By Diana Carlen
We have completed the 13th week of the legislative session. Last Tuesday was the fiscal committee cutoff, the last day for bills to have been approved by their respective fiscal committee in the opposite chamber unless “necessary to implement the budget.” Only 14 days remain in the 2023 Legislative Session.
There will be little committee activity moving forward this session as the focus has shifted to floor action to consider bills from the opposite chamber. The next deadline is April 12, when all bills must pass out of the opposite chamber.
In addition to floor action, the House and Senate will now begin negotiating with one another to reconcile differences and reach agreement on final operating, capital and transportation budgets. As reported last week, the House and the Senate have each released their respective operating, capital and transportation budgets for 2023-25. The Senate has passed all three of their budget proposals. The House has passed their operating and transportation budgets off the floor and is awaiting action on their capital budget.
Still No Resolution on Ag Exempt Fuel Issue
Last week, Sen. Mullet (D-Issaquah) introduced legislation (SB 5766) that would have created a rebate fund administered by Ecology to provide relief to farmers and farm haulers that are paying a carbon fee on fuel that is supposed to be exempt under current law. Unfortunately, farmers would not have been able to apply for a rebate until the beginning of 2024, and the bill did not specify when Ecology had to issue rebates. The rebate amount also would be limited to a certain percentage of the auction price at the time the fuel was purchased and not the actual amount of the surcharge paid. The bill would have also prohibited fuel suppliers and distributors from disclosing the amount of the carbon surcharge on fuel invoices.
The legislation received widespread opposition from exempt fuel users, fuel suppliers, Ecology and the governor’s office. As a result, the public hearing on the bill scheduled for April 10 was cancelled.
The agricultural industry appreciates Sen. Mullet’s leadership to try and resolve this issue and will continue to work on a solution that honors the commitment of the Legislature to fully exempt agriculture from paying the carbon surcharge on fuel used for agricultural purposes.
Notable Bills that Passed the House/Senate last Week:
- Ergonomics/Musculoskeletal Injuries (ESSB 5217) would repeal the law prohibiting the Department of Labor and Industries from adopting rules related to ergonomics or musculoskeletal disorders. The bill would allow L&I to adopt rules for certain risk classes of workers, so long as the department did not take up more than one set of rules for an industry per year and only for industries or risk classifications where workers’ compensation claims involved musculoskeletal injuries and disorders, which are at a risk greater than two times the overall state claim rate for these types of injuries and disorders over a recent five-year period. It also requires that during rulemaking, L&I consider including options for an employer to demonstrate alternative control methods and to convene an advisory committee with employer and worker representatives in the impacted industry or rate classification. ESSB 5217 passed the House in a vote of 51-46 late April 7.
- Irrigation & Rehabilitation Districts (SSB 5460) is intended to address the Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District. The bill would require irrigation and rehabilitation district directors to annually determine the amount necessary to carry out district operations and classify property in the district proportional to the benefits of district operations. The proposal would then require the district to provide notice of the proposed assessments and hold an equalization hearing. On April 5, the bill passed the House unanimously.
- Nooksack Adjudication (HB 1792) is intended to allow parties impacted by the Nooksack adjudication to have more time to gather information and for many to find legal representation. Given the number of claimants, the latter could prove challenging. It extends the time those affected by the adjudication would have to file a claim to one year after the order for the adjudication is made by a superior court. On April 6, the bill passed unanimously out of the Senate.
- Climate Response Strategy (E2SHB 1170) is Department of Ecology request legislation. The proposal would require Ecology to update its Integrated Climate Change Response Strategy by July 2024, and every four years after that. Additionally, the bill requires that Ecology work with the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group when updating the Strategy. The bill passed out of the Senate April 8 by a vote of 34-14.
- Clean Energy Siting (HB 1216) aims to make it easier to site clean energy facilities. Originally the bill allowed energy-intensive, trade exposed industries (EITEs), such as food processors, to take advantage of the expedited permitting processes created by this bill, but that language was removed. The bill passed out of the Senate on a vote of 30-18.
Notable Bills that were Voted Out of Committee last Week:
- WA food & Agriculture Products (SB 5341) directs the Washington State Department of Agriculture to create an advisory committee of food production organizations in order to make recommendations on a location-based program to promote local food and agricultural products in Washington. Following the submission of such a report, WSDA would adopt rules necessary to implement the program. On April 3, the bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee.
- Voluntary Stewardship Program(SSB 5353) would allow additional counties to join the Voluntary Stewardship Program and be eligible for program funding. The bill also requires the Conservation Commission to determine which watersheds in the new participating counties received adequate funding to implement the program every two years and requires county action if adequate funding is not received. On April 3, the bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee.
Notable Bills Considered “Dead” after the April 4th Cutoff Deadline:
- Ecosystem Services (ESHB 1789) would have allowed DNR to sell carbon credits on the open market. The bill would have also directed the Board of Natural Resources to make recommendations to the Legislature on the types of ecosystem service projects the Legislature may consider adding, by June 30, 2025.
- Personnel Records (E2SHB 1320) would have required an employer to provide an employee with a complete copy of their personnel file at no cost within 15 business days of a request. Additionally, an employer would have been required to provide a former employee with a signed written statement with the effective date of discharge, whether the employer had a reason for the discharge, and if so, the reasons, within 14 days of the written request. Further amendments to the bill require an employee or former employee to provide 5 days notice of intent to sue. The bill was heard in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on April 7.