House of origin cutoff comes and goes, lawmakers return to policy committees to consider remaining bills
Lawmakers spent the first half of this week on the floor of the House and Senate again, sometimes in long and late-running sessions, debating and voting on bills up to the March 8th cutoff for legislation to pass out of its house of origin and over to the other chamber. The two chambers took a brief break on Monday to hold a joint session of the House and Senate to welcome the Sauli Niinisto, the President of Finland, marking the first time a foreign head of state has ever addressed the Washington Legislature. President Niinisto’s remarks focused on climate change efforts in Washington and Finland, and on implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On Thursday, lawmakers returned to their committees to hear bills that passed the opposite chamber, with a cutoff deadline of March 29th for such bills to receive a policy committee vote.
Top updates and issues from the ninth week of session include:
- Public Safety. The ongoing controversy over the level of suspicion necessary for law enforcement to engage in a vehicular pursuit of a suspect took several dramatic turns during cutoff week. This issue has become symbolic of the Legislature’s will to address rising concerns across the state over crime and public safety. HB 1363 and HB 1586, two bills that in tandem would have allowed for a temporary period of allowing pursuits based on reasonable suspicion of certain crimes, as opposed to the more stringent probable cause standard put in place in 2021, were never pulled from the House Rules Committee and failed to pass by cutoff. This came despite an effort by House Republicans to use a procedural mechanism to pull the bill from the Rules Committee to the floor for a vote, a maneuver that was voted down by House Democrats, despite twenty of them signed on as sponsors of the underlying policy. This caused the Senate to use an analogous floor procedure later in the day to pull SB 5352, the companion to HB 1363, from the Senate Law & Justice Committee to the floor for a vote, despite the fact the bill had died in an earlier cutoff. The Senate then passed the bill over to the House with both bipartisan support and opposition, on a 26-23 vote. While Governor Inslee has voiced support for the bill reaching his desk, it is unclear what the House will do with it – setting the stage for a potentially dramatic end-of-session dispute between the two chambers.
- Budgets & Taxes. We are still approximately two weeks from the release of the initial operating, capital, and transportation proposals. Activity around any new taxes or fees necessary to implement these budgets, which are by their nature exempt from cutoff deadlines, may begin in earnest around that time. In the meantime, the Senate Ways & Means Committee held a public hearing Thursday on one such tax proposal, SB 5486, the so-called “wealth tax,” which establishes a one percent tax on financial intangible assets in excess of $250 million. If enacted, the tax is projected to raise several billion dollars per biennium that would be spread across dedicated accounts addressing education, affordable housing, care for disabled individuals, and tax credits for low-income families.
- Data Privacy. Having passed the House 57-39 before cutoff, HB 1155, the consumer health data privacy bill, is now before the Senate Law & Justice Committee. As amended by the House, the bill’s per se Consumer Protection Act violation in claims brought by private litigants was removed, as well as minor improvements to the bill’s scope and definitions. Notably, a right to cure alleged violations was not included in the amended bill’s enforcement mechanism. Business and impacted industry groups remain concerned about the breadth of the definition of consumer health data, and intend to pursue various limiting and clarifying amendments as the bill moves in the House.
- Environmental Policy. The Washington Recycling and Packaging (“WRAP”) Act, HB 1131, failed to survive the March 8th cutoff. As the Senate version of the bill had previously failed to move in that chamber, action on the bill would be considered over this year. Although the bill was pulled to the House floor calendar for a vote before cutoff, a competing amendment offered by Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, to rewrite major portions of the bill and subject the EPR portions to a needs study, gained significant traction in the House Democratic caucus. Ultimately, the inherent complexity of the lengthy, multi-part bill, as well as splintering within the Democratic caucus and amongst the bill’s proponents over support for the Fey amendment, took the bill down for this session.
- Labor & Employment Law. Bills continuing to move post-cutoff in labor and employment law include SB 5123, regulating employers’ pre-employment screening for cannabis, SB 5110, creating a private right of action to enforce violations for various prohibited employment actions (such as the proposed bar on pre-employment cannabis screening in SB 5123), HB 1217, requiring the accrual of interest on employee wage complaints, HB 1320, creating a private right of action to enforce an employee’s right to receive a copy of personnel records, and HB 1762, a multifaceted safety and labor standards bill impacting retail warehouses. Each of these bills is up for public hearing in committee in the coming week. Among the few employment law bills not to advance past cutoff, SB 5417, prohibiting mandatory employer communications about unionizing efforts, failed to emerge from the Senate while HB 1136, which creates a private right of action for employees to sue their employer over unreimbursed business expenses, did not make it out of the House.
- Transportation Network Companies. Having passed the House 87-9 before cutoff, HB 1570, expanding access to unemployment insurance and paid family leave benefits for TNC drivers, is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee on Monday. This bill has generally been negotiated down to a neutral or supportive position by the impacted TNC companies.
- Paid Family & Medical Leave. SB 5286, establishing rates for the paid family & medical leave insurance program, has a public hearing Tuesday in the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee. It is a recommendation of the legislative task force established last year to provide financial stability to the program. 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 48-0 before cutoff and is also before the House committee, awaiting scheduling of a public hearing.
- Ergonomics. Having passed the Senate 27-21 before cutoff, 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, now goes before the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee, where it is scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday. Business groups remain opposed to the bill based on a spectrum of concerns ranging from the overturning of a prior citizen initiative, to concerns over the scope and definition of the one-industry-per-year rule.
- Insurance. Insurance continues to be an active area with multiple proactive bills affecting different lines continuing to move. HB 1060, allowing for corporate reorganization of Washington mutual insurers was voted out of the Senate Business, Financial Services, Gaming & Trade Committee on Thursday, along with HB 1061, making mandatory pre-license education hours for licensed insurance producers optional. At the same meeting, the committee held a public hearing on HB 1120, adopting the best interest standard for annuity transactions, as well as HB 1266, regulating e-mail communications between the Office of Insurance Commissioner and licensed producers. SB 5319, adopting a model bill on issuance of pet insurance, and SB 5720, allowing commercial property insurers to provide risk mitigation goods and services to policyholders, are both set for a hearing Tuesday in the House Consumer Protection & Business Committee, while SB 5326, providing for a system of online verification of drivers’ liability insurance, is set for a hearing Monday in the House Transportation Committee. 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, passed the Senate unanimously and is before the House Transportation Committee. Notable bills failing to make the cutoff include HB 1811, allowing consideration of extraordinary life circumstances impacting insurance credit scoring, and SB 5053, requiring annual declaration pages on home policies with sublimits.
- Liability Reform. HB 1618 remains the primary remaining liability reform issue, and having passed the House 82-14 before cutoff, is now before the Senate Law & Justice Committee but has not been scheduled for a hearing. The bill eliminates statutes of limitation in cases alleging childhood sexual abuse, both prospectively and retroactively, apparently reviving past time-barred claims. The bill has substantial fiscal effect for state agencies in custody of children, and carries a hefty fiscal note and a “null and void” clause. It will need to have its costs appropriated specifically in the state’s operating budget in order to go into effect.