Washington 2023 legislative report, week 2

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

We have completed the second week of the 105-day session. Committees have been busy holding public hearings and passing bills out of committee. In addition, legislators are dropping dozens of bills daily. As of Jan. 20, over 1,000 bills have been introduced.

The first legislative deadline is Feb. 17, 2023, when all bills must be voted out of their respective policy committees to remain alive.

Hearing held on governor’s riparian bill

As reported last week, Gov. Inslee has introduced a new riparian bill, House Bill 1215, sponsored by Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles), but this time it sets up a voluntary grant program for landowners to plant trees and take land out of production. Gov. Inslee has proposed $100 million to fund the new program in his proposed budget. The bill would also continue the existing riparian task force established in the 2022 Supplemental Operating Budget. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing on the bill on Jan. 18.

Due to the change in approach to a voluntary program and the improved process in developing this legislation with stakeholders, the hearing was much less contentious than last year. Testifiers all noted that this bill was an improvement from last year and were appreciative that this bill is focused on a voluntary program, but there is still concern from agricultural groups on how this new program is structured, especially designating Fish & Wildlife guidance documents as the best available science which is unprecedented. They also emphasized that in order for the program to be successful, there needs to be more focus on working with landowners and flexibility in administering the grant program. Tribes also testified with concerns as they are skeptical that voluntary programs can be effective and would like to see a regulatory approach as a backstop.

The Senate has not yet held a hearing on the companion bill.

Legislation providing flexibility from new overtime requirement for agriculture introduced

Legislation to provide flexibility from the overtime law for agriculture has been introduced. SB 5476/HB 1523 would allow an agricultural employer to select any 12 weeks in a calendar year as special circumstance weeks for labor demand. During each of the selected 12 weeks, the agricultural employer would be permitted to employ agricultural employees for up to 50 hours before the requirement to pay overtime would be triggered.

As of 2023, the overtime threshold is currently set at work performed after 48 hours worked per week.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

EPR legislation heard in Senate and House

One of the more complex pieces of legislation introduced this year, known as the as the Washington Recycle and Packaging (WRAP) Act of 2023, was heard in both the House and Senate environment committees last week. This legislation establishes extended producer responsibility (EPR) program requirements for producers of packaging and paper products sold or supplied to consumers for personal use in Washington state. Several other states such asCalifornia, Oregon, Maine and Colorado have passed similar programs.

Senate Bill 5154/House Bill 1131, introduced by Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) in the Senate and Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle) in the House, requires producers of consumer packaging and paper products to join a producer responsibility organization and fund the plan approved by Ecology. There is an exemption for producers who sell less than one ton of covered products and have a global revenue of less than $5 million for the most recent fiscal year.

The bill also establishes new post-consumer recycled content (PCRC) requirements for thermoform plastic containers, plastic tubs, single-use plastic cups, roll carts, cannabis and cannabis-infused products, pesticide products, and plant pots and trays. It also includes a bottle deposit return system for qualifying beverage containers by distributor responsibility organizations.

Both legislative hearings this week received an overwhelming number of stakeholders chiming in, with over 1,000 people weighing in. Both hearings saw significant concerns raised from the food and beverage industry, grocery stores, manufacturers, restaurants and businesses about the complexity of the legislation, cost and accelerated schedule to implement.

This is priority legislation for Democrat leadership in Senate and House and the environmental community.

Other notable bills that saw action last week:

  • Clean Energy Siting (HB 1216), sponsored Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-West Seattle), is governor-request legislation. The bill makes a number of changes to the siting of clean energy projects in the state including establishing an Interagency Clean Energy Siting Coordinating Council co-chaired by the Department of Ecology and the Department of Commerce. It also requires Commerce to establish an application process for the designation of Clean Energy Projects of Statewide Significance and creating a more streamlined and expedited process for such projects. The bill was heard in the House Energy & Environment Committee.
  • Climate Change Planning (SB 5203/HB 1181), sponsored by Rep. Davina Duerr (D-Bothell) in the House and its companion legislation sponsored by Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes) in the Senate, was requested by the Office of the Governor. The bill adds climate change as one of the goals of the Growth Management Act. One element of the legislation would require the Department of Commerce to develop a model climate change and resiliency element that can be used by local governments. SB 5203 was heard in the Senate Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs Committee and HB 1181 was heard in the House Local Government Committee.
  • Drought Preparedness (HB 1138), sponsored by by Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) is Department of Ecology-request legislation and may look familiar as a similar proposal was introduced last session. The bill would provide permanent funding to prepare and respond to drought emergencies, including unanticipated and sudden droughts. The bill would appropriate $2,500,000 from the general fund into the State Drought Preparedness Account at the beginning of each biennium and, at the issuance of a drought emergency order, require the state treasurer to transfer an amount necessary to bring the balance of the newly established Emergency Drought Response Account to $3,000,000 from the general fund. The bill was voted out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee unanimously.
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cells (SB 5091), sponsored by Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), would establish a preferential B&O tax rate for businesses that are manufacturing or selling hydrogen fuel cells and a B&O tax credit for hydrogen fuel cell research and development. The proposal would also provide a B&O tax credit for property taxes for land and buildings constructed after July 1, 2023, and used exclusively for manufacturing hydrogen fuel cells. The tax incentives proposed by the bill would expire on January 1, 2034. During the Senate Business, Financial Services, Gaming & Trade Committee hearing, the bill saw support from both business and labor advocates.
  • Pesticide Registration Committee (SB 5143), sponsored by Sen. Nikki Torres (R-Pasco), changes the name of the Commission on Pesticide Registration to the Commission on Integrated Pest Management in order to align the name of the Commission with the work it is conducting. The bill was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee with support from the Washington State Department of Agriculture and agricultural groups.
  • Pesticide Application (SB 5330), sponsored by Sen. Nikki Torres (R-Pasco). This is agency-request legislation by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The bill makes several amendments to the Washington pesticide application act to be in compliance with the new EPA certification and training rules. The Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee held a public hearing on the legislation.