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WA State Farm Bureau weighs in on bills in committee

The policy cutoff is now behind us, and this week all eyes are on the fiscal committees that have until Friday, March 1, to move bills out of their committees. The one caveat is that this cutoff does not apply to bills that are considered NTIB – Necessary To Implement the Budget. Speaking of the budget, there are no visible signs that any serious discussions about the budget have yet occurred between the House and Senate. It is also still unclear what role the new governor will attempt to play in this year’s budget discussions.

Supermajority Vote Needed to Increase Taxes?

The Legislature is still waiting for a ruling by the state Supreme Court on the constitutional challenge to the supermajority vote requirement on the Legislature to increase taxes. Rather than waiting for the court decision, the Senate Majority Coalition amended its operating rules to require a two-thirds vote for passage of tax bills. The House Democrat majority is not likely to act on this issue.

Two bills are moving through the Senate (SJR 8204 and SJR 8205) that would place the supermajority vote requirement in the Constitution. This constitutional requirement should easily pass If legislators vote how their individual districts voted on Initiative 1185. Farm Bureau supports both bills.

Water Roundup

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee passed SHB 1350, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger), to House Rules committee while the Senate Agriculture, Water & Rural Economic Development Committee passed SSB 5836, sponsored Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside). These bills are designed to address a recent court decision in Kittitas County that cast doubt on who makes water supply availability decisions.

Farm Bureau opposes SHB 1350 because it involves changes to statute that would increase restrictions on the use of exempt wells without providing a tangible solution to the questions raised by the court. On the other hand, we participated in the drafting of and hence support passage of SSB 5836. This measure allows counties to rely on exempt wells in building permit and subdivision decision making for basins that are not closed to further groundwater appropriation. The bill provides a narrow fix to a real problem. Now the measures are set for further debate and potential amendment as they work their way through the legislative gauntlet.

Sound Science Prevailing?

Both HB 1112 and HB 1113 moved from the House to the Senate this past week. These bills – both prime sponsored by Rep. Shelly Short (R-Colville) – direct the state departments of Fish and Wildlife (HB 1112) and Ecology (HB 1113) to show their work when it comes to the use of science. Agencies are required to post their sources on the internet and reflect when peer-reviewed science is used. Farm Bureau applauds the House passage of this legislation as a sincere movement toward open and responsible government.

Association Health Plan Legislation Passes Committee

The Senate Health Care Committee passed SSB 5605 sponsored by Sen. Randi Becker (R-Eatonville) on to the Ways and Means Committee last week. This measure would simply allow association health plans to continue to offer health coverage to members. As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is implemented, there is some doubt about how such plans will function in relation to the Health Care Exchanges created by the ACA. Farm Bureau strongly supports passage of this measure. While it does not guarantee AHPs can operate, if they meet a fair set of operational criteria, the bill would deem them to be treated as the large groups are today.

We were very troubled by the fiscal note drafted for the bill, as it reflected millions of dollars in lost revenue to the state, due to the fact that AHPs offer less expensive plans than are typically offered in the small group market. So, apparently we need to have more expensive coverage sold to Washingtonians to ensure enough tax is collected for state purposes. We believe the Affordable Care Act was intended to allow people to have the coverage they want at the lowest price possible.

Protecting Farm Land and Property Rights

SB 5276 sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) – Requires local governments or state agencies that own land designated as agricultural land of long-term commercial significance under the GMA to protect and maintain that land for future agricultural use. A formal change of designation would be required before those lands could be used for mitigation projects. The Farm Bureau supports this bill. Currently in Senate Rules Committee.

HB 1771 sponsored by Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee) – Creates guidelines and restrictions for the use of drones by law enforcement. Requires state agencies to obtain specific approval from the Legislature before using a drone, and local law enforcement to obtain specific approval from their local government authority. The Farm Bureau supports this bill. Currently in House Rules Committee.

Improving State’s Livestock Identification Program

SB 5767 sponsored by Sen. Brian Hatfield (D-Raymond) – Seeks to improve the existing animal ID program by creating a new official ID tag used by the WA State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). The “green tag” will be used by dairy producers before the first point of sale on bull calves and free-martin, defined as infertile female calves, that are under 30 days of age. Some exceptions are created. The Farm Bureau supports this bill. Currently in Senate Rules.

Keeping the State’s Beekeepers Competitive

SB 5696 sponsored by Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) – Provides limited civil immunity from liability for apiarists upon adoption of rules by WSDA that establish best management practices for the operation of apiaries. As part of the rule making for best practices, the Department must provide for setbacks made upon the written request of anyone having an allergy to bee stings who owns property within one quarter mile of the location of the hives. The Farm Bureau supports this bill. Currently in Senate Rules Committee.

HB 1558 sponsored by Rep. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake) – Repeals the existing June 30, 2013, expiration date for the honey beekeeper B&O and sales tax exemptions. It also provides eligible honey beekeepers with a sales or use tax exemption for purchases of honeybee food. The Farm Bureau supports this bill. Currently in the House Finance Committee.

SB 5453 sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) – Extends the existing June 30, 2013 expiration date for the honey beekeeper B&O and sales tax exemptions to July 1, 2016. Does not contain the sales or use tax exemption for honeybee food. The Farm Bureau supports this bill. Currently in Senate Ways & Means Committee.

Agency Rulemaking

SB 5641 sponsored by Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-Oak Harbor) – Requires the governor’s signature on state agency regulations that adopts substantive rules that would subject persons who violates the rule to a penalty or sanction; establishes, alters, or revokes licensing or permitting standards; or adopts a new or significantly amended policy or regulatory program. Bill impacts Ecology, Labor and Industries, Health, Revenue, Social and Health Services, Employment Security, and Fish and Wildlife. The Farm Bureau supports this bill. Currently in Senate Ways & Means Committee.

SB 5679 sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown (R-Kennewick) – Improves the business climate and stimulates job creation by requiring certain agencies to establish a formal review process of existing rules. The departments of Ecology, Health, and Labor and Industries must perform an annual formal review of existing rules to improve the processes for licensing, permitting, and inspection to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses without compromising public health and safety. The Farm Bureau supports this bill. Currently in Senate Ways & Means Committee.

Reducing Metal Theft

HB 1552 sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) – Seeks to reduce scrap metal theft by creating a licensing scheme for scrap metal businesses, expanding criminal penalties for metal theft and malicious mischief, and allowing for civil forfeiture for any property used in the commission of a crime involving the Theft, Trafficking, or Unlawful Possession of Commercial Metal Property. It also creates a statewide database for scrap metal businesses to use to determine if a potential client has a criminal conviction which makes him or her ineligible to sell property to a licensed business. The Farm Bureau helped develop this bill and supports the current version. Currently in House Rules.

Compensation for Livestock Losses Due to Wolves

The Farm Bureau supports the following bills that each address livestock depredation by wolves:

  • HB 1500 sponsored by Rep. Kris Lytton (D-Anacortes) – Creates the Washington’s Wolves special license plate to help fund preventative wolf management efforts. Currently in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.
  • HB 1501 sponsored by Rep. Kris Lytton (D-Anacortes) – Allows the State Wildlife Account to be used for compensating the owners of livestock for damage caused by wild carnivores, creates a new account to be used for the mitigation, prevention, assessment, and payment of claims for livestock losses due to wolf predation, allows the owners of livestock injured or killed by wolves to receive compensation at the market value of the animal instead of at a set price, creates a special wolf license plate to help fund preventative wolf management efforts, and directs WDFW to pay for approved claims even when money runs out in one fiscal year. Currently in House Rules.
  • SB 5079 sponsored by Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn) – Provides WDFW $50,000/year in general fund-state funds to pay for livestock damage caused by wolves, creates a new account to be used for the mitigation, prevention, assessment, and payment of claims for livestock losses due to wolf predation, and requires WDFW to issue an annual report on the number of reported wolf-livestock conflicts, claims submitted and paid, and projected future conflicts and claims. Currently in Senate Ways & Means.
  • SB 5187 sponsored by Sen. John Smith (R-Colville) – Allows for a livestock or domestic animal owner or the immediate family member, agent, or employee of the owner to kill a gray wolf attacking or posing an immediate threat of physical harm to those animals. Allows such action on public and private lands, regardless of the wolf’s state classification, and without a permit or other form of permission. Currently in Senate Rules.
  • SB 5188 sponsored by Sen. John Smith (R-Colville) – Authorizes a county legislative authority to declare that an imminent threat to commercial livestock exists under specific conditions and to allow it to engage a county sheriff or an agent of the county to lethally remove wolves to abate the imminent threat. Currently in Senate Rules.
  • SB 5193 sponsored by Sen. John Smith (R-Colville) – Provides $50,000 annually from State Wildlife Account for paying wolf predation claims, creates a Wolf-livestock Conflict Account where unspent funds are deposited for use in future years, directs WDFW to pay for approved claims even when money runs out in one fiscal year, creates a new wolf license plate and designates wolves as a big game animal. Currently in Senate Ways & Means Committee.
Workers’ Comp Update

Five workers’ compensation reform measures have survived cutoff.

Three reform measures, all sponsored by Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry (R-Moses Lake), have already passed the Senate and may or may not receive hearings in the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee. Farm Bureau strongly supports these measures.

  • SB 5127 would expand eligibility for structured settlement agreements to workers age 40 and older and would also correct a misinterpretation by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals that has slowed the approval of settlement agreements.
  • SB 5128 would replace the structured settlement agreement program with a new, more flexible voluntary settlement agreement program.
  • SB 5112 would create more efficiency in claims handling by allowing retrospective ratings programs the limited ability to schedule appointments for some independent medical exams and vocational rehabilitation assessments.

Two other Farm Bureau-supported reform measures, also sponsored by Sen. Holmquist Newbry, remain in the Senate and may receive a vote on the floor.

  • 5124 would simplify the process for calculating benefits, instill more fairness into the system, and make our system more reflective of those used in other states.
  • 5126 would correct a judicial misinterpretation in the Tobin case, potentially saving the system $140 million over 10 years.

In the House, many of the workers’ comp bills – both ones we supported and ones we opposed – failed to survive cutoff. However, there are a few exceptions:

  • HB 1884 sponsored by Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett) –  Changes the benefit levels for certain occupational disease claims. The bill passed the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee. Farm Bureau is opposed to the measure.
  • HB 1470 sponsored by Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane) – Reauthorize the current vocational rehabilitation pilot project. This program was negotiated and agreed to by representatives of business, labor, and the Department of Labor & Industries. The bill has already passed the House and is now is the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee. Farm Bureau believes the pilot project should continue.
  • HB 1887 sponsored by Rep. David Sawyer (D-Tacoma) – Allows more educational options as part of voc rehab plans, thereby increasing costs. Farm Bureau opposes this bill.
Paid Family Leave

In 2007 the Legislature created a paid family leave insurance program, but implementation of the program has been postponed. Benefits are now supposed to begin in 2015, even though there is no funding source for the program. This year there are dueling proposals on how to address this program in the future.

  • The House Labor & Workforce Development Committee has passed HB 1457, sponsored by Rep. Tami Green (D-Lakewood). The bill would flesh out the program and fund it with a payroll tax on employers and employees. The bill will receive a hearing in House Finance this week. Farm Bureau strongly opposes this bill.
  • The Senate Commerce & Labor Committee passed SB 5159, sponsored by Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), which would repeal the paid family leave program. Farm Bureau strongly supports this approach. This bill is now in Senate Rules.
Paid Sick and Safe Leave

HB 1313 sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) – Expands the city of Seattle’s paid sick leave program statewide. The bill would require most employers to pay employees for a specified number of sick days each year. The bill passed the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee and received a public hearing in House Appropriations this week. Farm Bureau strongly opposes this measure.

SB 5726 sponsored by Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) – Places geographic limitations on local governments that enact paid sick leave programs. Specifically, those programs would cover only employers and employees whose principle place of business/employment is within the local government – not the broader nexus that exists with the current Seattle sick leave ordinance. This bill has passed committee and is now in Senate Rules. Farm Bureau supports this bill.

SB 5728 sponsored by Sen. Braun (R-Centralia) – Uses state law to preempt local ordinances on paid sick leave. State law on the topic would then prevail, and local ordinances could only be adopted based on what state law allows or does not allow. Farm Bureau supports this bill, which has passed committee and is now in Senate Rules.

Other Labor Bills of Interest

HB 1072 sponsored by Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) – Creates the agricultural labor skills and safety grant program at the Department of Commerce. The program, if passed and funded, would award a grant to a community-based organization to work with ag employer and employee groups to train workers. The bill is now in House Appropriations. Farm Bureau supports the bill.

HB 1891 sponsored by Rep. Chris Reykdal (D-Tumwater) – Increases both monetary and criminal WISHA penalties on employers. Farm Bureau opposes this bill and believes that discussions on the WISHA penalty structure should continue to occur at L&I’s WISHA Advisory Committee. Legislation is not needed. This bill passed the House Labor Committee and is now in House Rules.

HB 1440 sponsored by Rep. John McCoy (D-Tulalip) – Essentially outlaws independent contractors, forcing them to become employees. The labor-backed measure passed the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee and is now before the House Finance Committee. Farm Bureau testified in opposition to this bill.

HB 1719 sponsored by Rep. Roger Freeman (D-Federal Way) – Requires the Port of Seattle to employ drayage truck drivers (rather than use independent contractors) to transport cargo at or through the port. Unlike last year’s drayage trucking bill, this year’s version exempts agricultural products from the definition of cargo. The bill passed committee and is now in House Rules.

SB 5056 sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) – Allows employers to seek a minor work permit endorsement without having to fill out a new master business license in its entirety. Instead, the employer would need to complete the sections pertaining to employing minors. Farm Bureau supports this reform bill, which has already passed the Senate unanimously and is now in the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee.

SB 5123 sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) – Reestablishes and expands the small farm internship pilot project. The bill would allow small farms in 14 counties to offer educational work for up to three interns at wages below the minimum wage. Other stipulations apply, and the Department of Labor & Industries would provide oversight. The bill has passed the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee and had a hearing this week in Senate Ways & Means. Farm Bureau supports this bill.

SB 5158 sponsored by Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) – Clarifies that employers are not liable for failure to pay the minimum wage or overtime wages if the employer relied in good faith on an L&I action, regulation, advice, or interpretation. Farm Bureau supports this measure, which is in Senate Rules.

SB 5275 sponsored by Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry (R-Moses Lake) – Allows certain small employers to procure a training certificate from L&I and pay a training wage of 75 percent of the minimum wage for up to 680 hours for an employee. Other sideboards apply. The bill is currently in Senate Rules. A companion bill, HB 1150 by Rep. Cary Condotta (R-Wenatchee), was given a hearing in the House but did not pass the Labor & Workforce Development Committee. Farm Bureau supports this bill.

Details of House Transportation Package Released

More details have surfaced on the plan by House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) to fund future transportation projects and maintenance. HB 1954 contains the main portion of the plan.

The 10-year package, which is a starting point for further discussions, would raise $9.8 billion in revenue using the following mechanisms:

  • Gas tax increase: 10 cents per gallon – 2 cents each year, phased in over five years ($2.5 billion)
  • Motor Vehicle Excise Tax of 0.7 percent ($2.1 billion). This would be an increase of about $140 per year on a $20,000 car.
  • Hazardous substance tax increase of 0.3 percent increase ($897 million) to then be spent on stormwater clean-up and fish passage barriers.
  • Auditor licensing fee: $5 registration, $12 transfer at county auditor offices ($196 million)
  • Commercial gross weight fee: 15 percent increase ($102 million)
  • Bicycle sales fee: $25 fee on bicycles over $500

The package will spend $3.9 billion on several new projects:

  • Highway 167/I-509 Puget Sound Gateway
  • Highway 167/I-405 Corridor
  • I-5 Columbia River Crossing
  • Highway 395 North Spokane Corridor
  • I-90 Snoqualmie Pass

Also, $2.2 billion will be spent on protecting current infrastructure, and $631 million on maintenance and upkeep. Stormwater cleanup spending is valued at $897 million, and local government assistance would receive $675 million. While many of our important freight routes would receive some funding from the package, this package is not enough to fully fund those projects.

Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama), ranking minority member on the House Transportation Committee, criticized the plan, which, if approved, would give Washington the highest state gas tax in the nation. Orcutt said he believes we should first investigate why our transportation project costs are so high. Before raising taxes, Orcutt said, we should figure out “how we can have a system that will make our tax dollars go further.”

Farm Bureau policy supports maintaining and updating farm-to-market roads to handle present traffic loads. However, setting fuel tax rates at an unreasonably high level will also be counterproductive for businesses and residents. Discussions on the package are still early. As a package develops, if it develops, we will keep you informed about the details, compare it to our policy language, and proceed accordingly.

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