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Legislative Week in Review

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Monday Jan. 24th

The Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5559, which concerns the use of paid sick leave by employees who are not offered health insurance benefits by their employer.

  • Under the bill, an employer who does not offer health insurance to their employees may only require a written or verbal explanation, instead of a doctor’s note, to verify their use of sick leave.
  • An employer who pays at least 85% of the cost of insurance may only require a written or verbal explanation from their employees to verify their use of paid sick leave if it exceeds three days instead of asking them for a note from their healthcare provider.
  • The Washington State Labor Council spoke in favor of the bill, saying that obtaining a medical verification is an extra cost for employees who pay out-of-pocket.
  • The Building Industry Association of Washington and the Washington Farm bureau voiced their opposition to the bill, saying it will negatively impact smaller businesses that are unable to provide insurance in most circumstances; they also expressed concerns about the possibility of employees who would choose to misuse the system.

The Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5773 which aims to provide collective bargaining rights to legislative employees.

  • The bill involves the negotiation of wages, hours, and other conditions of employment, and does not include negotiations on management rights and insurance benefits.
  • The bill does not extend to elected Legislative officials, those who hold a supervisory position, and temp employees, with the exception of legislative assistants and session aids hired exclusively for the legislative session.
  • Senator Derek Stanford—the bill’s prime sponsor—said it would benefit legislative employees without the creation of a union and give them the rights to negotiate with their employer, as every other citizen of the state is allowed.
  • Former Legislative staff member Bre Jefferson and the Union Group UFCW 21 spoke in support of the bill.
  • The Freedom Foundation was hesitant about the language of the bill and its clarity on creating a uniform bargaining agreement.

The House Government and Tribal Relations Committee convened for a public hearing on House Bill 1953, concerning sensitive voter information.

  • The bill aims to remove voters’ personal information from ballot return envelopes and ballot declarations—such as their signature, email address, and phone number.
  • This bill was requested by Secretary of State, Steve Hobbs, who stressed the importance of personal privacy, and the ability for other individuals to get ahold of this information for fraudulent purposes.
  • Representative Jim Walsh questioned the voter integrity issues that could arise from the bill.
  • Secretary Hobbs responded by stating that it is sufficient enough for County Auditors to get a signature off of the ballot itself.
  • The Washington State Association of County Auditors supported the bill.

Tuesday Jan. 25th

The Senate Business, Financial Services, and Trade Committee convened to discuss Senate Bill 5769 which aims to exempt state property taxes on homes worth at least $250,000 dollars, and to eliminate B&O taxes for manufacturers.

  • The bill was strongly supported by Senate Republicans, who also hope to repeal the capital gains tax and Washington’s long-term care tax program—claiming that Washington has a higher state and local tax burden than the national average.
  • The Association of Washington Business supported the bill.
  • The Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (a non-profit organization that supports the long-term care tax program) spoke in opposition to the bill, citing the billions of deficit in education funding that the state will lose from the tax cut.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee held a public hearing to discuss the Senate v. Blake Decision.

  • Last year, The Supreme Court handed down the State v. Blake decision that decriminalized simple drug possession. This put courts under pressure to vacate thousands of drug possession convictions across the court system.
  • The bill aims to provide the legal framework to comply with the Blake decision and to refund all financial obligations associated with those convictions. This will include a reported list of all individuals convicted of simple drug possession, possible resentencing of convicted individuals, and refunding legal financial obligations.
  • Washington democrats supported the bill—calling for the criminal justice system to each do their part to assist the individuals impacted by this bill.
  • The Washington Defender Association opposed the bill, citing a lack of resources for convicted individuals.

The Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources, and Parks Committee convened to discuss Senate Bill 5661 which aims to require a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner’s reappointment or replacement prior to their service, and for the appointment to occur before the next legislative session ends.

  • The bill comes after Governor Inslee received criticism for the delay in appointing 3 new members to the commission.
  • This bill would require the appointment of a commissioner by the Governor within 60 days, and the chair of the two majority caucuses have 60 succeeding days to fill the vacancy if the Governor fails to do so.

Wednesday, Jan. 26th

The Senate Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee convened for a public hearing on Senate Bill 5732 which aims to require that all new buildings, starting in 2025, have at least 70% of their roofs covered with green roofing and solar panels if the building measures 50,000 square feet or more.

  • To fund climate resilience in areas where these buildings are built, the bill proposes a cash-in-lieu of building green roofs at $50 per square foot.
  • Senator Mona Das, who sponsored the bill, said green roofing will benefit the state economy by opening up jobs, reducing pollution, and mitigating the effects of climate change.
  • The Association of Washington Business and The Building Industry Association of Washington opposed the bill. They said the maintenance costs and the risk of roof system failures outweigh the benefits this bill could bring—especially due to the Pacific Northwest’s weather— and the punitive nature of the cost to refuse installation of green roofs or solar panels.
  • Roofing consultant Elizabeth Morris, who testified in support of the bill, said that the typical gravel filling on commercial rooftops is the equivalent of the water being held by vegetation roofs and will mitigate air pollution and fire spread.

The House Children Youth and Families Committee held a public hearing on house bill 1945, which seeks to develop a caregiver liaison program that will improve communication between the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), and caregivers of children under child welfare services.

  • Representative Tom Dent sponsored the bill, citing the disappearance of 5-year old Oakley Carlson of Grays Harbor County. Oakley was previously with a foster family and went missing after her care was transferred back to her biological parents who became suspects in her disappearance.
  • Representative Dent said he hopes this bill will help keep the situation from happening again.
  • The DCYF is concerned about how much the bill would cost for the state, and its potential to confuse caseworkers with approaching the appropriate people for information; as well as the bill’s potential to impact confidentiality issues in the sharing of information.

The House Rural Development, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee convened to discuss House Bill 2027, concerning the governance of the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

  • The governance would require a member from each of the following groups: hunters, fishermen (commercial and recreational), outdoor recreation industry, wildlife/fisheries/land conservation organizations, agribusiness community, the city and country government, and two members of federally recognized tribes.

Thursday, Jan. 27th

The Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5911, which aims to provide a one-time hazard pay bonus to healthcare workers dealing with covid in ICUs, emergency units, or hospital urgent care clinics.

  • To be eligible for the bonus, individuals will have to have worked 240 hours between the second week of April, 2022, and June 26th of 2022.
  • Supporters of the bill believe it will address the healthcare staffing shortages caused by the pandemic.
  • The specific bonus amount will depend on how much money is appropriated in the final budget passed before the legislative session ends in March.
  • The Washington State Nurses Association, and the state Hospital Association spoke in favor of the bill.
  • An amendment was requested to include all healthcare workers, including those who aren’t currently identified in the bill—as the entire staff works together when a patient codes and are all at risk of contracting the disease.

The House Finance Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1965, which proposes the allowance for counties to collect “Veterans Assistance (VA) Levies” within the county’s levy rate and to collect “Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Levies”, separately.

  • Supporters of the bill said it will give counties more taxing authority and move the VA levy—which benefits veterans and their families—from the general fund to its own independent levy.
  • Under the bill, the VA levies won’t be subject to the $5.90 statutory limit, but will still be subject to the 1% constitutional levy limit.
  • The Clallam County Veterans Association and the Thurston County Commissioner spoke in favor of the bill emphasizing the nation’s need for mental health and stability levies.
  • Yakima County Commissioner Amanda McKinney spoke in opposition of the bill due to the raise in taxes this would require, when she feels that there is money elsewhere in the government that could be allocated to fill this need.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5781, concerning organized retail theft and its economic damage which is estimated to be $68.9 billion dollars in nationwide deficit.

  • The bill proposes to expand the class “C” felony charge, to include the offense of stealing store property valued at $750 or greater, if done with at least two accomplices which enter a store within 5 minutes of each other.
  • The Washington Retail Association, and Walgreens—the second largest pharmacy store in the nation—expressed support for the bill.
  • There was no opposition.

Friday, Jan. 28th.

The Senate State Government and Elections Committee met to discuss Senate Bill 5843, which makes it unlawful for public officials to maliciously make false claims about the state’s election process and its results in order to produce lawless action, or undermine the election process and its results.

  • The bill, requested by Governor Inslee, would also prohibit false claims to public office, which would result in the penalty of a gross misdemeanor, and would cause an elected official’s removal from office, if convicted.
  • Senator David Frockt spoke about the significance of the peaceful transfer of power the bill aims to create.
  • The Washington Policy Center and a number of concerned citizens opposed the bill, and its possible effect on the constitutional right to free speech.
  • Constitutional Law Professor, Catherine J. Ross spoke in support of the bill. She said it was crafted to address the “right to free speech” issue.

The Senate State Government and Elections Committee held a public hearing to discuss Senate Bill 5909, which concerns gubernatorial use of emergency powers.

  • Under the Democrat-sponsored bill, Senate leaders, along with the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House must be allowed to terminate a state of emergency when the legislature is not in session, and—if a governor’s state of emergency declaration has exceeded 90 days.
  • The bill would also authorize the same members to strike down a Governor’s Order prohibiting certain activities if the legislature is not in session.
  • Senator Emily Randall and Yakima County Commissioner Amanda McKinney supported the bill, claiming it is an equitable balance of power.
  • The Washington Military Department spoke in opposition of the bill, saying it would affect their funding and response operations.
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