type of party on Monday. Flanked by colorful signage and an avid cohort of LGBTQ+ supporters, the dancing advocates with “Strippers Are Workers” put together a show to save this session’s so-called Strippers’ Bill of Rights. They brought a real pole and worked it to the delight of many who braved the February rains to make it rain George Washingtons.  

Photo by Tim Gruver

The spectacle siphoned considerable media attention from another important event a few thousand feet away, where the Washington Education Association was firing up its folks. The teachers did draw more lawmakers to the scene than the pole show on campus, likely given the number of votes and money on the former’s side.

Monday’s festivities coincided with a hearing in the House Committee on Regulated Substances & Gaming regarding a bill of Rep. Skyler Rude’s that was filed to repeal the state’s lewd conduct law, something now intertwined with both Washington’s strip clubs and the Liquor and Cannabis Board’s recent raid of Seattle gay bars.

Tuesday proved eventful for the bill of Sen. Rebecca Saldaña to beef up protections for strippers and green-lighting booze sales to the strip clubs. The House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee passed Senate Bill 6105, after an amendment preventing Seattle/King County from regulating the distance between strippers on stage and customers, so long as nothing skin-to-skin goes down.

SB 6105’s path to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk is still perilous. House leaders have voiced doubt as to whether a stripper bill of rights, if passed, will include the right to a stiff drink. Advocates of the bill argue that booze is necessary to take the pressure off dancers as a primary profit center. No actual stripping happened on Monday’s shindig, which was outside in February, after all. (Tim Gruver)


  1. Any lucky bills deemed “Necessary to Implement the Budget” get a pass until the end of the session.
  2. Changes in Quality of Care after Hospital Mergers and Acquisitions, New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 2020
  3. Washington State Health System Research Project, Washington Office of Financial Management. 
  4. Catholic health care restrictions lead WA Legislature to eye changes by Nina Shapiro, Feb. 2023.
  5. It’s common for lawmakers to leave office early, allowing county officials to nominate a successor who then gets to run as a quasi-incumbent. 
  6. Yes, we went there.
  7. The Rodgers part happened a couple of years later.

This article first appeared in the authors’ political website, Washington Observer.

Paul Queary
Paul Queary
Paul Queary, a veteran AP reporter and editor, is founder of The Washington Observer, an independent newsletter on politics, government and the influence thereof in Washington State.


  1. That SHB 2252 (allowing neighborhood cafes in residential zones) is indeed a fascinating bill & curious to see if House version passes. But puzzled that the bill requires minimum 500sf cafe — essentially encouraging larger ones.

    The bill could have huge impacts and amazed that it’s gotten so far. I’d like to understand what the proponents are visualizing.


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