2024 State Legislative Report for week ending Feb. 4, 2024

By Diana Carlen,
Lobbyist, Washington Association of Wheat Growers

We have completed the fourth week of session. Jan. 31 marked the first important cutoff date of the 2024 Legislative Session. Cutoff dates play a crucial role in the legislative process as any bills that have not made it out of a policy committee are considered “dead” and no longer eligible to move forward this year. Legislation not covered by the first deadline includes bills that are considered necessary to implement the budget and initiatives. It is important to note that bills are never truly dead because their content can be amended into other legislation or rare procedural moves can occur to keep them alive.

Feb. 5 marked the second deadline when all bills had it out of their fiscal committees to remain alive. Starting Feb. 6, the Legislature will be focused on floor action until the next legislative deadline on Feb. 13, when all bills must pass out of their house of origin.

Seasonal Flexibility for Overtime Proposal Receives Last Minute Hearing

Legislation that would have allowed flexibility under the recent agriculture overtime requirements received a hearing right before the cutoff, but was never brought up for a vote, so it will not continue to move through the process this year.

SB 5476 is carry over from last year sponsored by Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima). Under the proposal, an agricultural employer would be able to select any 12 weeks in a calendar year as special circumstance weeks for labor demand. During the selected weeks, which do not need to be consecutive, the employer would be permitted to schedule agricultural employees up to 50 hours before the requirement to pay overtime would be triggered.

In his introductory remarks at the hearing, Sen. King noted many other states that have instituted overtime for agricultural workers have also addressed a seasonality provision. Because of a packed agenda, the committee was only able to hear from one panel of testifiers in support and one panel opposed. Those testifying in support included both farmers and farmworkers, speaking to the hardships each group has faced in light of the new overtime policies. Particularly moving testimony was from April Clayton, an orchardist, who tearfully explained to the committee that her family decided to stop farming two months ago primarily because of the new overtime requirement and that the returns were not there.

Among those testifying against the bill was the Washington State Labor Council arguing that overtime compensated workers for excessive hours. In total, close to 600 individuals signed in to express their opinion on the bill with the significant majority in support. Meanwhile, on Jan. 25, 300 farmworkers held a rally at the capitol advocating for the repeal or amendment of the overtime law.

Other Alive Bills After Cutoff:

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.

Solid Waste Management (HB 2049) is intended to increase recycling participation and address postconsumer recycled content in consumer packaging and paper products by establishing an EPR program. The proposal, also known as the “Re-Wrap Act” builds upon similar legislation from the 2023 session. While the version of the bill passed out of committee includes some exemptions for federally regulated items, the exemption did not include food contact packaging.

Organic Food Waste (SHB 2301) as originally introduced contained problematic date labeling standards and prohibited plastic produce stickers, but those provisions were removed when the bill moved out of the policy committee. 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.

CCA Linkage (SB 6058/SHB 2201) is governor-request legislation to facilitate linkage of Washington’s carbon market under the Climate Commitment Act (CCA) with California and Quebec.

Transition from Natural Gas for Puget  Sound Energy (HB 1589) would provide a path for the largest investor-owned utility, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), to transition out of the retail natural gas business. The revised bill bans PSE from connecting new natural gas for residential or commercial customers after June 30, 2023, unless a customer had filed an application for a connection by that date. The prohibition does not apply to facilities engaged in one or more manufacturing processes described by North American Industry Classification System codes beginning with 31, 32, or 33, which includes food manufacturing.

Global Emission Reporting for Large Businesses (SSB 6092) 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.

Agriculture Pests & Disease Response (SB 6036/HB 2147) is agency-request legislation by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). The legislation creates the pest and disease response account to better allow WSDA to respond to emerging agricultural pest and disease response activities by ensuring funding is available.

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.

Paid Sick Leave (SB 5793/HB 1991) 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.

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.

H-2A Worker Program Data (HB 2226/SB 5996) 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.

Avian Predation (HB 2293) directs the Department of Fish and Wildlife to convene an Avian Salmon Predation Work Group. The work group is required to report to the legislature by June 30, 2025, on avian species that predate on juvenile salmon, whether those species are overpopulated or overconsuming, and remedies for the harvest or abatement of those species.

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.

Tax Incentives for Farmers (HB 1936) establishes a B&O tax credit for farming inputs (like new equipment, infrastructure, seed, seedlings, spores, and animal feed) purchased by a farmer participating in a state conservation program. The bill was amended to add tax preference performance requirements and a review from JLARC.

Tax Exempt Agriculture Products (SB 5915/ HB 2454) extends the expiration date for the hazardous substance tax exemption for pesticides sold out of state from Jan. 1, 2026, to Jan. 1, 2036.

Deer & Elk Damage to Commercial Crops (SB 5784) is being requested by the Department of Fish & Wildlife (DFW). The bill would increase the available money for DFW to compensate from the general fund for deer and elk damage to commercial crops from $30,000 to $300,000. The proposal also requires DFW to review crop and livestock wildlife damage programs in other states and submit to the legislature by Dec. 1, 2024, a list of recommendations for changes to Washington state.

Dead Bills After Cutoff:

Small Off-Road Engines (HB 2051) would have banned gas powered small engines in Washington by authorizing the Department of Ecology to adopt California’s small off-road engine and equipment (SORE) standards. While some agricultural equipment, chainsaws and generators would have been exempted, most other small gas engines would be prohibited beginning 2027. Also, California could have changed their requirements at any time and Washington state would have been bound by the California decision.

Right to Repair Agriculture Equipment (House Bill 1933) would have required an original manufacturer of digital electronic products and parts first manufactured and first sold or leased on or after Jan. 1, 2021, to make available to independent repair providers and owners beginning Jan. 1, 2025, on fair and reasonable terms, any parts, tools, and documentation required for the diagnosis, maintenance, or repair of such products and parts. The Farm Bureau opposed this legislation since this situation has been effectively resolved through an industry led solution through MOUs with manufacturers.

Recycling Rates (HB 1900) was an alternative to the Re-Wrap Act (HB 2049) creating an EPR (enhanced producer program). HB 1900 would have expanded on the state’s existing recycling programs as opposed to establishing a new EPR program. While HB 1900 did not move, it could show up on the House floor calendar as a striker (a rewrite of HB 2049) to HB 2049 if HB 2049 ends up on the floor calendar like last year.

Banning Certain Food Additives (HB 1921) would have banned any person from manufacturing, selling, distributing, holding or offering for sale, food products containing the following additives beginning on Jan. 1, 2027: brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben and red dye 3.

Energy Sites Water Supply (SB 5992) would have required applicants seeking Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council certification for a facility generating electricity using renewable resources to provide evidence of an adequate water supply for the project.

Instream Resources (HB 2105) was an attempt to provide a partial fix to the Foster decision dealing with municipal water rights. The bill would have allowed out-of-place and out-of-time mitigation, but not out-of-kind mitigation. It would also have required Fish and Wildlife to declare there would be no detrimental impact to the fisheries and would require consultation with affected tribes. The requirements would have applied to all types of water right permit applications where an instream flow has been set.

Family Farms Water (HB 2187) would have allowed the Department of Ecology to authorize a permanent or temporary appropriation of water that would have adverse impacts on instream flows with appropriate mitigation, or where overriding considerations of the public interest will be served. Under the bill, certain family farms are determined to be of the public interest.

Untreated Sewage Discharges (HB 2290) requires a one cent fee for every gallon of discharge contaminated by untreated sewage that a municipal sewer system or treatment plant releases into the Puget Sound or connected waters.

Agriculture Instruction (SB 5813) would have required school districts to offer instruction in agricultural literacy beginning no later than the 2025-26 school year.