Legisletter – April 10, 2015

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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:

  • Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) – All three budgets (Governor’s, House and Senate) include the full $7.6M needed to fund VSP work group efforts in the 28 VSP counties. A voluntary alternative to GMA critical area regulations, VSP is designed to protect critical areas in a manner that also maintains and enhances agricultural viability. WFB appreciates the legislature’s strong support for VSP!
  • Fair Funding
    • House funded at $2.3 million
    • Senate funded at full level of $4 million
  • Ag Dairy Nutrient Management Program
    • Senate funded $575,000 for a program that provides training in agronomic application of dairy nutrients.
  • Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Program (PSNERP)
    • House funded at $800,000
    • Senate expressly directs the departments of Fish & Wildlife and Ecology to not use agency funds as a match for any activities, including planning and permitting, connected to PSNERP.

Workers’ Compensation – While most other labor-related legislation has died, three bills related to workers’ comp remain alive.

  • SB 5510, sponsored by Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), would convene a working group of stakeholders and the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) to examine the issue of workers’ comp benefit accuracy. WFB supports this bill, which is currently in House Rules.
  • HB 1496, sponsored by Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett) at the request of L&I, would make many aspects of the vocational rehabilitation pilot project permanent. The bill would also provide financial benefits, such as partial wage reimbursement, for employers who employ injured workers in the Preferred Worker Program. The bill was vetted by business and labor stakeholders prior to session, and WFB supports it.
  • SB 5468, sponsored by Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima) at the request of L&I, would allow L&I the authority to make administrative expenditures pertaining to the Stay at Work and Self-Insured Employer programs without appropriation. The bill, which WFB supports, would allow these programs to run more efficiently and improve customer service.

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 InfrastructureHB 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 PreparednessHB 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 InfrastructureSB 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:

  • SB 5965, sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), would direct a study instream flow rule adoption methods and rural water supply and mitigation techniques. House amendments would make the study too expensive and cumbersome to implement. The bill is in House Rules. WFB supports the Senate version.
  • SB 5491, sponsored by Sen. Linda Parlette (R-Chelan), would protect many important reservations currently supplying water for permits and permit exempt agricultural, stock and domestic uses. Due to the Supreme Court’s 2013 Swinomish decision, which threw out the 2006 Skagit rule, several instream flow rules and reservations lack legal clarity moving forward. WFB opposes House amendments that, in part, would not allow the affected rules to be amended in the future. The bill is in House Rules. WFB supports the Senate version.
  • HB 1187, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger), and SB 5014, sponsored by Sen. Honeyford, would control the administration of domestic water banks and require the listing of domestic water prices and charges in the Yakima basin. Yakima basin legislators are working with WFB to make sure these bills do not unintentionally limit water supply options under the Yakima integrated plan or the emergency drought statutes. Innovative water supply tools, beyond the retirement of agricultural water rights, are needed to meet the basin’s domestic water needs while protecting agricultural viability. The Senate bill is in House Rules. The House bill is on the Senate floor calendar. WFB will continue to monitor these bills closely.
  • HB 1793, sponsored by Rep. Kristine Lytton (D-Anacortes), would require local governments to provide alternative water supply options for building permit applicants who can’t rely on a permit exempt well due to instream flow rule restrictions. The Senate version would instead direct Ecology to coordinate with local governments to identify possible water supply options and capital projects to provide alternative water sources where Ecology instream flow rules restrict water use. WFB supports the Senate version, which is currently in Senate Rules.

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 SuppressionHB 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 GainsHB 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 floodingSB 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.