Washington Legislative Session has moved into long days and nights as lawmakers debate, amend, and pass bills to the other chamber before next cutoff
This week marked the midpoint of this year’s legislative session, as lawmakers wrapped up committee work on their own bills with last Friday’s fiscal committee cutoff. Legislators have been in caucus and on the floor all week, and at least House members worked until 2am on Sunday before returning for more voting the first part of next week. This activity is in advance of the March 8th cutoff deadline for non-budget bills to receive a vote in their house or origin to advance. With some exceptions reported below, floor action has mostly centered on non-controversial bills without significant amendment fights, but several big-ticket items remain on the docket for consideration before cutoff.
Top updates and issues from the eighth week of session include:
- Budgets & Taxes. The Washington State Economic & Revenue Forecast Council has announced it will release its next quarterly revenue forecast on March 20th. This is the forecast lawmakers will factor in when they propose the 2023-25 biennial budgets, with particular importance for the state’s operating budget. The council’s preliminary forecast for March showed some caution, with the state’s unemployment rate increasing slightly for the third consecutive month, with wages, salaries, and nonwage income coming in slightly lower than previously forecast last November. The preliminary forecast also noted that housing construction continued to slow in the fourth quarter of 2022 and early 2023, consistent with economic indicators suggesting an economic slowdown nationally and in the state. The first of the major budget writers to announce release of their budget proposal is the Senate Transportation Chair, suggesting the Senate’s transportation budget will be released on or about March 20th, as the revenue forecast comes out.
- Public Safety. HB 1363 and HB 1586 on vehicular pursuits by law enforcement remain in the House Rules Committee for another week. Both are eligible to be brought to the House floor, but consistent with the overall pattern of delaying votes on controversial measures likely to eat up significant floor time, neither has been pulled yet. These bills, in concert, would allow for vehicular pursuits on reasonable suspicion of certain specified crimes, but only for a year while a commission must meet to develop a recommendation for a permanent standard.
- Data Privacy. After appearing on several run lists over the course of the week, HB 1155, the consumer health data privacy bill, finally made it to a floor vote on Saturday afternoon. Twenty-three amendments were initially placed on the bar in advance of the debate, but ten were withdrawn. A couple technical amendments were adopted on the floor, but the most impactful amendment adopted was by moderate Democratic Rep. Amy Walen, D-Bellevue, who offered an amendment to address one of the bill’s most controversial elements, its private right of action for enforcement. Rep. Walen’s amendment limits the “per se violation” component of the Consumer Protection Act to actions brought by the Attorney General’s Office and not private litigants. Private litigants could still bring a lawsuit under the bill, but would have to prove all elements of a CPA violation. Another amendment offered by Rep. Walen before the debate, to allow a 30-day period to cure an alleged violation of the law, was withdrawn. Ultimately, after a handful of Republican amendments were rejected, the bill passed the House on a 57-39 vote. Financial services, including insurance, were able to achieve an amendment earlier in the process exempting data covered by the federal Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and associated Office of Insurance Commission privacy rules.
- Environmental Policy. The Washington Recycling and Packaging (“WRAP”) Act, now moving as HB 1131, was pulled from the House Rules Committee on Thursday and is eligible for a floor vote but has not appeared on a run list as of Friday. It has attracted floor amendments on various topics on the bar from minority Republicans, signaling a lengthy floor fight. With the inherent complexity of a multi-prong, 150-page bill and 74 page fiscal note, heavy business community opposition, and an unwillingness by proponents and advocates to compromise on major concerns, the future of the bill over the next five days before cutoff is far from clear.
- Labor & Employment Law. Of the remaining labor and employment matters that have not already been acted upon, SB 5417, prohibiting mandatory employer communications about unionizing efforts remains in the Senate Rules Committee with an uncertain future, while HB 1136, which creates a private right of action for employees to sue their employer over unreimbursed business expenses, remains in the House Rules Committee. HB 1320, creating a private right of action to enforce an employees’ rights to view their personnel records was voted off the House floor on Wednesday on a 56-40 vote. On Saturday, the House passed HB 1217, addressing the controversial concept of “wage theft” by employers, allowing the Department of Labor & Industries in a wage complaint action to demand interest owed at the time a complaint is filed, as opposed to adjudicated, and prohibits the waiver of interest in settling a claim. The vote was 53-43.
- Transportation Network Companies. HB 1570, expanding access to unemployment insurance and paid family leave benefits for TNC drivers, passed off the floor of the House on Thursday on a 87-9 vote.
- Paid Family & Medical Leave. SB 5586, an important business community priority to provide employers access to specified PFML claim information held by the Employment Security Department in order to coordinate leave and supplemental employee benefits, passed the Senate on Wednesday on a 48-0 vote.
- 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 the Senate Wednesday evening on a 27-21 vote and heads to the House. Debate over this bill was the biggest floor fight to date over a consequential policy, as senators devoted several hours Wednesday to debating fifteen different floor amendments in what has been one of the biggest business-labor disputes of the last several sessions.
- Insurance. HB 1061, making mandatory pre-license education hours for licensed insurance producers optional, passed the House unanimously on Monday, while SB 5319, adopting a model bill on issuance of pet insurance passed the Senate unanimously on the same day. SB 5326, providing for a system of online verification of drivers’ liability insurance, passed the Senate on a 37-11 vote on Wednesday, but not before picking up a floor amendment allowing car dealers access to the online verification system. SB 5720, allowing commercial property insurers to provide risk mitigation goods and services to policyholders passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday. SB 5652, recognizing a claim against any available coverage for registered tow truck operators to recoup costs for towing, recovery, impound, or storage fees when clearing a roadway or impounding a vehicle, was pulled from the Senate Rules Committee on Friday. Finally, HB 1811, introduced last Friday, allowing consideration of extraordinary life circumstances impacting credit score for insureds whose rates are affected by credit scoring, remains in the House Rules Committee with an uncertain future due to numerous unworkable amendment requests by the Office of Insurance Commissioner.
- Liability Reform. SB 5090, imposing pre-judgment interest in civil actions, failed to emerge from the Senate Ways & Means Committee by last Friday’s cutoff, and is dead for the session barring extraordinary procedural moves later in session to revive it. HB 1618, which eliminates statutes of limitation in cases alleging childhood sexual abuse, and does so retroactively, was voted off the House floor in the early hours of Friday morning on a 82-14 vote, after two amendments to were turned away, including an amendment to remove the retroactive elimination of statutes of limitation and an amendment to expand the current statute of limitation for such claims to 20 years past an individual’s eighteenth birthday. The bill moves to the Senate where concerns over its high cost and the workability of its retroactive application remain in place. The bill does contain a “null and void” clause, meaning its impact on state agencies – estimated at over $90 million per year – must be appropriated in the state operating budget for the bill to go into effect.
Business, Financial Services, Gaming & Trade (Senate) – SHR 2 and Virtual J.A. Cherberg – 3/9 @ 10:30am
• SHB 1060 – Exec Session – Concerning reorganization of domestic mutual insurers.
• SHB 1266 – Public Hearing – Concerning email communication by the office of the insurance commissioner. (Remote Testimony Available).