Week 2 Legislative Update: Parties release major COVID relief packages

By: Boswell Consulting and Brooke Davies Consulting Posted: 01/26/2021

Governor's unemployment insurance bill and a tax exemption for relief grants also pick up speed

The second week of the 105-day 2021 Legislative Session is now complete. This week was full of virtual committee hearings and executive sessions. Many bills directly related to COVID-19 response have been quickly moving through the legislative process including the Governor’s unemployment insurance bill, a bill to amend graduation requirements for this school year, and legislation exempting government relief payments from taxes.

KEY DEVELOPMENTS

COVID-19 Response and Recovery

On Monday the Governor announced an updated statewide vaccine distribution and administration plan. The plan includes a partnership with the private sector that will work directly with the state to reach Washington’s daily vaccination goal of 45,000. Also individuals 65 and over were made immediately eligible to receive a vaccine.

On Friday, Democrats released a $2.2 billion COVID-19 relief package today, SB 5343/HB 1367 and SB 5344/HB 1368, funded largely by federal relief dollars.  The package is focused on increasing vaccine distribution, contact tracing, supporting schools, and providing relief for renters and small businesses.  Earlier in the week, Republicans released a COVID-19 recovery plan titled the REAL Recovery for Washington Act. The proposal includes a $4 billion in relief funded by the state's rainy-day fund and new federal dollars.

New Revenue

There was a new revenue proposal introduced this week that would create a tax on the sale of personal data. We expect to see additional revenue proposals introduced in the coming weeks including a statewide payroll tax on high earners.

Transportation

This week, there was a work session in the House Appropriations Committee regarding the state operating budget. Transportation Chair Jake Fey held a press conference on his transportation proposal. The package includes 25.8 billion in spending over the next 16 years which is funded by a gas tax increase of 18 cents per gallon (ten cents per gallon in year one and an additional eight cents in year two) and a carbon fee on transportation sector emissions. Investments include 4.6 billion in preservation, 3.5 billion for culverts, and 6.7 billion for projects.

OTHER CHAMBER ADVOCACY PRIORITIES (View our state agenda)

Economic Vitality/Recovery

The Senate Ways & Means committee held a hearing on Senator Frockt’s Senate Economic Recovery report. 

There was a hearing on Wednesday January 20th in the Senate State Government and Elections Committee on legislation brought forward by Senator Braun, SB 5114. This legislation would allow any business whose activities have been limited or restricted under the Governor’s Roadmap to Recovery plan to move to phase two immediately. Over 1,600 people signed in on the bill with over 300 wishing to testify (hearing linked here).

Taxes

Legislation brought forward by Rep. Walen, HB 1095, provides a business and occupation tax, a public utilities tax, and a retail sales tax exemption for a qualifying grant received on or after February 29, 2020, that is related to a national or state emergency proclamation. This bill passed the House on Friday 98-0. SMCC is supportive of this legislation.

Legislation authorizing local governments to designate tax increment financing areas and to use increased local property tax collections to fund public improvements, HB 1189, has been scheduled for a public hearing in the House Finance committee on Tuesday, January 26th.

This week Rep. Kloba introduced HB 1303 which taxes the sale of personal data has been referred to the House Committee on Finance but has not been scheduled. Rep. Senn has introduced a policy bill, HB 1213, expanding accessible, affordable child care and early childhood development programs. The bill as introduced does not include a funding mechanism, we expect to see some kind of statewide payroll tax proposal intended to fund HB 1213.

Employment Law

The Governor’s unemployment insurance bill (SSB 5061) was voted out of committee 6-3 on Monday. The committee adopted a proposed substitute offered by Senator Keiser and also one additional amendment offered by Senator King.  The executive session can be viewed here

SB 5064’s proposed substitution regarding unemployment insurance after voluntary leaving work was heard on Wednesday January 20th in the Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs committee (hearing linked here.)

Legislation allowing whistle blowers to bring actions on behalf of the state for violations of workplace protections, commonly known as “qui tam”, HB 1076, was heard on Friday in the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee (hearing linked here). Several individuals sign in support and opposition to the proposal. The testimony was similar to years past although the messaging from proponents of the legislation was intensified due to the covid-19 pandemic. Employees expressed their desire to be able to enforce  workplace protections without fear of retaliation, while employers believe that the state already has the ability to enforce workplace standards and that this legislation would only result in frivolous lawsuits.

SB 5097 was heard in the same committee on Monday.  Senator Robinson brought for this bill to expand coverage of the current Paid Family & Medical Leave program.  This bill loosens the definition of “family”, allowing greater access to the program.  Criticism of the bill included additional stress on small businesses, and those in favor praised the ability of more workers to access the program.


Housing Affordability

Legislation reducing barriers to condominium construction SB 5024 was placed on second reading, it can now be pulled to the Senate floor anytime for a vote. This week Senator Mona Das introduced legislation concerning the multi-family tax exemption (MFTE), SB 5287. The bill is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, January 26th in the Senate Committee on Housing & Local Government at 8:00 AM.

 

Legislation introduced by Senator Patty Kuderer providing certain tenant protections, SB 5160, had a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Housing and Local Government on Wednesday. You can watch the hearing here. The bill seeks to codify many of the eviction protections put into place by the governor due to the pandemic, however it goes much farther. Although housing providers recognize the need for legislative action as it relates to pandemic rent relief they have serious concerns with this approach. The bill has not yet been scheduled for executive action.

Housing providers have introduced their own bill to address concerns related to covid-19 tenant protections, HB 1228, sponsored by Rep. Barkis and Rep. Walen. The bill is scheduled to be head next week on Thursday, January 28th. 

Legislation limiting rent increases after expiration of the governor's eviction moratorium, SB 5139, commonly known as rent control, had a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Housing and Local Government on Thursday Jan. 21st. You can watch the hearing here. The bill has not yet been scheduled for executive action.

Finally, there has been another bill introduced concerning just cause, HB 1236, sponsored by representative Macri. This bill has been scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday, January 26th at 8am in the House Committee on Housing, Human Services & Veterans.

Public Safety & Police Reform

The House Public Safety committee was briefed on several amendments for HB 1054 (establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers), and is scheduled for executive session on Thursday January 21st.

Representative Goodman’s bill (HB 1082) regarding state oversight and accountability of officers has yet to be scheduled for executive session after public hearing on January 15th in the House Committee on Public Safety.

HB 1084 concerning compliance audits had an executive session Tuesday, January 19th in the House Public Safety Committee (hearing linked here).  The bill was passed out of committee on a party line vote and referred to Appropriations.