Legislative report 03/17: Legislature passes budgets, adjourns

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

The 2020 legislative session wrapped up on March 12, concluding its intense 60-day session on-time for the third year in a row.  Legislators began the 2020 session primarily focused on homelessness, housing and figuring out transportation funding in light of voter-approved $30 car tabs.  Democratic lawmakers also hoped to use their large majorities in the legislature to pass new laws on climate change and gun control.  Republicans hoped to restore $30 car tabs after a King County judge granted an injunction preventing the law from going into effect and for property tax relief given larger than expected revenues to the state.

On the final day of the session, the Legislature approved the supplemental operating budget. However, fears about the potential economic fallout from COVID-19 led lawmakers to cut spending they had originally proposed for the state supplemental operating budget.  The final budget adds just over $1 billion in new spending to the $52.4 billion, two-year budget passed by lawmakers last April and includes no new taxes. Earlier proposals had also left little in reserves, but the final budget leaves $3 billion in total reserves at the end of the biennium.

In one of their final acts before they adjourned, lawmakers increased emergency coronavirus funding from $100 million to $200 million. Of that amount, $175 million will be directed to state and local public health agencies and the remaining $25 million will be transferred into the newly created COVID-19 unemployment account to help businesses and workers disrupted by the pandemic. While the Legislature passed the supplemental budget mostly along party lines, funding for the coronavirus was approved in both houses unanimously.

Some other highlights of the supplemental operating budget include:

  • Homelessness and Housing: $160 million to address housing and homelessness.
  • Climate Change: $50 millionto address the climate crisis by investing in communities and projects to enhance mitigation and resilience.
  • Fire Suppression – $25 million is provided for the costs of fire suppression for DNR.
  • Climate Change Risks – $2,339,000 is provided for Ecology to adopt rules to strengthen and standardize the consideration of climate change risks, vulnerability and greenhouse gas emissions in environmental assessments for major projects with significant environmental impacts.
  • Statewide Emissions Reduction Strategies – $600,000 is provided to Commerce to develop a comprehensive analysis of statewide emissions reduction strategies.
  • Pesticide Investigation Report – $87,000 is provided to WSDA to work with other state agencies, local health jurisdictions and the state poison center and stakeholders to evaluate pesticide investigation rules and processes. Requires a report to the legislature by June 30, 2021.
  • Chlorpyrifos – $299,000 is provided to WSDA and $280,000 to WSU to implement the provisions of E2SSB 6518.
  • Growth Management Workgroup – $350,000 is provided for a workgroup to review and make recommendations for legislation to update the Growth Management Act in light of roadmap in the recent Ruckelshaus Center report. The work group must report on its activities and recommendations by December 1, 2020.
  • Water Banking Work Group – funding is provided for Ecology to convene a work group of affected entities to study the design and use of the state water trust, water banking and water transfers. Ecology must present its findings by December 1, 2020.
  • Conservation District Support – $ 332,000 is provided for the Conservation Commission to increase the capacity of conservation districts to assist landowners in environmental stewardship and achieving agricultural sustainability.
  • Hatchery Improvements – $500,000 is provided for DFW to conduct a mastery planning process and plan to assess and prioritize hatchery improvements based on the recommendations of the southern resident killer whale task force, including prioritization of a new Cowlitz river salmon hatchery.
  • Soil Health Initiative – $55,000 is provided to the State Conservation Commission, $200,00 to WSDA and $788,000 to implement the provisions of SSB 6306 (Soil Health Initiative).
  • WA Food Policy Forum – $59,000 is provided to the State Conservation Commission and $58,000 to WSDA to implement the provisions of SSB 6091 (Continuing Work of WA Food Policy Forum).
  • DNR Land Sales/Transfers – Requires DNR to report to the Legislature by July 2020 on those parcels currently used for commercial or nonresource use purposes and those identified by the department as transition lands likely to be sold or redeveloped for nonresource use.
  • State Inspections of Meat – $150,000 is provided for WSDA to work with USDA to explore and negotiate a cooperative agreement to conduct state inspections of meat and poultry facilities. Also includes funding for WSDA to work with Canada to develop labeling standards regarding country of origin for beef and other meat products.
  • Sustainable Farms and Fields – $99,000 is provided to the Conservation Commission and $126,000 to WSDA to implement the provisions of SSB 5947 (Sustainable Farms and Fields).
  • Net Ecological Gain – $256,000 is provided to the Office of Financial Management to submit a report to the legislature on how to incorporate a net ecological gain standard into state land use, development and environmental laws.
  • HPA Assistance – $8000,00 is provided for DFW to create a statewide permittee assistance program as part of hydraulic project approvals, in which department staff collaborate with landowners during construction to help resolve risks for permit noncompliance.
  • Solar Siting Project – $500,000 is provided to WSU’s energy program to launch a least-conflict priority solar siting pilot project in the Columbia basin of eastern and central Washington. There must be engagement with stakeholders to identify priority areas where there is the least amount of potential conflict in the siting of utility scale solar.

Legislature Passes Bi-Partisan Supplemental Transportation Budget

Heading into the 2020 legislative session, lawmakers were concerned how they would deal with the impacts of the passage of $30 car tab initiative (I-976) last November, but were able to pass  a supplemental transportation budget (HB 2322) almost unanimously that avoids significant cuts to road projects or transit service.  They did this without adding new revenue, instead choosing to address the $453 million shortfall left by the initiative by targeting anticipated underspend for the current biennium.

The $10.4 billion transportation budget fully funds the paused project list and maintains current funding levels for the maintenance and preservation programs. It does not utilize general fund dollars but it does assume a higher rate of cost underruns on projects than what was originally contemplated. Governor Inslee has responded to the passage of the supplemental transportation budget by stating that he is directing WSDOT to move forward on projects that have been paused.

Notable Legislation That Passed:

 Chlorpyrifos Regulation (E2SSB 6518). This bill originally banned most chlorpyrifos use unless it was exempted and also created an emergency permit process. It was amended in the House to remove the ban, exemptions, and emergency permit process on chlorpyrifos in favor of giving WSDA emergency rulemaking authority for controls on chlorpyrifos to prevent public exposures (rules to take effect by January 1, 2022.)

Minimum Crew Size (HB 1841). This bill establishes minimum crew size requirements on trains transporting hazardous and non-hazardous material. The bill would require a minimum crew size of two for common carrier and passenger trains. The final legislation exempted shoreline railroads (Class III railroads) from the crew size requirement when traveling under twenty-five miles per hour.  This issue is likely to get litigated over federal preemption issues.

Sustainable Farms & Fields (2SSB 5947). This bill requires the Conservation Commission to create a sustainable farming grants program and sets guidelines for how the program should be administered. It requires that certain activities be eligible for grants, including on-farm fossil fuel input efficiency measures, agroforestry, and carbon farming. It also Requires WSDA to report biennially to the Legislature on the performance of the program.

Drought Preparedness and Response (ESHB 1622). The bill authorizes Ecology to issue drought advisories when there is a risk of drought conditions and directs it to start a pilot program to explore cost, feasibility, and benefits of entering into long term water right lease agreements. It also changes Ecology’s responsibilities when a drought order is issued, including requiring consultation with tribes prior to a drought order, considering undue hardship to local water users as a result of an order, and listing other requirements for Ecology to consider when considering an order. It also prioritizes survival of irrigated crops, fisheries, and small community water resources in emergency drought orders.

State Greenhouse Gas Targets (E2SHB 2311). This bill changes the state’s greenhouse gas emissions limits to reduce state emissions to 45% of 1990 levels by 2030 (changed from 25% reduction by 2035), and adds limits of 70% emissions reduction by 2040 and 95% reduction by 2050. It also establishes an additional “net zero” emissions standard for state agencies by 2050. It also requires state government to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, includes reporting requirements for agencies, and requires agencies to take all practicable opportunities to maximize carbon sequestration in their nonland management activities.

Soil Health Initiative (SSB 6306). The bill creates the Soil Health Initiative as a jointly administered project by WSU, WSCC, and WSDA in order to improve agricultural viability, food nutrition, and environmental functions by better focusing research on soil health and soil biology. It requires a progress report to the legislature by October 1, 2020.

Food Policy Forum (SSB 6091). The bill continues the Washington Food Policy Forum as a public-private partnership to develop recommendations for improving the state’s food system.

Boeing B&O Tax Preference: Lawmakers passed legislation that for now ends the state’s Business & Occupation (B&O) tax preference for aerospace manufacturers. SB 6690 was brought by Boeing as a way to resolve a dispute at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and avoid retaliatory trade tariffs. Legislators have worried that WTO tariffs could ripple out far beyond aerospace, hurting Washington products like agricultural exports.

Notable Legislation That Failed to Pass:

Low Carbon Fuel Standard: Senate lawmakers for the second year failed to act on legislation (E2SHB 1110) authorizing the Department of Ecology to enact a low carbon fuel standard despite passing the House two years in a row.

Cap and Trade (SB 5981).  This legislation would have required Ecology to implement a greenhouse gas emissions cap and trade program to achieve the state’s GHG emission reduction limits. The bill states that the Department of Ecology would adopt rules for giving emission allowances to suppliers of electricity at no cost.

Regulation of Indirect Emitters (SSB 6628) would have amended the state Clean Air Act (CAA) to authorize the Dept. of Ecology to regulate both direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions in response to the WA Supreme Court partially invalidating the Clean Air Rule.

DNR Lease Terminations (SHB 2498), sponsored by Rep. Chris Corry (R – Yakima, 14th LD). This bill would have required DNR to compensate lessees in the event that DNR terminate a state land lease for agricultural or grazing purposes. Although the bill passed the House unanimously, the bill stalled in the Senate.  DNR has said that they will

Special Purpose District Elections (SHB 2415). The bill would have changed qualified electors from landowners in the district to registered voters residing in the district. This would have disenfranchised numerous landowners/farmers who do not reside in the district or have organized their farms as partnership, LLC or other corporate entities. Non-natural “persons” currently vote in irrigation district elections but they, obviously, can’t register to vote.

Legislative Retirement Announcements

Several legislators have announced that they will not be seeking re-election in 2020 and will be leaving the legislature at the end of the year:

  • Sherry Appleton (D – Poulsbo, 23rd LD).
  • Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D – Seattle, 37th LD). Pettigrew is retiring form the legislature to serve as the Director, Suite Services & Community Ambassador at NHL Seattle.
  • Richard DeBolt (R – Chehalis, 20th LD). Rep. DeBolt will still continue to work for NW Innovation Works, the firm building a methanol plant in Kalama.
  • Norma Smith (R – Clinton, 10th LD).
  • Gael Tarleton (D – Seattle, 36th LD). Rep. Tarleton will not seek re-election in the legislature and instead is running for Secretary of State against incumbent Kim Wyman.
  • Beth Doglio (D – Olympia, 22nd LD). Rep. Doglio is not seeking re-election and is instead running for Congress to replace Congressman Denny Heck in the 10th Congressional District.
  • Pat Sullivan (D – Covington, 47th LD). Rep. Sullivan is currently the House Democratic Majority Leader.
  • Christine Kilduff (D – University Place, 28th LD).
  • Mike Pellicciotti (D – Federal Way, 30th LD). He will not seek re-election and will instead run for State Treasurer against incumbent, Duane Davidson.
  • Senator Randi Becker (R – Olympia, 2nd LD).
  • Senator Maureen Walsh (R – Walla Walla, 16th LD).
  • Senator Hans Zeiger (R – Puyallup, 25th LD). Senator Zeiger will instead run for a seat on the Pierce County Council in 2020.

See the bill tracker report.