State legislative report 2/22: Negotiations continue on ag overtime issue

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Yesterday was the 43rd day of the 2021 Legislative Session and the second legislative cutoff date when bills must make it out of their fiscal committees to remain alive. After yesterday’s cutoff, the Legislature will largely cease committee action and focus on floor action, which entails the entire chamber (either the House of Representatives or the Senate) considering and voting on bills. Once a bill passes out of its original chamber, it moves to the other chamber, and the entire committee process repeats.

Normally there are about 2,000 to 3,000 bills introduced. This year only 1,010 bills have been introduced, 464 in the Senate and 546 in the House. However, there are some ambitious policies that have been proposed.

Negotiations continue on agriculture overtime issue and retroactivity liability protection

Negotiations continue on legislation dealing with the agricultural overtime issue. An alternative version of SB 5172 passed out of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee by last Monday’s deadline. Unfortunately, the amended bill is not supported by agriculture and came out of committee on a party-line vote, but at least we have a bill that is still moving through the process and made the deadline.

The bill that moved out of committee eliminates the agricultural overtime exemption from the overtime law and requires agricultural employers to pay retroactive overtime wages for the past three years plus 12 percent to avoid penalties. Sen, Keiser, 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.

Public hearing held on low carbon fuel standard

On Tuesday, Feb. 16, a public hearing was held on HB 1091, which as previously reported, would establish a statewide low carbon fuel standard. The bill exempts dye diesel used on farms, but not to get products to market.

The bill was voted out of the House Transportation Committee last Friday and is expected to pass out of the full House soon. The Senate has failed to take action on this legislation the past two years due to concerns that the proposal raises gas prices, but does not generate revenue to the state. The Washington Association of Wheat Growers opposes this bill.

Senate work session held on cap and trade legislation

On Feb. 19, the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee held a work session on a new version of SB 5126, the Washington Climate Commitment Act, sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle). This bill would implement a cap and trade program in Washington state. The work session focused on the differences between the bill originally proposed by Gov. Inslee and the chairman’s proposed substitute bill.

Key changes to the bill include addition of environmental justice provisions after environmental justice groups testified opposed to the original bill and argued instead to pass a carbon tax. For example, there is new language in the substitute version that provides that Ecology may adopt stricter air quality standards for overburdened communities.

One positive addition to the substitute bill was designation of food processors as “energy intense trade exposed” industries (EITEs). A draft of the proposed substitute can be found here.

The bill has been scheduled for a possible vote out of the committee on Feb. 25.

Senate republican transportation lead releases proposed transportation package

On Feb. 19, Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima) unveiled his transportation proposal consisting of a $10.1 billion, eight-year package of projects that relies on a reallocation of the sales tax on vehicles from the general fund for most of the revenue for his proposal. The plan also calls for a modest $.03 increase in the state’s gas tax and other assorted fees. Approximately $5.1 billion of the proposal goes to fund highway maintenance and preservation while another $2.3 billion would go into fish barrier removal. The proposal also includes five mega projects, including completing Snoqualmie pass projects.

Senate and House Republicans release budget proposals

In the past week, House and Senate Republicans in Washington have both released budgets to show their priorities. Both budgets rely on no new tax increases to fill the current state deficit- a starkly different vision from state Democrats whose various bill proposals equate to a nearly $8 billion revenue increase for Washington.

For a complete picture of Republican priorities outlined by their proposals, KNKX Reporter Austin Jenkins has this review:

Budget proposals from the majority party are not expected to be released until mid-March.

As of yesterday, notable bills considered alive:

The following bills have passed by a vote of the entire House of Representatives. Once a bill passes out of one chamber, it then moves to the second chamber, and the process repeats.

  • DNR Lease Termination (EHB 1199) Sponsored by Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima), would require the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to compensate lessees should DNR terminate a lease early on state land used for agricultural purposes. The amended version of the bill was unanimously voted out of the House of Representatives.

The following bills are considered “alive” for the 2021 Legislative Session. These bills have been approved by their respective policy committees, and are currently under consideration in a fiscal committee, rules committee, or are considered Necessary to Implement the Budget:

  • Green House Gas Emissions from Fluorinated Gases (2SHB 1050), sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-West Seattle), aims to build upon the legislature’s work in 2019 to phase out Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are industrial chemicals primarily used for cooling and refrigeration. Of note, the current version of the bill includes language delaying the start of the Refrigerant Management Program requirements to 2024.
  • Enjoyment of Life and Property in the Clean Air Act (SHB 1057), sponsored by Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-Seattle), was significantly modified from the initial draft that would have expanded what is covered in the Clean Air Act regulating state air pollution under “enjoyment of life and property.” The current version creates a workgroup to develop an odor control plan and best management practices for asphalt plants.
  • Environmental Justice Task Force Recommendations (SSB 5141), sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), creates an Environmental Justice Council (EJC) to provide guidance for and to review significant actions taken by state agencies for consistency with the principles of environmental justice. State agencies covered by the bill include the Department of Ecology, the Puget Sound Partnership, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Health, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Transportation, and any agency that opts to assume the obligations of the Act. The bill was amended in the Senate Ways & Means Committee today to require that members of the EJC be confirmed by the Senate.
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave Expansion (SHB 1073), sponsored by Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle), would expand the definition of family member under Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave law to include housemates or individuals dependent on care from the employee. The amended proposal also includes temporary, alternate eligibility requirements for individuals that do not meet program’s hours worked threshold in 2020.
  • Allowing Whistleblowers to Bring Actions on behalf of State Workplace Protections (SHB 1076), sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island), would allow attorneys to bring actions in the name of the state against employers for worker violations under various state laws and get attorney fees. The bill was amended in the House Appropriations Committee today to remove the following laws that may enforced under a qui tam action: laws relating to seasonal labor and agricultural labor.
  • B&O and Public Utility Tax Exemption for Custom Farming Products (HB 1380), sponsored by Rep. Jeremie Dufault (R-Selah), would reinstate the business and occupation tax exemption and public utility tax exemption for custom farming and the hauling of farm products. The former tax preference expired at the end of 2020, and the proposed bill would make both preferences permanent.
  • Carbon Tax & Green Bonds (HB 1513), sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-La Conner), would establish a carbon tax and green bond program. Starting July 1, 2022, a carbon tax would be implemented at the rate of $25 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions. This bill is considered Necessary to Implement the Budget as lawmakers continue to discuss the merits of using carbon-related revenue as part of a transportation revenue package.
  • Unemployment Insurance Voluntarily Quit (SB 5064), sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), would extend unemployment eligibility to certain employees that voluntarily quit because of caregiving responsibilities to a family member, child or vulnerable adult; of relocation closer to a separated child; the employee’s usual work shifts were changed and they were unable to maintain caregiving responsibilities.
  • Capital Gains (SSB 5096), sponsored by Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett), the amended version of the bill would establish a capital gains tax of 7 percent on long-term capital assets with a $250,000 threshold. The bill excludes certain agricultural property and qualified family-owned small businesses from the tax.
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave Expansion (SSB 5097), sponsored by Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett), similar to HB 1073, would expand the definition of family member under Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave law. And, like HB 1073, the current version of the bill narrowed the definition of family member from the original draft, defining family member as an individual regularly residing in an employee’s home or an individual dependent on care from an employee. Additionally, the bill makes changes to the time period that qualifies an employee for job and health insurance protection.
  • Pesticide registration (SSB 5317), sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), would increase license and application fees under the Pesticide Control Act and the Pesticide Application Act.
  • Fertilizer fees (SSB 5318), sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick, would increase fertilizer distribution application, license, inspection and late fees.
  • Irrigation District Elections (SSB 5342), sponsored by Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville), would permit 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.
  • Wage Liens (SB 5355), sponsored by Sen. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma), would establish a lien for wage claims. The bill allows a lien to be placed on the employer or employer’s office personal property for unpaid wages and recovery of attorney fees and costs.
  • Carbon Tax and Green Bonds (SB 5373), sponsored by Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes), would establish a carbon tax and green bond program. Starting July 1, 2022, a carbon tax would be implemented at the rate of $25 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions. This bill is considered Necessary to Implement the Budget as lawmakers continue to discuss the merits of using carbon-related revenue as part of a transportation revenue package.

As of Feb. 22, notable bills considered dead:

  • Protection of Water Supply for Farming and Rural Development (HB 1132), sponsored by Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda), would, under specified criteria, ensure that a water right used for agricultural irrigation would not be relinquished.
  • Agricultural Community Mental Health Hotline (HB 1434), sponsored by Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake) would establish a mental health hotline specific to the agriculture community and develop training for the needs of the community.
  • Burden of Proof in Regulatory Enforcement (SB 5081), sponsored by Sen. Keith Wagoner (R-Sedro-Woolley), would place the burden of proof on the following state agencies in any dispute involving an enforcement action undertaken by the agency: Washington State Department of Agriculture, Department of Ecology, Department of Health, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  • B&O Tax Exemption for Fruit and Vegetable Businesses (HB 1285), sponsored by Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane) would have excluded businesses with any employment, labor or civil rights violations in the last 2 years from the fruit and vegetable business B&O tax exemption.
  • Clean Buildings (SHB 1084), sponsored by Rep. Alex Ramel (D-Bellingham), aims to decarbonize the residential and commercial building sector by implementing several new regulations, including policies that support the gradual phase-out of natural gas as an energy source.
  • Estate Tax (HB 1465), sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines) would increase the current estate tax threshold to $2.5 million beginning in August and adjust the tax based on the Consumer Price Index. The bill also increases the initial tax amount and tax rate for properties over $3 million while including additional rate classes for properties above $9 million. This bill did not move out of the House Finance Committee by the deadline but could be revived and designated Necessary to Implement the Budget.