By Diana Carlen
Yesterday was day 93 of the 2019 Legislative Session, and the end of the regular session is quickly approaching. The fiscal cutoff (where opposite chamber bills needed to be voted out of committee to remain alive) came on April 9, and since then, legislators have been on the floor trying to pass opposite chamber bills out ahead of the next deadline. Opposite chambers’ bills need to be taken up by 5 p.m. today to stay alive. Legislators have been working late into the evenings and over the weekend to get bills moved out on time.
The legislature has also entered into serious budget negotiations. Both the House and Senate have passed their own versions of the budgets, but there are significant differences between them and the size of the proposed revenue packages, with the House considering capital gains, certain B&O increases and a graduated real estate excise tax. The Senate is considering more moderate revenue proposals, but they include a graduated real estate excise tax and a capital gains tax as well, though capital gains may be a heavy lift in the Senate. It remains to be seen if the House and Senate can reconcile their budgets and get out by the sine die deadline of April 28.
Governor’s priority carbon bill passes House
Governor request legislation (E2SSB 5116) aimed at removing all thermal generation from the state’s electricity system by 2045 passed the House Monday by a vote of 56-42. This was Gov. Inslee’s top environmental priority this session.
Notable provisions that were included in the final bill include:
- Treating hydropower generation in the same manner as other renewable carbon-free resources such as wind and solar including the ability to generate Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) for compliance purposes.
- Harmonization between the renewable requirements of the Energy Independence Act (I937) and ESSB 5116.
- Allowing utilities to comply and meet customer demand from a net perspective.
- Establishment of a process to ensure electric system reliability.
- Allowing for multiyear compliance to smooth the year-to-year variability of high, average and low water years.
- Inclusion of a cost cap to protect consumers from rising electricity costs due to compliance.
The Senate passed the bill last month. The bill now goes back to the Senate for approval of amendments added by the House before it can go to the governor. It is expected the Senate will do this soon, and then the bill will head to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Bills that passed opposite chamber
E2SSB 5438, deals with the H-2A worker program and is sponsored by Sen. John McCoy (D-Tulalip). As the bill came over from the Senate, it would have required those who use H-2A temporary workers to pay an additional state fee (farmers who utilize these workers currently pay a fee to the federal government) to hire H-2A temporary workers. The agricultural industry, including the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG), opposed the bill because these fees will make the use of H-2A workers cost prohibitive. Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) had an amendment adopted in the House Appropriations Committee that removed the state fees and clarified the duties of the Office of Agricultural and Seasonal Workforce created in the bill. With that amendment, the bill was voted out of committee unanimously and agricultural groups are now neutral on the bill. The bill passed off the House floor unanimously on April 11. It now goes back to the Senate to approve or reject the House’s amendments.
SSB 5550, implementing recommendations of the pesticide safety workgroup, is sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldana (D-Seattle). The bill establishes the pesticide application safety committee to explore how state agencies collect and track data and consider the feasibility and requirements of developing a shared database, including how the Department of Health could use existing tools to better display multiagency data regarding pesticides. On April 8, the bill had a minor amendment to remove a reference to certain funding accounts and was voted out of the House Appropriations Committee unanimously. The bill passed out of the House unanimously. It now goes back to the Senate to concur in the House’s amendments. Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake) is the prime sponsor of the House companion bill, 2SHB 1725, which passed the House unanimously in March. WAWG supports this legislation.
SSB 5883, sponsored by Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), allows vehicles carrying farm products from the field to exceed road weight limits by up to 5 percent on public roads. It also requires that a farm receive at least four written warnings for excess weights before traffic penalties can be imposed. The bill was amended and voted out of the House Transportation Committee on April 8 with a 30-1 vote. Amendments by Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham) changed the bill to refer the exemptions to the driver (and not the farm) and that two excess weight warnings per driver (instead of four per farm) are required before penalties can be imposed. The bill passed off the House floor with a 94-3 vote. WAWG supports the bill.
ESSB 5959 relates to livestock branding and identification programs. The bill includes changes to certain livestock-related fees, changes the membership of the Livestock Identification Advisory Committee and also expands the Electronic Cattle Transaction Reporting System. The bill was contentious between different livestock producers (including between beef and dairy producers), largely over certain fees going to fund identification programs. The bill passed out of the House on April 11 by a vote of 84-12, and now goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Bills awaiting floor action
HB 1841 dealing with minimum crew size requirements, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane). The legislation would establish minimum crew size requirements for railroad carriers operating hazardous material trains and hazardous material trains consisting of 50 or more cars. Amendments by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) were adopted in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee to exempt class III railroad carriers from the crew size requirements, and the bill passed out of committee on April 2. It is now on the Senate floor calendar awaiting a full vote of the Senate.
2SSB 5489, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), creates a task force to recommend incorporating environmental justice principles into agency decision making and to identify “highly impacted communities” through a cumulative analysis tool. It requires certain agencies (including Ecology, Transportation, Health and DNR) to incorporate the task force’s recommendations into their decision making. There is concern that rules required by the task force will impact permitting decisions and rulemaking, bypass statutory requirements of basing rules on best available science or the law and a lack of legislative oversight over the task force. The bill is currently on the House second reading calendar, with 20 amendments posted so far.