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Legislative Session Update: Week Three

With Jim Hedrick, WA State Lobbyist and Spokane Regional Advocate

Welcome to week three of the 2022 legislative session, which began on January 10. Our goal is to keep your business updated on issues that impact you and our community at large. Read about week three below. You can read the week two blog here or check out our 2022 State Agenda.

As the third week of the session ends, one-third of the frenetic 60-day session has now passed. Next week is the first deadline bills must meet to continue in the process, the cutoff to be voted out of the policy committee. Then, if the bill has a financial impact, the bill must be voted out of a fiscal committee within a swift four-day period.

Late last week, Senator Mona Das (D-47) introduced SB 5932, a bill that reduces the state portion of sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5%. Das, the third Indian American woman elected to the Washington State Senate represents parts of Kent, Auburn, and Covington, and is up for her first reelection bid in 2022. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

This week, the House Community & Economic Development Committee heard and voted on HB 1538 (Dent, R-13), a bill that establishes an Aviation & Aerospace Advisory Committee. The substitute that was passed out of the committee requires the Director of the Department of Commerce to appoint members which at a minimum include certain representatives of aviation and aerospace companies and associations, county commissioners, airport officials, representatives of both aerospace machinists and engineers, a representative from the state board for community and technical colleges, a lawmaker from each caucus in each chamber, and representatives from certain state agencies and statewide organizations.

SB 5600 (Keiser, D-33), the much-watched state-registered apprenticeship bill, received a policy committee vote on Monday, January 24, and will receive a hearing in Senate Ways & Means on Friday, February 4. The substitute bill passed out of committee reflects numerous changes.

On Tuesday, January 25, the other high-profile apprenticeship bill, SB 5764 (Randall, D-26) received executive action in the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee. This bill creates pathways between apprenticeship programs and colleges so that students in apprenticeship programs are treated equally when it comes to tuition and grants, and successful apprenticeship graduates have a clearer pathway to earn an associate degree or four-year bachelor’s degree in the future if they choose.

On Thursday, January 27, the Senate Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee heard SB 5891, a bill that would apply new regulations at all large non-agricultural warehouses, including those owned by Amazon, the largest private employer in Washington and the second-largest private employer in the U.S. The bill would ban quotas that prohibit warehouse workers from going to the bathroom or taking meal and rest breaks. Each worker would receive a written description of his or her quota, including the quantified tasks to be done within a defined time period, any potential adverse employment action that could result from failure to meet the quota or bonuses, and incentives for meeting or exceeding the quota. These new regulations apply to warehouse employers with 100 or more employees at a single warehouse distribution center or 1,000 or more total employees at distribution centers in the state. The bill has been scheduled for executive action on Wednesday, February 2.

The Senate Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee also heard SB 5911 (Cleveland, D-49) on Thursday, a bill that requires the State of Washington to provide a one-time hazard pay retention bonus to certain eligible health care employees practicing in specified COVID units. The bill also prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions to prevent or diminish the receipt of bonuses. The amount would be dependent on how much is appropriated by the legislature. The bill is supported both by the labor community and the Washington State Hospital Association. Workers who testified recommended including all frontline workers, not just those in COVID units. The proposal has not yet been scheduled for executive session.

On Friday, January 28, the Senate State Government & Elections Committee heard SB 5909 (Randall, D-26), the legislation that gives the four corners of the legislature the power to terminate Governor Inslee’s state of emergency. The bill would similarly allow the four corners to terminate prohibitive emergency orders like vaccine mandates or an eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The bill also makes permanent the Bicameral Legislative Unanticipated Revenue Oversight Committee that gives the legislature involvement in the allocation of federal funding.  157 people signed in to testify and 5,457 signed in to have their position on the bill noted, the vast majority of whom were in support.

Governor Inslee signed the first bills of the 2022 session on Thursday, January 27, HB 1732 (Sullivan, D-47) and HB 1733 (Paul, D-10). These are of course the two policies that delay and provide exemptions to the WA Cares program. Collection of premiums is now delayed until July 2023. Any premiums collected so far by private employers are to be refunded within 120 days.

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