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AWB Amplified: Employers urge lawmakers to pause new payroll tax and long-term care program

Washington employers continue to speak out about the challenges and confusion surrounding the state's new long-term care program, the WA Cares Fund.

Employers urged state lawmakers to hit pause on the program -- and the new tax to pay for it -- in this new AWB Amplified news report.

The tax kicked in on Jan. 1. Employees are automatically enrolled unless they opt out. State officials announced late last year they were pausing the program — but the state law remains in effect then and now.

“As a business owner, we were kind of left in the dark,” said Ryan Seal, owner of Sigillo Cellars winery. Employer voices and AWB's ongoing work on this issue appear to be making a difference.

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved House Bill 1732 on a 31-2 vote. The bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, would pause the program for 18 months.

However, as the Washington Research Council notes, this 18-month delay would somewhat help the program’s insolvency issues, but the payroll tax premiums would still need to be higher than 0.58% to keep the program afloat.

AWB’s Amy Anderson testified in support of the bill this week along with House Bill 1733, sponsored by Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, which would allow military spouses and out-of-state residents to opt out of the program. Other legislative changes are also being circulated.

Read more at AWB News. Contact Bob Battles or Amy Anderson to learn more.

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U.S. Supreme Court blocks Biden administration’s employer vaccine mandate, but keeps it for health care workers

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration lacked authority to impose a vaccine-or-test mandate on big companies. The court, however, let stand a vaccination requirement for health care workers at facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The National Retail Federation, one of the groups that challenged the OSHA action, called the court’s decision “a significant victory for employers.” K&L Gates has a detailed analysis of the court’s ruling and what it means for employers.

Dave Mastin, AWB’s vice president of government affairs, praised the ruling, saying it’s not the job of employers to enforce the government mandate regarding vaccines. “We are happy the court ruled the way it did,” Mastin said.

Many businesses have been taking a wait-and-see approach to vaccine mandates. Others have already set up vaccine requirements of their own. The high court’s ruling does not affect state or local vaccine rules, nor does it affect the U.S. government’s mandate that federal contractors’ employees be vaccinated.

The ruling upholding the mandate for health care workers means hospitals could face more staffing shortages, and workers and facilities could feel caught between opposing state and federal policies, The New York Times reports.

Contact AWB’s Amy Anderson or Bob Battles to learn more about the vaccine mandate.

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Montana senator defends Lower Snake River hydroelectric dams

During a U.S. Senate hearing last week U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., spoke about the benefits of the lower Snake River dams and consequences of breaching them.

He also had an enlightening exchange with witnesses from the Northwest Public Power Association and the National Hydropower Association.

Daines expressed his strong opposition to breaching dams on the Columbia and Snake River system and explained that these dams supply critical baseload power essential for grid reliability, flexibility, and peaking capacity. The witnesses also emphasized the non-hydropower benefits of these dams, including irrigation and agriculture.

Daines’ comments on dam breaching can be viewed starting at 54:40 of the hearing webcast here.

The senator also spoke with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo on the topic, reiterating that breaching Northwest dams that produce clean, renewable hydropower would be damaging to the economy. That conversation is available here starting at 1:49.

Contact AWB’s Peter Godlewski or Amy Anderson to learn more.

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Lobby Lunch continues with Republican leaders this Thursday, Democrats next week

Top legislators from both parties will speak with employers this week and next as AWB’s Lobby Lunch series continues.

Senate Republican Leader John Braun and House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox will speak this Thursday at noon. Next Thursday, Jan. 27, AWB will host Deputy Democratic Majority Leader Larry Springer and House Majority Leader, Pat Sullivan.

All Lobby Lunches are on Thursdays from noon-1 p.m. Virtual attendance is free to AWB members.

Register in advance for these meetings. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meetings. One registration will work for all Lobby Lunches. Contact Liv Johnson with questions.

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Series discount still available for 2022 HR & Employment Law Webinar Series

Challenges like long term care, vaccine mandates, qui tam, and a multitude of other employment law issues face Washington businesses today. AWB’s popular online HR series will provide insight into these emerging and other issues through this webinar series, which also provides affordable continuing education credits.

Sign up for the series by Feb. 2 and save $75 (for members) or $90 (for non-members) over signing up for the classes individually.

This six-month HR & Employment Law webinar series runs from Feb. 2-July 13. It covers common human resources and employment law topics, from wage and hour law to performance evaluations and how to create an employee handbook. Washington’s top law firms will give you –the employer – everything you need in your HR and employment law toolkit.

All webinars begin at 11 a.m. and will run 90 minutes, including time for questions and answers.

Topics include:

  • Pre-Hire, Hiring and Job Descriptions
  • Employee Handbook
  • Wage and Hours
  • Performance Evaluations, Disciplinary Action and Termination
  • Non-Competes, Confidentiality Agreements, Non-Solicitations and Intellectual Property Protection
  • Accident Prevention and Accident Investigation Plans

Each webinar purchased includes a wrap-up package that will include all webinar materials, video links and sample documents when applicable.

Continuing education credits are available through HRCI and SHRM, and other credits are available upon request. Inquire with AWB.

Purchase the full series NOW and save.

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 LEGISLATION OF NOTE

Tax and fiscal bills

Income tax: Senate Bill 5554, sponsored by Sen. Bob Hasegawa, would eliminate the prohibition on local net income taxes. The bill will have a hearing at 8 a.m. Thursday in the Housing & Local Government Committee.

B&O tax credit: Senate Bill 5515,  sponsored by Sen. Perry Dozier, aims to encourage economic growth by providing a state business tax credit for new employment positions in the hospitality industry. The bill will have a hearing at 8 a.m. Tuesday in the Senate Business, Financial Services & Trade Committee.

Contact Tommy Gantz, AWB government affairs director for tax and fiscal policy, to learn more.

Transportation and infrastructure legislation

Eliminating Tacoma Narrows tolls: Senate Bill 5488, sponsored by Sen. Emily Randall, D-Tacoma, had a hearing today in the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill would use general fund dollars to pay off the debt on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. AWB opposes the bill.

“The bridge is paid for,” said AWB Government Affairs Director Mike Ennis. “There is debt which the tolls are paying down. We don’t want to take general fund money that could pay for projects that aren’t paid for to pay for a project that is already paid for.”

Contact Mike Ennis, AWB government affairs director for transportation and infrastructure, to learn more.

Land use legislation

Setbacks for salmon: House Bill 1838, sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, will have a hearing at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the House Rural Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee. The bill would establish setbacks with a major effect on landowners. AWB opposes the bill.

Contact AWB’s Peter Godlewski or Mike Ennis to learn more.

Education and workforce training bills

Dual Credit Support: House Bill 1760 and Senate Bill 5719 will both expand eligibility for dual credit options, especially for low-income students. Dual credit programs, in which high school students receive college credit while working towards their high school diploma, have been critically important in preparing the next generation of workforce and providing the opportunity to pursue a post-secondary education without incurring large student debt or costs.

SB 5719 would cover up to $35 in tuition per credit for College in the High School program courses. It also removes language requiring Running Start students to pay mandatory fees to institutions of higher education. The bill had a hearing today in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee.

HB 1760 subsidizes dual credit programs such as Running Start for low-income students by establishing a set fee, $1,000, per low-income Running Start student to be sent from OSPI to the higher education institution the student is attending. The bill has a hearing scheduled at 10 a.m. Friday.

Contact Amy Anderson, AWB government affairs director for education and workforce development, to learn more.

Workplace law and human resources bills

Prevailing wage in the private sector: House Bill 1776 , sponsored by Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, had a hearing last week in the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee. The bill sets wages for journeypersons in high-hazard facilities. AWB opposes the bill, as it sets a precedent for applying prevailing wage rules to jobs in the private sector.

Ergonomics 2.0: House Bill 1837 , sponsored by Rep. Dan Bronoske, D-Lakewood, will have a hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee. AWB opposes the bill, which would restore the state’s ability to address musculoskeletal injuries. It’s a return of the type of ergonomic regulation that Washington voters banned in 2003 with the approval of Initiative 841.

UI and PFML Premium Relief: Senate Bill 5873, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, addresses unemployment insurance (UI), family leave and medical premiums. Introduced on Friday, the bill has been referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee. The bill address some of the concerns AWB has raised regarding the UI system. It will help every employer by reducing premiums in 2022. AWB supports the bill as introduced, which would:

  • Decrease UI social tax in 2022 and 2023
  • Help address employer costs for Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML)

Contact Bob Battles, AWB government affairs director for human resources and workforce issues, to learn more..

Health care bills

Licensure reciprocity: Senate Bill 5518, sponsored by Sen. Ron Muzzall, R-Whidbey Island, had a hearing today in the Health & Long Term Care Committee. AWB supports the bill, which is an occupational therapy licensure compact.

Setting prescription drug prices: Senate Bill 5532 , sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, will have a hearing at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the Health & Long Term Care Committee. The bill sets up a “prescription drug affordability board.” AWB opposes the bill, which allows a body of people appointed by the governor to set prescription drug costs.

Contact Amy Anderson, AWB government affairs director for health care, to learn more.

Environmental and energy legislation

Power adequacy study: Last week AWB testified in support of House Bill 1623, which will study the risk Washington residents face from rolling blackouts and power inadequacy events. Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, is the prime sponsor of the bipartisan bill.

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 FEDERAL ISSUES

Biden administration announces $27 billion in funding for bridges

The U.S. Department of Transportation has launched the Bridge Replacement, Rehabilitation, Preservation, Protection and Construction program, President Joe Biden announced Friday. The program provides $26.5 billion to states over five years and $825 million for tribal transportation facilities.

It’s among the first of many planned announcements of spending from last year’s bipartisan infrastructure package. Other spending announced by the administration include the distribution of roughly $56 billion to improve highways, airports and shipping ports; plans to disburse $7.4 billion to upgrade water and sewer systems; and steps to build out broadband internet, among other initiatives.

Inflation rises at highest pace in four decades

Prices in December were up 7% over the year before, the highest rate of inflation in nearly four decades. The price increases offset recent wage gains, putting pressure on the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve to address the issue.

Relief isn’t expected to come soon. Workers shortages caused by the Omicron variant and haggling over dockworker contracts are likely to increase supply chain problems over the next several months. The floating traffic jam of container ships offshore of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were at a near record of 106 vessels.

Meanwhile, a new report finds that Seattle had the nation’s largest cost of living increase over the past decade, with a 23% cost of living increase compared with an average of 12% in large metros.

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 OTHER NEWS

Gov. Inslee calls for ‘action this day’ in State of the State speech; GOP urges end to ‘divisionary politics’

As the first week of the legislative session kicked off, Gov. Jay Inslee gave a State of the State speech calling for immediate action on issues including housing, climate change, homelessness, funding transportation and a number of other priorities.

In the Republican response, Sen. Chris Gildon, R-Puyallup, proposed a significant property tax exemption, a repeal of the business and occupation tax on manufacturing, as well as a repeal of the new capital gains tax and the new payroll tax to pay for the WA Cares Fund long-term care program.

Transportation package under discussion in the Senate

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, the new chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, is pulling together a transportation package, although discussions are reportedly at an early stage.

Liias said he will not propose raising taxes on gas, The Seattle Times reports. Liias said the Legislature could produce $12-$15 billion for transportation projects with current and future state money — federal dollars, revenue from carbon pricing, and, in a new approach, a onetime tapping of the state’s operating fund. Contact AWB’s Mike Ennis to learn more about transportation and infrastructure issues.

Whatcom County Council appoints 22-year-old to fill Senate seat of late Sen. Doug Ericksen

Simon Sefzik, a 22-year-old recent college graduate and former intern in the White House and U.S. House of Representatives, has been appointed to fill the Senate seat left vacant after the death of longtime 42nd District Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale. The Lynden Tribute has a profile on Sefzik.

The Whatcom County Council, on a split vote, picked Sefzik over a former Bellingham police officer and a county council member who is also a refinery worker and farmer. The county’s Republican Party picked the three candidates.

Sefzik will fill the seat through the end of the year. The position is up for election this November. Western Washington University professor Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, has already announced she will run for the Senate seat. Shewmake defeated Sefzik’s mother, Jennifer Sefzik, in a hard-fought 2020 House race that saw $1.3 million spent by candidates and outside interest groups.

Help the AWB Institute develop a list of non-degree credentials that are valuable to employers

The AWB Institute is asking employers to help develop a list of valued non-degree credentials, validated by experts representing education, business, and labor.

This list will be used statewide to provide better consistency and more effective data collection. It will also support required data reporting while also providing information to guide program development, evaluation for equity, and improved outcomes for students.

Take the Industry Recognized Credentials survey here. Contact the AWB Institute’s Thomas Gill to learn more.

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 AWB EVENTS & RESOURCES

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Save the date: Spring Meeting, May 10-12 in Vancouver

Registration is now open for the 2022 AWB Spring Meeting, to be held May 10-12. For the first time, this annual event will be held in Vancouver.

Spring Meeting will cover many relevant issues for employers across the state, including updates on the 2022 elections, the infrastructure bill, long term care and much more. Content will also help employers stay up to date on the state policy issues that impact their company and employees.

Spring Meeting will be delivered in-person and virtually in Vancouver at the Hilton Hotel.

Learn more and register here.

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AWB awards: Nominate your company plus one you know

One of the annual highlights for AWB is the chance to showcase all that Washington employers have to offer. Our annual awards program allows us to do just that. But in order to recognize and celebrate Washington employers, we need your help! Complete our simplified, online form to nominate your own or another company today.

Our Washington Excellence Awards and Manufacturing Excellence Awards are driven by nominations (self-nominations are allowed and encouraged) and all entries are peer-reviewed by a panel of volunteer judges with expertise in the related award categories. All categories are inspired by AWB’s mission and vision with emphasis on member success in innovation and entrepreneurship, highlighting those who excel at job retention and creation across the state of Washington.

Nominations are all submitted online and the deadline is June 30.

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Find an intern or apprentice through the Washington Workforce Portal

After a successful pilot in Spokane and Tri-Cities last year, the Washington Workforce Portal is officially going statewide. The timing is right; January is the kick-off of internship and apprenticeship recruitment season.

It's easy to get started recruiting new talent to your organization through the Washington Workforce Portal.

Create an organization account today to post work-based learning opportunities and gain access to the advanced student search, which allows you to search for students by keyword, school, major, location and more. Once you find a qualified student for your opportunity, you can message them directly on our site.

Contact Thomas Gill of the AWB Institute to learn more.

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 TWEET OF THE WEEK

Tweet of the week 20220117

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 THEY SAID IT

"… taking nuclear entirely off the table at a time when decarbonizing the economy is paramount seems self-destructive." ~ Seattle Times business columnist Jon Talton in a recent piece called Giving nuclear power a second look to fight climate change.

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