Last-Minute Legislature: PGE Bill, Retirements, Density


Well after midnight Wednesday, the House narrowly voted to send Gov. Jay Inslee one of his priority bills for the session, a controversial measure aimed at helping Puget Sound Energy transition its customers from gas to electricity. The final vote was 50-45, with two members excused. That’s the narrowest possible margin. The “no” votes included a handful of Democrats in vulnerable seats. 

The bill is one of the priorities for Inslee and the environmental community this year. PSE argues that it needs regulatory changes at the Utilities and Transportation Commission to allow it to meet its climate targets under the Clean Energy Transformation Act and the Climate Commitment Act, measures that envision that PSE would generate far less carbon as it delivers energy to homes and businesses in greater Puget Sound. 

The company has some 1.1 million electricity customers and 790,000 gas customers. It expects to have more of the former and fewer of the latter in the future as gas prices increase and consumers convert to heat pumps and electric stoves. Gas consumption across the company’s system is already down compared to a year ago, as are new hookups. 

Among other things, the bill would allow PSE (Disclosure note: PSE is one of the sponsors of The Observer’s annual Re-Wire Policy Conference) to seek to recoup the cost of its existing gas network from ratepayers more quickly while the company still has many gas customers and pass along the costs of building new sources of green electricity sooner. That would likely add up to higher rates for consumers.

Even without the bill, PSE recently sought to increase rates; actual increases under the bill will likely take more than a year to kick in. Exactly who gets a rate hike will be complicated by the fact that PSE is just the gas company in some places, just the electric company in others, and both in a third set of territory.  Critics of the bill argue that it’s a sweetheart deal for PSE that will drive up costs for ratepayers and saddle consumers with high costs for transitioning from gas to electric appliances.

It drew strong opposition from business interests including the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Washington Hospitality Association (another sponsor of The Observer’s Re-Wire Conference). For example, the two groups recently teamed up on a campaign called “Save Our Stoves” that aimed to connect consumers unhappy with the measure with key lawmakers. Before the vote, House Speaker Pro Tem Tina Orwall rebuffed several parliamentary maneuvers from Minority Leader Drew Stokesbary aimed at killing the bill. Republicans won a similar challenge in the Senate last week, forcing a hasty redrafting of the bill. The bill now goes to Inslee for signature. Expect him to spike the football. (Paul Queary)

Sen. Keiser and Other Democrat Leaders Depart

Senate Labor & Commerce Chair Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, announced her retirement Tuesday in an occasionally teary speech from the Senate floor. Keiser’s announcement follows the news that Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, won’t seek reelection. Along with three other departures, both moves foreshadow a reshuffling at the top of a caucus that has become steadily younger, more diverse, and more progressive since Democrats won the majority in 2017.

Keiser, the longest-serving member of the Legislature, was appointed to a House seat in 1995. While she brought a warm maternal vibe to the work, there was no mistaking the steely labor fist in that velvet glove. As the Senate’s Democratic majority grew in recent years, she racked up a series of wins for organized labor, including a memorable switcheroo back in 2021 that led to overtime pay for farm workers. 

While her bid to grant unemployment benefits to striking workers fell just short this year, she did push across a long-held goal of labor — a ban on the mandatory meetings employers frequently hold to persuade employees not to unionize. Senate Bill 5788 passed both chambers on party-line votes and is headed to Gov. Jay Inslee for signature.

Keiser was also a perennial thorn in the side of the Port of Seattle because her South King County District includes Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, exposing her constituents to noise and pollution. 

Keiser frequently demonstrated a deft hand with our sisters and brothers in the media because she worked as a broadcast reporter in Seattle and elsewhere before joining the Washington State Labor Council as communications director. Both of Keiser’s Democratic seatmates, Reps. Tina Orwall and Mia Gregerson, are reportedly eyeing the vacant Senate seat.

Sen. Billig, who represents Spokane’s 3rd District, the only D territory east of the Cascades, became the fourth white dude in the caucus to peace out. Mark Mullet of Issaquah and Kevin Van De Wege of Port Townsend are seeking higher office, while Sam Hunt of Olympia is retiring. In recent years, Billig, the owner of a minor-league baseball team, has had to umpire the tension between a growing cadre of young progressives — mostly people of color — and an older bloc of moderate lawmakers inclined to rein in expensive progressive ideas.  One of Billig’s seatmates, Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, immediately jumped into the race for the seat.

Who winds up with the top spot in 2025 is anybody’s guess at this point. Billig’s two deputies, Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, and Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, are running for attorney general and the U.S. House respectively. They’ll only be back if they lose. Meanwhile, at least five new members means a brand-new dynamic. (Paul Queary)

Density Gets a Green Light

Shoring up greener sixplexes got a green light in the House after it picked up some big tweaks in the Senate. House Bill 2071 from Rep. Davina Duerr, D-Bothell, would shore up denser housing — the kind that comes in a six-pack, so to speak — in more neighborhoods and have the State Building Code Council revise a heap of building codes to do all that in an eco-friendly way.

Duerr’s bill breezed out of the House but got slapped with a carveout to save it from the dustbin. We’re told its passive house aspect was yanked all thanks to the $4.45 million price tag of a mandate on cities to tweak their residential development rulebooks. Its tree protections were also written out of the Senate Local Government Committee which both saved and killed a lot of housing bills this session to keep the “Biennium of Housing” rolling.

The tree protections were added to a related bill from Sen. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, tackling another thorny housing issue: parking mandates. That bill, Senate Bill 6015, would let local governments okay a host of cheaper stuff like gravel lots and grass block pavers towards parking minimums so long as they gel with local tree retention rulebooks.

The House greenlit the Senate’s tweaks to HB 2071 on Tuesday by a wide and bipartisan margin. It’s more than likely Gov. Inslee will give it his signature sometime this month. (Tim Gruver)

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. I am a Democrat PCO.
    Inslee and progressive Democrats pulling out every trick in the book to save “The Climate Commitment Act.
    My PUD bill went up 20% and my admittedly old Toyota RAV 4 gas bill is up 25 cents a gallon. Gas now costs less in Oregon.
    And legislation we want is “tied” to voter support for Climate Commitment
    Expect more .


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