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Crime, taxes and artificial intelligence on tap as WA lawmakers prep for session

The Washington State Capitol building in Olympia.
Jerry Cornfield, Washington State Standard

Rising costs of transportation projects. Using artificial intelligence in Washington classrooms. Preserving affordable housing. Spending proceeds from the state’s new capital gains tax and recent cap-and-trade auctions.

Those are a few topics state lawmakers will delve into when they return to Olympia for committee days, an annual fete in which they get schooled on issues that may arise in an upcoming session. In this case, it’s the 60-day session that begins Jan. 8.

Senators will gather this week with 14 committees holding work sessions Thursday and Friday. Then, next Monday and Tuesday, 19 House panels will be in action.

One of the first conversations Thursday will be about fuel surcharges levied on farmers as a result of the Climate Commitment Act. A work group convened by the Department of Ecology discussed this for months, and came up with ideasto assist farmers but not everyone involved thinks the problem is resolved.

The Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee will get an update at 8 a.m., right after it learns how a state law providing farmworkers with overtime pay is working out.

At the same hour, the State Government and Elections committee will discuss how the accuracy of vote counts in elections is ensured. The process of rejecting ballots could come up as a recent study found evidence that voters of color, particularly Hispanic and Asian voters, have higher rates of ballot rejection.

Artificial intelligence’s use in public schools is on the agendawhen the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee meets at 10:30 a.m. Friday. So too are the topics of media literacy and disinformation.

Skyrocketing costs of construction projects, including highways and removal of culverts that block the movement of fish, are on the docket of the Senate Transportation Committee on Friday afternoon.

Next Monday, the House Appropriations Committee will hear about the Climate Commitment Act and the roughly $1.5 billion it has generated for state coffers from the sale of pollution allowances. That 2021 law is now the target of a citizen initiative to repeal it.

On Dec. 5, at 8 a.m. the House Capital Budget Committee learns how efforts to steer additional state dollars into modernizing public schools and preserving affordable housing are panning out.

Also at that hour, the House Finance Committee gets a reporton the nearly $900 million in first-year collections from the capital gains tax. Those proceeds, garnered from the state’s wealthiest residents, will be funneled into early learning and child care programs, and to school districts in need of dollars for construction and renovation projects.

And, a little later Tuesday morning, the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee will ponder perceptions and misperceptions on public safety with a work session entitled “Current Crime Trends in Washington: Looking Beyond the Headlines.”

The full scheduleof committee sessions can be found on the Legislature’s website and the hearings will be streamed live on TVW.

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This story was originally published by Washington State Standard.