By Diana Carlen
Friday marked day 27 of the 2021 Legislative Session, and thus far, 974 bills have been introduced.
A week remains until the first legislative deadline, Feb. 15, 2021, when all policy bills must be voted out of their respective policy committees to remain under consideration for the year. Bills that do not meet this deadline will be considered “dead” for this legislative session. After the first legislative deadline, the number of bills under consideration will significantly narrow, and the focus will shift to budget committees and floor action.
Public Hearing Held on Low Carbon Fuel Standard in House Appropriations Committee
On Feb. 4, legislation that would establish a statewide low carbon fuel standard (SHB 1091) received a public hearing in the House Appropriations Committee. Opponents came out in force (more than double of people on the record were opposed) against the bill which included members of the oil industry, trucking industry, business community and agriculture (including the Washington Association of Wheat Growers).
Unlike previous years, this proposal moved directly from the House Environment and Energy Committee to the House Appropriations Committee, avoiding the House Transportation Committee. This is unusual as each year this proposal has passed out of the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate Transportation Committee. It is expected that this bill will take a similar path in the Senate to avoid the Senate Transportation Committee where it has stalled the last two years.
Carbon Tax and Bonding Bill Introduced
On Jan. 28, Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes), introduced legislation establishing a carbon tax and green bond program (Senate Bill 5373). This bill would institute a carbon tax starting July 1, 2022, at the rate of $25 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions. The tax rate would automatically increase annually by 5 percent each year and would be adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index. Revenues from the tax would be used to support projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and for climate and transportation bond repayments. Proponents of this legislation have put this bill forward as an alternative to the cap and trade proposal. It is expected that this bill will be scheduled for a public hearing in the coming weeks, but it is not subject to the policy cutoff deadline since it has financial impacts and likely deemed “necessary to implement the budget” if democrat leadership decide to move it forward this year.
We are still waiting to see updated language on the cap-and-trade legislation, but it is clear that Democrats have not yet coalesced around one carbon pricing legislation.
WSDA Bills Increasing Pesticide Registration and Licensing Fees Heard
Two bills raising certain pesticide fees brought by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) were voted out of the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee last week. The first raises pesticide registration fees (SB 5317), and the second raises fertilizer fees (SB 5318). As reported last week, both fees have not been raised since 2008.
SB 5317 (regarding pesticide registration fees) was passed by a vote of 5-2 with one adopted amendment. The amendment would require WSDA to post a timeline for processing complete pesticide registrations online. SB 5318 (regarding fertilizer fees) passed unanimously out of committee. Both bills have been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Several Labor Bills Voted Out of Committee But Still No Movement on Retroactive Overtime Legislation
Last week saw the movement of several labor bills, but unfortunately, agriculture’s priority legislation to prevent retroactive payment of overtime has not been scheduled yet for a vote in the Senate Labor Committee. Sen. Keiser (D-Kent), chair of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, has indicated she is working on alternative language with Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima) who is the sponsor of the legislation prohibiting retroactive overtime compensation, but the alternative language has not been shared yet.
The following labor bills were voted out of committee this week:
- Paid Family and Medical Leave Expansion (HB 1073). The proposed substitute 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 measure also includes temporary, alternate eligibility requirements for individuals that do not meet the program’s hours worked threshold in 2020. The proposed substitute was voted out of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. AWB and other business groups have taken the lead in opposing this bill.
- Allowing Whistleblowers to Bring Actions on behalf of State Workplace Protections (HB 1076), sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island). This legislation allows attorneys to bring actions in the name of the state against employers for worker violations and recover attorney fees. The proposed substitute was voted out of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. AWB and other business groups have taken the lead in opposing this bill.
- 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; or the employee’s usual work shifts were changed and they were unable to maintain caregiving responsibilities. The bill was voted out of the Senate Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee. AWB and other business groups are opposed to this bill.
Other Bills Action last Week:
- DNR Lease Termination (HB 1199), sponsored by Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima), was voted out of the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee unanimously last week. The bill would require the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to compensate lessees in the event DNR terminates a lease early on state land used for agricultural or grazing purposes. WAWG supports this legislation.
- Irrigation District Elections (SB 5342), sponsored by Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville), was heard in the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee last week. The bill 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 (HB 1369/SB 5355), sponsored by Rep. Dan Bronoske (D-Lakewood) in the House and Sen. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma) in the Senate, 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.The Senate bill received a hearing in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee on Feb. 3 and the House bill received a hearing in the House Labor and Workplace Standards on Feb. 2. The bill has received significant opposition from the business community. WAWG opposes this legislation.
- Burden of Proof in Regulatory Enforcement (SB 5081), sponsored by Sen. Keith Wagoner (R-Sedro-Woolley), received a public hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee last week. The bill 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. This bill was heard and voted out of the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee.
- Allocation of Groundwater in the Columbia Basin (SB 5230), sponsored by Sen. Perry Dozier (R-Walla Walla), received a public hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee. The bill provides authority for Ecology to enter into agreements with the Bureau of Reclamation to create a ground water permitting program like what currently exists in the Quincy Basin ground water management area. The language would allow this to happen without having Reclamation make a claim on the groundwater. WAWG supports this legislation.
- Net Ecological Gain (HB 1117), sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow), would integrate salmon recovery planning into local comprehensive plans under the Growth Management Act. As part of the new requirements, public projects must demonstrate net ecological gain. The proposed substitute was voted out of the House Energy and Environment Committee on a party line vote. WAWG opposes this legislation.