Washington Legislature at midpoint of 2017 session
NFIB/Washington State Director Patrick Connor’s report from Olympia for the legislative week ending March 3
Week eight marks the mid-point of the 2017 regular legislative session. Both chambers were on the floor this week debating and voting on legislation. Floor action continues next week.
NFIB extended its winning streak with a few more (near) unanimous votes on priority bills.
House Bill 1120, updating the Regulatory Fairness Act, passed the House unanimously, 98-0. NFIB expects a similarly easy path forward when the bill reaches the Senate.
On a related note, NFIB met this week with Aaron Everett, the new director of the governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA). Under HB 1120, that office would be tasked with compiling and maintaining resources for agencies to use when determining whether a small business economic impact statement may be necessary. The meeting was productive, and NFIB looks forward to working with Director Everett and his team at ORIA to help ease the state’s regulatory burden on small business owners.
Licensing and Tax Streamlining
House Bill 2005, streamlining municipal business licensing and B&O taxes, scored a surprisingly strong 96-2 vote in the House. The cities largely oppose the bill but did not actively work against it due to continuing negotiations with NFIB, the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Retail Association, and the state Department of Revenue.
Early in the week, Revenue announced a number of objections to the agreement reached February 22, threatening to derail the bill. Undeterred, Rep. Kristine Lytton, backed by AWB, forced through her original version, with only slight modification. The cities are now seeking assistance in the Senate, where Sen. Sharon Brown appears poised to offer a striking amendment to her Senate Bill 5777. That striker is expected to add new language from the cities to the House-passed text of HB 2005.
In a letter to the Senate, NFIB expressed its support for HB 2005, with or without the cities’ amendment. SB 5777 is on the senate second reading calendar and could be brought to the floor at any time.
With an unexpected unanimous vote, 98-0, the House approved House Bill 1796, requiring pregnancy accommodation in the workplace. The bill sponsor, Rep. Jessyn Farrell, introduced a floor-striking amendment substituting the text of the Senate compromise bill (negotiated primarily by former NFIB State Director Carolyn Logue, with an assist from NFIB’s current state director) for her original version, which NFIB opposed.
With the striking amendment in place, the bill would now only apply to businesses with 15 or more employees, better define both accommodation requirements and undue hardship, and provide a conference process to resolve disputes prior to litigation. While NFIB is reluctant to support any mandate on employers, this compromise should provide better protections for pregnant workers with legitimate needs without causing undue cost or harm to small businesses.
Although not a high priority for NFIB, the House unanimously approved House Bill 1629 by a vote of 96-0, which extends the timeframe for employers to reach an agreement with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries on safety and health citations appeals.
This bill would not extend the time to file an appeal, but only to reach an agreement with the department, in certain circumstances, after the appeal has been filed.
High-Risk Insurance Pool
House Bill 1338, extending the state health insurance high-risk pool, passed the House, 93-5, as amended in committee. NFIB helped secured a provision to explore broader funding sources for the program. Currently, assessments primarily on health insurance policyholders in the individual, small group, and association health plan markets – essentially small-business owners, their employees and families – provide the lion’s share of funding for the program. The amendment also limits the extension to five years. Extending the high-risk pool in the face of federal “repeal and replace” efforts threatens to drive health insurance prices even higher for small businesses if carriers shift costly “bad risk” into the pool, which now is limited to some 430 individuals.
Ban the Box
A bill NFIB opposed did slip through the House 68-30. House Bill 1298 seeks to prohibit employers from asking job applicants about arrests or convictions. More popularly called “Ban the Box” legislation, NFIB did not actively work against HB 1298. With little hope of defeating the bill in the House, NFIB is focused on amending or defeating it and Senate Bill 5312 in the Senate.
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[Tile photo of Rep. Kristine Lytton courtesy of the Washington House Democrats website.]