NFIB lobbying to intensify as 5 p.m., March 2, deadline approaches for approval of bills originating in the opposite chamber
State Director Patrick Connor reports from Olympia on the small-business agenda for the legislative week ending February 23. ***March 1 updates added on four bills***
February 23 marked the deadline for bills to pass policy committees in the chamber opposite of where they originated. House bills must pass Senate policy committees and vice versa. Next week, following Monday’s fiscal cut-off, both chambers will be on the floor well into the night, considering bills in advance of Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline to approve bills originating in the opposite chamber.
NFIB is still watching 30 bills of interest to small business. Legislative highlights this week include:
Majority Democrats in both chambers unveiled their respective supplemental operating budget plans. House Democrats included a capital gains tax in order to reduce property taxes raised in last year’s McCleary decision funding compromise. Senate Democrats are still pressing ahead with a carbon tax proposal but did not include it as part of their budget package. With $628 million more-than-expected revenue for the current two-year budget period, Republicans in both chambers have soundly rejected the notion of tax increases, calling for the windfall to be used to buy-down property taxes instead.
Three fiscal committees – Finance and Appropriations in the House, and Senate Ways & Means – will work Saturday to consider bills ahead of Monday’s deadline for legislation with a budget impact to advance. Although Monday is technically the fiscal cut-off, bills considered “necessary to implement the budget” (NTIB) can still find their way onto the House or Senate consideration calendars until the session adjourns for the year.
- House Bill 1298, “ban the box,” was approved by the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee this week, and sent to Ways & Means for further action. NFIB again testified against the bill, repeating its request for a common-sense amendment to allow small-business owners to inquire about criminal history on the application only for those particular positions where a conviction would prohibit the applicant from actually performing the work if hired.
Update: Wednesday evening, February 28, the state Senate approved HB 1298, “ban the box,” by a vote of 33-16. Sen. Michael Baumgartner offered two NFIB-requested amendments to protect small business; both were defeated on voice votes. However, the bill was amended in the Senate labor committee, so will return to the House for further consideration.
- House Bill 1506, equal pay, still awaits consideration on the Senate floor. We sent an Action Alert to members, asking them to request their senator support an amendment eliminating the double-jeopardy penalty provisions that would allow a small-business owner to be sued at the same time they face an L&I investigation (and possible citation) for the same complaint. So far, only 34 of 49 senators have been contacted. It is all but certain the bill will be voted on next week.
- NFIB, the self-insured association, and state labor council have all contacted House Appropriations Committee Chairman Timm Ormsby and ranking member Bruce Chandler requesting a hearing and executive action on Senate Bill 6393. This agency request bill would allow L&I to use separate pension discount rates for the State Fund and self-insured employers in the workers’ compensation system. The bill won unanimous approval from the state Senate and its Ways & Means Committee. The House companion, House Bill 2762, was similarly approved unanimously by House Appropriations but was not considered by the full House before the chamber of origin cut-off.
Update: The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved SB 6393 before the fiscal cut-off. The bill is now in House Rules awaiting further action.
- House Bill 2355 and Senate Bill 6062, companion bills to establish a state reinsurance program, continue to languish in their respective Rules committees. The proposed $200 million per year boondoggle would ostensibly be used by insurers to reduce health insurance premiums and encourage them to offer plans in all 39 counties. However, as NFIB has testified, the bills contain absolutely no requirements for the carriers to reduce rates or offer coverage in every county. The only certainty is that someone, likely policyholders already straining under this year’s 35 percent average rate increase, would be forced to pay the lion’s share of $200 million annually, which would be divvied up among the carriers to offset their high-cost claims. Every group, both in favor and opposed to the bills, has suggested someone else pay for the program. NFIB opposes the bills.
- Patient continuity of care was dealt a blow Friday morning when the House Health Care & Wellness Committee unanimously approved the chairwoman’s striking amendment to Senate Bill 6147. NFIB and numerous patient advocates testified before the committee this week in support of SB 6147. Originally, the bill would have limited insurers’ ability to increase costs mid-plan-year for medications patients are already taking, unless an equivalent generic or biologic comes on the market. The striking amendment basically requires insurers to annually notify policyholders that they can contest these changes and remain on their prescribed medication during appeal (likely at a higher cost). The amendment would also continue to allow insurers to switch a patient’s medication due solely to drug price increases, but not require insurers to reduce consumer cost-sharing when drug prices go down. NFIB and its coalition partners are discussing next steps.
Update: SB 6147 passed the House unanimously on Tuesday, February 27. NFIB is seeking to reverse a House amendment, either through the concurrence and dispute process or in conference committee, that weakened the bill. While still a step forward, the House-passed version does little more than clarify an insurer’s obligation to notify policyholders when it decides to remove or replace a drug on its formulary, or change the consumer’s cost-sharing obligation, typically raising the price.
- On a more positive note, that committee did approve, without amendment, Senate Bill 6157. That bill would waive prior authorization for certain limited benefits in a health plan, allowing patients to access six visits to a chiropractor; physical, massage, speech, occupational, or certain other therapists; and East Asian medicine practitioners when their health plans limit these treatments to 10 or 12 per year. NFIB supports the legislation.
Update: SB 6157 passed the House 90-8 on Tuesday, February 27. It now goes to the governor for his signature or veto.
- Meanwhile, the Senate Health & Long-Term Care Committee passed House Bill 2296. This bill would prohibit health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers from including “gag orders” in contracts that keep pharmacists from telling consumers about lower-cost ways to obtain their prescription medications, such as paying the cash price if it is less than their insurance cost sharing. NFIB supports this legislation.
- That Senate panel also approved House Bill 2408, which seeks to avoid so-called “bare counties,” where no health plans are offered in the individual market in that county. The bill would require an insurer offering plans to school districts in an otherwise bare county to serve as a backstop, allowing individuals and families to purchase health coverage from that insurer. NFIB supports the bill.
Open Public Records
One additional note, Senate majority and minority leaders, Sens. Sharon Nelson and Mark Schoesler respectively, introduced Senate Bill 6617 February 22. The bill is the Legislature’s response to an open public records lawsuit filed by the press, which the Legislature lost at trial. (Overview here.) Senate and House state government committees jointly held a work session that evening, with little advance notice. While not a formal public hearing, a few people were able to testify on the bill. On February 23, both chambers raced to approve SB 6617, effectively overturning the Superior Court decision. It passed the Senate, 41-7, and was immediately transmitted to the House, where it was swiftly approved, 83-14 (vote results here). There were introductory comments from proponents in both chambers, but no debate. With no public hearing, NFIB was unable to take a position on the bill.
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