Legislative report 02/06: Carbon tax, pesticide study group bills pass out of committee

From Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Tuesday was is the 30th day of the 2018 legislative Session, and last Friday was the first cutoff of the 2018 Legislative Session. Cutoff dates play a crucial role in the legislative process as any bills that have not made it out of a policy committee are considered dead and are no longer eligible to move forward this year. Legislation not covered by that deadline include bills that have been passed to fiscal committees and bills that are considered “necessary to implement the budget” such as tax bills. It is important to note, however, bills are never truly dead because their content can be amended into other legislation or rare procedural moves can occur to keep them alive.

Tuesday was also the deadline when all bills had to make it out of their fiscal committees to remain alive. The next deadline is that all house-of-origin bills must pass off the floor by 5 p.m. on Feb. 14.

Governor’s carbon tax legislation passes out of Senate Policy Committee

Last Thursday night, the Senate Energy, Environment, & Technology Committee held an executive session to discuss and amend SB 6203, the governor’s proposed carbon tax legislation. During the final vote to pass SSB 6203 out of committee, it was unclear if the bill had sufficient support after Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) announced he would not be voting for the bill and that it still needed more work prior to moving forward in the process. Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlach), who caucuses with the Republicans, surprised the committee by casting a vote to continue moving the legislation forward. The final vote was 6-4 out of committee, referring SSB 6203 to the Senate Ways & Means Committee. This bill is considered necessary to implement the budget and is not subject to legislative deadlines. It has not been scheduled in the Senate Ways & Means Committee yet.

SSB 6203 was significantly amended in committee. The most notable change was the price on carbon. The original version of the legislation set the carbon tax at $20 a ton, increasing each year with no cap. The revised legislation would set the carbon tax at $10 a ton beginning in July 2019, would increase $2 each year beginning in 2021 and would be capped at $30 a ton.

A list of 56 business sectors identified by NAICS code are statutorily and permanently exempt from the carbon tax as Energy Intensive and Trade-Exposed industries. Fuel used solely for agricultural purposes is exempt from the carbon tax, but only on the farm and not fuel used to transport products to market.

The revised version preempts the Clean Air Rule (the governor’s carbon cap that is currently the subject of a lawsuit) as well as local governments’ ability to charge, tax or cap carbon pollution.

Finally, Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), the sponsor of the legislation, expressed his intent to run a separate bill creating a constitutional amendment to protect carbon funds from being “swept” into the General Fund by future legislatures. As a reminder, a constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature.

More balanced pesticide work group legislation passes Ways & Means Committee

Last week, a pesticide notification bill (SB 6529) was heard that would have created a four-day notification requirement before farmers could apply much-needed pesticides and an unworkable reporting requirement. The Senate Labor & Commerce Committee did not pass out that version of the bill, but instead passed out a study bill that essentially predetermined that notification was necessary to prevent spray drift while ignoring that spray drift is already illegal and that the Department of Agriculture has regulatory authority to both investigate and fine guilty parties.

On Tuesday, the Senate Ways & Means Committee passed out a substitute bill that would create an interim work group that is much more balanced and does not predetermine the recommendations the group should put forward.