State legislative report 01/23: In hearing, ag comes out in force against buffer bill

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Last week concluded the second week of the 60-day session. Legislative committees have been busy with packed agendas holding hearings on new bills and voting to advance bills out of their policy committee.  As of Jan. 21, more than 500 bills have been introduced in the House and more than 400 in the Senate. Less than two weeks remain until the first legislative deadline, Feb. 3, 2022, when all bills must be voted out of their respective policy committees to remain alive.

Agriculture Comes Out in Force in Opposition to Riparian Buffer Bill

Last week, the main focus for agriculture was the governor’s salmon recovery bill, House Bill 1838, which would take a significant amount of farmland out of production with little compensation to farmers. The bill was drafted without any input from agricultural groups, not to mention the Governor’s office did not consult the Washington State Department of Agriculture while drafting the bill.  In addition, there was little outreach to local governments and builders who would also be impacted by the legislation.

The bill was initially scheduled for a public hearing in the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee on Jan. 19. However, the hearing on the bill brought such sweeping interest from across the state, that the hearing was required to spill over to an additional day. In total 114 individuals signed in to testify with more than 80 individuals raising concerns on the proposal. More than 3,500 individuals signed in to state their opinion—not wishing to testify—well over half of which were in opposition to the measure.

At the public hearings, governor staff, the Tribes, environmental groups and commercial fishermen testified in support of the legislation. Dozens of farmers, including wheat grower Nicole Berg from Benton County, testified in opposition explaining how their farms would be detrimentally impacted by this legislation.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a vote of the committee. Agriculture must continue to be heard on how devasting this bill would be to the industry.

Hearing Held on Custom Farming Tax Exemption

Last week kicked off with a hearing on the custom farming tax exemption. House bill 1641, sponsored by Rep. Larry Hoff (R-Vancouver), which was heard in the House Finance Committee on Monday. The bill would reinstate the business and occupation tax (B&O) exemption for custom farming and the public utilities tax exemption for the hauling of farm products.

HB 1641 recognizes and reflects the reality of operating farming businesses under a common ownership structure by exempting payments between the commonly owned farms from the taxes at hand. Anecdotally this bill is needed by the farming community as a family farm may hire employees that work among the different farm operations. Without the passage of this legislation, the farm would have to pay the employees working among multiple operations several different checks from the different operations in order to avoid paying B&O tax on the transfer of funds between the operations.

WAWG signed in support of HB 1641 along with other agricultural stakeholders.

House Passes Legislation Delaying the Long-Term Care Act

As previously reported, Democratic Leadership has prioritized two bills making modifications to the Long-Term Care Act to address backlash and concerns that have emerged over the new payroll tax.

On Jan. 19, the House passed both bills after a lengthy debate on the merits of the program. During the floor debate, Republicans continued to call for a full repeal of the program.

  • House Bill 1732 delays the implementation from Jan. 1, 2022 to July 1, 2023 (18 months). The bill would also allow some workers currently near retirement age to claim prorated benefits. People born before 1968 and who won’t be fully vested under the program’s current structure will be able to get partial benefits based on the number of years they ultimately pay into the program. It also provides that any premiums collected from the employee prior to July 1, 2023, shall be refunded to the employee within 120 days of the collection of the premiums. HB 1732 passed by a vote of 91-6.
  • House Bill 1733 allows disabled veterans, spouses or domestic partners of active-duty service members, nonimmigrant visa holders, and Washington workers who hold residence outside of the state to seek exemption from the program. The bill stipulates that should the status qualifying a worker for the exemption change for any of the groups outside of disabled veterans, their exemption will be discontinued. HB 1733 passed by a vote of 67-29.

Both bills will now proceed to the Senate.

Governor Continues to Focus on Building Decarbonization

Governor Inslee’s four priority bills aimed a decarbonizing the building sector continue to see action in the Legislature.

Strengthening Energy Codes

On Jan. 19 and 21, the House Local Government Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1770, “Strengthening Energy Codes.” The bill, introduced by Rep. Davina Duerr (D-Bothell), proposes a net-zero ready requirement for all new construction beginning in 2034, meaning each project must reduce energy use by 80 percent, use all-electric equipment and appliances, implement electrical panel capacity and wiring for solar panels, and incorporate electric vehicle charging and battery storage. Additionally, the legislation would allow local jurisdictions to adopt a new statewide “reach code” for residential construction which cities, towns, and counties are currently preempted from doing. While HB 1770 saw support from several cities across Western Washington, it was met with pushback from the business community, building trade unions and utilities.

Targeted Electrification

On Jan. 19, the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee heard Senate Bill 5666, sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood). This bill seeks to provide explicit authority for municipally owned utilities and public utility districts to incentivize “targeted electrification.” In order to incentivize “targeted electrification,” a utility must adopt a plan establishing that the utility’s outreach and investments will provide net benefits to the utility. Last week, the companion bill, House Bill 1767, also had a public hearing

Hearing Held on Emissions Intensive Trade Exposed (EITE) Legislation

On Jan. 18, the House Environment and Energy Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1682, which would create a compliance pathway for Emissions Intensive Trade Exposed (EITE) businesses, such as food processors, as required by the passage of the Climate Commitment Act (CCA)/Cap and Trade. Last year’s passage of the CCA required trailer legislation to determine a compliance pathway for EITEs from 2035 to 2050. During the public hearing, several businesses testified in opposition, citing the need for feasible emissions reduction targets that take into account technological limitations and raising concerns for out-of-state employment and emission leakage. Environmental advocates testified in support of the bill highlighting their support of the initial Climate Commitment Act.

Other Notable Bills that Saw Action last Week:

  • Improving Statewide Coordination in Support of Anadromous Fish Recovery (HB 1653), sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Anacortes), builds upon the governor’s salmon recovery efforts announced in December’s budget rollout. HB 1653 was heard in the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee and aims to create a new venue for state agencies and tribes to come together and review progress towards salmon recovery. As a part of this effort, the bill lays out actionable steps for the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office, including reviewing, coordinating and updating regional salmon recovery plans. The bill also establishes the State Salmon Cabinet to foster statewide coordination and interagency relationships on salmon.
  • Organic Waste (HB 1799), sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-West Seattle), was heard in the House Environment and Energy Committee over the course of Thursday and Friday. The bill tackles a host of issues related to the disposal of organic waste including setting statewide organic waste target requirements, putting in place organics management requirements for businesses, introducing funding and incentives for methane emissions reduction activities, and detailing new provisions regarding deceptive compost labeling. Of particular interest, the bill updates the Good Samaritan Law, expanding and updating the civil and criminal liability protections that apply to food donated to nonprofit organizations. Under Washington’s Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, persons are not subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product donated in good faith to a nonprofit organization for distribution to needy individuals. Several food producers in the state have raised a hesitancy to donate based on potential liability concerns. At this time, the bill has not been scheduled for executive action.
  • Modernizing the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (HB 1812), sponsored by Joe Fitzgibbon (D-West Seattle), would establish the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) as an independent agency separate from UTC. HB 1812 expands EFSEC jurisdiction to allow clean energy product manufacturing facilities and renewable natural gas facilities to opt into the EFSEC siting process. The proposal changes the way EFSEC interacts with local jurisdictional planning and no longer allows new concerns to be raised during the final public hearing. The bill had a public hearing on January 21 in the House Environment and Energy Committee.
  • Reusable Packing Materials (HB 1830), sponsored by Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) would clarify that renting or leasing of packing material under a packing material sharing and reuse program is not a retail sale and therefore is not subject to retail sales and use tax. The clarification provided by HB 1830 is necessary as a recent Washington Court of Appeals decision determined that reusable wooden pallets leased by food manufacturers constituted a “retail sale” and are subject to sales and use taxes. Under the bill, packing materials include boxes, crates, pallets, bottles, cans, drums, cartons, wrapping paper s, cellophane, twines, gummed tapes, wire, bands, excelsior, and wastepaper. The bill was heard in the House Finance Committee this week with support from both the agricultural community and environmental advocates. The tree fruit industry is leading the efforts to pass this legislation.
  • Moratorium on Siting of Alt. Energy Facilities through EFSEC (HB 1871), sponsored by Rep. Mark Klicker (R-Walla Walla), focuses on looking at the disproportionate siting of renewable energy projects in Washington’s smaller counties. The bill would direct the Department of Commerce to complete a report on alternative energy siting inequity by December 2022 and establishes the Joint Select Committee on alternative energy facility siting to make recommendations to the Legislature by December 2023. The measure requires Commerce to form and consult with a utility technical advisory group while completing the report. While work on the report and recommendations are underway, EFSEC may not submit recommendations to the governor nor shall the governor act on pending recommendations related to proposed alternative energy facilities. The bill had a public hearing on Jan. 21 in the House Local Government
  • Irrigation District Elections (SSB 5342), sponsored by Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville), passed out of the Senate unanimously this week. The bill would authorize irrigation district board of directors, by adoption of resolution, 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.
  • Washington Water Infrastructure Program (SB 5632), sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) would establish the Washington Water Infrastructure Program, appropriating a notable $5 billion for critical water infrastructure projects using available federal funds and dedicating a constant portion of the omnibus capital appropriations act for water infrastructure needs. Under the proposal, the Washington Water Infrastructure Program would be administered as a competitive grant program to fund projects, increasing the availability of water for out-of-stream uses; reducing the risk of flooding as well as protecting and restoring damage caused by flooding; improving fish passage; and reducing stormwater pollution from existing development. On Monday, the bill was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee, however, executive action on the bill has not been scheduled at this time. WAWG signed in support of the bill.
  • Renaming the Commission on Pesticide Registration (SB 5653), sponsored by Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), would rename the name of the Commission on Pesticide Registration to the Commission on Integrated Pest Management in order to align the name of the Commission with the work it is conducting. This week the bill unanimously passed off the Senate floor. WAWG supports this bill.
  • Drought Preparedness (SB 5746), sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), would provide permanent funding to prepare and respond to drought emergencies, including unanticipated and sudden droughts. The bill would appropriate $2,000,000 from the general fund into the State Drought Preparedness Account at the beginning of each biennium and, at the issuance of a drought emergency order, require the State Treasurer to transfer an amount necessary to bring the balance of the newly established Emergency Drought Response Account to $3,000,000 from the general fund. SB 5746 would also authorize Ecology to respond earlier when droughts are declared. On Thursday, the bill was voted out of the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee with minor technical changes. WAWG signed in support of this legislation.