66th Legislature Adjourns Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Date: March 14, 2020

Small business survives legislative session largely unscathed

State Director Patrick Connor reports from Olympia for the legislative week ending March 13

The 66th Washington State Legislature adjourned sine die at about 8:15 p.m. Thursday, March 12, 2020.

One of its final acts was to approve a $200 million spending package for the state’s COVID-19 response. Included in that is $25 million to socialize unemployment insurance (UI) costs for businesses forced to close or impose layoffs due to the pandemic. This will prevent UI experience-rating increases for those employers when they resume operations. More information about unemployment benefits available to workers and resources for employers impacted by COVID-19 is available here.

Here’s an update on the key bills impacting small business when the Legislature adjourned.

  • HB 1110, Low Carbon Fuel Standard – Died in the Senate Transportation Committee. NFIB opposed the bill.
  • HB 1888, prohibiting public disclosure of public employee information – Delivered to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature after passing the state House and Senate with bipartisan support, despite NFIB’s opposition.
  • HB 2308, requiring reporting of job titles on UI quarterly reports – Delivered to the governor. After initially opposing the bill, which led to successfully negotiating several amendments, NFIB was neutral on the bill.
  • HB 2409, increasing workers’ compensation penalties on employers – Delivered to the governor. Large, self-insured employers negotiated amendments that will double penalties, down from tripling them as the trial lawyers’ initial version of the bill would have required, and making a few other changes. In exchange for the deal, their association went neutral, and most Senate Republicans then supported the amended bill. NFIB remained opposed.
  • HB 2457, health care cost transparency board – The bill was approved by both chambers with minor changes on the board membership and appointment process. It has been delivered to the governor for his signature. NFIB supported the bill.
  • HB 2948, King County head tax – Died in House Finance. The bill would have allowed King County to assess a tax on salaries of more than $150,000 in order to fund homelessness and related social service programs. NFIB opposed the bill.
  • HB 2957, authorizing the Department of Ecology to regulate carbon emissions through rulemaking. After a whirlwind introduction, public hearing, and committee vote all on the same day, the bill died in the House Rules Committee. NFIB opposed the bill.
  • SB 5402, tax administration technical fixes – The Senate agreed to key House amendments adding two NFIB-supported bills to this omnibus package. The final bill will adjust the interest accrual date for businesses that file an annual B&O tax return after the new April 15 due date and it gives the city of Kent one year to update its IT system to allow the city to join the FileLocal online municipal B&O tax collection and business licensing system. NFIB supported the bill as amended by the House and urged the Senate to concur with the House amendments.
  • SB 5887, limited health insurance prior authorization exemption for certain therapeutic treatments – Delivered to the governor. Health plans that include chiropractic, physical, massage, occupational, and speech therapy visits must allow subscribers an evaluation and a limited number of treatment visits without requiring prior authorization. Prompt treatment should allow workers to stay on the job, and minimize the need for prescription medication, if they experience minor injuries or other conditions where these types of therapeutic treatments are appropriate. NFIB supported the bill.
  • SB 6097, considering health insurer excess surplus in the rate-approval process – The Senate concurred with House amendments to the bill, so it should soon be headed to the governor’s desk for his signature. The state’s three largest non-profit health insurers have amassed more than $4.4 billion in unrestricted, excess surpluses. This is in addition to reserves held for the future cost of claims, as well as those held to cover unexpected situations like the current coronavirus outbreak. If the bill becomes law, the Insurance Commissioner could consider those unrestricted, excess surplus balances when deciding whether to grant premium increases sought by health insurers. NFIB supported the bill.
  • SB 6632, Business Licensing Service fee structure changes – Delivered to the governor. This NFIB-backed bill will prevent the state Business Licensing Service fund from becoming insolvent. The fee increase will impact new firms, while reducing annual business-license renewal fees by $1 and eliminating the fee for enterprises adding a new municipal business license during the calendar year. Once a $1 million fund balance is achieved, the Department of Revenue will begin reducing fees.
  • SJR 8212, allowing Long-Term Care premiums to be invested – Filed with the Secretary of State for the November ballot. This proposed state constitutional amendment would allow the State Investment Board to manage payroll taxes collected to build a reserve that will help fund the new Long-Term Services and Supports program enacted last year. Investing these payroll taxes should help grow the reserve, preventing or minimizing the need for future tax increases on workers or the implementation of a premium assessment on employers. NFIB supported the measure.

Also of note, the Legislature recognized several retiring members on sine die. By our count, there are now more than a dozen open seats as we head into the 2020 campaign season. They include:

1. Sen. Randi Becker (LD-2)
2. Rep. Norma Smith (LD-10)
3. Sen. Maureen Walsh (LD-16)
4. Rep. Bill Jenkin (LD-16) seeking LD-16 Senate seat
5. Rep. Richard DeBolt (LD-20)
6. Rep. Beth Doglio (LD-22) running for Congress, WA-10
7. Rep. Sherry Appleton (LD-23)
8. Sen. Hans Zeiger (LD-25) running for Pierce County Council
9. Rep. Chris Gildon (LD-25) seeking LD-25 Senate seat
10. Rep. Christine Kilduff (LD-28)
11. Rep. Mike Pellicciotti (LD-30) running for State Treasurer
12. Rep. Gael Tarelton (LD-36) running for Secretary of State
13. Rep. Eric Pettigrew (LD-37)
14. Rep. Pat Sullivan (LD-47)

Happy sine die!

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