Four priority bills beneficial for small business getting solid traction in the Washington Legislature
NFIB/Washington State Director Patrick Connor’s report from Olympia on the legislative week ending February 17.
While week six did not require a state patrol escort out of hearing rooms on lock-down, it was exciting in its own way. NFIB/Washington’s four priority bills were all subject to action in advance of the February 17 deadline for policy bills to be approved by committee.
NFIB’s small business bill of rights inventory legislation advanced in both chambers this week. Senate Bill 5230 was the subject of Sen. Lynda Wilson’s maiden senate floor speech (see video below). Following some good-natured ribbing from her colleagues, a senate custom for a member’s initial remarks to the chamber, the bill was unanimously approved, 46-0.
It has been referred to the House State Government, Elections, & IT Committee. That panel this week approved the House companion, House Bill 1352, also by a unanimous vote. Rep. John Koster, the committee’s ranking member, called it “… one of the better bills run through this committee this year,” adding “I think it will really make a difference for small businesses.”
Similarly, the House Finance Committee and Senate Commerce, Labor & Sports Committee heard their chamber’s version of bills to implement the recommendations of last year’s House Bill 2959 Local Tax & Licensing Simplification Task Force, on which NFIB served. Rep. Kris Lytton’s House Bill 2005 and Sen. Sharon Brown’s Senate Bill 5777 take slightly different approaches to a key task force objective – encouraging cities with a business license requirement to join the state’s Business Licensing Service (BLS) to allow online business licensing and renewals.
Both bills would allow a 10-year process for cities to join BLS. NFIB insisted on and won agreement in the task force for a five-year phase-in, a point we made in testimony to both committees. In response, the commerce committee chairman, Sen. Michael Baumgartner, amended SB 5777 to reflect a five-year approach, conditioned on funding being included in the biennial budget. On February 16, at the invitation of the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), NFIB/Washington State Director Patrick Connor spoke to some 300 city officials about the bills and small businesses’ interest in moving toward online business licensing as well as online local B&O tax filing and payment. NFIB is negotiating with AWC and the Association of Washington Business (AWB) to reach agreement on a final bill.
Also this week, NFIB testified at the House Appropriations Committee in favor of Rep. Norma Smith’s House Bill 1120, updating the Regulatory Fairness Act (RFA). Connor pointed out that NFIB rarely comes before the Legislature asking for money, let alone additional funding for state agencies. In this case, the bulk of the appropriation would be for a state audit in 2020 to ensure that the changes and improvements to the Small Business Economic Impact Statement process have taken hold and that agencies are properly complying with the updated RFA. Bills with a fiscal impact must be approved by February 24, unless determined to be “necessary to implement the budget” (NTIB).
Sen. Karen Keiser made a point of thanking NFIB’s current and former state directors for working with her to reach compromise on pregnancy accommodation legislation. Current State Director Patrick Connor, who lobbied for stepped enforcement — prior to litigation – in the penalty phase, gave former State Director Carolyn Logue the lion’s share of the credit for making the bill less potentially problematic for small business. The agreement is now Senate Bill 5835, a bill introduced and approved by committee the same day, which replaces the original vehicle, Senate Bill 5299.
In another unusual turn of events, the state director was called back to the Senate Commerce, Labor & Sports Committee February 15 after testifying on other legislation, and asked to testify on Senate Bill 5756, Sen. Kirk Pearson’s proposal to prohibit non-compete agreements for workers earning $55,000 or less. Based on NFIB/Washington Leadership Council feedback, NFIB had not taken a position on the bill. In response to NFIB’s remarks, Chairman Baumgartner asked NFIB and AWB for examples of similar laws in other jurisdictions. NFIB’s excellent Small Business Legal Center is assisting with that request.
February 17 was the deadline for policy bills to advance from their committee of origin to either a fiscal or rules committee. As a result, NFIB’s tracking of bills either helpful or harmful to small business will narrow. NFIB has testified nearly two dozen times already this session, and has signed in a position (pro or con) more than 40 times.