Act of Olympian resurrection adds to NFIB’s list of 40 measures its tracking in short, 60-day session of the Washington State Legislature
State Director Patrick Connor reports from the State Capitol on the small-business agenda
With just 60 days to complete its work on time this year, the 2018 Regular Session of the 65th Washington State Legislature has set a quick pace with the hope of avoiding another all-to-familiar special session.
NFIB/Washington is already tracking more than 40 bills that may impact small business, with several still to review. Somewhat surprisingly, a substantial number of bills that technically died at the end of last year’s session were resurrected for public hearing, or sent directly to a fiscal or rules committee for consideration without debate, indicating that majority Democrats in both chambers intend to move a large number of bills very quickly.
NFIB was slated to testify every day the legislative week, however, one bill was bumped during a hearing, resulting in NFIB testifying on seven bills in four days. NFIB signed in the small-business position on eight others. Interestingly, some of NFIB’s shortest comments were broadcast on TVW’s Legislative Review on the second day of the session.
- NFIB testified against House and Senate versions of so-called “equal pay” legislation this week. The issue has been negotiated over the past few years, and the latest drafts include a number of important changes the broader business community can accept. NFIB focused primarily on a “double jeopardy” penalty process that would allow an aggrieved worker to pursue both an administrative and judicial remedy – likely subjecting the employer to two sets of sanctions as well. We suggested the bill follow the state’s Wage Payment Act, which allows workers to either sue, or file a complaint with the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). If the worker is not satisfied with L&I’s determination, they can terminate those proceedings and still file suit. This ensures the employer is only subject to one set of sanctions if misconduct is found.
- NFIB again opposed “ban the box” legislation, testifying against a new senate bill. We provided suggested amendments limiting the proposal’s applicability to employers with 15 or more workers, the same as Illinois and New Jersey … and the threshold used in last year’s pregnancy accommodation bill sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, the new chairwoman of the renamed Senate Labor & Commerce Committee. We also proposed expanded exemptions for bona fide business purposes. The House prime sponsor, Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, indicated she will file a floor amendment to exempt employers with fewer than 15 workers from her bill. Status in the Senate is still unclear.
- Also of note, NFIB secured bipartisan senate sponsors, including four NFIB members, for Dept. Labor & Industries-requested legislation that would allow separate pension discount rates to be applied to State Fund and self-insured employers as part of the workers’ compensation rate-setting process. NFIB also provided House Republican co-sponsors for the companion bill. The legislation is the result of NFIB inquiries about decoupling that component of rate-setting over the past three years. The proposal is also supported by the Washington Self-Insured Association, Washington State Labor Council, and state Building Trades Council.
- NFIB was joined by the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), the homebuilders’ organization that operates one of the largest association health plans in the state, opposing a new state-run reinsurance program. Under this scheme, health insurers and third-party administrators would be assessed $200 million each year. Those funds would be used to repay the insurers for claims exceeding a certain dollar value. This would be in addition to the existing state high-risk pool (WSHIP) that allows carriers to shift the costliest patients into a separate, state-run health insurance program for coverage. WSHIP is also funded by an assessment of $35 million to $50 million annually. NFIB expects the new reinsurance assessment would be passed along to health insurance policyholders much like the WSHIP assessment. Basically, those of you buying health insurance would be asked to pay more, every month, with the hope – but no guarantee – that every county would have at least one carrier offering health insurance coverage, and that rates might go down by as much as 10 percent, according to Insurance Commissioner estimates.
- NFIB again testified in support of prescription drug continuity of care legislation. Consumers, particularly those with chronic, high-cost conditions (like cancer, blood disorders, autoimmune disease, mental illness, etc.) who take the time to find the health plan that best fits their family’s health and financial needs, too often find that the medications they rely on get moved to more expensive specialty tiers during a plan year. Carriers argue this saves the system money and helps avoid future rate increases. However, these changes can have tragic effects on patients, resulting in hospitalization or complications that keep them off the job or make them much less productive. This legislation builds on work NFIB has done as a member of task forces appointed by the governor on health-care costs, quality, and patient out-of-pocket costs.
- NFIB also spoke in support of bills to allow pharmacies to provide information about the lowest cost alternative when filling prescriptions. Some insurance company and pharmacy benefit manager contracts include “gag orders” prohibiting pharmacists from telling customers about potential savings by paying the cash rate or other discounts. NFIB has long supported providing consumers with greater access to health care cost data so they can make informed purchasing decisions.
- NFIB signed in opposed to a bill to establish low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS). NFIB has successfully opposed Gov. Jay Inslee’s efforts to establish an LCFS in rule in years past.
- Next week the governor’s carbon tax and various bills from lawmakers to further limit vehicle emissions are expected to be heard. NFIB will oppose bills and regulations unnecessarily increasing fuel and energy costs for small-business owners.