State legislative report 02/28: Session enters the home stretch

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

With less than two weeks to go until session adjourns on March 10, we are on the home stretch of this year’s 60-day session. Feb. 28 marked another cutoff deadline where all bills needed to be voted out of the opposite chamber’s fiscal committee to remain under consideration.

House Releases Proposed Supplemental Capital Budget

Last week it was the House’s turn to release their supplemental capital budget. The House proposal makes sizeable investments in housing and homelessness, water, education and behavioral health. The budget is comprised of $77.4 million in bonding capacity and $1.42 billion from a variety of other fund sources including $263.8 million from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Below are some notable highlights:

  • $2 million for the Farmland Protection and Land Access Program to reduce the conversion of high priority agricultural land at risk of development and to increase farmland access by historically underserved producers.
  • $9 million shifted from the 2021-23 operating budget to the capital budget to facilitate the water banking pilot program
  • $17 million for projects related to salmon recovery

A summary of the House Capital Budget can be found here.

Senate and House Democrats Release Supplemental Operating Budget Proposals

Also last week, the House and Senate each released their respective supplemental operating budgets. The current biennial operating budget spends $59.1 billion. The Senate supplemental proposal increases the budget to $63.7 billion while theHouse supplemental proposal increases the budget to $65 billion. Neither budget proposals raise taxes, but neither offer any significant tax relief either.

The Senate and House supplemental operating budgets were passed out of their respective fiscal committees last Wednesday. The amended budgets include a couple key changes that were welcomed by agriculture. Specifically, both the Senate and House removed the $709,000 appropriation to the Department of Ecology to complete a comprehensive review of the water resource management statutes. A coalition of municipal, business, and agricultural water user interests had opposed this proviso as it would have called for a review of the entire water resources code for stated objectives that in the coalition’s view suggest biased outcomes and would have to be completed in an extremely short length of time.

Additionally, the Senate Ways & Means Committee amended the budget to include a new $500,000 appropriation to the Washington State Commission on Pesticide Registration for research to develop alternatives for growers currently using organophosphate pesticides. The House also included a new appropriation of $6,000,000 for the Voluntary Stewardship Program at the Conservation Commission.

Democrats will negotiate a final supplemental budget agreement behind closed doors in the remaining weeks of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end March 10. The Legislature also needs to pass two other state budgets – transportation and capital – in the final days of the legislative session.

A summary of the House proposal can be found here and a summary of the Senate proposal as passed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee can be found here.

Controversial Transportation Revenue Package Passes House Transportation Committee

The Move Ahead WA transportation package continues to move forward, although one of the most controversial parts of the legislation, a $.06 per gallon tax on exported fuel, may be on the chopping block. Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), one of the co-sponsors of the bill, has said he is reconsidering his support for the tax after it came under heavy fire from Republican lawmakers and neighboring states. There were also concerns the proposed tax violated the federal Commerce Clause.

Alaska, Oregon and Idaho continue to push back heavily on the proposed export fuel tax. The Idaho House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution in opposition to the fuel export tax.  Governor Kate Brown of Oregon published an op-ed in the Seattle Times asking lawmakers to “put the idea of a fuel tax back on the shelf.” In addition, two bills were introduced in Alaska in retaliation to Washington’s fuel export tax proposal.

Energy Code Legislation Passes Cut Off

One of the last remaining pieces of Gov. Inslee’s policy priorities to decarbonize the building sector continues to move forward. As introduced House Bill 1770, sponsored by Rep. Davina Duerr (D-Bothell), proposed a ‘net-zero ready’ requirement for all new construction beginning in 2034. This meant 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 bill would allow local jurisdictions to adopt a new statewide ‘reach code’ for residential construction which cities, towns, and counties are currently preempted from doing.

The Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on Wednesday significantly pared down the bill as it passed out of committee. The amended bill removes the ‘net-zero ready’ requirement, instead focusing solely on the bill’s reach code provisions. The narrowed scope of the bill was done to skip being referred to the fiscal committee, leaving some critics worried that prior requirements may be added back into the bill during floor debate.

A summary of the legislation as passed by the Committee can be found here.

Net Ecological Gain Bill Continues to Move

On Thursday, Engrossed 2nd Substitute House Bill 1117 passed out of the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow), has been viewed as a partial revival of the governor’s riparian buffer bill – some have even dubbed it the “buffer light” bill. The bill would integrate salmon recovery planning into local comprehensive plans under the Growth Management Act. Under the proposal, public projects would be required to achieve net ecological gain, a term that remains undefined in the legislation. Net ecological gain would, however, impose a stricter standard than the current no-net loss obligation.

During executive session on Thursday, the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee considered competing striking amendments from Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes) and Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake). While Sen. Warnick’s amendments would have removed net ecological gain language entirely from the bill, the committee ultimately adopted Sen. Lovelett’s amendment requiring compensatory mitigation apply to all facilities and limiting the net ecological gain language to Western Washington. Supporters of the bill continue to exclude agriculture in development of this bill. Agricultural groups continue to have concerns with whether this legislation will impact voluntary programs such as the Voluntary Stewardship Program and the broad discretion that is given to DFW to define “net ecological gain.”

A summary of the bill as passed by the Housing and Local Government Bill can be found here.

Ergonomics Regulation Makes Cut Off

This session, the legislature is faced with legislation that repeals the prohibition on regulating ergonomics enacted by the voters in 2003. Under the legislation, House Bill 1837, the state would now be able to regulate work-related musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomics.

The bill has remained a contentious issue this session facing a 9-hour House floor debate (lasting all night) that ended in a narrow 50-48 passage. Opponents of the bill recall the last time our state was faced with such regulation 20 years ago, some calling it the “greatest overreach in the history of the Department of Labor and Industries.” The bill has received strong opposition from numerous business organizations, including agriculture, construction and building organizations.

On Thursday, the bill passed out of the Senate Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee on a party-line vote. As amended in committee, L&I is only authorized to develop ergonomics rules for one industry per year until 2027. The first industry that L&I may consider rules for is janitorial services.

Washington Redistricting Commission Settles Two Lawsuits

The Washington State Redistricting Commission has reached a settlement on two lawsuits filed after last year’s contentious redistricting process. Both lawsuits alleged the Commission had violated Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act. Under the terms announced by the settlement, members of the Redistricting Commission agree to pay penalties ($500 for each Commissioner) and undergo additional training on the open public meetings law.

The Commission will also pay over $130,000 to cover the plaintiffs’ legal fees. Of note, in exchange for promised reforms, the plaintiffs will not pursue a request to invalidate the commission’s final maps. Legislation is already underway (SB 5560) to address future reforms.

Open Public Meetings Act Legislation Resurfaces

Last year, the legislature considered two pieces of legislation (ESHB 1329 and ESBH 1056) tackling remote public meetings. These two bills were amended into one bill and passed out of the Senate Government & Elections Committee last week.

Under the amended version of the bill, public agencies are encouraged to allow virtual public comment and make recordings of meeting. The bill also provides public agencies with the ability to declare an emergency to conduct meetings virtually and requires the public be allowed to listen in to meeting with limited in-person attendance.

A summary of the amended bill can be found here. The bill is now under consideration in the Senate Rules Committee. 

Climate Resiliency Surcharge Receives a Public Hearing

Last Tuesday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5967, sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), introduced late this session. The legislation would establish a tiered climate resiliency and mitigation surcharge on financial institutions financing the global fossil fuel industry. While the bill does not increase the current bank rate, several members of the business and financial community testified with concerns on the bill, highlighting interstate commerce concerns and noting that more effective means of attaining climate goals may be through incentives.