After union success with Initiative 1433, some business groups seeking compromise
NFIB/Washington State Director Patrick Connor reports on the small-business agenda for the legislative week ending March 31.
Week 12 is ending with most attention focused on the state operating budget. The Senate passed Senate Bill 5048 on a party-line vote, 25-24, late last week; the House followed suit March 31, 50-48, replacing the senate-passed spending plan with a bill that relies on a variety of new and increased taxes to balance the budget. NFIB opposes the version that passed the House.
Technically, March 29 marked the deadline for bills to pass policy committees in the opposite chamber (House bills must be approved by a Senate panel, and vise-versa). Legislation with a cost of $50,000 or more has until April 4, to clear the appropriate fiscal committee in the other body. Any bill referenced in either the House or Senate budget is considered “necessary to implement the budget” (NTIB), and is exempt from the cut-off.
Paid Family Leave
In addition to budget-related action, negotiations began in earnest this week on creating a new paid family leave insurance benefit. Big Labor has threatened a ballot measure unless the legislature enacts a program this session. Given the success of I-1433, last fall’s minimum wage and paid sick leave initiative, Republicans – and most of the business community – are eager to forge a legislative compromise rather than risk another loss at the polls.
While generally opposed to new taxes and mandates on small businesses, NFIB has signaled its willingness to be neutral if firms with fewer than 50 employees are exempt, the same as under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, and the benefit is entirely worker-paid. .This is consistent with NFIB’s national position on the issue. A fully worker-paid payroll tax to fund the program is highly unlikely to pass. Big Labor and their Democrat allies included a 50-50 split in their proposed legislation, although the City of Seattle is considering a 100 percent employer-paid ordinance.
However, in a March 29 negotiation session, business representatives suggested a 90-10 worker/employer allocation. (NFIB was not selected as a negotiator.) The 10-percent employer share would allow businesses to receive a $3,000 training rebate when hiring a replacement worker, capped at 10 occurrences per year ($30,000), and socialize the unemployment insurance costs when replacement workers are terminated upon the original worker’s return, protecting against costly jumps in experience-rated unemployment taxes.
Small Business Priority Legislation
- “Ban the Box” (House Bill 1298 / Senate Bill 5312) – The House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee this week approved SB 5312, but amended the bill to remove the statewide pre-emption language. This may well have killed the bill for this session. Strangely, HB 1298 is still awaiting formal referral to the Senate Rules Committee, despite having been approved by the Senate Commerce, Labor & Sports Committee on March 9. NFIB remains opposed to the bills.
- Small business bill of rights inventory (House Bill 1352 / Senate Bill 5230) – HB 1352 is now eligible for a Senate floor vote. Meanwhile, SB 5230 is still in House Rules. NFIB continues to work to get the bills added to the floor calendar in both chambers.
- Municipal business licensing (House Bill 2005 / Senate Bill 5777) – Both bills advanced in committee this week with amendments. At NFIB’s request, the Senate Ways & Means Committee adopted a five-year timeline for cities to join the Department of Revenue’s Business Licensing Service, conditioned on legislative funding. The senate budget contains $2 million for that purpose. However, House Finance Chairwoman Rep. Kristine Lytton effectively replaced SB 5777 with her HB 2005, and again omitted the five-year process NFIB won in task force negotiations. NFIB’s first priority is to win passage of a bill; the five-year phase-in is our secondary objective.
- Regulatory Fairness Act update (HB 1120) – The bill was approved by the Senate State Government Committee Wednesday, and was heard in the Senate Ways & Means Committee Friday afternoon. NFIB expects it to advance to Senate Rules next week.
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[Tile photo of Rep. Andrew Barkis courtesy of the Washington State House Republicans website]