WAWG State Legislative Report for week ending Jan. 19, 2024

by Diana Carlen
Lobbyist, Washington Association of Wheat Growers

During the second week of the legislative session, the House of Representatives and Senate were busy holding public hearings, passing bills out of committee, and some floor action. New bills continue to be introduced. Over 1,100 new bills have been filed in both chambers combined this session. Less than two weeks remain until the first legislative deadline, Jan. 31, when all bills must be voted out of their respective policy committees to remain alive this year.

Initiative to Repeal the State’s Cap and Trade Program Certified by the Secretary of State

 On Jan. 16, the Secretary of State’s Office formally certified Initiative 2117, which would repeal the state’s Climate Commitment Act. Following certification, the initiative is now in front of the Legislature, and members are faced with how to proceed. Legislators have three options: adopt 2117 into law (highly unlikely), propose an alternative ballot measure to appear alongside the initiative, or allow the repeal effort to appear by itself on the November general election ballot.

Prior to certification, the initiative was somewhat of an elephant in the room when discussing any measure surrounding the Climate Commitment Act as legislators were unable to speak to the proposal using state resources. Now that the initiative has been certified, legislators are able to directly address the issue. Republicans have been urging Democrats to hold hearings on the initiative, but nothing has yet been scheduled. The initiative will undoubtedly make a mark on legislative activity this session as the Legislature considers moving forward with key policies like the linkage of Washington’s carbon market to California and Quebec.

Bill Limiting the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides Passes Out of Committee

On Jan. 18, the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee passed out an amended version of Senate Bill 5972. In its original form, the bill would have prohibited anyone from using neonicotinoid pesticides on outdoor plants in this state, with limited exemptions, beginning in 2026.

In response to concerns raised from the agriculture community, the bill was amended to include an exemption for the application made by a licensed applicator or during the production of an agricultural commodity. The amended bill also removed the requirement that neonicotinoid pesticides be designated as restricted-use pesticides.

Legislation to Extend Paid Family & Medical Leave for Small Employers Heard

On Jan. 17, House Bill 1959, sponsored by Rep. Amy Walen (D-Kirkland), had a public hearing in the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. The bill would remove the exemption allowing employers with fewer than 50 employees to not pay any portion of the premium for the Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) Program.

In 2017, the Legislature passed the state’s PFML program as a state-run insurance benefit to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of paid leave. As a part of the negotiated 2017 legislation, program premiums are split between the employer and employee for most employers. Employers with fewer than 50 employees, however, are not required to pay the employer portion of the premium but must collect the full employee portion.

During the public hearing, a number of business organizations raised concerns that HB 1959 was going back on a careful and lengthy compromise that was negotiated under the initial legislation. Testifiers also highlighted the excessive financial challenge this policy would place on small employers. Conversely, in opening comments, the bill sponsor explained that she felt the current system places mid-sized business on unequal footing, allowing small businesses, regardless of their revenue, to be relieved of the program tax.

EPR/Bottle Deposit Bill Passes out of Policy Committee

On Jan. 18, the House Environment and Energy Committee passed two recycling proposals out of committee that are shaping up to be, once again, hot topics this year. The first, House Bill 2049, sponsored by Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle), is intended to increase recycling participation and address post-consumer recycled content in consumer packaging and paper products by establishing an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program.

HB 2049, known as the “Re-Wrap Act,” builds on a similar proposal from the 2023 session. However, the bill is narrower than last year as it does not include a bottle deposit program, which is now a standalone bill. The bill has been heavily pushed by the environmental community despite continued concerns from many businesses within the state.

House Bill 2144, sponsored by Rep. Monica Jurado Stonier (D-Vancouver), also passed out of the House Environment and Energy Committee last week. HB 2144 would create a deposit return program for beverage containers. The proposal, commonly referred to as the “bottle bill,” places the responsibility for operating the deposit return program on distributor responsibility organizations. HB 2144 also establishes a $.10 refund value for such beverage containers. The legislation has been met with mixed feedback, receiving support from a number of distributors (but support dependent on passage of the EPR bill at the same time) while seeing opposition from waste management organizations.

Of note, a third proposal that also received a public hearing the first week of session, House Bill 1900 sponsored by Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), has not been scheduled for a vote out of committee, but we expect this proposal to be offered as a striker (alternative version) on the House floor. Last year, the competing proposals divided the House Democrat caucus, and the bill was never brought up for a vote of the full House of Representatives. The business community continues to support HB 1900 over HB 2049 (the EPR bill). Agriculture continues to advocate for an exemption for agriculture for these recycling bills.

Other Notable Bills that Saw Action last Week:

  • H-2A Worker Program Data (HB 2226) would require the Employment Security Department, when conducting field checks or field visits of an employer, to collect data on the number and location of H-2A workers. The bill also requires the Office of Agricultural and Seasonal Workforce Services to conduct annual wage surveys of workers hand harvesting apples, cherries, pears, and blueberries. On Jan. 17, the bill received a public hearing in the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee.
  • Agriculture Pests & Disease Response (SB 6036/HB 2147), is agency request legislation by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The legislation creates the pest and disease response account to better allow the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) to respond to emerging agricultural pest and disease response activities by ensuring funding is available. The bill passed out of the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee this last week.
  • Tax Exempt Agriculture Products (SB 5915), sponsored by Sen. Nikki Torres (R-Pasco), extends the expiration date for the hazardous substance tax exemption for pesticides sold out of state from Jan. 1, 2026, to Jan. 1, 2036. The bill was heard in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
  • Instream Resources (HB 2105) is an attempt to provide a partial fix to the Foster decision dealing with municipal water rights. The bill would allow out-of-place and out-of-time mitigation, but not out-of-kind mitigation. It would also require Fish and Wildlife to declare there would be no detrimental impact to the fisheries and would require consultation with affected tribes. The requirements apply to all types of water right permit applications where an instream flow has been set. The bill was heard in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
  • Family Farms Water (HB 2187) would allow the Department of Ecology to authorize a permanent or temporary appropriation of water that would have adverse impacts on instream flows with appropriate mitigation or where overriding considerations of the public interest will be served. Under the bill, certain family farms are determined to be in the public interest. The bill was heard in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
  • Pesticide Application Committee (SB 6166) would extend the Pesticide Application Safety Committee and the advisory work group from July 1, 2025 to July 1, 2035. The bill was heard in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.
  • Worker Wage Recovery (HB 2097) would require the Department of Labor and Industries to convene a work group to recommend strategies helping workers recover wages owed when an employer violates provisions of the Minimum Wage Act or wage payment requirements. The bill also establishes a three-year wage recovery pilot program to provide relief to certain workers who are owed wages. The bill was heard in the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee.
  • SEPA Projects Environmental Justice (HB 2070) would integrate environmental justice considerations into certain projects. The proposal would require a lead agency to pay for and complete an environmental justice impact statement on many projects defined as a “potentially impactful project.” Of note, the bill prohibits including considerations of economic benefits when evaluating compelling public interest. HB 2070 was heard in the House Environment and Energy Committee.
  • Salmon Water Quality Data (HB 2235) would require the Department of Ecology to submit an annual inventory of polluted waters of Washington to the Legislature. Ecology would also be required to establish a baseline of water quality prior to proposing a water body for designation as an outstanding resource water. The bill was heard in the House Energy and Environment Committee.
  • Suitability of Lands (HB 2336) would require the WSDA, in consultation with the State Conservation Commission, to perform an assessment of unused and underutilized state-owned lands to determine their suitability for agricultural purposes. For those not suitable for agricultural purposes the bill requires the Washington State University Energy Program to perform an assessment to determine the suitability of such lands for renewable energy production purposes. The bill was heard in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
  • Beaver Ecosystem Management (SB 5846) would direct the Department of Fish and Wildlife to implement a beaver ecosystem management plan. The bill also establishes a grant program to provide beaver education and outreach, technical assistance, and resources to assist landowners living with beavers on their property. SB 5846 was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee.
  • Paid Sick Leave (SB 5793/HB 1991) would allow an employee to use paid sick leave when their child’s school or care center is closed due to weather or a public emergency. Additionally, the bill would expand the definition of family member for the purpose of using paid sick leave to include any individual who regularly resides in the employee’s home or where the relationship creates an expectation the employee care for the person, and that individual depends on the employee for care. Both bills were heard in their respective labor committees this week.
  • Equal Pay Protected Classes (SB 5894/HB 1905) would amend the Equal Pay and Opportunities Act to prohibit an employer from discriminating against employees that are members of a protected class. This includes discrimination based on the employee’s age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, honorably discharged veteran or military status, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability.
  • Employer Political Speech (HB 1940/SB 5778) prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee refusing to attend or participate in an employer-sponsored meeting communicating the employer’s opinion concerning religious or political matters. Labor unions support this bill arguing that businesses are using such meetings to persuade them against unionization. Business groups have argued that the bill is too vague. SB 5778 passed out of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.