February 23, 2015

posted in: Legisletter | 0

So far, 2,322 bill have been introduced during the 2015 Legislative Session. While we review the list of bills that are introduced each day, fortunately we only have to keep a close eye on about ten percent of these bills.


Last Friday was the cutoff date for bills to be passed out of policy committees. While cutoff dates can be painful if an important bill you are working on failed to make it out of committee, it can also be a helpful thing because it helps to narrow down the number of active bills. The next important cutoff is this Friday, Feb. 27, when all fiscal bills or policy bills with required funding need to pass out of the fiscal committees. As is always the case, none of these cutoff dates apply to bills that are considered “necessary to implement the budget.”


The latest state revenue forecast was released last week and reveals legislative budget writers will have approximately $2.9 billion more to spend going into the 2015-17 budget cycle. This amount was generated by existing taxes and represents an 8.5 percent increase in state revenue – all without any new taxes or fees.


Here is a list of bills we are currently tracking that survived the policy cutoff:


Trespass while hunting – HB 1627, sponsored by Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax), would expand the existing prohibition on entering the premises of another to hunt or retrieve hunted wildlife to include the act of collecting wildlife parts from the premises of another. It was voted out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and is now in House Rules. WFB supports this bill.


Drones – We are tracking two bills that seek to provide some structure over how drones are used. SHB 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 in House Rules. SB 5499, sponsored by Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn), would increase the sentencing requirements for people found guilty of illegal drone usage. The bill is in Senate Rules. WFB supports these bills.


Animal Disease Traceability – SHB 1755, sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle), would authorize WSDA to create an electronic cattle transaction reporting system and impose a user fee to cover the costs of the new system. The bill is currently in House Rules. WFB has not taken a position on this bill.


FFA License Plate – HB 2017, sponsored by Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick), would create a new Washington farmers and ranchers special license plate that would generate funds for the Washington FFA Foundation for educational programs in this state. The bill is in the House Transportation Committee and has a public hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 25. WFB has not taken a position on this bill.

 

Wildland Fire Suppression – SHB 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. It has passed out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and is now in House Appropriations. WFB supports this bill.


Wolf Management – A number of bills were introduced this session addressing the need voiced by those in northeast Washington to revise how the state currently manages wolves. HB 2107, sponsored by Rep. Kretz, and SB 5960, sponsored by Sen. Brian Dansel (R-Republic), are companion bills that would require WDFW to amend the existing wolf management plan to better address the wolf recovery rate and the uneven distribution of wolves that has occurred since the plan’s adoption. HB 2107 is now in House Appropriations, and SB 5960 had a hearing today in Senate Ways & Means. WFB supports both bills.


WA Department of Agriculture Fees – HB 2128, sponsored by Rep. Zach Hudgins (D-Tukwila,) would increase a number of existing dairy and food processing fees. It would also create a new fee for the dairy technician’s license. The bill is based on the recommendations made by the WSDA Fee Work Group in 2013. HB 2128 is in the House General Government & Information Technology Committee. SB 5015, sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), would extend the current authority to assess milk processed in the state from June 30, 2015, to June 30, 2020. The bill is on the Senate Second Reading Calendar. WFB has not taken a position on either of these bills.


Bees – SB 5017, sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), would amend the definitions of agricultural product and farmer to include apiarists and honey bee products. This change would allow the existing tax preferences provided to agricultural products and farmers to be used by apiarists and honey bee products permanently. The bill is in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. WFB supports the 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 two demonstration projects that reduce flooding and better protect ag lands from erosion. The bill passed out of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee and is now in Senate Ways & Means. WFB supports this bill.


Transfer of federal lands – SSB 5405, sponsored by Sen. Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe), would create a task force to study the risks, options and benefits of transferring certain federal lands in the state to an alternative ownership. The bill passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee and is now in Senate Rules. WFB supports this bill.


Wildlife damage to commercial agriculture – SB 5712, sponsored by Sen. Pearson, would prevent the WA Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) from taking any further wildlife management actions that would increase the populations of wildlife in an area that has commercial crop or livestock damage from that species. The bill was voted out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and is now in Senate Rules. WFB supports of this bill.


Payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) – SB 5750, sponsored by Sen. Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee), would create a more uniform policy for how WDFW calculates PILT payments for counties based on the land’s open space value. Property tax does not generally apply to property owned by state agencies; however, WDFW pays PILT to some counties. Under this bill, all counties who qualify to receive PILT would receive it based on the lands open-space value beginning August 1, 2015. WFB supports this bill.


Cougar Control Pilot Program – SB 5940, sponsored by Sen. Brian Dansel (R-Republic), would re-institute a five-year pilot program for hunting cougars with the aid of dogs in Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Chelan, Okanogan and Klickitat counties. Other counties may request to be included. The bill has passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee and is in now in Senate Rules. WFB supports this bill. 

     

Voluntary Stewardship Program Funding – As part of a broad coalition of agricultural and environmental interests, WFB continues to support legislative appropriation of $7.6 million for VSP funding.Once funded, local VSP stakeholders in participating counties will design local programs to promote both the viability of agricultural and the protection of critical areas.  Twenty-eight counties opted into VSP as a better alternative to critical area ordinances under the GMA. Only two counties (Chelan and Thurston) have been funded so far. The remaining 26 counties need to be funded by July of this year or they will revert to the litigious and costly regulatory path of the past. This smart investment will avoid that costly outcome. Please contact your local county commissioners and state legislators. Encourage them to put VSP funding at the top their list of legislative priorities.

 

Rural water use – Six Senate bills dealing with rural water use moved out of the Senate Agriculture Committee. These bills respond to highly controversial permit exempt well moratoriums, or potential moratoriums, in many parts of the state. WFB will continue working with other water user organizations on workable options to provide relief for rural land owners caught in the middle.

  • SB 5061, sponsored by Sen. Honeyford, would limit the authority of the growth management boards to hear petitions challenging permit exempt wells. SB 5061 has moved out of the Senate Agriculture committee to Senate Rules. WFB supports this legislation.
  • SSB 5129, sponsored by Sen. Pearson, would add a new policy statement to RCW 90.54 stating that providing water supply for domestic use would serve as an overriding consideration of public interest (OCPI) not to be interrupted by adopted instream flow levels.   The measure also calls for Ecology to review all instream flow rules to determine if sufficient water has been set aside for human needs. SB 5129 has moved out of the Senate Agriculture committee and awaits action in Senate Rules. WFB supports SB 5129.
  • SB 5136, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-Oak Harbor), would require the Department of Ecology to repeal the Skagit instream flow rule and re-adopt a new rule that balances instream and out-of-stream uses appropriately. The bill has moved out of the Senate Agriculture committee and awaits Senate floor action. WFB supports this legislation.
  • SB 5407, sponsored by Sen. Pearson, would only allow instream flow rules to limit permit exempt wells if Ecology first demonstrates that a specific permit-exempt well, and not wells considered in the aggregate, will in fact cause impairment to adopted stream flows or levels.  The bill has moved out of the Senate Agriculture committee and awaits Senate floor action. WFB supports SB 5407.
  • SB 5491, sponsored by Sen. Parlette, would sanction the use of “overriding considerations of public interest” (OCPI) in instream flows set prior to October 3, 2013, except for the Skagit instream flow rule. The purpose of this legislation is to protect amendments to several instream flow rules in other watersheds that provided additional water use reservations and flexibilities prior to the 2013 Swinomish decision. SB 5491 has moved out of the Senate Agriculture committee and is on the Senate Second Reading Calendar. WFB supports this bill.
  • SSB 5965, sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), would require Department of Ecology to study and report on options to provide rural domestic water supplies and techniques used to mitigate for permit-exempt groundwater withdrawals in closed basins. The bill has moved out of the Senate Agriculture committee and awaits action in the Senate Rules Committee. WFB supports this study bill as amended.

In the House one bill remains alive that deals with rural water use.  

  • SHB 1793, sponsored by Rep. Kris Lytton (D-Anacortes), would require a city or county to enact an ordinance allowing alternative water supply methods, including trucking of water and use of rain water cisterns, when water is not legally available on a year-round basis. The bill passed out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and awaits action in the House Capital Budget Committee. WFB supports the desire for rural water solutions, but believes this bill needs additional work to accomplish that purpose.

 

Water banking – HB 1187, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger), and SB 5014, sponsored by Sen. Honeyford, would attempt to bring uniformity water banking practices and address conflicts between private and public water banking advocates. Both bills will need amendments to move further in the process. WFB supports a “sunshine” amendment to require more transparent water price reporting for domestic water banks. HB 1187 is currently in the House Rules Committee, and SB 5014 is in the Senate Rules Committee. WFB supports the bills in concept, with clarifying amendments.


State Drought Preparedness – SHB 1836, sponsored by Rep. Derek Stanford (D-Bothell), would seek to improve pre-drought preparation. The bill passed out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee with amendments and is now in the House General Government Committee. Irrigation districts supported the measure.  WFB conceptually supports the measure and will work on perfecting amendments to ensure that drought funding accounts (which currently have little funding) will continue to meet the needs of agriculture.  


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. The bill has passed out of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee and now awaits hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. WFB supports this bill.


Water infrastructure funding– SB 5628, sponsored by Sen. Honeyford, would set up an infrastructure fund for flood control, water supply and stormwater. The source of funding is a per-parcel fee that varies with size of the parcel. Recent proposed amendments would provide agricultural exemptions for parcels that would not benefit. Further work is needed on that amendment as well as the funding mechanism for the bill to get adequate support. SB 5628 remains in Senate Ways & Means Committee. WFB has not taken a position on the bill.


Irrigation District Administration – Several good government bills would improve the administrative efficiency of irrigation district operations. Farm Bureau supports these measures, including SB 5554 and companion HB 1708, SB 5555, and SB 5556 and companion HB 1707.


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 they are lost to relinquishment under the state’s “use it or lose it” law. The bill passed out of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee and now sits in Senate Ways & Means.  A similar measure, HB 1000, sponsored by Representative Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), passed out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and now awaits action in the House General Government Committee. WFB supports these bills.


Designated Ag Land Conversion – SB 5013, sponsored by Sen. Honeyford would protect ag lands from conversion to non-ag uses due to government actions. It moved out of the Senate Agriculture Committee and now awaits action in Senate Rules. WFB supported a number of GMA and SMA bills that aimed to protect ag lands from conversion. Only this bill moved out of committee. WFB supports this measure.


Shoreline Development Mitigation – SSB 5044, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown (R-Kennewick), would ensure that a proportional nexus exists between mitigation conditions and actual project impacts. The bill passed out of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee and now awaits action in the Senate Rules Committee. WFB supports the bill.

 

Water quality – SSB 5584, sponsored by Sen. Dansel, would require the Department of Ecology “substantial potential to pollute” determinations, orders and directives to be based on a preponderance of actual site-based source-specific water quality testing. The bill passed out of Senate Agriculture Committee and is in Senate Ways & Means. WFB supports the bill, subject to further vetting by agricultural representatives at upcoming Ag Water Quality Advisory Committee meetings.

 

Ag and Water Quality Work Session – On Feb. 17 the Senate Agriculture, Water & Rural Economic Development Committee heard status updates from members of the Ecology Agricultural Water Quality Advisory Committee. WFB First Vice President Aaron Golladay, who represents WFB on the Advisory Committee, provided WFB’s perspective at the work session and provided ideas to promote sound science in transparently identifying real problems, as well as voluntary site-based solutions, where real problems exist, to promote good water quality outcomes that also work for the producer’s bottom line. The Advisory Committee also met on Feb. 19. The Ag Caucus agrees that much depends on Ecology staff implementation of the “good neighbor” approach being discussed with Ecology leadership.  

 

Carbon Cap and Tax – HB 1314, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), would enact new carbon costs that would be passed on to Washington consumers through higher food bills and to Washington farmers and ranchers through higher fuel, fertilizer, transportation and processing prices. Carbon taxes will push some agricultural processors, packers and manufacturers (and the rural jobs they provide) to neighboring states, where carbon isn’t taxed. The energy sources used to serve such businesses will likely emit more carbon than when they were served by hydro-electric power in Washington. HB 1314 has passed out of the House Environment Committee on a partisan vote and is now in the House Appropriations Committee. WFB opposes this carbon tax.

 

Wages and Employment Law – The House continues to push forward several bills dealing with wages and other employment law issues. Farm Bureau opposes all of the following bills:

  • SHB 1006, sponsored by Rep. David Sawyer (D-Lakewood), would increase damage awards for wage violations. The bill is on second reading in the House.
  • SHB 1354, the so-called “Employee Anti-Retaliation Act” sponsored by Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline), would establish administrative and court penalties for employer acts of retaliation against employees. Under the bill, employers who are accused of retaliation are presumed to have committed retaliation unless they can demonstrate otherwise. The bill is in House Rules.
  • HB 1355, sponsored by Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle), would phase in an increase in the minimum wage to $12/hour. The bill is in House Rules.
  • HB 1518, sponsored by Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac), would create a process for imposing wage liens against employers for claims on unpaid wages. The bill is currently in the House Appropriations Committee.

Several bills in the Senate take a different approach to wage issues. SB 5421 and SB 5422, both sponsored by Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane), would allow employers to pay teens 14-19 years of age the federal minimum wage during the summer and would allow for a teen training wage, respectively. SB 5514, a bill by Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), would not hold employers liable in wage complaints if the employer acted in good faith on guidance given by L&I. Farm Bureau supports these three bills, which are awaiting Senate floor action.  


Leave – The House Labor Committee moved two leave bills out of committee. SHB 1273, sponsored by Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett), implements the state’s paid family and medical leave insurance program that was passed in 2007 but never funded. HB 1356, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), would mandate that most employers provide paid sick and safe leave to their employees. Farm Bureau opposes both of these bills.

 

Workers’ Compensation — The Senate is moving forward with several bills to reform our state’s industrial insurance system. These bills are listed below. Farm Bureau supports these measures, which are in Senate Rules awaiting possible floor action.

  • SB 5420 is the “three-way” bill allowing for private insurance, self-insurance, and the state fund. It is sponsored by Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane).
  • SSB 5451, sponsored by Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), is an L&I-request bill making agreed-to changes to vocational rehabilitation and preferred worker programs. We also support the companion bill, HB 1496, sponsored by Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett).
  • SB 5468, sponsored by Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), provides some administrative flexibility for the stay-at-work and self-insured programs. We also support HB 1395, the companion bill sponsored by Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland).
  • SSB 5507 by Sen. Braun mandates that L&I pay fines and penalties if an employer prevails on a board appeal.
  • SB 5508 by Sen. Braun is the “Tobin fix” allowing for more third-party recovery of damages.
  • SSB 5509 by Sen. Braun clarifies the definition of “occupational disease.”
  • SB 5510 by Sen. Braun simplifies and adds fairness to wage calculations for benefits
  • SB 5513 by Sen. Braun opens structured settlement options to workers of all ages.
  • SB 5576 by Sen. Baumgartner mandates that workplace injury reporting to occur within 60 days of the injury.

 

Transportation – Last week, the Senate Transportation Committee held two public hearings, the first one on eight policy reform bills and the second on three revenue bills. The package aims to reform certain elements of transportation budgeting and project delivery, as well as fund critical projects and maintenance of our roadways.


Washington Farm Bureau testified in support of the reform package. Our message was clear – we need substantive reforms enacted if legislators are going to ask rural residents to pay a higher gas taxes.

The reform bills are as follows:

  • SB 5990 – Transferring certain state sales and use taxes collected on transportation projects to the connecting Washington account.
  • SB 5991 – Concerning activities at the department of transportation funded by the environmental legacy stewardship account.
  • SB 5992 – Modifying certain requirements for ferry vessel construction.
  • SB 5993 – Concerning public works contracts and projects.
  • SB 5994 – Concerning permits for state transportation corridor projects.
  • SB 5995 – Modifying the transportation system policy goal of mobility.
  • SB 5996 – Concerning Washington state department of transportation projects.
  • SB 5997 – Concerning transportation project delivery.
  • The committee held a separate hearing on the revenue bills, which are as follows:
  • SB 5987 – Concerning transportation revenue.
  • SB 5988 – Concerning additive transportation funding and appropriations.
  • SB 5989 – Authorizing bonds for transportation funding.

The proposed $15 billion package would direct $8.1 billion toward road projects that include the North-South Freeway in Spokane, I-90 on Snoqualmie Pass, and the SR 509/167 expansion. It also dedicates $1.4 billion to maintenance and preservation of transportation infrastructure.

 

To pay for these improvements, these bills would impose an 11.7-cent gas tax implemented in stages over the next three years (5 cents, 4.2 cents, and 2.5 cents), fee increases, and a redirect of sales-tax money from transportation projects to a transportation fund instead of the state’s general fund.


The Senate Transportation Committee held and executive session last Thursday to take action to advance the bills. Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said that even if the Senate passes a transportation package, the measures won’t receive a hearing in the House until that body acts on education funding. We will provide more details as these transportation bills work their way through the legislative process.