Washington State Legislative Update: Week 6, February 18, 2024

Budget proposals and more bill deadlines as session enters final three weeks

Come Monday, just 17 days will remain in this year’s legislative session, and with the anticipated introduction of the chambers’ supplemental budget proposals and further committee cutoff deadlines, matters are progressing toward an on time adjournment on March 7th. With the major house of origin cutoff winnowing the number of bills left in play last week, and the opposite chamber policy committee cutoff this Wednesday, remaining bills are narrowing even further. The Senate in particular has expressed challenges with the short number of days before cutoff getting hearings on all of the priorities the House sent over.

Here’s a summary of the top action this past week, and a look ahead to next week:

Initiatives

Leaders in the House and Senate Democratic caucuses made some news this week when it was announced that the two chambers will not be holding a hearing before adjournment on the initiatives to repeal the Climate Commitment Act (I-2117), the state’s capital gains tax (I-2109), and to make the state’s long term care insurance program optional (I-2124). They did, however, state the House and Senate will hold joint public hearings on February 27th and 28th on the remaining three initiatives, which roll back restrictions on police pursuits (I-2113), ban state and local income taxes (I-2111), and increase parental rights in public education (I-2081). The announcement made clear that the first three initiatives will go straight to the voters in November without the possibility of a legislative alternative.

Budgets

The state’s Economic & Revenue Forecast Council released its February revenue forecast on Wednesday, supplying the projections that will inform the forthcoming budget proposals. The Council forecasts a $121.8 million increase in the 2023-25 biennium and a $215.4 million increase in the 2025-27 biennium, resulting in a $67 billion collection for the current biennium, and a projected $71.7 billion collection for the next biennium, both of which reflect increased assumptions over prior forecasts. On the Capital Budget, the Senate moved first with a release and public hearing on Thursday (project list here), projecting a $1.3 billion spend centered on K-12 school construction, behavioral health facilities, and affordable housing projects. Senate Democrats are expected to release their proposed Operating and Transportation Budgets starting Monday, with House Democrats following later in the week. Cost overruns in the transportation budget will dominate the discussion over the next few weeks. Before the legislative session started, the Department of Transportation reported over $1B in cost overruns on three major road construction projects. This is in addition to the reported $3 to $4B needed to finish the court-mandated fish culvert program. Transportation leaders have been vocal about tough questions remain on how and when transportation projects will be completed.

Artificial Intelligence

Of the two competing AI task force proposals, the more business-friendly House version (HB 1934, Couture, R-Allyn) failed to pass by cutoff. SB 5838 (Nguyen, D-West Seattle), did pass the Senate and is before the House Consumer Protection & Business Committee, where it is likely to undergo some additional amendment to look more like the House version. House committee members like the definitions and reporting timelines of the Senate version, but the task force composition of the House version. It is set for hearing Tuesday with a committee vote scheduled on Wednesday. Of the other primary AI bills, SB 6299 (Stanford, D-Bothell), prohibiting AI-generated voice or likeness of employees and the use of AI in certain employment decisions, did not make it out by cutoff. HB 1999 (Orwall, D-Des Moines), prohibiting fabricated intimate images using AI, is still alive and received a Senate Law & Justice Committee hearing Friday afternoon.

Construction

SB 6040 (Valdez, D-Seattle), requiring prime contractors on public works projects to quickly pay state-certified small, women, or minority owned subcontractors, passed the Senate on a 34-15 vote on Tuesday’s cutoff day, and is now set for a public hearing this coming Friday in the House Capital Budget Committee.

Business Regulation

While the session started with an unusually high number of proposals seeking to regulate various aspects of commerce, only a few major proposals remain in play. After a lengthy debate on cutoff day, the House passed HB 2114 on a 54-43 vote with bipartisan opposition. The bill caps residential rent and fee increases at 7 percent per year and is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Thursday. It faces an uncertain future as Senate leaders had previously shelved their own rent control proposal, which would have capped rents at a higher 15 percent annual rate. HB 1889 (Walen, D-Bellevue), providing a path to professional licensure in many occupations for individuals regardless of immigration status, is on the move, with a public hearing scheduled in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee on Monday and potential committee vote Tuesday. SB 6179 (MacEwan, R-Shelton), authorizing biometric age verification systems for alcohol purchases, passed the Senate unanimously on Monday and is up for action in the House Regulated Substances & Gaming Committee this week. HB 1648 (Reeves, D-Federal Way), implementing regulations on the sale, resale, and transfer of tickets to sporting and entertainment events, died at cutoff.

Labor & Employment

Labor and employment regulation has also been a highly active area the past several sessions, although cutoffs this year have narrowed the number of major proposals remaining. HB 1905 (Mena, D-Tacoma), expanding the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunity Act by adding protected classes and opening a pathway to sue for violations, is moving in the Senate, with a vote out of the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee on Thursday. SB 5793 (Saldana, D-Seattle), expanding reasons for covered leave under the state’s paid sick leave law, was heard in the in the House Labor Committee on Friday and has a vote scheduled this coming Tuesday. SB 5778 (Keiser, D-Des Moines) banning workplace “captive audience” meetings about union organizing activities, continues its march toward passage, having been heard in the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee on Friday, and a committee vote scheduled for this Tuesday. SB 5935 (Stanford, D-Bothell) has attracted some late business community attention. It places further statutory limitations on an employer’s use of non-compete or non-solicitation agreements, and notably, loosens the standing requirements for individuals to challenge non-competes in court. It was voted out of the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee on Friday.

Social Insurance

The session’s largest controversy between business and labor remains HB 1893 (Doglio, D-Olympia), providing unemployment insurance benefits to workers who go on strike during a labor dispute. After the Senate version of the bill died, the House stayed up until 2:30 a.m. on cutoff day debating amendments and ultimately passing the bill 53-44, with bipartisan opposition. As amended, the proposal caps the amount of benefits at four weeks, and charges the cost of the benefits to the employer whose employees are striking, as opposed to socializing the costs across the UI system. In Long Term Care, SB 6072 (Keiser, D-Des Moines), creating a regulatory structure for supplemental long term care products, passed the Senate 34-15 on Monday and is set for a hearing in the House Health Care & Wellness Committee on Tuesday. SB 6069 (Mullet, D-Issaquah), creating an auto-IRA proposal for covered employers and employees, passed the Senate on a 43-6 vote on Monday, and is set for hearing in the House Consumer Protection & Business Committee on Tuesday, with a vote scheduled for Wednesday. In workers’ compensation, a few minor benefit and coverage expansions are moving along. Notable among them is HB 2382 (Berry, D-Seattle), expanding death benefits for transportation network company (TNC) drivers. It passed the House 57-40 on Tuesday, and is set for a Senate Labor & Commerce Committee vote on Monday.

Insurance

SB 5798 (Kuderer, D-Bellevue), extending notice requirements for auto and homeowners insurance cancellation, was heard by the House Consumer Protection & Business Committee on Friday, where industry efforts to exempt commercial policies met some resistance from committee members. SB 5806, also by Sen. Kuderer, providing confidentiality for data provided by insurers to the Commissioner, was voted out of the same committee on Friday. HB 2330 (Reeves, D-Federal Way), ordering an interim task force study on wildfire risk mitigation, grants, and underwriting transparency, passed the House 95-2 on Monday and was heard on Wednesday in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday. HB 2329 (Macri, D-Seattle) requiring the Commissioner perform a market study for property and liability insurance cost and availability for low-income housing providers; passed the House on Tuesday and is set for a Senate Business & Financial Services Committee hearing this Tuesday. A holdover from last year, SB 5652, allowing registered tow truck operators access to insurance payment for clearing roadway hazards, popped up and passed the Senate on Tuesday, with a House Transportation Committee hearing scheduled for this Thursday. 

Financial Services

The “Predatory Lender Protection Act,” SB 6025 (Stanford, D-Bothell), is moving in the House, and was voted out of the Consumer Protection & Business Committee on Friday. HB 1915 (Rude, R-Walla Walla), promoting financial literacy education by requiring public schools to include one half credit of financial literacy in high school graduation requirements, passed the House unanimously but has not been scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and may be a casualty of Wednesday’s cutoff.

Civil Justice & Liability

HB 1618 (Farivar, D-Seattle), removing the statute of limitations on tort claims for childhood sexual abuse, but on a prospective-only basis, is moving in the Senate, having been voted out of the Law & Justice Committee on Thursday and referred to the Ways & Means Committee where it is set for public hearing this coming Thursday.

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