Sen. Wilson co-sponsors measure to boost cryptocurrency technology

The Washington Legislature took a step closer this week to creating a blockchain work group. Blockchain is an emergent database technology primarily used in cryptocurrency.

Senate Bill 5544 sponsored by state Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, and co-sponsored by state Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, was passed Tuesday by the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee. The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee before going to the Senate floor for a vote.

The bill would establish the Washington Blockchain Work Group with the purpose of exploring potential applications for the technology, such as utilities, banking, real estate transactions, health care, supply chain management, higher education and public records.

Under the bill, the work group would be comprised of lawmakers, representatives from the departments of commerce and financial institutions and the state’s Consolidated Technology Services agency, along with private-sector experts and stakeholders.

Brown has said she wants to establish the work group to position Washington as a leader on the technology.

“This is such a vibrant economy for the state of Washington. There are so many wonderful blockchain developers here that are doing really great work, and to be clear, it’s not just cryptocurrency,” Brown said during a Jan. 12 hearing before the same committee.

Brown said the work group will examine other industries where blockchain technology can be developed to help advance the industry.

Blockchains are a type of database shared across computer networks. What is different between a typical database and a blockchain is the structure of the data.

A blockchain collects information in groups, or blocks, where a typical database usually structures its data into tables. The blocks have a set limit for storage capacity so when a block is filled, it is closed and linked to the previously filled block. This forms a chain of data known as a blockchain. Any new information that follows the most recent block is compiled into a new block, which will ultimately be added to the chain once filled.

The decentralized and fixed structure of blockchains has played a key role in the development of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and decentralized finance applications.

Molly Jones, vice president of public policy at the nonprofit Washington Technology Industries Association, was one of several people testifying in support of the bill.

“This is a foundational and important step toward growing the blockchain sector in our state,” Jones said.

A similar bill from Brown, introduced during the 2020 session, was passed by both the House and Senate but ultimately vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One area of concern noted by the committee was the energy consumption blockchain technology requires. For example, the process of creating Bitcoin in 2019 had an annual consumption rate of 91 terawatt hours of electricity. That’s nearly the same amount of electricity used by the Philippines that year, which had a population of 108 million.

“We use as much energy to do a Google search as we do to fry an egg. We have been increasing our usage of energy dramatically,” said state Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island. “I believe this is the first time I’ve seen energy associated with a specific activity. Perhaps, we should be considering it more with every digital activity we set out there.”