Legislative Preview: Week Six, Policy Cutoff Week
What to watch for this week in Olympia.
With a third of legislative session over and done with, it might seem like Olympia’s politicians haven’t accomplished much so far. True, but that will start to change —Friday is the policy cut-off, which means any non-budget bills have to make it out of committee in order to be considered viable. It also means this week will be busy, with hearings on big ideas from requiring paid sick leave to controlling skyrocketing tuition.
Friday is the policy cut-off, which means any non-budget bills have to make it out of committee in order to be considered viable.On Monday, Feb. 18, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee will hear a bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens), that would prevent employers from requiring employees to turn over passwords to their social networking accounts. Other states have enacted similar legislation. Important to note: While the law would prohibit your employer from logging into your Facebook account, it wouldn’t prohibit them from firing you for posting something publicly.
Meanwhile, the House Finance Committee will meet at 1:30 p.m. for a public hearing on a bill to put limits on who can be considered an independent contractor. The bill is meant to prevent the misclassification of employees, which allows employers to skip out on paying everything from workers’ comp insurance to the employers’ share of Social Security tax to minimum wage. The bill is sponsored by a group of Democrats, including prime sponsor Rep. John McCoy (D-38, Tulalip). The bill won’t likely be a favorite of pro-business Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate, who are focused more intently this session on removing regulatory burdens for employers rather than enhancing regulations to ensure fairness, but Democrats there have sponsored a companion bill.
On Tuesday, February 19, the House Higher Education Committee meets at 8 a.m. and is scheduled to vote on a bill that would seek to lower tuition over time while increasing the state’s contribution to higher education. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-46, North Seattle), would require tuition to be targeted to 10 percent of the median household income – about $56,500 for 2012, according to estimates by the Office of Financial Management.
Over the past five years, the legislature has cut higher education funding, doubled tuition, and then disbanded the Higher Education Coordinating Board, giving universities the authority to set their own tuition. While this bill may be ambitious, there are a number of efforts underway this session to slow tuition increases and save the Guaranteed Education Tuition program, including another bill being heard in the Senate Higher Education Committee at 1:30 p.m. to end differential tuition—a bill the house passed last week (Carryn wrote about it here).
Also at 8 a.m., the Business and Financial Services Committee will meet to discuss a couple of bills to address short-term loans. The legislature passed reforms to the payday loan system in 2009 to cap the interest rate, limit the number of loans a person could take out in a year and limit the amount a person could borrow to 30 percent of their take-home pay. One bill would increase the number of loans per year from 8 to 12. Another bill would authorize “consumer installment loans” of up to $2,000, which would have a minimum six-month term—far longer than the typical payday loan—and interest capped at 36 percent.
Don’t expect all Democrats to line up in support of loosening short-term loan regulations. The bill is sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators, including Rep. Steve Kirby (D-29, Tacoma), who was previously opposed to reforming the payday lending industry, which thrived in his district. A companion bill in the Senate is sponsored by a bipartisan group that includes Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) and MCC leader Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina) and has already passed out of committee. But don’t expect all Democrats to line up in support of loosening short-term loan regulations: Opponents, including the Statewide Poverty Action Network, say the interest rate on a six-month loan for $2,000 would actually amount to more than 200 percent under the bill’s provisions.
The Senate Governmental Operations committee, chaired by Sen. Pam Roach (R-31, Auburn), is holding a hearing at 10 a.m. on Tuesday for a bill to “require state employees to be truthful when providing employment-related information.” The bill would change the 1994 Ethics in Public Service Act to specify that state employees must be “truthful and forthright” when answering questions related to their employment.
Roach, as you may recall, has been on the receiving end of several ethics complaints over the years and said in a press conference earlier this session that she was a victim of lies leveled against her by employees and members alike. Interestingly: Roach isn’t the only sponsor on this bill—she’s joined by MCC leader, Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), as well as Sens. Mike Padden (R-4, Spokane) and Joe Fain (R-47, Kent).
On Wednesday, February 20 at 10 a.m., the House Technology and Economic Development Committee will hold a hearing on a bill by freshman Rep. Cyrus Habib (D-48, Kirkland) to give a Business and Occupation tax break to new businesses in manufacturing and tech. Gov. Jay Inslee liked the bill so much, he included it in his jobs package released last week. Habib is the vice chair of the committee; the bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-5, Issaquah). It will be interesting to see if Appropriations and Finance Committee chairs, sticklers Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina) and Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Queen Anne), will see freshman Habib's bill as anything more than a straight giveaway without any calculable return on investment.
Another Governor Inslee bill gets a hearing in the Senate Energy and Environment Committee at 8 a.m.— his bill to create a task force to develop recommendations for how to meet the state’s 2020 greenhouse emissions goals. The bill is co-sponsored in the House by Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-40, Orcas Island) and Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island).
Paid sick leave has been a priority for Democrats this session—and, accordingly, on the to-don’t list of the MCC.
The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee meets at 1:30 p.m. for an interesting hearing : The first half of the agenda includes two Republican bills to end and restrict local paid sick leave provisions (attention: Seattle). The other half of the committee’s public hearing agenda is devoted to bills to require paid sick leave and implement the state’s family leave insurance program, which was created in 2007, but never funded. Paid sick leave has been a priority for Democrats this session—and, accordingly, on the to-don’t list of the MCC.
And the House Education Committee will meet at 5:30 to hear more about Gov. Jay Inslee’s request legislation aimed at producing more graduates in science, technology, engineering and math. The Senate K-12 committee will consider the bill at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. The bill would create a STEM education innovation alliance to advise the governor and issue a STEM report card on the state’s progress, among other things.
On Thursday, February 21, the House Public Safety Committee meets at 10 a.m. to consider standards for governments—both state and local—using unmanned aircraft. The bipartisan bill may not be as necessary now; last week when Seattle police were getting ready to test drones. The city ended that experiment before it officially began due in part to public outrage.