Monday, Feb. 9th begins the fifth week of legislative session. There are two more weeks of hearings before the Feb. 20 deadline for moving bills out of policy committees.
We held the 2015 WFB Legislative Days event last week. Once again we had a great turnout by county Farm Bureau members. We also had a record number of FFA students and advisors join us for this year’s event. On Tuesday, FB members in attendance were briefed by six legislators and WA Department of Agriculture staff on the key issues now before the Legislature. The Tuesday evening banquet provided a great opportunity to visit with nearly two dozen legislators. If you were unable to join us last week, we hope you can attend next year’s event.
If you are interested in our 2015 Legislative Hot List, you can find it here.
There were a number of key issue areas discussed in hearings last week. Here is brief summary:
Federal lands – HB 1262 sponsored by Rep. Brian Blake (D-Hoquiam) and SB 5405 sponsored by Sen. Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe) would create a legislative task force to study the risks, options and benefits of transferring federal lands in Washington to the state, counties, Indian tribes, not-for-profit land management organizations, or a combination, and recommend whether the state should continue to investigate options and pursue a transfer of ownership. WFB supports these bills.
Drones – HB 1639 sponsored by Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee) is similar to a bill that was vetoed by the Governor last year. The bill draws a clear line of when and how a drone can be used by law enforcement and state agencies, and when a warrant must be obtained to collect personal information. WFB supports this bill.
Wolves – Eight wolf-related bills received hearings last week. HB 1199 sponsored by Rep. Shelly Short (R-Addy), HB 1225 sponsored by Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) and SB 5583 sponsored by Sen. Brian Dansel (R-Republic) would direct the Fish & Wildlife Commission to consider petitions to delist state-listed species on a regional basis. Rep. Short also sponsored HB 1676 that would require WA Department of Fish & Wildlife to conduct a peer-reviewed study of the impacts wolves are having to deer and elk populations. Rep. Kretz sponsored HB 1224 that would direct WDFW to conduct a pilot project to accelerate the restoration of wolf recovery in the state that includes relocation, HB 1791 that would clarify for WDFW when lethal removal of wolves is allowed in the non-federally listed portion of the state, and HB 1792 and HJM 4002 that would require WDFW to amend the wolf plan to better address the current wolf recovery rate and uneven distribution of wolves and to change the goal objectives that determine when recovery has occurred. WFB supports these bills.
Fire damage – In light of last year’s Carlton Complex Fire, several bills have been introduced to create greater flexibility by landowners and local governments to more rapidly respond to fires. Rep. Kretz sponsored HB 1237 that would provide landowners with the necessary tools to protect their own lands, HB 1508 that would allow counties to assume primary command over fire response in their counties, and HB 1509 that would require Department of Natural Resources to give first priority to locally based fire suppression resource contractors. Rep. Shelly Short (R-Addy) sponsored HB 1677 that would give preference to using the nearest available qualified firefighters, including private contract firefighters. WFB supports these bills.
Voluntary Stewardship Program – As part of a broad coalition of agricultural and environmental interests, WFB testified at last week’s Senate Capital Budget Committee hearing in support of $7.6 million for VSP funding. Twenty-eight counties opted into VSP as a better alternative to critical area ordinances under the GMA. Two counties (Chelan and Thurston) have been funded, but the remaining 26 counties need to be funded by July 31, 2015 or revert to the litigious and costly path of the past. Once funded, participating counties can promote both the viability of agricultural and environmental stewardship.
Rural Water Bills – In response to highly controversial permit exempt well moratoriums, or potential moratoriums, in many parts of the state, the Senate and House Agriculture Committees heard a litany of rural water supply bills. It is not clear which of these bills might move forward (most of which WFB supports). WFB is working with other water user organizations on workable options to provide relief for rural land owners caught in the middle.
Water banking bills – the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee heard HB 1187. See the discussion below on Senate companion SB 5014, which is up for hearing this week.
Wages – Bills pertaining to the payment of wages, wage rates, and employment practices seem to be all the rage this session, especially in the House. SHB 1006 would increase certain wage violation penalties on employers. HB 1354 would establish criminal penalties and administrative and court enforcement for employers who retaliate against employees. HB 1355 would increase the minimum wage to $12/hour over four years. HB 1518 would allow wage liens to be placed on employers. Farm Bureau opposes these bills, which have or will likely pass out of the House Labor Committee. On the other hand, Farm Bureau supports several Senate bills regarding wages. SB 5421 would allow teens ages 14-19 to be paid the federal minimum wage during summer months. SB 5422 would establish a temporary teen training wage. Finally, SB 5514 allows employers to provide a good faith defense on wage complaints. These bills are expected to move out of the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee soon.
Leave – The House is also considering bills mandating that employers provide forms of paid leave to employees. HB 1163 would require employers with 10 or more employees to provide paid vacation leave. HB 1273 would implement a program to provide employees with paid family and medical leave. HB 1356 would mandate employers with more than four FTEs to provide paid sick and safe leave to employees. Farm Bureau opposes these bills. We believe that leave policies should be voluntarily negotiated between employers and employees, not mandated by the government.
Workers’ Compensation – The Senate has been making workers’ comp reform a key issue so far this session. SB 5418 would establish a pilot project for L&I to partner with a medical management firm to treat catastrophically injured workers. SB 5420 would allow employers the choice of private insurance, in addition to self-insurance and the state fund. SB 5508 would overturn the adverse Tobin decision by the state Supreme Court. SB 5509 would narrow the current, broad definition of occupational disease. SB 5510 would simplify and add certainty and fairness to the calculation of workers’ comp benefits. SB 5513 would eliminate the current age restrictions on structured settlement agreements. SB 5516 would allow for more flexible voluntary settlement agreements rather than the current structured settlement agreements. Finally, SB 5576 would require workers’ comp claims to be reported within 60 days of the injury, rather than the current requirement of one year from the date of injury. Farm Bureau supports these measures and encourages the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee to pass them out of committee.
Here are some bills we are tracking that will see committee action this week:
Food processors tax incentives – HB 1823 sponsored by Rep. Terry Nealey (R-Dayton) and SB 5698 sponsored by Sen. Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla) will both be heard this week that would extend the existing tax incentive provided to the state’s food processors for ten years. The current exemption expires on July 1, 2015. SB 5698 will be heard on Thursday at 8 am in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee. HB 1823 will be heard in the House Finance Committee at 8 am on Friday. WFB supports these bills.
Wildlife damage – SB 5712 sponsored by Sen. Pearson would require WDFW to fully address damage to commercial crops caused by deer and elk before the department can make any management changes in areas of the state where damage is occurring. The bill will be heard in the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee at 1:30 on Wednesday. WFB supports this bill.
Washington Water Commission – SB 5801 sponsored by Sen. Pearson would transfer water resource responsibilities from the Department of Ecology to a new seven member Water Commission. Six members would be elected – three from eastern Washington, three from Western Washington. One member would be appointed by the Governor. SB 5801 will he heard Tuesday February 10 at 8 am in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee. WFB supports this bill.
Water Banking – SB 5014 sponsored by Sen. Honeyford aims to bring uniformity to private and public water banking practices. WFB supports several provisions in the bill, but has concerns with others that may have unintended consequences. One intriguing option WFB supports is a “sunshine” amendment related to water price reporting for domestic purpose water banks. SB 5014 will he heard Tuesday February 10 at 8 am in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee. WFB supports the bill in concept, with amendment.
State Agency Lands and Water Rights – SB 5016 sponsored by Sen. Honeyford would transfer unused water rights on agency purchased lands to local economic development water banks before it is lost to relinquishment under the state’s “use it or lose it” law. SB 5016 will he heard Tuesday February 10 at 8 am in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee. WFB supports this bill.
Water Quality Determinations – SB 5584 sponsored by Sen. Dansel would require the Department of Ecology to do site-based, source-specific water quality testing prior to making “substantial potential to pollute” determinations. SB 5584 will he heard Tuesday February 10 at 8 am in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee. WFB supports this bill.
Shoreline Development Mitigation – SB 5044 sponsored by Sen. Brown seeks to ensure that a proportional nexus exists between mitigation conditions and actual project impacts. SB 5044 will he heard Tuesday February 10 at 1:30 pm in the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. WFB conceptually supports the bill.
State Drought Preparedness – HB 1836 sponsored by Rep. Stanford would expand potential uses of the state drought account to municipal and local fisheries needs. Drought funds have historically been focused on agricultural and anadromous fishery needs. HB 1836 will he heard Wednesday February 11 at 8:00 am in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. WFB has concerns with several provisions in the bill, which came as a surprise to the water user community. We will work with the sponsor to understand the objectives of the measure.
Ag and Water Quality Work Session – On February 17th at 1:30 pm the Senate Agriculture Water Rural Economic Development Committee will hear status updates from members of the Ecology Agricultural Water Quality Advisory Committee. Aaron Golladay, who represents WFB on the Advisory Committee, will provide WFB’s perspective at the work session. Discussion will focus on efforts to promote transparency and sound science, as well as voluntary site-based solutions that can deliver workable economic and water quality outcomes where real problems are identified and solutions are needed. Much depends on Ecology staff implementation of the “good neighbor” approach being discussed. The next Advisory Committee meeting is Feb 19th.
Legislature begins pilot project to allow for remote testimony
During the Sixty-Fourth Legislature, the Washington State Senate is conducting a Remote Testimony Pilot project to expand opportunities for citizens across the state to actively participate in the legislative process from locations outside of Olympia, Washington. Under the pilot project, the current use of remote testimony from invited participants during legislative work sessions will be expanded to include public testimony. Through the use of videoconferencing technology, the public will be able to testify remotely on proposed legislation scheduled for public hearing during selected Senate standing committee meetings.
Meeting Schedule, and web pages as such (i.e., Remote Testimony Opportunity). Opportunities to register for remote testimony can be found at, http://leg.wa.gov/Senate/Committees/Pages/RemoteTestimony.aspx. Registration forms must be submitted 48 hours prior to the committee hearing start time.
The Senate will evaluate the results of the pilot project during the 2015 legislative interim and may expand the project in the future to cover more committees and hearings, as well as a wider audience and additional sites. Initially, this pilot project will be limited and require the patience and understanding of all Senators and staff, as well as the public.