House committees approve Small Business Bill of Rights
State Director Patrick Connor reports from Olympia on the small-business agenda for the legislative period February 22-March 4.
Monday, March 2, was the cut-off date for bills with tax or spending implications to be approved by legislative fiscal committees. However, legislation deemed “necessary to implement the budget” (NTIB) is exempt from the usual legislative deadlines.
The Senate Ways & Means Committee met until about 11 p.m. Monday. House Appropriations finally adjourned just after 2:15 Tuesday morning. Later that morning, the state House and Senate shifted to nearly full-time floor action, with only a few committee meetings scheduled, for the remainder of session.
Accordingly, NFIB sent letters to lawmakers outlining priority legislation affecting small businesses that is still active.
In the Senate, NFIB opposes:
- HB 1110, establishing a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The Senate Transportation Committee on Monday heard a proposed substitute to the House-passed LCFS bill. If approved, the substitute bill would authorize an LCFS, but delay its implementation until the Legislature approves more than $2 billion in additional new transportation revenue. The bill did not receive a committee vote before the fiscal cut-off, but could be deemed NTIB. An Action Alert was sent to NFIB members to coincide with Monday’s hearing.
- HB 1888, restricting public access to public employee information. At its core, the bill seeks to thwart Freedom Foundation efforts to notify state workers of their constitutional right to choose whether to join or remain in a union, as reaffirmed by the US Supreme Court’s Janus decision. The bill was narrowed enough to gain near-unanimous support in the House of Representatives. It is now in the Senate Rules Committee.
- HB 2409, increasing workers’ compensation penalties on employers. Trial lawyers introduced this and other bills seeking to increase penalties on employers; add new, undefined standards of conduct that would also subject employers to fines; or limit the tools available to employers and injured workers for resolving workers’ compensation claims. While the other bills have been killed or amended, this one continues to move forward thanks to pressure from the plaintiffs’ bar. The bill is now eligible for a floor vote in the Senate.
A half-dozen bills of interest to small business are still alive in the House of Representatives.
- HB 2948, authorizing King County to impose a payroll tax for homelessness and related programs and services. A public hearing was held last week in the House Finance Committee. A committee vote was scheduled, but not taken, Monday. However, the bill has a clause making it NTIB, so it is still alive. Big Business, Big Labor, King County, and select cities continue to meet behind closed doors to negotiate final language on this bill. At this point, NFIB remains opposed.
- HB 2957 (new), authorizing the Department of Ecology to adopt rules reducing carbon emissions from indirect sources. On Monday, this bill was introduced, then given a public hearing and narrowly approved in the House Appropriations Committee. Yes, all on the same day … more or less. While the public hearing occurred Monday afternoon, the committee debate began near midnight, with consideration of amendments and a final vote occurring after 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. NFIB is opposed.
- SB 6097, allowing the Insurance Commissioner to consider health insurers’ excess surplus in the rate-approval process. The state’s three non-profit health insurers have amassed a combined $4.4 billion (and growing) excess surplus – while increasing premiums by double-digits. The bill would allow, but not require, the Insurance Commissioner’s rate-review team to consider an insurer’s cash stockpiles, or the capital reserves of for-profit insurers, when deciding whether to approve that insurer’s request to raise health insurance premiums for the coming year. While we expect the insurers to cry “Coronavirus!” as the latest tactic to avoid having these massive, excess surpluses considered in the rate-review process, it is important to keep in mind that this combined $4.4 billion nest egg is in addition to the insurers’ other reserves set aside specifically to pay both the future cost of medical claims, and unanticipated expenses (like those that could result from doctor visits, hospitalization and treatment, or prescribed medication) arising from the current outbreak. Also, keep in mind that these excess surpluses continued to grow over the last decade despite bird flu, swine flu, measles, and MERS. NFIB supports the bill.
- SB 6408, NFIB’s Small Business Bill of Rights. It’s been a busy few days for our Small Business Bill of Rights. NFIB and the Gov. Jay Inslee’s office testified in support of the bill Wednesday, February 26, before the House State Government & Tribal Relations Committee. That committee unanimously approved SB 6408 the next day. It was then sent to the House Appropriations Committee for public hearing Saturday, February 29. At about 11:30 p.m. Monday, March 2, Appropriations adopted the latest Kilduff amendment and approved the bill. NFIB will be seeking a floor amendment to re-instate the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as a participating agency covered by the bill. The Kilduff amendment added a reference to a list of agencies in RCW 19.02.050 hoping to clarify to which agencies the bill would apply. DNR is not listed in that particular portion of state statute. Since DNR issues 32 permits and conducts 21 types of inspections, NFIB believes it should be covered by the bill. Rep. Kilduff has again asked the Attorney General’s Office for input. SB 6408 is now in House Rules. NFIB supports the bill.
- SB 6632, Department of Revenue’s Business Licensing Service fee adjustment. State business-licensing fees must be adjusted to avoid insolvency in the Business Licensing Service account. As we’ve previously reported, NFIB has negotiated an agreement with the Department of Revenue allowing us to support the bill. The bill passed House Finance on Monday and was sent to House Rules. NFIB supports the bill.
- SJR 8212, allowing long-term care premiums to be invested. Also on Monday, the House Appropriations Committee approved SJR 8212, a proposed state constitutional amendment, which would allow the State Investment Board to manage revenue collected from a new payroll tax funding the new Long-Term Care Services and Supports program. Premiums will be collected in advance of benefits being available in order to build a reserve. By investing those reserves, future premium (payroll tax) increases or the addition of an employer premium should be prevented or at least substantially delayed. NFIB supports the bill.
We expect more late nights during the remainder of Week 8, which concludes with opposite chamber cut-off at 5 p.m. Friday, March 6, 2020.
- February 21 Report—State Revenue Up $1.5 Billion—But it Hasn’t Quenched Thirst for New Taxes
- February 14 Report—More Bad Bills Die as Legislature Hits Halfway Point
- February 7 Report—Four Anti-Small-Business Bills Appear Dead for the Session
- January 31 Report—Anti-Independent-Contractor, Cap-and-Trade Bills on tap Next Week
- January 24 Report—NFIB Calls for B&O, Occupational Licensing Reforms
- January 17 Report—Agreement Reached to Protect Small Businesses During Inspections