Washington legislature kills universal healthcare bill

SJM.8006 not a high enough priority for the second year in a row

Andre Stackhouse
7 min readMar 23, 2024
SJM.8006 dies in the House for the second consecutive session.

The 2024 legislative session ended on March 7th 2024 and with it ended the two-session “biennium” that constitutes the legislative cycle in Washington.

While every session more bills are introduced than are passed, the end of the biennium is the formal death of all bills that fail to pass through both the Washington House and Senate.

The legislative process is long and has many steps at which a bill may fail or stall. Bills introduced in the first session may carry over to the second from where they leave off, but at the end of the second — the bill is dead and its hope for the future lies in being reintroduced as a new bill, a new bill number, and beginning again at the very start of the entire legislative process.

And so it goes for SJM.8006 — a joint-memorial that doesn’t so much implement universal healthcare as ask nicely for it. For more information on SJM.8006 please read the following articles:

Introduced in 2023 but stalled in the House Rules Committee, it was on the schedule for a floor vote on the last day of the 2024 session but ultimately was not called for a vote by the House Speaker Laurie Jinkins.

Why it didn’t get a vote

After speaking with legislative aides and staffers both after the 2023 session and the 2024 session, I was given the following reasons SJM.8006 might not have made it through this session.

  • The legislature is swamped with bills and just didn’t have time.
  • As a joint-memorial, SJM.8006 just isn’t given the same level of priority as bills with real impact.

The legislature is in a position of incredible power and responsibility and the work that goes into that should not be dismissed, but all the same, even if taken at face value these claims leave universal healthcare supporters with little reason to be optimistic about.

There wasn’t time

The first sign that SJM.8006 was in peril came when it failed to pass in the “long” 2023 legislative session — the reason given? Not enough time.

The legislative biennium begins in January with a “long” 105-day session and then is followed by a 60-day “short” session starting the next January.

So while yes, in theory a bill that makes it all the way through the Senate and to the House Rules Committee in its first year doesn’t have as far to go in its second, it can be hard to believe that there will be sufficient time for a bill in a session that is nearly half the length.

SJM.8006 is not a long bill. It is not complicated. It costs no money. It has no risk of legal challenge. It should not require much time at all to vote on — if anything takes time it is the amount of process that it must pass through.

When reintroduced, much of that work will need to be duplicated and that of course takes time which piles up and becomes the reason bills need to be reintroduced. If the legislature was serious about passing this bill, they would not so willingly throw away the work that went into getting it all the way through the Senate and to the House floor.

Joint-memorials aren’t as important as legislation

The other reason expressed by the legislative offices I spoke with was that joint-memorials are difficult to give the same level of priority to as legislation.

This of course makes sense — legislation becomes policy becomes impact on people’s actual lives. Joint-memorials express intentions and make requests but are not legally binding. That is not to say they can’t be important, often these steps are important in aligning the efforts of many different parts of our government and provide the foundation to more substantial changes.

But again, even taken at face value there are some unanswered questions.

  • Joint memorials SJM.8005 and 8007 were both included and passed in the final batch of bills called to the floor. There was enough time for at least some joint memorials.
  • Both 8005 and 8007 were introduced in the 2024 session where 8006 was introduced in 2023. In this sense, they both “skipped” ahead of 8006.
  • SJMs 8005, 8006, and 8007 all share Senator Bob Hasegawa as their primary sponsor.
  • However, SJM.8005 has only one cosponsor and 8007 has only two. Comparatively, 8006 has nine cosponsors.
  • 8005 is titled Addressing “de-risking” by financial institutions.
  • 8007 is Requesting Congress to fully fund 40 percent of the costs of IDEA.
  • SJM.8006 Requesting that the federal government create a universal health care program.
  • Of the three memorials, it’s hard to argue that 8005 or 8007 are more important, top-of-mind, or comprehensible to voters compared to universal healthcare.

These details at the very least give the appearance that SJM.8006 may be struggling due to some yet unsaid internal opposition.

Where that leaves universal healthcare

What makes this arrangement so unfortunate is that SJM.8006 was a concession bill given to the universal healthcare movement to quell their discontent that SB.5335 — a real single-payer universal healthcare bill — would not be given a hearing in the state Senate.

I was in the room when SJM.8006 was first proposed. I was asked to meet with Senators Hasegawa and Cleveland along with their staff and some other universal healthcare advocates in Olympia.

We were told that while everyone in the room agrees about the importance of universal healthcare, that SB.5335 was not ready for a hearing, that it needed to be vetted through Washington’s Universal Health Care Commission, and that a joint memorial was a more achievable next step.

  • Joint memorials are requests not legislation and therefore cannot be challenged in court.
  • Joint memorials cost the state no money after they pass and avoid contentious debates over taxation.
  • Joint memorials are an expression of intention, values, and commitments rather than articulations of policy and therefore avoid contentious implementation debates. SJMs 8005–8007 are all less than four pages long.

What you might notice is all these reasons this was supposedly the right next step are also the reasons we were given that it wouldn’t be prioritized. Our real bill is too real. But our messaging bill is too unimportant.

Leadership is needed

Washingtonians support universal healthcare. They support paying more in taxes to have universal healthcare. The Washington Democrats, who have held a trifecta in government since 2016 include universal healthcare in their party platform.

The Washington Health Trust (SB.5335) is ready to implement legislation. It has a transition plan and a financing plan. And I have given three presentations now to the Universal Health Care Commission explaining its design and the benefits it would have to Washingtonians.

At the end of the day, it is the legislature and not the commission who has the authority to pass healthcare reform. The commission may conduct studies and make recommendations, but without a commitment from the legislature to follow through those studies and recommendations will end up gathering dust on a shelf with the studies and recommendations made by commissions past.

SJM.8006 was a beautiful first step for the legislature — a commitment to universal healthcare. A request for support from the feds. A practice bill to get everyone ready for real bills in later sessions. Instead, it’s passed over two years in a row ultimately left dead on the floor less than 10 yards from the finish line. They really couldn’t have just included it next to SJMs 8005 and 8007? Do you really need another two years to read four pages and decide that federal support for universal healthcare is worth requesting?

If the legislature cannot take this step then it brings into question if it will give fair and serious consideration to any steps towards universal healthcare. They continue to deflect responsibility to a commission created three years ago that has yet to make a single legislative recommendation.

Universal Healthcare Rally in Olympia

On March 6th, a coalition of universal healthcare activists gathered on the steps of Olympia for a Universal Health Care Rally.

Sitting in the library parking lot in Olympia before the event, I wrote out my speech on my phone. What do I tell a movement asking what to do next? To keep calling their legislators? “Good hustle — we’ll get em next session?”

For those for whom the stakes of healthcare reform are high — by bill or by ballot is the message that we cannot continue to wait, and deliberate, and consider this someone else’s responsibility.

Universal healthcare is all of our responsibility to make happen. It is the responsibility of our elected legislators and governor. It is the responsibility of our doctors, nurses, and hospitals. It is the responsibility of our universities and city planners. And it is my responsibility and yours.

Our greatest duty as people of this great state is to care for this land and the people who reside on it and when our legislators do not deliver the society we deserve then it falls on us to make it so — by bill or by ballot.

Andre Stackhouse is a lifelong Seattle resident, political organizer, and writer with bylines at The Daily of the University of Washington and the International Examiner.

To support independent citizen activism please consider making a donation at https://opencollective.com/public-stackhouse/projects/organizing/donate



Andre Stackhouse

An inventor, a pseudojournalist, a contrarian’s contrarian. Twitter: @CaptainStack