State Legislative report 03/03: Lots of action, but finish line is in sight

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Tuesday, March 3, marked the 51st day of the 2020 Legislative Session. Another important legislative deadline occurred Monday, when all bills from the opposite chamber must have passed out of their respective fiscal committee to remain alive this session. This Friday is the deadline for all bills to pass out of the opposite chamber by 5 p.m. to remain alive.

Last week, Senate and House Democrats released their proposed supplemental operating budgets and passed them off their respective chambers on a party-line vote with only the majority party (Democrats) voting for their respective budgets. Now that both chambers have passed their respective budgets, negotiations have begun to reconcile differences and adopt a finalized supplemental budget. All signs are indicating that the legislature will not go into overtime this year and sine die on March 12.

Senate and House pass supplemental transportation budgets

House Transportation Budget: SHB 2322, sponsored by Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma) is the House’s version of the supplemental Transportation Budget. The proposal increases appropriations for the 2019-20 biennium by $350 million for a total of $10.2 billion for the biennium. The budget presumes the impacts of I-976 and any revenues collected from current car tabs are kept in a separate account to be refunded to fee-payers if the Supreme Court upholds the initiative. The initiative created a $453 million hole in the budget for the current biennium, and the supplemental budget fills that hole by transferring some expenditures (like state ferries and state patrol) from the multimodal account to the motor vehicle fund (i.e. gas tax revenues), delayed certain rail and public transit projects to the 2021-23 biennium (while unpausing all the other paused projects), and found $350 million of underspending on projects in the current biennia and pushes their complete funding to future biennia. The House Supplemental Transportation Budget passed almost unanimously with just one no vote

Senate Transportation Budget: SSB 6497, sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens,) is the Senate’s version of the supplemental transportation budget. It increases transportation spending by about $664 million over the original 2019-21 budget passed in April, for a total of about $10.5 billion. The budget addresses the $453 million in losses from the passage of I-976 for the 2019-21 biennium by moving ferries and state patrol spending from the multimodal account to the motor vehicle account, reduced funding to some projects based on anticipated underspending in the current biennium, (full funding being pushed to future biennia, and no highway projects are reduced or delayed), and delays or reduces various grant program that had funds that had not yet been awarded. The bill also has provisions that increases certain programs’ funding if I-976 is overturned by the Supreme Court. The budget passed the Senate unanimously.

Bill action in fiscal committees this week:

Chlorpyrifos Regulation (E2SSB 6518). This bill was amended and passed out of the House Appropriations Committee with a 31-2 vote on March 2. The policy committee amended the intent language to reference federal standards on preventing chlorpyrifos exposures; removed 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, the same timeline as the opt-out rules in the Senate version); and removes provisions requiring water quality standards and maximum contaminant levels for chlorpyrifos. The Appropriations Committee added a technical fix amendment that corrected references in the bill to the Washington Pesticide Application Act and requires funds appropriated for the bill to be spent on helping agricultural commodity groups that currently use chlorpyrifos and not those that have an exemption.

Clean Air Rule Authorization: SSB 6628, sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), and companion SHB 2892, by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), amends 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. Both versions were amended coming out of their respective policy committees, and both versions appear to have stalled in their respective chambers. Over the weekend, a new bill, HB 2957, also sponsored by Rep. Fitzgibbon was introduced. It was heard and passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday. The bill authorizes Ecology to regulate both direct and indirect emissions under the Clean Air Rule. It explicitly authorizes the agency or a clean air authority to require fossil fuel producers and distributors to comply with an air quality standard, emission standard, or emissions limits for GHGs. The Clean Air Rule could only apply to transportation emissions, and non-transportation emitters that emit 25,000 MT CO2 or more. It also includes incentives for biofuels, authorizes market-based mechanisms to regulate emissions, and gives consideration to emissions-intensive trade-exposed entities in developing rules.

Sustainable Farms & Fields (2SSB 5947). This bill was amended and passed out of the House Capital Budget Committee on March 2 on a 19-2 vote. The amendment removes provisions added by the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee that delayed the SFF program from taking effect until the water irrigation efficiencies program, natural resources investments program, and shellfish growing area improvement programs all received $400,000 each in the supplemental capital budget. The bill now creates the SFF program in the WSCC and sets guidelines for how the program should be administered; requires WSCC to adopt rules on prioritizing SFF grant applications; adopt carbon equivalency metrics to use in evaluating projects, with a default metric of 3.67 mT of biogenic carbon stored for 100 years equal to 1 mT of carbon emissions avoided; lists the types of activities grants can be awarded for; and requires WSCC to report to the legislature by Oct. 15, 2021 and ever two years after on program performance.

State GHG Targets (E2SHB 2311). This bill passed out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee on March 2 on a 14-10 party line vote. No amendments were adopted. The bill adjusts greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets to align with international agreements and the IPCC recommendations. 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.

Drought Preparedness and Response (ESHB 1622). This bill passed out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee on March 2 with a 16-8 vote. No new amendments were adopted and the committee advanced the version that came out of the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources, & Parks Committee. The bill currently authorizes Ecology to issue drought advisories when there is a risk of drought conditions and directs Ecology 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, listing other requirements for Ecology to consider when considering an order, and changing Ecology’s prioritization of emergency withdrawal applications, including prioritizing survival of irrigated crops, fisheries, and small community water resources. It also makes certain changes to Ecology’s authority to issue grants for emergency drought conditions.

Food Policy Forum (SSB 6091) This bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on March 2. There were no amendments. It is now in the House Rules Committee awaiting a pull to the floor calendar. The bill continues the Washington Food Policy Forum as a public-private partnership to develop recommendations for improving the state’s food system. WAWG supports this bill.

Soil Health Initiative (SSB 6306). This bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on a unanimous vote. There were no amendments. It is now in the House Rules Committee awaiting scheduling on the floor calendar. The bill creates the Soil Health Initiative as a jointly administered project by WSU, WSCC, and WSDA. The program is intended 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. WAWG supports this bill.

Aerospace Preferential B&O Rate Suspension (SB 6690). The bill was voted out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee on March 2 with no amendments on a 18-6 vote. The bill suspends the preferential aerospace manufacturing B&O rate of 0.2904% and imposes the normal 0.484% B&O rate on aerospace manufacturing. The rate would “snap back” to the preferential rate if a long running trade dispute between the U.S. and European Union is resolved. The bill is in response to a recent WTO ruling that says Washington’s preferential B&O rate violates international trade rules, and runs the risk of the European Union tariffs on a variety of Washington products.