2024 State Legislative Report for week ending 03/03

By Diana Carlen
Lobbyist, Washington Association of Wheat Growers

The Washington State Legislature has completed its eighth week of the short 60-day session as of March 3. There are four days left in the regular session. March 1 marked the second to last deadline of the 2024 Legislative Session — bills needed to have been approved by both the House and Senate to remain under consideration this year unless they are deemed “necessary to implement the budget.” Over the next four days, the Legislature will focus on the initiatives, budgets, and matters necessary to implement the budgets, differences between the chambers and matters incident to the interim and closing of the session.

The Legislature did not hold floor action over the weekend to give budget writers time to negotiate differences between their budget proposals. Final budgets are expected to be public on Monday or Tuesday in time to adjourn on March 7.

Three Initiatives Move Forward

This past week, the Legislature heard and moved three of the six initiatives that have been filed. The following initiatives each received an hour long joint public hearing:

  • Initiative 2111 (Prohibiting the state, counties, cities, and other local jurisdictions from imposing an income tax).
  • Initiative 2081 (Establishing a bill of rights for parents with kids in public schools).
  • Initiative 2113 (Restoring the authority of police to engage in a pursuit when there is reasonable suspicion that a person has violated the law).

All three initiatives passed out of their policy committees and are expected to be brought up for floor action before the session ends.

It is unlikely that there will be action by the Legislature on the following three initiatives, and, therefore, voters will get their opportunity to weigh in on them as they will be automatically referred to the ballot for the general election in November:

Unemployment Benefits for Striking Workers Fails to Move

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1893 was not brought for a full vote of the Senate before a key cutoff deadline and is now dead for the year. The legislation brought by unions would have allowed workers who walk off the job to qualify for up to four weeks of unemployment insurance benefits. Workers would become eligible on the second Sunday following the first day of a strike and could then begin to receive benefit payments after an additional one week waiting period.

The business community was universally opposed to the legislation because it could raise unemployment insurance costs for employers and burden the state’s unemployment insurance system that employers fund through tax payments. The business community argued that unemployment insurance was designed to provide benefits to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own and shouldn’t be expanded to workers who voluntarily go on strike.

Labor unions in Washington state have said they will reintroduce this legislation during the 2025 session.

Legislation to Link Carbon Markets with Quebec and California Continues to Move

Legislation to facilitate linkage of Washington’s carbon market under the Climate Commitment Act (CCA) with the markets of California and Quebec continues to move through the process. On Feb. 29, E2SB 6058 passed out of the House on a party-line vote of 57-39 with all Republicans voting against the bill. The Senate previously passed the bill on Feb. 12 on the same party line vote, but since the House made some minor tweaks to the bill, it has to go back for the Senate to approve of the changes.

Supporters of linkage expect a bigger market would bring down carbon emission auction prices, which would lead to lower fuel costs, but Republicans have been skeptical about that claim.

The earliest that Washington’s carbon market could be linked with California and Quebec would be 2025. However, if the initiative to repeal Washington’s Climate Commitment Act is successful in November, linkage would be a moot point.

Senate Passes Controversial Natural Gas Legislation Right Before Deadline

Controversial legislation dealing with natural gas cleared the Senate right before the 5 p.m. deadline on March 1. The legislation impacts the largest utility, Puget Sound Energy, which service territory is in Western Washington. Republicans had been successful in winning a parliamentary procedure from the Lt. Governor the day before the deadline requiring Senate Democrats to redraft the bill and bring it up for a vote prior to the deadline.

The original version of House Bill 1589 would have banned Puget Sound Energy from hooking up new natural gas customers, but that was removed in the version passed out of the Senate. It also would have authorized Puget Sound Energy to provide a customer with any approved nonemitting energy under the utility’s obligation to serve statute, but that section was also removed. As it passed the Senate, the legislation allows Puget Sound Energy to consolidate some planning requirements so it can start planning how to transition away from natural gas.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 27-22 with the entire Republican caucus voting against it along with Sen. Mark Mullet (D) and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D). Since it was amended in the Senate, the bill now goes back to the House to approve the changes made by the Senate.

The revised version of the bill can be found here.

Legislative Retirements Announced

The last few weeks of session often bring announcements from a number of members that they do not plan to seek re-election. So far, there have been two announcements. First, Sen. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia) announced his retirement after serving in the Legislature for 24 years. His fellow House seatmate, Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-Olympia), has announced she plans to seek election to the open Senate seat.

Second, former House Republican Leader Rep. JT Wilcox (R-Yelm) announced he would not be seeking re-election. Rep. Wilcox has been in the House for 14 years representing the 2nd Legislative District and served as the House Republican leader for 5 years from 2018-23.

Notable Bills That Were Voted Off the Floor This Week:

Organic Food Waste (SHB 2301) as originally introduced contained problematic date labeling standards that would have removed the words “sell by” and replace them with “use by” or “best by” but this section was removed. The amended bill now focuses most of its attention on requiring local jurisdictions to create new composting facilities and add composting to curbside collection. It also contains a grant program and a workgroup for collaborating on how to further incentivize businesses to reduce waste. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 30-19.

Employer Political Speech (SB 5778) prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee refusing to attend or participate in an employer-sponsored meeting communicating the employer’s opinion concerning religious or political matters. The bill passed the House by a vote of 55-41.

Worker Wage Recovery (HB 2097) requires the Department of Labor and Industries to convene a workgroup to recommend strategies helping workers recover wages owed when an employer violates provisions of the Minimum Wage Act or wage payment requirements. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

Water Consumptive Quantity (HB 1752) allows the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, under special circumstances, to apply for a change in the number of acres that could be irrigated with water rights held by the Bureau for water use within the boundaries of the Columbia Basin Project. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

Limiting Neonicotinoid Pesticides (SB 5972) as originally introduced would have prohibited anyone from using neonicotinoid pesticides on outdoor plants in the state, with limited exemptions. In response to concerns raised from the agriculture community, the bill was amended to include an exemption for applications made by a licensed applicator or during the production of an agricultural commodity. The bill was amended in the House to allow homeowners to do tree injections, allow the director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) to authorize the use of neonicotinoid pesticides upon identification of an urgent pest threat and to require WSDA to review and update rules related to such pesticides by June 30, 2025, and every four years thereafter. The bill passed the House by a vote of 78-16, but because the House amended the bill, it needs to go back to the Senate to approve the amendments before it is sent to the Governor for bill action.

Energy Appeals Process for Environmental and Land Use Matters (SHB 2039) is part of a multiyear effort to improve the energy siting process in Washington state. This bill specifically focuses on modifying and streamlining the appeals process. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 44-5.

Equal Pay Protected Classes (HB 1905) amends the Equal Pay and Opportunities Act to prohibit an employer from discriminating against employees that are members of a protected class. This includes discrimination based on the employee’s age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, honorably discharged veteran or military status, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 36-13.

Paid Sick Leave (SB 5793) would allow an employee to use paid sick leave when their child’s school or care center is closed due to weather or a public emergency. Additionally, the bill would expand the definition of family member for the purpose of using paid sick leave. The bill passed the House by a vote of 76-19.

Agriculture Pests & Disease Response (HB 2147) comes at the request of the WSDA. The legislation creates the pest and disease response account to better allow the WSDA to respond to emerging agricultural pest and disease response activities by ensuring available funding. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

H-2A Worker Program Data (HB 2226) requires the Employment Security Department, when conducting field checks or field visits of an employer, to collect data on the number and location of H-2A workers. The bill also requires the Department to conduct annual wage surveys of workers hand-harvesting apples, cherries, pears, and blueberries. The bill was amended and passed the Senate by a vote of 27-22. Amending language requires ESD to use best practices for administering a field survey of unknown populations.

 Lived Experience (HB 1541) is carry-over legislation from the 2023 session that would establish the Nothing About Us Without Us Act. The legislation requires that when certain, statutorily established task forces are working on an issue that “directly and tangibly” affects an underrepresented population, a representative from that population must be appointed to the workgroup. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 40-9.

Antitrust Penalties (HB 2072) is Attorney General-request legislation. This legislation increases the maximum penalty for price-fixing, illegal collusion, and other antitrust violations to three times the illegal gains or loss avoided. Under current law, penalties are $180,000 for individuals and $900,000 for an entity. The bill passed out of the Senate by a vote of 29-20.

 Notable Bills That Did Not Make Opposite House Cutoff or Fiscal Cutoff (Dead Bills):

Global Emission Reporting for Large Businesses (SSB 6092) as originally introduced, this legislation would have created additional emission reporting requirements for businesses operating in Washington state with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion. SB 6092 was modeled after legislation that was passed in California last year. The bill was amended and narrowed down to a study. Instead of requiring new reporting standards for large businesses, it requires Ecology to issue a report on the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) proposed climate disclosure requirements and make recommendations for how Washington may align its own reporting requirements with the SEC’s and whether they will be sufficient for purposes of complying with Washington’s climate related policy goals. The bill failed to move out of the House by the deadline, but could end up as a budget proviso in the final budget.

Refrigerant Stewardship Program (E2SHB 2401) would have required producers and importers of bulk refrigerants and equipment to pay into a stewardship program based on how much refrigerant they bring into the state. Money collected would be managed by a nonprofit refrigerant stewardship organization and would have funded cash payments to refrigerant technicians for each pound of refrigerant gas they recover and return.

Freight Railroad Infrastructure (ESHB 1371) aimed to incentivize maintenance, preservation, and new investment in rail within our state. The bill would create business and occupation, public utility, and retail sales and use tax credits and exemptions for donated materials, maintenance, modernization, and new construction on short line railroad track. If desired, leadership could designate this “NTIB” since it is referenced in the House budget and bring it up for a vote.

Even-Numbered Elections (HB 1932) would have allowed a city, town, or special purpose district to hold its elections in even-numbered years. Once the election is moved to even-years it could not move back to odd-numbered years, even if voter turnout increases.

Irrigation District Elections (SB 5709) is carry-over legislation from the 2023 session. SB 5709 would have permitted irrigation district board of directors to conduct an election via mail-in ballots. The bill also clarified who may vote in an irrigation district election and establishes measures to ensure election security.

Transparency in Rulemaking (SB 5835) would have required state agencies to provide a summaries of no more than 100 words in plain language of all proposed rules, emergency rules, and permanent rules proposed or adopted within the past 12 months on their website.

Bills That Did Not Make Deadline But Could be Designated Necessary to Implement the Budget:

Pesticide Application Committee (SB 6166) extends the Pesticide Application Safety Committee and the advisory work group from July 1, 2025, to July 1, 2035.

Tax Exempt Agriculture Products (SB 5915) extends an existing exemption from the hazardous substance tax (HST) for pesticides that are stored in or transported through Washington prior to sale out of state through 2036. Eligible pesticides may not be manufactured, packaged, sold, or used in Washington. The preference improves industry competitiveness by providing tax relief to Washington businesses that store or transport pesticides sold out of state.

Sales & Use Tax Remittance for Farmers (HB 1757) provides a sales and use tax exemption in the form of a remittance of up to $10,000 on goods and services purchased by an eligible farmer. An eligible farmer has the same meaning as in the B&O tax exemption for the custom farming statute.