This week, the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus will face it’s first major test: A package of bills that would make sweeping changes to the workers’ compensation system is scheduled to get a vote on the floor today. The rest of the week is also shaping up with plenty of excitement, from a bill in the house to require paid sick time to a constitutional amendment in the senate to require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass any tax increase.
Today, Monday, February 4, at noon, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the package of bills to further reform the workers’ compensation system, including a bill to allow any worker to settle enter into a one-time structured settlement payout with their employer. Under current law, only older workers can settle their claims. When the MCC initially brought the bills up on Friday, Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) tried to tack on a “compromise” amendment to the settlement bill to allow only workers age 40 and over to settle workers’ comp claims.
In his floor speech, Hobbs, a conservative Democratic and potential ally of the MCC, said the amendment was offered in the spirit of true bipartisanship. That amendment failed and the Democratic caucus denied a motion allowing the vote to be held that day. Today’s votes could be an indication of how the MCC holds up to pressure on a divisive issue.
This afternoon, the Senate education committee will consider more ideas for reforming K-12 schools. This time around, the bills range from a Republican sponsored bill to give salary bonuses to high-demand teachers to an outcomes-based reform effort sponsored by Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-24, Hoquiam) who has overseen reform in human services and prisons.
On Tuesday, February 5, the Democratic controlled house is also taking a turn at worker issues – though in the opposite fashion of their counterparts in the Senate. A bill in the Labor and Workforce Development Committee would expand and implement the Family and Medical Leave Insurance program, which the Senate considered ending last week. Another bill in the same committee would require businesses to provide paid “sick and safe” leave for many employees. If the bills make it through the house, it could set up an interesting bargaining scenario between the House and Senate over labor and business issues. The hearing starts at 10 a.m.
Meanwhile, the Senate Economic Development Committee will hold a public hearing on whether new businesses should be exempt from paying the Business and Occupation tax. The bill, sponsored by three Republicans and Steve Conway (D-29, Tacoma), would exempt any new business—including out-of-state businesses opening a first branch location in Washington—from paying B&O taxes for the first year. Small businesses with 25 or fewer employees on the first day of operations would be exempt for two years. Since the B&O tax is levied on gross receipts—meaning there are no deductions for labor, cost of doing business, or even taxes—it’s often a target for reform by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Wednesday, February 6, the House Public Safety Committee will hold a work session on all things related to driving after using marijuana. They’ll hear an overview of what’s legal under Initiative 502, protocols, prosecution and the science behind how marijuana affects the ability to drive. That hearing starts at 1:30.
At 3:30, the House education funding committee will hold a work session on the Guaranteed Education Tuition program. Earlier this year, MCC-leader Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina) said the “Ponzi scheme” should be discontinued based on the chance (of less than 1 percent, according to the State Actuary) that state obligations could exceed funds in the account. Many of Tom’s fellow Democrats have vowed to spare the college savings program. Josh has written a lot about this year's GET debate.
Every month, the Department of Health would get a report with the number of exemptions issued, type, pregnant minor’s age, and the number of prior pregnancies—and abortions—that the minor had had. An annual report of that data would be released publiclyAnd the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee will consider Sen. Don Benton’s (R-17, Vancouver) bill to require parental notification for any minor who wants to get an abortion. The bill is already beyond controversial, but the details are intriguing: If a teen didn’t want her parents to be notified, she’d have to petition the courts, which would be required to hear evidence on her maturity level and whether or not she was the victims of sexual abuse, among other things.
The court would be required to decide within 48 hours if the notification requirement could be waived. (How would already overcrowded courts handle the influx of new cases? If a hearing didn’t take place within 48 hours, the teen’s request for a waiver would automatically be granted.) Another interesting piece of the bill: Every month, the Department of Health would get a report with the number of exemptions issued, type, pregnant minor’s age and the number of prior pregnancies – and abortions – that the minor had had. An annual report of that data would be released publicly.
On Thursday, February 7, the Senate Government Operations Committee, chaired by Pam Roach (R-31, Auburn), will consider Roach and Benton’s bill to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass any tax increase. The effort would require the state Constitution to be amended—meaning it would have to pass the Senate and House, then get a public vote. Voters in Washington have consistently passed the two-thirds vote requirement via initiative, though the Supreme Court has yet to decide whether such a supermajority is Constitutional. This Constitutional amendment would solve two problems: First, it would circumvent a potential negative court ruling and second, it would enshrine the requirement in the state Constitution, meaning it wouldn’t be subject to the initiative process.
On Friday, February 8, the House Finance Committee will hold a work session on taxation of cigarettes, liquor and marijuana. Voters over the past two years have been told that privatized liquor and legalized marijuana could generated tax revenue to help cover the state’s budget gap.
This session, with a looming school funding requirement and continued budget shortfalls, lawmakers are likely hoping to hear those campaign claims are true.