Washington State Legislative Update, March 14
By Jim Jesernig, WAWG Lobbyist
The legislature moved past the last major milestone of the first half of the 2013 Session this week when it hit the "House of Origin" cutoff deadline at 5 PM on Wednesday. Any House bills that have not been passed by the House, or Senate bills that have not been passed by the Senate, (except bills necessary to implement the budget), are "dead" for this year. Unlike the Congress, (which seems to be able to resuscitate bills at will), deadlines in the Washington State legislature actually mean that these bills are really "dead". Accordingly, roughly 75% of the bills introduced this year will have to wait until 2014 to possibly be enacted into law.
Three House bills that were of particular concern to the business community surprisingly "died" at this cutoff because they did not make their way out of the House. Those bills were: (1) HB 1025, a measure that would extend the prevailing wage requirements to many private projects in the state, (2) HB 1313, a bill that would have established minimum standards for sick and safe leave from employment, and, (3) HB 1440, a measure that would have designated many "independent contractors" as "employees" for the purposes of employment security and worker compensation laws. Strongly supported by the labor community, it was assumed that all of these bills would pass that House, but then "die" in the Senate. Accordingly, the ultimate fate of these bills didn't change, it just happened a little sooner than most people thought it would.
As soon as this cutoff deadline was reached, all eyes in the legislature moved forward to March 20th, when the Revenue Forecast Council will deliver its 2013-14 biennial revenue and caseload forecasts. Those forecasts will form the basis for all of the Operating and Capital Budgets that will be entertained by the House or Senate over the last month of the 2013 Session. Though the legislature will adjourn on April 28th, it is highly unlikely that an Operating Budget will be agreed to by then. Most Olympia insiders believe that the House and Senate will not be able to agree on a budget to send down to Gov. Inslee until well into June.
The disappointing news this week for agricultural interests was the decision by Gov. Inslee to not reappoint WSDA Director Dan Newhouse. Most agricultural organizations expressed their frustrations with the new Governor, since the only request they had made to Gov. Inslee's transition effort was to retain Director Newhouse. The very next day, Gov. Inslee announced the appointment of former Okanogan County Commissioner Bud Hover as the new WSDA Director. Hover, a former WSU and professional football player, is a rancher who now chairs the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. He lost his County Commissioner seat this last November by a mere 7 votes. Director Hover will assume his new position on April 1st.
WAWG indicated its support for the confirmation of Maia Bellon as the new Director of the Department of Ecology at a public hearing of the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee on Thursday, March 14th. Director Bellon will replace Ted Sturdevant, who was chosen by Gov. Inslee to be the Director of his Policy Office. Prior to being appointed to her new position, Director Bellon was the head of Ecology's Water Resource Program, where she earned a reputation as a "can-do" problem solver that could work with agricultural and industrial interests, as well as environmental groups and the tribes. You may recall that the meeting WAWG had with Director Bellon last month was her first meeting of any kind with any organization.
It looks like we're making a little progress with our impromptu "Short Line Rail Day” in Olympia later this month. Working with Tom Dooley, (the lobbyist for the North-Central Washington Grain Growers), we are tentatively looking at March 29th for a day that growers, shippers, and railroad operators would head to Olympia to meet with the Department of Transportation, and key Transportation Committee members. Our concern this year is that the $2.5M allocated to short line rail by outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire might be "raided" by some other transportation project that is looking for funding.
Finally, HB 1314, (a measure that would amend the ban on phosphorus fertilizer applications on lawns for composted fertilizer containing phosphorus), passed the House last week by a 91 – 7 vote. The overwhelming nature of that vote is largely caused by the fact that agricultural interests simply ignored this bill in the House. However, we plan to oppose it aggressively in the Senate. HB 1314's companion bill, SB 5322, "died" at the first committee cutoff deadline in the Senate. Our position on these bills is that "phosphorus is phosphorus", and if the legislature wants to repeal its poorly thought out law banning commercial fertilizers with phosphorus from being applied to lawns, that would be fine, but somehow carving out organic composted fertilizer as different from other phosphorus fertilizer is simply irrational.