As of today there are only 16 days left in the 2015 regular session. Given the vast differences in the budget proposals, there appears to be very little likelihood the Legislature will be able to work out its differences prior to the end of regular session on April 26.
We passed another important deadline this week. Tuesday, April 7, was the fiscal cutoff for bills out of the opposite house. The next significant deadline is next Wednesday, April 15. Bills that fail to pass out of the opposite house by the end of that day are considered dead. However, the typical caveat applies here, meaning bills that are linked to the budget or provided special dispensation by leadership can still move along even if they failed to pass by the April 15 deadline.
Here is an update on the key bills that we continue to track and work on:
2015-17 Operating Budgets – The House and Senate have both approved their versions of the operating budgets (HB 1106 and SB 5077) and the budget chairs held their first meeting on Wednesday to begin ironing out the differences between the two proposals.
Some highlights of the budgets are:
Workers’ Compensation – While most other labor-related legislation has died, three bills related to workers’ comp remain alive.
Transportation of Hazardous Materials – The two chambers have taken two different approaches to the issue of the safe transportation of crude oil. HB 1449, sponsored by Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle), and SB 5057, sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale), have each crossed over to the opposite chamber and have been amended by committees in those chambers.
When SB 5057 passed the Senate, a floor amendment was adopted to impose an increase in the minimum size of a railroad crew on a train transporting hazardous materials. Farm Bureau is concerned that these new requirements will increase costs on everyone shipping products by rail and endanger the efficient movement of trains across the state. The bill, as passed by the Senate, applied these requirements to the rail movement of a host of hazardous materials, including anhydrous ammonia, which is used as a fertilizer.
The House committees have addressed one of our primary concerns by taking anhydrous ammonia out of the bill and by limiting the scope of the staffing requirements to trains carrying 20 or more car loads of class 3 flammable liquids or one car of nuclear fuel/waste. We will continue to work this bill to minimize costs to farmers. SB 5057 is currently in House Rules, and HB 1449 is now in Senate Rules.
Toxics Reduction – HB 1472, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), is Governor-request legislation. The Governor’s office has said passage of this bill is necessary to retain business-friendly provisions in Ecology’s current Fish Consumption Toxics Rule proposal. The bill would broaden authority to regulate toxic chemicals. WFB prefers the Senate version, which most clearly excludes agricultural inputs that are already subject to comprehensive regulation under other laws. The bill is in Senate Rules.
Carbon Cap and Tax Legislation – HB 1314, sponsored by Rep. Fitzgibbon, is also Governor-request legislation. The bill remains in House Appropriations. Though this bill is “necessary to implement the budget” or NTIB and is exempt from cutoffs, the bill has little traction as indicated by the fact that both House and Senate budgets do not factor in climate tax revenues. WFB opposes the bill. WFB members testified to concerns with the bill, which would drive up fuel, input, transport, and processing costs that producers, as price takers, can’t pass forward.
Dairy Nutrients – Due to agricultural community efforts, WSDA’s ill-conceived bill proposal to require certification of manure application was never introduced. Funding is provided in the Senate operating budget for WSDA to work with willing producers on the voluntary certification of agronomic rate application. WFB supports this request as it would promote good stewardship and strengthen the position of participating producers against frivolous lawsuits.
Shorelines and Irrigation Infrastructure– HB 2046, sponsored by Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake), was brought forward by the Washington State Water Resource Association. The bill would clarify that artificial water bodies and infrastructure, including irrigation canals, ditches and irrigation return flows, are not subject to regulation under the Shoreline Management Act. WFB supports this bill, which is on the Senate floor calendar.
State Drought Preparedness – HB 1836, sponsored by Rep. Derek Stanford (D-Bothell), aims to improve pre-drought preparation. WFB and Irrigation Districts support the measure. WFB appreciates efforts of the sponsor and other legislators to ensure that the drought statutes and funding accounts will continue to meet the needs of agriculture. WFB prefers the cleaner Senate version, which is now in Senate Rules.
Water Solutions Infrastructure – SB 5628, sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), is a referendum to the voters. The bill would create a statewide assessment to raise funds for water supply, storm water and flood control projects throughout the state. The bill as originally drafted raised concerns about the nexus between agricultural parcels assessed and potential benefits received. We will carefully review any new version to see if those concerns have been addressed. The NTIB bill is in Senate Ways and Means.
Permit Exempt Wells -Many bills aimed to address limitations on permit exempt water uses, reflecting concern over Skagit and Kittitas moratoriums as well as a troubling growth management hearings board decision (Hirst v Whatcom County). Informed by joint amicus briefing from WFB, Realtors, BIAW and AWB, the Court of Appeals recently reversed the board’s decision, which (if confirmed) could have triggered exempt well moratoriums across the state. Hirst has been appealed to the state Supreme Court. A few of bills addressing permit exempt well issues remain alive, including:
Drones – We continue to track two bills that seek to provide some structure over how drones are used. HB 1639, sponsored by Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee), would prohibit state agencies or local governments from procuring drones without prior approval by the Legislature or county legislative authority. The bill is currently on the Second Reading Calendar in the Senate. SB 5499, sponsored by Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn), would increase the sentencing requirements for people found guilty of using drones while committing a crime. The bill is in House Rules. WFB supports both bills.
Food Processors Tax Incentive – SB 5698, sponsored by Sen. Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla), would extend the B&O tax exemption for food processors from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2025. The bill is in Senate Rules. The Senate budget also assumes passage of the bill. WFB supports this bill.
Wildland Fire Suppression – HB 2093, sponsored by Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda), would bring about much-need reforms in how the state prepares for and manages wildland fire suppression. The bill is in Senate Rules. The House budget would provide $1 million to implement HB 2093. WFB supports this bill.
Wolf Management – HB 2107, sponsored by Rep. Kretz, would require WDFW to amend the existing state wolf management plan to better address the wolf recovery rate and the uneven distribution of wolves that has occurred since the plan’s adoption. SHB 2107 is in Senate Rules. WFB supports the bill.
The Senate budget contains $421,000 to implement SSB 5960, the companion bill to HB 2107. In addition, the House budget provides funding for research on wolf predation prevention practices.
Capital Gains – HB 2224, sponsored by Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), would raise $1.5 billion in new taxes. The largest portion of this revenue would come from a new capital gains tax on “the super wealthy.” The House budget assumes passage of the bill, but it is not included in the Senate’s version of the budget and the Senate continues to support a no-new taxes budget. WFB opposes this bill.
Demonstration projects to preserve ag lands from flooding – SB 5347, sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), would direct the state’s natural resources agencies to work collaboratively with a stakeholder group to identify and implement three demonstration projects that reduce flooding and better protect ag lands from erosion. The bill is in House Rules. WFB supports this bill.
The Senate budget provides $343,000 to implement the three demonstration projects.