Washington legislative report, week 14

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

April 16 marked the 98th day of the legislative session. Just seven days remain in the 2023 Legislative Session. April 12 was the deadline to pass bills from the opposite chamber, except for budgets and bills necessary to implement the budget.

Over the next week, the Legislature will continue to focus on reconciling differences between each chamber’s budget proposals, bills that are necessary to implement the budget, and bills on the Concurrence Calendar. As a reminder, the Concurrence Calendar is a list of bills that have passed out of both chambers but were amended in the second chamber. In order for a bill to pass the Legislature, the differences in the two versions of the bill approved by each chamber need to be reconciled.

 Once a bill passes the Legislature, it is delivered to the Governor to be signed into law, vetoed or partially vetoed (the Governor has the authority to remove entire sections of a bill, but not specific sentences). The Governor has five days, excluding Sundays, to take action on bills, unless the Legislature is within five days of adjournment, in which case the Governor has 20 days to take action. The final day of the 2023 Legislative Session is Sunday, April 23.

New Tax Increase Proposals Under Consideration

While the original budget proposals rolled out this session did not propose any tax increases, two new tax increase proposals have emerged as we approach the end of the session.

2SHB 1628 passed out of the House Finance Committee on Friday with all Republicans on the committee voting against the proposal. This legislation would increase both state and local real estate excise taxes. Certain agricultural lands would not be subject to the increase.

Proceeds would be spent on affordable housing. Beginning with fiscal year 2026, at least $5,000,000 per fiscal year of the real estate excise tax revenues deposited into the Washington housing trust fund pursuant to RCW 82.45.230 must be used solely for facilities housing low-income migrant, seasonal, or temporary farmworkers. A summary of the bill can be found here.

SB 5770 was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday. It would raise the cap on increases in state and local property taxes from 1% to 3% per year. The bill was introduced just outside the window requiring a 2/3rds vote of the legislature. The bill has 20 Senate Democrat sponsors. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing.

Bill Aimed at Protecting Warehouse Workers Passes Senate

Legislation aimed at protecting warehouse employees passed out of the Senate on April 11 by a vote of 29-20. 2SHB 1762 would require employers to be transparent about their use of quotas with workers and regulators and prohibits quotas from interfering with meal and rest breaks and exposure to health and safety hazards. Even businesses that do not use quotas are concerned that other performance standards in the legislation would be considered quotas given the language of the bill.

The bill as passed the Senate exempts farm product warehousing and storage and refrigerated warehousing and storage. The Senate also removed the private right of action and enforcement by the Attorney General.

Shortly after passing the Senate, the House refused to concur in the Senate amendments, and the chambers are negotiating to see if they can reach an agreement on the bill this session.

Notable Bills that Passed the Opposite Chamber this Week:

  • Pesticide Advisory Board (ESHB 1019), sponsored by Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake), establishes a formal and permanent Pesticide Advisory Board to advise the Department of Agriculture. On Monday, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 33-16. The Senate amended the bill to add an at-large member representing the household and commercial products association to the voting membership of the pesticide advisory board and wood preservers to the list of nonvoting members. The bill will now be delivered to the Governor’s office for bill action.
  • Drought Preparedness (SHB 1138), sponsored by Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) is Department of Ecology request legislation. The bill provides a pathway for funding a response to drought emergencies, including unanticipated and sudden droughts. The bill was amended in the Senate policy committee to include a transfer from the state general fund to the emergency drought response account in the amount needed to bring the account to $3,000,000 upon the issuance of a drought emergency order.
  • Urban Agriculture Study (HB 1552), sponsored by Kristine Reeves (D-Federal Way), would direct the State Conservation Commission to conduct a study on urban agricultural opportunities and challenges. The study would focus on economic development, food access, climate resilience and challenges related to resource access. The bill will now be delivered to the Governor’s office for bill action.
  • Voluntary Stewardship Program(SSB 5353), sponsored by Sen. Keith Wagoner (R-Sedro-Woolley), 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. The bill will now be delivered to the Governor’s office for bill action.
  • WA food & Agriculture Products (SB 5341), sponsored by Sen. Ron Muzzall (R-Oak Harbor), 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 state. Following the submission of such a report, WSDA would adopt rules necessary to implement the program. The bill will now be delivered to the Governor’s office for bill action.
  • Unemployment Voluntary Quits (ESHB 1106), sponsored by Rep. Mary Fosse (D-Everett), would expand the list of unemployment qualifications for voluntary quits. The bill would allow individuals to qualify for unemployment insurance (UI) in certain circumstances if they must quit because they are unable to access care for a child or a vulnerable adult or because of the death, illness, or disability of a family member. Additionally, the bill allows individuals to qualify for UI should they leave work to relocate to follow a minor child that moved or for scenarios in which an employer changes regularly scheduled shift start or end times by more than six hours on a permanent basis. The bill will be delivered to the Governor to sign.
  • Wage Complaints (HB 1217), sponsored by Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D-Mukilteo), was amended to require wage complaint settlements include interest on amounts owed, with the option for an employee to request a waiver or reduction of interest as part of the settlement process. On Wednesday, the amended bill passed the Senate by a vote of 33-16. Amendments include clarifying that the requirement for certain wage complaint settlements to include interest on amounts owed only applies to complaints filed after Jan. 1, 2024. The bill will next be delivered to the Governor for bill action.
  • Motor Carriers Restrooms (SHB 1457), sponsored by Rep. Eric Robertson (R-Sumner), would require a shipper or receiver to allow a carrier delivering or picking up goods to use restrooms during normal business hours so long as it does not pose a security, health, or safety risk. The bill next will be delivered to the Governor’s office for bill action.
  • Compostable Product Usage (ESHB 1033), sponsored by Rep. Amy Walen (D-Kirkland) would require the Department of Ecology to convene a Stakeholder Advisory Committee to make recommendations on the development of standards for compostable product management. The bill details members of the advisory committee including cities, counties, solid waste collectors, organic management facilities, environmental nonprofits, businesses, manufacturers, and the Department of Agriculture. The bill will next be delivered to the Governor’s office.

Notable Bills that Failed to Make Opposite Chamber Cutoff:

  • Clean Energy (HB 1589) would have provided a pathway for Puget Sound Energy (PSE), the largest private utility in the state, to discontinue retail natural gas service beginning July of 2023, although there was an exemption for certain manufacturing facilities. The legislation would have also authorized PSE to recover the costs of the existing gas system more quickly as customers shift from gas-fired furnaces and water heaters to heat pumps which meant higher costs for ratepayers. The bill was not brought up for a vote by the Senate.
  • Protecting Railroad Workers (ESB 5267) would have established family, medical and bereavement leave for railroad workers. It would have also established civil penalties and damages for violating these provisions. The bill was not brought up for a vote in the House before the deadline.
  • Labor Practices Penalties (SSB 5110) sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), would have created a private right of action for all actions under 49.44 RCW (Prohibited Practices). The bill was amended to only apply to provisions in the statute that have no criminal or civil penalties available. The bill would have allowed the court to award injunctive relief, actual damages, and a penalty of no less than $500 and no more than $1,000. The bill was not passed by the opposite chamber deadline.