Fourth week of the legislative session sees some early floor action, with bills continuing to move through committees
With nearly 1,500 bills now introduced in this year’s session, lawmakers are now down to two weeks before the first major cutoff of the session, February 17th, in which bills must clear the policy committee in the chamber of origin. Fiscal bills have until February 24th to receive a vote out of committee. The House and Senate were both on the floor this week for limited action, sending still mostly non-controversial measures over to the opposite house.
Top updates and issues from the fourth week, and coming activity, include:
- Public Safety. The business community has begun engaging on the topic of public safety in Washington, asking the Legislature to craft solutions around topics such as retail theft, police pursuits, and the declining number of law enforcement officers. In particular, business leaders have begun highlighting with the Governor and legislative leaders concerns over a significant rise in certain types of crime, including violent crime, and fewer police officers to address them. The evidentiary standard under which police may pursue a fleeing suspect has been the central public safety issue so far this session, with various bipartisan approaches to the issue including HB 1363, which lowers the evidentiary standard to reasonable suspicion as opposed to probable cause, and SB 5533, which does not address the standard but creates a Model Vehicle Pursuit Policy Work Group within the Criminal Justice Training Commission along with a grant program to seek technological alternatives to vehicle pursuits. HB 1363 was heard on Tuesday and is set for a committee vote this Thursday, while SB 5533 was voted out of its committee on Thursday.
- Taxes & Budget. Budget activity has been relatively quiet as lawmakers wait for the next quarterly revenue forecast, set for release on March 20th. Tax policy has also been relatively quiet with the exception of the introduction Monday of HB 1670, carrying forward the other recommendation of the Tax Structure Working Group on raising the local property tax limit factor. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
- Data Privacy. HB 1155 on protecting privacy in consumer health data was voted out of the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee Friday morning with a new amendment taking into account a variety of concerns raised by business and technology groups seeking to clarify coverage of data that they may properly collect or hold under various federal and state laws. The amended bill continues to have enforcement through a private right of action, despite industry opposition. The bill’s Senate companion, SB 5351, remains idle in the Senate Law & Justice Committee. Rep. Shelley Kloba has re-introduced her “Peoples’ Privacy Act” from prior years, HB 1616, with a Senate companion, SB 5643, by Sen. Bob Hasegawa. With the primarily focus this session on consumer health data and HB 1155, it is unlikely for either to gain momentum. However, their introduction shows continued interest in advancing a comprehensive, very consumer-friendly, solution.
- Environmental Law. Both chambers’ versions of the Washington Recycling and Packaging (“WRAP”) Act, HB 1131 and SB 5154, were voted out of committee this week, in the House on Thursday and in the Senate on Friday. While both versions accepted limited amendments urged by covered industries, producers, and recyclers, more work remains on the bill in urging adoption of model language and alignment with applicable federal laws.
- Labor & Employment Law. Restrictions on employers continues to be one of the more active areas this session, with numerous bills proposing new private rights of action. SB 5061, which creates a private right of action to enforce an employees’ rights to view their personnel records, is now scheduled for a committee vote on Tuesday in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee. HB 1136, which requires employers to reimburse employees for any expenses or losses incurred as a result of their work, was voted out of committee on Friday with an amendment stripping the express cause of action against employers and instead shifting enforcement to the state’s existing Wage Payment Act. SB 5123, restricting an employer’s ability to screen for an applicant’s lawful us of cannabis, was voted out of committee on Tuesday with an amendment that removed a previous exemption for building and construction trades but with a new exclusion for airlines and aerospace. SB 5110, providing a new private cause of action for employees to enforce prohibited employment practices contained in Chapter 49.44 RCW, such as age discrimination, genetic screening, and employer access to employee social media accounts, remains eligible for a floor vote at any time in the Senate. SB 5327, which would require most internships in Washington to be paid at least minimum wage, received a public hearing on Monday in the Senate Labor Committee but is not yet set for a vote. HB 1217, which allows the Department of Labor & Industries to collect interest in administrative wage payment disputes, and forbids the Department from waiving or reducing interest, was set for a committee vote on Friday but was ultimately bumped from consideration during the executive session.
- Transportation Network Companies. The House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee held a hearing on Friday for HB 1570, which seeks to facilitate greater access to unemployment insurance benefits for drivers, changes the conditions for a company’s relief of benefit charges if part-time employment is furnished for drivers making UI claims, and creates a pilot program in which drivers may elect to pay for paid family and medical leave insurance coverage, with the TNC paying drivers an amount equal to the premiums. The bill is set for a committee vote next Friday.
- Paid Family & Medical Leave. The Senate Labor & Commerce Committee is set to take action on an employer concern with the state’s paid family and medical leave insurance program related to access to information held by the Employment Security Department on a worker’s leave claim. Without access to information about the employee’s leave, it is difficult for employers to coordinate benefits and make appropriate human resources decisions for an employee on leave. SB 5586, providing employers limited access to claim information, was heard on Thursday and is scheduled for a committee vote this coming Tuesday.
- Long Term Care Insurance. Despite recommendations from a commission it created to review the state’s delayed long term care insurance program, set to collect premiums this July, legislative leaders have remained cool to entertaining any changes to the program this year. Bills introduced to either repeal the program, HB 1011, or submit the question of repeal to a vote of the people, SB 5479, have not been scheduled for a public hearing, despite bipartisan sponsorship of the referendum proposal. Another bipartisan proposal was introduced last week, SB 5639, which would prohibit the Employment Security Department from requiring ongoing verification of policies by individuals who opted out of the program during the opt-out window in 2021. It has not been set for hearing. Responding to the legislative inaction over the program, a coalition of business, labor, and local government entities sent a letter to Governor Inslee on Friday pointing out problems and necessary fixes for the program and encouraging his leadership to consider pausing premium collection again until the commission’s recommendations can be considered.
- Workers’ Compensation & Workplace Safety. HB 1521, proposing to place a controversial duty of good faith and fair dealing on employers and third-party administrators of their claims, along with stringent penalties for violations, received public hearing in the Labor & Workplace Standards Committee on Wednesday. Its companion, SB 5524 is up for hearing Tuesday in the Senate. The bill would impact all companies who self-insure for workers’ compensation, but appears driven by a dispute between firefighters and their city employer in one or two cities. HB 1068, an effort to stymie worker’s comp independent medical examinations by allowing workers or observers to make audio or video recordings of the exam, was pulled from the House Rules Committee on Friday and is now eligible for a floor vote at any time. SB 5217, allowing the Department of Labor & Industries to adopt ergonomics-related safety rules impacting one industry per year, is now set for a vote in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee on Tuesday.
- Insurance. Legislation to adopt the updated NAIC Model Regulation requiring that annuity sales be in the best interest of the consumer, SB 5210 and HB 1120, both passed their respective chambers this week with unanimous votes. HB 1061, making mandatory pre-license education hours for licensed insurance producers optional has previously passed out of the House Consumer Protection & Business Committee, and is sitting in the Rules Committee. Its companion, SB 5026, appears idled in the Senate Business, Financial Services, et al., Committee. HB 1208 and SB 5319, adopting a model bill on issuance of pet insurance, are still in their respective chambers’ Rules Committees. SB 5326, providing for a system of online verification of drivers’ liability insurance is in the Senate Transportation Committee awaiting a committee vote. HB 1632, establishing a study of Washington consumers’ financial options in retirement and feasibility of creating a state-sponsored retirement savings program was heard in the House Consumer Protection & Business Committee on Friday, along with HB 1634, which restricts insurers’ ability to underwrite for residential policies on the basis of specific dog breeds. Neither bill is set for a committee vote at present.
- Liability Reform. SB 5059, imposing pre-judgment interest in tort claims, is now scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday afternoon. School districts, counties, cities, non-profits, health care, and the civil legal defense and insurance industries are set to oppose the bill in testimony. HB 1649, a similar (but not identical) measure in the House, has so far not been scheduled for public hearing. Also impacting liability and social inflation, HB 1618 was introduced last Friday, heard in the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, and was voted out of committee on Friday. The bill eliminates statutes of limitation in cases alleging childhood sexual abuse, and does so retroactively, potentially reviving previous time-barred claims.
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