By Diana Carlen
Monday, Feb. 22, was the second legislative deadline, when all bills must have been voted out of their respective fiscal committees to remain “alive.” Since then, the Legislature has mostly ceased committee action and is focused on floor action for the time being, which entails the entire chamber (either the House of Representatives or the Senate) considering and voting on bills. Once a bill passes out of its original chamber, it moves to the other chamber, and the entire committee process repeats.
The next deadline is Tuesday, March 9, when all bills must be voted out of their chamber of origin to remain alive.
Low Carbon Fuel Standard Passes Out of House
On Feb. 27, the House passed legislation (HB 1091) adopting a low carbon fuel standard by a vote of 52-46. Republicans locked up with their entire caucus voting against the bill while only 5 Democrats voted against the bill. The debate on HB 1091 lasted more than five hours with Republicans proposing a couple dozen floor amendments, but only a handful of amendments were ultimately adopted.
One amendment that was adopted eliminated the directive of Ecology to improve and expedite SEPA review and permitting and instead requires the WSU Energy program to initiative a program to identify least conflict priority sites for clean energy projects. Another amendment requires Ecology to consider cost containment measures for the program.
The bill now goes over to the Senate for consideration. It will be interesting to see if this legislation will be referred to the Senate Transportation Committee where it has stalled the past two years or if it will bypass that committee and be referred to the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee.
Cap and Trade Voted out of Senate Energy Committee
On Thursday, Feb. 25, the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee voted to move SB 5126, the Washington Climate Commitment Act, sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), out of committee and forward in the legislative process. This bill would establish a cap and trade program in Washington state.
Notably, during debate on the revised version of the bill, Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) introduced and withdrew an amendment that would direct all auction proceeds to the transportation budget. As Sen. Hobbs withdrew the amendment, he announced his plans to propose an amendment in the Senate Ways & Means Committee prohibiting the program from going into effect unless a transportation revenue package is adopted. A summary of the changes between the original bill and the proposed substitute can be found here. SB 5126 will now proceed to the Senate Ways & Means Committee for further consideration.
Carbon Tax Proposal Scheduled for Public Hearing
While the majority of next week will be dedicated to floor action, on Thursday, March 4, the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee has scheduled a public hearing on an alternative carbon pricing proposal. Senate Bill 5373, sponsored by Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes), would establish a carbon tax and green bond program.
Specifically, the proposal would institute a carbon tax starting July 1, 2022, at the rate of $25 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions. The tax rate would automatically increase annually by 5 percent each year and would be adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index. Revenues from the tax would be used to support projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and for climate and transportation bond repayments. Proponents of this legislation, including environmental justice advocates, have put this bill forward as an alternative to the cap and invest proposal.
Clean Building Bill Considered Dead for 2021 Legislative Session
Governor-request legislation targeting natural gas did not survive this week’s fiscal cutoff deadline. SHB 1084, sponsored by Rep. Alex Ramel (D-Bellingham), was aimed at decarbonizing the residential and commercial building sector by implementing several new regulations, including policies that supported the gradual phase-out of natural gas as an energy source. While the proposal was scheduled for executive action on the final day of the fiscal cutoff, it was not brought up for a vote by the House Appropriations Committee.
Bill to Eliminate the Professional Rescue Doctrine Moving Through the Process
SHB 1341 sponsored by Rep. Dan Bronoske (D-Lakewood), would eliminate the professional rescue doctrine. That doctrine says a first responder cannot sue the person where the response occurs for injury to the responder. This played out a few years ago where a wildland firefighter was hurt and sued DNR for damages. The Supreme Court held that this doctrine blocked the case and identified the Legislature as the next steps.
Several groups, including DNR, utilities and timber landowners, have noted concerns with the bill based on the potential effect the bill may have on liability and liability insurance. The bill was passed out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Monday and is currently under consideration in the Senate Rules Committee, before being placed on the floor calendar.
Notable Bills That Passed out of Fiscal Committees This Week by Deadline (Alive Bills):
- Allowing Whistleblowers to Bring Actions on behalf of State Workplace Protections (SHB 1076), sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island), would allow attorneys to bring actions in the name of the state against employers for worker violations under various state laws and get attorney fees. The bill was amended in the House Appropriations Committee this week to remove the following laws that may enforced under a qui tam action: laws relating to seasonal labor and agricultural labor.
- B&O and Public Utility Tax Exemption for Custom Farming Products (HB 1380), sponsored by Rep. Jeremie Dufault (R-Selah), would reinstate the business and occupation tax exemption and public utility tax exemption for custom farming and the hauling of farm products. The former tax preference expired at the end of 2020, and the proposed bill would make both preferences permanent.
- Paid Family and Medical Leave Expansion (SHB 1073), sponsored by Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle), would expand the definition of family member under Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave law to include housemates or individuals dependent on care from the employee. The amended proposal eliminates the 820 hour requirement for eligibility and only requires that an employee earn $1,000 before being eligible. The bill also would eliminate the small business exemption from job protection requirements. Further it requires all employers to maintain all employee benefits while on leave.
- B&O and Public Utility Tax Exemption for Custom Farming Products (HB 1380), sponsored by Rep. Jeremie Dufault (R-Selah), would reinstate the business and occupation tax exemption and publicutility tax exemption for custom farming and the hauling of farm products. The former tax preference expired at theend of 2020, and the proposed billwould make both preferences permanent.
- Pesticide registration (SSB 5317), sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), would increase license and application fees under the Pesticide Control Act and the Pesticide ApplicationAct.
- Net Ecological Gain (SHB 1117), sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow), would integrate salmon recovery planning into local comprehensive plans under the Growth Management Act.
- Electrification of Transportation (SHB 1204), sponsored by Rep. Nicole Macri (D-Seattle). The bill as introduced would have required all publicly and privately owned passenger and light-duty vehiclessold after 2030 to be electric. The substitute version that passed out of theHouse Transportation Committee instead makes it a legally unenforceable state goal and prohibits state agencies fromrestricting the sale ofa vehicle in order to implement it.
Notable Bills That Failed to Pass Out of Fiscal Committee by Deadline (Dead Bills):
- B&O Tax Exemption for Fruit and Vegetable Businesses (HB 1285), sponsored by Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane), would have excluded businesses with any employment, labor, or civil rights violations in the last 2 years from being eligible for the fruit and vegetable business B&O tax exemption.
- Estate Tax (HB 1465), sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines), would have increased the current estate tax threshold to $2.5 million beginning in August and adjust the tax based on the Consumer Price Index. The bill would have also increased the initial tax amount and tax rate for properties over $3 million while including additional rate classes for properties above $9 million. This bill did not move out of the House Finance Committee by the deadline but could be revived and designated Necessary to Implement the Budget later.
Notable Floor Action This Week:
The following bills have passed by a vote of the entire House of Representatives or Senate. Once a bill passes out of one chamber, it then moves to the second chamber, and the process repeats.
- Health Emergency Labor Standards (ESSB 5115), sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), has been significantly modified from the original proposal. The current version of the bill would establish an occupational disease presumption concerning workers compensation for frontline workers during the COVID pandemic. The bill also creates certain notification requirements for larger employers during a public health emergency regarding infected employees. A summary of the amended bill that was unanimously voted off the Senate floor can be found here.
- Sales & Use Exemption for Farmworker Housing (2SSB5396), sponsored by Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes). The bill would extend the current sales and use tax exemption for farmworker housing. While the initial version of the bill excluded structures that provided housing for workers on H-2A visas, the committee adopted a substitute measure from Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake) clarifying the exclusion would only apply to structures built exclusively for workers on an H-2A visas. Additionally, the bill as passed allows seasonal farmworker housing to be rented to the general public during the off-season while maintaining the tax exemption. The bill passed out of the Senate by a vote of 38-9.
- Dredged Material Disposal (SHB 1193), sponsored by Rep. Larry Hoff (R-Vancouver), would modify the Shoreline Management Act to exempt federal navigation channel maintenance and improvement projects from the permitting process. The bill passed out of the House unanimously on Feb. 23.