By Diana Carlen
Last Friday marked the 19th day of the 2022 Legislative Session. Committees are still holding hearings on new bills as well as scheduling bills for executive action (voting bills out of policy and fiscal committees). Bills are continuously being revised as they move through the legislative process which requires ongoing monitoring and review. As of Friday, Jan. 28, more than 500 bills have been introduced in the House and more than 450 in the Senate this year. Less than a week remains until the first legislative deadline, Feb. 3, when all policy bills must be voted out of their policy committee. After that deadline, the number of bills under consideration will lower dramatically.
Governor’s Riparian Buffer Bill Appears Dead for Now
There has been a lot of drama involving the Governor’s salmon recovery bill, House Bill 1838, also known as the Lorraine Loomis Act. There have been unconfirmed reports that the bill, in its original format, does not have enough votes to pass out of committee and will be pared down. Agricultural groups oppose moving the bill out of committee in any format given the lack of stakeholder process in developing the bill. There has also been no analysis conducted by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) on impacts to the industry, since they were not consulted about the legislation. Additionally, the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow), has reportedly said the bill would not pass in 2022 and that more work needs to be done between the Tribes, farmers and the fishing industry.
While this is positive news, the issue is not going away and could still be revived in another bill or through the budget this session. It is likely that supporters of the bill will try to put a proviso in the supplemental budget to continue these conversations. We could also see increased funding for salmon recovery such as through the Voluntary Stewardship Program or the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program in the supplemental budget.
Senator Carlyle announces Retirement
Following a string of legislative retirement announcements this fall, Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) announced last week that he does not plan to seek re-election this fall. Sen. Carlyle has represented Washington’s 36th Legislative District since 2008, serving in both chambers.
In recent years Sen. Carlyle was known for his work as Chair of the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee. While in the House, he served as Finance Chair and was someone who routinely questioned the value of the agricultural industry’s tax incentives. He also had stated in a legislative hearing a couple of years ago that the industry did not pay any taxes.
Current State Rep. Noel Frame (D-Seattle) announced she is planning to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Carlyle. Rep. Frame currently serves as the House Finance Chair.
Governor Signs Long-Term Care Act Delay
On Thursday, Gov. Inslee signed two bills that make modifications to the Long-Term Care Act, a program to provide long term care benefits to Washington workers, funded through a 0.58 percent payroll tax. As anticipated, both bills have moved quickly through the legislative process, receiving public hearing, executive action, and a full vote out of the Senate this week. While Republicans have continued to call for a full repeal of the program, many voted in favor of both bills.
- House Bill 1732 delays the implementation from Jan.1, 2022 to July 1, 2023 (18 months). This bill also addresses near retirement age workers by allowing a person born before Jan. 1, 1968, who has not met the duration requirements, including payment of the premium, to be eligible for the program at the percentage of years paid into the program.
- 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.
With the delay of the law provided in House Bill 1732, employers are not required to withhold premiums from their employees for 18 months. However, it is important to note that if an employer has already begun withholding premiums, they must refund them to the employee within 120 days of collection.
Gov. Inslee’s Decarbonization Bills
Gov. Inslee’s four priority bills aimed at decarbonizing the building sector continue to see action in the Legislature. This week, House Bill 1766, “Modifying the regulation of gas companies to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” sponsored by Rep. Alex Ramel (D-Bellingham), received a public hearing in the House Environment & Energy Committee. As we have seen with other legislation from the governor’s decarbonization bundle this session, the bill was met with strong pushback from the business community, including several utility companies in Washington.
This bill would require each gas company to create a “clean heat transition plan” by Jan. 1, 2024, and every four years thereafter. The proposed plan would require multiple components including specific actions each gas company must take to reduce their share of emissions, how the company could equitably transition away from gas and support low-income customers, and provisions to transition workers adversely affected by the company’s clean heat plan.
Additionally, the bill places restrictions on gas companies from offering new services to certain customers after 2022. And, after 2024, the bill stipulates that gas companies may not extend service to new customers unless the UTC finds the extension of service consistent with the gas companies clean heat transition plan. The bill has yet to be scheduled for executive action.
Second Proposal to Reorganize Conservation District Elections Heard
Last week, the second of two bills addressing conservation district elections was heard in the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee. House Bill 1910, sponsored by Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac), would require conservation district elections move to the general election ballot. The bill diverts from the more flexible approach seen in House Bill 1652, heard earlier this session, that would allow conservation districts to opt onto the general election ballot.
While HB 1652 received support from conservation districts and was modeled on recommendations the Conservation Commission headed, HB 1910 was strongly opposed by conservation districts across the state barring King County. Should conservation districts move to the general election ballot, they would have to help pay for election costs. Conservation districts testifying in opposition to the bill noted that many districts would be unable to bear the cost of moving to the general election ballot, and the funding required would take away from critical conservation work the district provides.
Both proposals have been scheduled for executive action in the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee next week. WAWG supports HB 1652 and opposes HB 1910.
Hearing Held on Legislation to Create a Pesticide Advisory Board
Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake) introduced legislation this session (House Bill 1993) to establish a permanent Pesticide Advisory Board. The WSDA had previously convened a Pesticide Advisory Board to counsel the department on pesticide-related actions, however, the board was eliminated in 2010.
Aiming to increase community and stakeholder input, Rep. Dent proposed creating a permanent board consisting of 18 voting board members appointed by the WSDA director. The bill lays out clear directives for the members that would be appointed, including three members representing agricultural producers. The bill also lists nonvoting members of the advisory board including public service employees and agency representatives. WAWG signed in support of this bill.
Custom Farming Tax Exemption Passes out of Committee
This week, House bill 1641, sponsored by Rep. Larry Hoff (R-Vancouver), was passed out of the House Finance Committee. 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 the reality of operating farming businesses under a common ownership structure by exempting payments between the commonly owned farms from the taxes at hand. The legislation would allow farms with employees working among multiple operations to pay employees under a single paycheck, rather than several different checks from the different operations to avoid paying B&O tax on the transfer of funds between the operations. WAWG weighed in support of HB 1641 when it was up for public hearing.
The bill has been referred to the House Rules Committee and awaiting a pull to the floor calendar so it can be voted on by the full chamber.