By Diana Carlen
Lobbyist, Washington Association of Wheat Growers
The Legislature recently passed the halfway point of the 60-day legislative session and the second major deadline — the fiscal committee cutoff. This means fiscal bills that were not voted out of their respective fiscal committees in the chamber (Senate or House) where they were introduced, are likely “dead” for the session. Bills necessary to implement the budget (NTIB) and initiatives are exempt from these deadlines.
On Feb. 6, the Legislature began an eight-day stretch of floor action running up to the house of origin cutoff. The next deadline requires bills to be approved by the chamber of origin (House bills need to be approved by the House, and Senate bills need to be approved by the Senate) by 5 p.m. on Feb. 13 to remain under consideration this session.
An updated revenue forecast will be released on Feb. 14, which will provide budget writers with important fiscal data before they release their budget proposals. The Senate plans to release their proposed supplemental capital budget on Feb. 15 and their proposed supplemental operating budget on Feb. 19. The Senate has not disclosed when their supplemental transportation budget will be released. The House will be releasing their proposed budgets shortly after the Senate, and then both chambers will negotiate to adopt final budgets.
EPR Bill Awaiting Floor Action
The EPR bill, known as the Re-Wrap Act (2SHB 2049), is currently sitting on the House floor calendar and could be brought up for a vote if House Democrat leadership chooses to bring it up before Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline. 2SBH 2049 would establish an Enhanced Producer Responsibility (EPR) program and set standards for postconsumer recycled content in consumer packaging and paper products.
SHB 2049 may suffer the same fate as last year and die on the House floor. It is unclear if House Democrat leadership will bring SHB 2049 up for a full vote of the House because there are currently several proposed amendments to the bill, including an amendment that would strike SHB 2049 entirely and replace it with a competing recycling proposal, HB 1900. HB 1900 does not establish an EPR program and instead builds off the state’s existing recycling program.
Both HB 2SHB 2049 and HB 1900 are sponsored by Democrats, which has split the membership of the House Democrat caucus. House Republicans have locked up against 2SHB 2049 and support the new version of HB 1900, which includes an exemption from the bill for perishable food that was requested by agricultural groups.
Meanwhile, the deposit return system legislation (SHB 2144) is currently a stand-alone bill and is currently still in the House Rules Committee awaiting a pull to the House floor calendar.
Notable Bills That Passed Chamber of Origin Last Week:
Agriculture Pests & Disease Response (SB 6036) is agency-request legislation by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (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 funding is available. The Senate passed the bill unanimously this past week.
Irrigation District Elections (SB 5709) is carry-over legislation from the 2023 session where the bill stalled in the House. SB 5709 would permit irrigation district board of directors to conduct an election via mail-in ballots. The bill also clarifies who may vote in an irrigation district election and establishes measures to ensure election security. The bill passed out of the Senate 48-1.
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 House passed the bill 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 Office of Agricultural and Seasonal Workforce Services to conduct annual wage surveys of workers hand harvesting apples, cherries, pears, and blueberries. The bill passed the House by a vote of 54-42.
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 Senate by a vote of 28-20 with an amendment specifying the bill does not prohibit an employer from requiring employees to attend training intended to reduce workplace harassment.
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 to include any individual who regularly resides in the employee’s home or where the relationship creates an expectation the employee care for the person, and that individual depends on the employee for care. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 28-21.
Pesticide Application Committee (SB 6166/HB 2302) extends the Pesticide Application Safety Committee and the advisory work group from July 1, 2025 to July 1, 2035. Both bills passed their respective chambers unanimously.
Bills Awaiting Floor Action:
Organic Food Waste (SHB 2301), as originally introduced, prohibited the use of plastic produce stickers, but that section was removed from the bill. 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.
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.
Transportation Electrification Strategy (SSB 6304) would implement some of the recommendations of the transportation electrification strategy. The bill contains a provision that would direct the Department of Ecology to create an anti-idling program, similar to a California program. Commercial trucks over 10,000 pounds would be prohibited from idling longer than five minutes. Ecology would be tasked with implementing any exemptions in rulemaking.
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 amended bill also removed the requirement that neonicotinoid pesticides be designated as restricted use pesticides.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits for Striking Workers (SB 5777/HB 1893) would make strikers eligible for unemployment benefits. Striking workers would be eligible for unemployment benefits beginning the second week after a walk out.
Notable Dead Bills After Fiscal Cutoff:
Paid Family Leave Premiums for Small Employers (HB 1959) would have removed the exemption in current law allowing employers with fewer than 50 employees to not pay any portion of the premium for the Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) Program.
Incorporating Environmental Justice Into SEPA Projects (HB 2070/SB 5990) would have integrated environmental justice considerations into certain projects. Proposals would have required lead agencies to pay for and complete an environmental justice impact statement on many projects defined as a “potentially impactful project.”
Suitability of Lands (HB 2336) would have require the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), in consultation with the State Conservation Commission, to perform an assessment of unused and underutilized state-owned lands to determine their suitability for agricultural purposes. For those not suitable for agricultural purposes the bill requires the Washington State University Energy Program to perform an assessment to determine the suitability of such lands for renewable energy production purposes.
Salmon Planning Review (HB 2463) would have directed the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee to conduct a performance audit of salmon planning and recovery efforts in two watersheds in Eastern Washington and two watersheds in Western Washington.
Beaver Ecosystem Management (SB 5846) would have directed the Department of Fish and Wildlife to implement a beaver ecosystem management plan. The bill would also have established a grant program to provide beaver education and outreach, technical assistance, and resources to assist landowners living with beavers on their property.
Methane in Agriculture (HB 1574) would have allowed grant funds from the Sustainable Farms and Fields Program to be used for practices that increase carbon sequestration in soil organic matter levels and standing vegetation as well as reduce livestock and soil greenhouse gas emissions. Budget writers could decide to fund this in the budget and deem it “necessary to implement the budget” so may get revived.