State legislative update 0409: House, Senate in serious budget negotiations

From Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Yesterday was day 86 of the 2019 Legislative Session. It was the opposite chamber fiscal deadline, where bills had to pass out of the fiscal committees of the opposite chamber unless necessary to implement the budget. Starting today, we move to floor action until the next cutoff deadline which is April 17 at 5 p.m. to pass bills out of the opposite chamber.

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 (REET). The Senate is considering more moderate revenue proposals, but they include a graduated REET and 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.

Here is an update on bills that are still moving through the process:

  • 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.
  • SSB 5550, implementing recommendations of the pesticide safety workgroup, is sponsored by Senator 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. 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) change the bill to refer the exemptions to the driver (and not the farm) and that two excess weight warnings are required before penalties can be imposed. WAWG supports the bill.
  • 2SSB 5947, sponsored by Sen. John McCoy (D-Tulalip), establishes a sustainable farms and fields grant programat the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The bill would make certain projects eligible for program grants, including for on-farm fossil fuel reduction or energy efficiency measures, agroforestry and carbon-friendly farming practices. There is concern in the agriculture community that the bill would pull money away from other conservation priorities and concerns over how the program would be implemented. The bill was heard in the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee on March 28, but was not voted out of committee prior to the April 3 policy committee cutoff.
  • 2SSB 5489, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), creates a task force recommending incorporating environmental justice principles into agency decision making and to identify “highly impacted communities” through a cumulative analysis tool. It requires certain agencies (including the departments of Ecology, Transportation, Health, and Natural Resources) 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 passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on a 17-15-1 vote on April 8.
  • 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 & 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 in the Senate Rules Committee.