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Association of Washington Business – Updated Weekly

TOP NEWS

Unemployment Insurance for striking workers action alert

As vote deadline nears, tell your senators to reject UI for striking workers bill

Bill still alive: AWB has launched a new Action Alert to urge senators to vote no on House Bill 1893, which is on the Senate floor and could come up for a vote at any moment. The bill would allow striking workers to receive unemployment insurance benefits, which could raise UI costs for employers and strain the system.

Nearing the final vote: The bill has already passed the House, but there's still time to stop it in the Senate. Friday is the deadline for legislators to pass bills out of opposite chambers. Thank you to the many AWB members who responded to previous Action Alerts on this proposal.

Misuse of UI fund: The bottom line is that unemployment insurance was designed to provide benefits to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own; it shouldn't be expanded to workers who voluntarily go on strike. Read more in AWB News.

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100+ employer advocates urge lawmakers to reject REET increase; new Action Alert live

Strong opposition: Last week, more than 100 employers, business organizations and economic development groups sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to reject a proposal to raise the real estate excise tax (REET). Thank you to all the AWB members who signed the letter.

  • The letter outlines how the REET rate increase would impact multifamily and commercial property sales and drive up housing costs. "The bottom line: It’s simply impossible to make something more affordable by increasing its costs through taxation," it states.

New Action Alert: House Bill 2276 has moved to the House floor for final approval and could come up for a vote any time. Tell your representatives to vote no on this bill.

Fact check: The bill's proponents say that anyone selling a house at less than $3.025 million would see a tax cut. That's not accurate. There would be no tax reduction for anyone selling a house for under $525,000, and a minimal reduction for properties that sell between $525,000 and $3.025 million (savings range from $45 to $405).

Tell your legislators to oppose HB 2276

AI one-pager

AWB releases new one-pager on artificial intelligence

Hot topic: Lawmakers are increasingly paying attention to artificial intelligence (AI). We saw three AI-related bills introduced this legislative session for the first time. In a new one-pager, AWB outlines the need for a cautious and thoughtful approach when it comes to regulating this quickly evolving technology.

  • We support putting appropriate safeguards in place rather than rushing to regulations that could stifle innovation

Legislating AI: Any proposed AI legislation should include several key elements: strong protections for the beneficial uses of AI, in particular anti-fraud and cybersecurity activities; clear definitions that align with national standards; and a review of how existing laws apply to AI.

AI task force: Senate Bill 5838 would create a task force to study the opportunities and risks of AI and make possible policy recommendations. AWB supports the idea of a task force, but has been concerned with the proposed makeup. Industry experts must have equitable representation on the committee.

  • The bill was scheduled for a committee vote today and will next move to the House floor.

Public hearings

Three citizen initiatives to receive public hearings this week

Busy week: Legislative committees will hold public hearings this week on three initiatives, including measures to roll back restrictions on police vehicle pursuits, ban state and local income taxes, and create a "bill of rights" for parents of public school students.

  • “I expect all three initiatives that are having hearings to end up passing this session," Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, told The Center Square Thursday.

Hearing schedule: The Senate Ways & Means Committee and House Finance Committee will hold joint hearings on each initiative. In-person, remote and written testimony are available.

  • Initiative 2113 (police pursuits) will receive a hearing 12:30-1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
  • Initiative 2081 (parental bill of rights) will receive a hearing 8-9 a.m. Wednesday.
  • Initiative 2111 (prohibiting income taxes) will receive a hearing 9-10 a.m. Wednesday. (AWB supports this initiative.)

Fate of other initiatives: Legislative leaders opted to send three other ballot initiatives straight to voters, rather than act on them. This November, Washingtonians will vote on whether to repeal the state's capital gains tax, eliminate the carbon market program, and allow any employee to opt out of the long-term care payroll tax.

Senate Chambers

Senate gives rare bipartisan approval to operating budget

Bipartisan vote: The state Senate voted 45-4 Friday to approve a supplemental operating budget, which adds about $1.9 billion in new spending to the $69.8 billion biennial budget adopted last spring. It's unusual to see the Legislature approve a bipartisan operating budget. Four Republicans voted against it.

Next steps: The budget vote in the House was a partisan one, passing 58-37 along party lines. The two chambers will need to negotiate and pass a single budget before the legislative session ends March 7.

AWB's position: AWB believes neither budget leaves enough in reserves. However, the Senate's plan does a better job spending less and putting more money into savings.

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 LEGISLATION OF NOTE

Environmental and energy legislation

Peter Godlewski, AWB’s lead on energy and environmental issues, is tracking a number of issues, including:

  • Linking carbon markets: Senate Bill 6058, which would facilitate linkage of Washington's carbon market with California and Quebec, was scheduled for a vote in the House Appropriations Committee this morning. AWB supports the goal of linking markets to improve price stability but has concerns with the bill. To make linkage possible, legislators need to take additional steps to increase price stability. The goal with linkage is to create a larger market of carbon credits to drive down compliance costs, reducing prices for businesses and consumers.

Workplace law and human resources issues

Government Affairs Director Bob Battles continues to monitor employment law bills, including:

  • Captive audience meetings: Senate Bill 5778 was voted out of the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee last week and is now in the Rules Committee. It may move to the House floor for a vote this week. AWB continues to oppose the bill, which aims to restrict mandatory "captive audience" meetings during labor organization campaigns. The bill purports to protect workers from having to listen to their employers' political and religious opinions. In reality, it would unconstitutionally limit employers' communications with employees. This action is also unnecessary: The National Labor Relations Act already includes strong protections for workers engaging in pro-union activities. The proposed laws are also unenforceable, as it is a federally preempted issue.

Land use and housing

AWB Government Affairs Director Morgan Irwin continues to closely watch housing bills, including:

  • Rent control: House Bill 2114, which would impose statewide rent control, has stalled in the Legislature. The Senate Ways & Means Committee refused to vote on the proposal today, with Ways & Means chair Sen. June Robertson, D-Everett, telling reporters the bill did not have enough support among committee members. AWB was part of the coalition that pushed back against the bill, which would have driven up housing costs. Landlords testified that the policy does not account for the higher costs required to maintain housing and would only decrease the number of available rentals, worsening the affordability crisis.
  • Transit-oriented development: AWB supports the idea of higher densities around transit hubs, but unfortunately House Bill 2160, a bill that aims to encourage transit-oriented development, falls short. HB 2160 is structured in such a way that it will likely deter builders from investing in these projects. The bill passed out of the Senate Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs Committee last week and had a hearing Saturday in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

Transportation

AWB Government Affairs Director Morgan Irwin is watching these and other bills:

  • A duo of transpo budgets: The transportation committees in the House and Senate have released their supplemental transportation budgets. The two chambers’ budgets have some fundamental differences. They also have some similarities: fewer projects completed, higher costs, more tolling and a delay of major projects on Highway 167, I-405 and Highway 520. King 5 News covered the story.

Health care

Health care bills that AWB’s Emily Wittman is tracking include:

  • Restrictions on hospital mergers: Senate Bill 5241 was scheduled for a vote today in the House Appropriations Committee after a public hearing on Friday. 5241. The bill, which aims to regulate changes in the health care marketplace, would have the effect of basically prohibiting any hospital merger in the state. AWB opposes this bill. It would create a situation where it will no longer be feasible for struggling hospitals to get help from an outside organization to come in and rescue them or improve operations. Entire communities could lose their hospitals or medical care providers. SB 5241 is a bill that looks backward and won’t solve the problem it’s intended to solve.

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 OTHER NEWS

Congressional race attracts six Republicans, three Democrats

Republican candidates are lining up in the race for Washington's 5th congressional district seat, vying to succeed longtime GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers who announced earlier this month she would not seek re-election.  The crowded Republican field includes Brian Dansel, John Guenther, Jacquelin Maycumber, Jonathan Bingle, Rene Holaday, and Michael Baumgartner. A host of other prominent Republicans said they are considering running.

Three Democrats – Ann Marie Danimus, Carmela Conroy and Bernadine Bank -- have also entered the race, hoping to flip the Eastern Washington seat that has been held by McMorris Rodgers since 2005.

Washington sees rebound of apple exports to India

Washington apples are flowing back into India thanks to a trade agreement reached last year. At the Port of Seattle last week, apple growers and officials celebrated the reopening of a key export market for Washington's top crop.

Washington exported $120 million of apples a year to India until 2019, when India imposed retaliatory tariffs in response to Trump Administration tariffs. India agreed to lift the tariffs last summer and also moved to open an Indian consulate in Seattle. "What we want to see is more trade opportunities, expanding markets,” said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington.

Wenatchee farm shutters due to rising costs

The owners of Red Apple Orchards in Wenatchee told lawmakers last month they are shutting down their family business due to rising labor costs and expenses, The Wenatchee World reported. “Our voices are not being heard in Olympia,” co-owner April Clayton testified at a committee hearing. “Every legislation they’ve put out that is a good intention to help farmers and farmworkers has actually ended up hurting us.”

Legislators passed a bill in 2021 to require overtime pay for farmworkers. Clayton testified in support of legislation that would allow farmers to select 12 weeks out of the year to employ workers for up to 50 hours a week before overtime applies. The bill did not make it out of committee for the second year in a row.

State Sen. Sam Hunt to retire from Legislature

State Sen. Sam Hunt-Olympia, won't seek re-election this year after 24 years in the Legislature. He has held the seat since 2017 after serving 16 years in the House. State Rep. Jessica Bateman, a Democrat who represents Olympia in the House, announced she would run for the Senate seat.

Northwest RiverPartners selects next executive director

Clark Mather has been named the new executive director of Northwest RiverPartners. Northwest RiverPartners advocates for clean hydropower, serving not-for-profit, community-owned electric utilities.

Mather joins the organization after 11 years with Tacoma Public Utilities, including the last seven as its government affairs officer. "We’re excited to welcome Clark to the organization, as he comes to us with a depth of knowledge and expertise,” said board chair Rich Wallen. “At such a critical time for hydropower in our region, Northwest RiverPartners needs to focus on promoting and protecting our hydropower assets."

Greater Seattle export accelerator seeks applicants for second cohort

Applications are now open for Greater Seattle Partners' export accelerator program, which aims to equip small- to medium-sized businesses with the tools and resources needed to access international trade opportunities and expand their global reach. The program is available to businesses in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

The program, which runs April 8 to May 31, includes comprehensive curriculum, in-person export advising, and networking events. Click here for a full schedule. Applications are due March 24.

South Puget Sound Community College moves to offer bachelor's degree in computer science

South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia is on track to begin offering a bachelor's degree program in computer science this fall. If approved by an accrediting body, the course will be the second undergraduate degree offered by the college.

“The need is so high,” Kelly Green, the college’s vice president of advancement, told The Olympian, explaining that there are not enough computer science graduates in the area to meet local demand for the high-paying jobs. The college worked with local employers to align the course requirements with in-demand skills.

Nominations sought for AWB's Board of Directors

As a member-driven association, AWB's robust Board of Directors is an important source of strength. Nominations are now open for diverse business leaders from across the state, and from employers of all sizes, to serve on the AWB Board. The nomination deadline is March 15.

Send nominee names and contact information to Bonnie Millikan.

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 AWB EVENTS & RESOURCES

Spring Training

Five seats remaining for Spring Training Weekend in Arizona

Desert getaway: In a few weeks, AWB departs for Peoria, Arizona to watch the Seattle Mariners Spring Training game against the Chicago White Sox. We have five seats remaining for this unique opportunity to watch the Mariners prepare for another great season and enjoy the sunny warm weather.

Agenda: The weekend includes a tour of the Peoria Sports Complex, networking opportunities, and remarks from Seattle Mariners leadership and the Seattle Sports Commission. It concludes with the first pitch and Mariners vs. Chicago White Sox game.

Five seats left: The event is capped at 40 attendees and spots are filling up fast. Register now.

Awards presentation

Nominations open for AWB's annual awards; new categories for diversity, workplace safety

Nominate a business: Nominations are now open for AWB's 2024 Washington Excellence Awards and Manufacturing Excellence Awards. The awards recognize achievements across a range of categories from innovation and environmental practices to supporting veterans in the workplace.

  • Winners will be announced at the Evening of Excellence awards gala in November. Check out highlights from the 2023 awards event.

New award categories: The 2024 awards include 11 categories, including eight open to all employers and three recognizing excellence in manufacturing. We've added two new awards, including:

  • Diversity Award: Honors a Washington state business prioritizing diversity through minority business leadership, employee recruitment, retention, and/or community engagement.
  • Workplace Safety Award: Honors an exceptional business for unwavering commitment to safety, seen through effective protocols, employee training, and proactive hazard prevention.

Employers are also encouraged to submit self-nominations. See a description of all the award categories here.

Get on the bus tour: AWB will feature the Manufacturing Excellence Award finalists on the 2024 Manufacturing Week Bus Tour. Nominating your own business (or a business you know) is one of the best ways to get featured on the tour. Click here for the nomination form.

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Registration and early bird pricing now open for AWB's 2024 Spring Meeting

Learn and engage: AWB's annual Spring Meeting returns to Vancouver on May 8. Join us to learn about legislation relevant to employers, look ahead to the critical fall elections, and network with fellow business leaders in this growing waterfront city.

What to expect: The meeting, open to all employers and professionals, is a unique opportunity to:

  • Hear timely, relevant keynote addresses on the state of politics and the economy
  • Find out what the recently concluded legislative session means for your business
  • Build a strong professional network

Best price: Register now before ticket prices increase on April 1. Pre-sale tickets for AWB members are available for $369.

Stayed tuned: We'll be announcing keynote speakers and panelists in future editions of Fast Facts.

Sponsorship opportunities: Contact Carly Michael to become a sponsor and enjoy complimentary ticket(s).

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Learn the latest on employee handbooks in March 6 webinar

Important updates: AWB's HR & Employment Law webinar series continues March 6 with a session on employee handbooks. This session explores the essential elements of an employee handbook, how new regulations might impact your handbook, and how to navigate potential pitfalls.

Register for the on-demand combo: Register for the March 6 webinar or sign up for on-demand access to the full series.

  • The on-demand package includes all six webinar recordings, instructor slides, and a wrap-up package that will include all webinar materials, extra information, and sample documents.

Full series: All webinars will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesdays February through July, and include:

  • March 6: Future-Proofing Your Employee Handbook in Changing Times
  • April 3: Wage and Hours
  • May 1: Navigating Performance Management: Best Practices in Evaluation, Discipline, and Termination
  • June 5: Ensuring Workplace Safety: Navigating Accident Prevention & Investigation Plans
  • July 10: Safeguarding Your Business: Navigating Non-Competes, Confidentiality Agreements, Non-Solicitations, and Intellectual Property Protection

Learn more and register here.

2024 01 08 Healthchoice

AWB HealthChoice now available to companies in Clark County

New health benefit option: Clark County businesses and their employees and families now have access to high-quality, affordable health benefits through AWB HealthChoice. LifeWise Health Plan of Washington has teamed up with HealthChoice to provide coverage to Clark County companies.

Statewide coverage: Up until now, AWB HealthChoice plans were not available in Clark County. But now, coverage is truly statewide with LifeWise Health Plan of Washington.

Who can participate: Plans are available for companies with two or more employees in the following industries: manufacturing, agriculture, communications, construction, hospitality, professional services, transportation, technology and retail/wholesale. Coverage is available for a March 1, 2024 effective date.

Get your free quote: For more information and a quote, please contact your insurance producer or Helen Siggins at ProPoint: helens@propointservices.com.

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 POST OF THE WEEK

Post of the week

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 THEY SAID IT

"I think about it as the next internet. Nobody quite knows what we want to do with it, but we all know it’s going to explode." ~ Rathi Murthy, Expedia Group CTO, speaking about the rapid growth of generative AI at a tech leadership event hosted by the Harvard Business School Club of Seattle.
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