Washington Legislative Advocacy – April 10, 2023

Washington Lawmakers head to the floor after last committee cutoff of session

With two weeks remaining in the legislative session, lawmakers are now full-time on the floor of the House and Senate, initially considering the other chamber’s policy bills until Wednesday’s opposite-house cutoff. From there, the remainder of session will focus on negotiating the three state budgets and reconciling different positions between the House and Senate on bills they’ve passed. Over 1600 bills have been introduced since the beginning of session in January. The number of bills still alive is now in the 300-400 range. The Governor has begun signing bills that have made it through. Once signed by the Governor, bills without a specific effectiveness date will go into effect 90 days after the session adjourns, or July 22nd.

Top updates and issues from the thirteenth week of session include:

  • Budgets and Taxes. After their introductions and with the vehicles having cleared their chambers of origin, the operating, transportation, and capital budget proposals are now behind the doors for negotiation. Particularly with respect to the operating budget, this is the Legislature’s remaining must-do item this session. Meanwhile, advocates are combing through the various provisos in the House and Senate operating budget proposal to see what policies may be hinted at. For example, the Senate proposal reauthorizes the Tax Structure Workgroup to continue meeting on its recommendations to adopt a margin tax and increase local property tax growth limit factors. The Senate budget also directs the Department of Revenue to research and analyze wealth taxes, including best practices in the design and administration of wealth taxes, with a report due November 1, 2024. On the benefits side, the House has included studies for a poverty-elimination program called the “future fund program” and a feasibility study for a universal child allowance and universal child care. The Senate includes funding for a state-run retirement program for workers without workplace retirement benefits, and a statewide data repository for population and policy research on various topics related to human services. Other provisos in the Senate budget include funding for a housing regulation work group and a study of regulatory approaches used in other states to address the affordability of health insurance. While both operating budgets have balanced without the inclusion of new taxes, a bill was introduced this week, SB 5767, by Senator Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, to impose a 7.5 percent “excise tax” on “excess compensation” paid by hospitals to their five highest compensated employees who do not have direct patient responsibilities. The tax is proposed to fund expanded access to health care. It has not been set for public hearing.          
  • Public Safety. SB 5352, lowering the standard for law enforcement vehicle pursuits, having been previously voted out of the House Community Safety, Justice & Reentry Committee, spent another week in the House Rules Committee without action. It’s eligible for a floor vote before the April 12th cutoff.
  • Data PrivacyHB 1155, the consumer health data privacy bill passed off the Senate floor 27-21 on Wednesday afternoon, after adopting the Law & Justice Committee amendment that rolled back the changes made to the bill on the House floor. Thirteen amendments were offered to narrow the scope of the bill or limit is private lawsuit enforcement mechanism, but these amendments were all defeated or withdrawn. The bill returns to the House for concurrence or negotiation over the changes made in the Senate.
  • Labor & Employment LawHB 1320, creating a private right of action to enforce an employee’s right to receive a copy of personnel records, died at cutoff in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. SB 5123, regulating employers’ pre-employment screening for cannabis, passed the House on March 29th on a 57-41 mostly party-line vote. It was amended by the House to exempt first responders and place the enforcement mechanism for violations within the Office of Attorney General. It now goes back to the Senate for concurrence. SB 5110, creating a private right of action to enforce violations for various prohibited employment actions, is in the House Rules Committee and eligible for a floor vote before the deadline on the 12th. Discussion is underway to limit the blanket nature of the private right of action and instead apply only to specific employment provisions of RCW ch. 49.44 that do not have a remedy currently (related to genetic screening and employee assistance program access). HB 1217, requiring the accrual of interest on employee wage complaints is on the Senate floor calendar awaiting a vote, along with HB 1762, setting labor standards regulations for retail distribution warehouses. Both bills have until the 12th to pass the Senate.
  • Paid Family & Medical Leave. SB 5286, establishing rates for the paid family & medical leave insurance program as a recommendation of the legislative task force established to provide financial stability to the program, passed the House unanimously on Thursday and is headed to the Governor for signature. SB 5586, providing employers access to specified PFML claim information held by the Employment Security Department, also passed the House unanimously on Wednesday, but with an amendment limiting disclosed information to whether the employee was approved for benefits and whether benefits were paid for any given week. As amended, the bill returns to the Senate for concurrence.
  • Ergonomics. SB 5217, allowing the Department of Labor & Industries to adopt administrative rules on industry-specific ergonomics exposures, choosing one industry per year by NAICS code based on severity of musculoskeletal injury claims in that industry, passed off the House floor late Friday night 51-46 after a contentious floor debate. Six Republican amendments attempting to narrow the Department’s rulemaking scope were debated and turned down by the House before final passage. With no House amendments adopted, the bill heads to the Governor for signature.  
  • Insurance. SB 5720, allowing commercial property insurers to provide risk mitigation goods and services to policyholders, passed the House Friday afternoon on a unanimous vote. A committee amendment was adopted to increase the value of goods or services to the greater of $7,500 or 10 percent of a policy’s premium, but remove the ability of the Office of Insurance Commissioner to further increase the threshold in administrative rule. The bill heads back to the Senate for likely concurrence in the House amendment. SB 5326, providing for a system of online verification of drivers’ liability insurance, did not receive a vote in the House Transportation Committee by Tuesday’s fiscal cutoff and faces an uncertain future. It was funded in the Senate budget proposal, and may be considered necessary to implement the budget and thus exempt from cutoff. SB 5652, recognizing a claim against available coverage for registered tow truck operators to recoup costs for towing, recovery, impound, or storage fees when called to clear a public roadway, and establishing a fund for tow truck operators to be compensated from if an at-fault driver lacks the funds or insurance coverage to cover the costs of towing, is in the House Rules Committee and subject to the April 12th cutoff deadline to move.
  • Liability ReformHB 1618, eliminating the statute of limitation in cases alleging childhood sexual abuse, both prospectively and retroactively, failed to emerge from the Senate Ways & Means Committee by last Tuesday’s opposite house fiscal cutoff. Although an amendment had been prepared for consideration by the committee to limit the retroactivity of the bill, committee budget staff pointed out that the amendment would have little impact on the hundreds of millions of dollars per biennium the bill is projected to cost the state. On this basis, the committee removed the bill from its consideration. House prime sponsor Darya Farivar, D-Seattle, has indicated in press statements that she intends to bring the bill back next session and hopes to address the fiscal projections in the interim.

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