By Diana Carlen
Yesterday marked day 36 of the 2021 Legislative Session. Yesterday was the first legislative deadline when all policy bills must be voted out of their respective policy committees to remain under consideration for the year. Legislation not covered by this deadline includes bills that have been voted out of policy committee, bills in fiscal committees and bills that are considered “necessary to implement the budget.” Once bills advance out of both the policy and fiscal committee, they are referred to the Rules Committee. Bills remain in the Rules Committee until they are selected to be brought up for a vote of the entire chamber of the House of Representatives or Senate. After yesterday, the number of bills under consideration will significantly narrow.
Committees have been busy holding hearings and scheduling bills for executive action, which is the action of voting bills out of policy and fiscal committees. Once a bill passes out of one chamber, it then moves to the second chamber, and the process repeats.
On Feb. 8, Gov. Inslee signed the first bill of 2021 into law. Senate Bill 5061, which will mitigate the huge unemployment insurance tax increase hitting employers this year because of pandemic layoffs. The legislation will lower the expected tax hike for many employers and provide $1.7 billion in unemployment relief for employers over the next five years. The legislation also raises the minimum benefit for certain workers.
Negotiations continue on agriculture overtime issue and retroactivity liability protection
Negotiations continue on legislation dealing with the agricultural overtime issue. A substitute version of SB 5172 was passed out of the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee by yesterday’s deadline. Unfortunately, the amended bill is not supported by agriculture and came out of committee on a party-line vote. Sen. Keiser (D-Kent), the chair, stated that the bill was a work in progress and that negotiations would continue on the bill before it was ready for a vote of the full Senate.
Low carbon fuel standard voted out of Appropriations Committee
On Feb. 9, legislation that would establish a statewide low carbon fuel standard (SHB 1091) was amended and voted out of the House Appropriations Committee. As previously reported, this bill was expected to skip the House Transportation Committee to provide an easier path to adoption. At the objection of several House Republicans, HB 1091 has been scheduled for a public hearing in the House Transportation Committee. This bill has strong opposition from the oil industry, trucking industry, business community and agriculture.
Washington green constitutional amendment introduced
On Feb. 8, Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow introduced House Joint Resolution 4205, which would amend Article I of the State Constitution. The resolution states that Washingtonians have “the right to a clean and healthy environment, including pure water, clean air, healthy ecosystems and a stable climate, and to the preservation of the natural, cultural, scenic and healthful qualities of the environment.” The amendment is intended to ensure the right to a healthy environment is an enforceable legal entitlement in the state.
State Constitutional Amendments must pass both legislative chambers with a 2/3 majority vote and then would need to pass by a vote of the people. If HJR 4205 passes the legislature, it would be included on the next Washington general election ballot.
Senate Republicans release proposed budget
In a surprise move to stake their position on the budget, Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver), ranking member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, released a 2021 supplemental proposal and a 2021-23 operating budget proposal. The budget proposal would tap the rainy day fund and avoid raising taxes.
Additionally, the proposal assumes passage of SB 5449, which would redirect sales tax revenue from vehicle sales to the transportation budget (reducing NGFO revenues by $721.3 million in 2021-23). Some other notable items in the proposed budget include:
- Soil Health Initiative. $2.1 million is provided for Washington State University to continue development of a new soil health research and extension initiative.
- Food Supply Chain. $2 million is provided for food infrastructure and market access grants that assist farmers, food processors and food distributors to pivot to new markets and business models, as a means to mitigate impacts of COVID-19 on traditional farm-to-market operations.
- Business Assistance Grants. $333 million federal funds are provided for grants to small businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, including $208 million for small businesses that have closed due to COVID-19.
- Broadband Investment Acceleration. $206 million in funding is provided to the Statewide Broadband Office in the Department of Commerce to implement the U.S. Department of Agriculture Reconnect Program and to estable broadband investment acceleration program.
More details about the proposal can be found here.
House Republicans will be releasing their proposed budget today.