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Monday, January 20

Inslee reverses course on 'hold steady' budget, calls for higher spending, minimum wage

TOP STORIES
Inslee reverses course on ‘hold steady’ budget, calls for higher spending, minimum wage

Gov. Jay Inslee did something of an about face last week during his State of the State Address. He abandoned the “hold-steady” budget he had released just last month, instead calling for $200 million in new education spending. He also proposed increasing the state’s already highest-in-the-nation minimum wage (currently $9.32) by $1.50 to $2.50 per hour. AWB President Kris Johnson responded to the governor, saying that increased economic certainty would do more to create jobs and give people greater opportunities at careers that pay beyond minimum wage. David Brooks, writing in The New York Times, also says that a focus on opportunity and mobility will lead to real solutions. In short, a legislative session that looked like a sleeper is now wide awake, The Herald writes.

Meet new lawmakers, renew ties with elected officials at AWB Legislative Summit

We’re getting lots of RSVPs from senators and representatives for the AWB Legislative Summit. Have you registered yet? This is a great opportunity to meet and talk with legislators from your district and around the state. Mingle with lawmakers and other business leaders during the informal reception Wednesday night, Feb.5. On Thursday, Feb. 6, join us for the AWB board meeting at 7:30 a.m., followed by legislative issues panels focusing on labor and workplace relations, and transportation. Commerce Department Director Brian Bonlender will also answer questions. We conclude the summit with a keynote luncheon address by Gov. Jay Inslee and the presentation of the AWB Better Workplace Awards. Register online now and reserve a room at the Red Lion Hotel. Hurry –space is limited!

First AWB Lobby Lunch of 2014 is Thursday; will feature top Inslee aides

AWB’s Lobby Lunch series kicks off this Thursday with a visit from two top members of Gov. Jay Inslee’s executive team. Chief of Staff Joby Shimomura and Ted Sturdevant, executive director of the governor’s Legislative & Policy Office, will answer questions from attendees. To RSVP, contact Connie Grande by 5 p.m. today, or download this form to register for future lunches. Looking ahead, the Jan. 30 Lobby Lunch will host House and Senate transportation leaders. Register now for that and future lunches. If you can’t attend in person, visit the AWB blog for a recap and video from each session.

Friday Phone Briefings return with insights on the 2014 session

We kicked off the 2014 Friday Phone Briefing last week with a full recap on the first week of session from AWB’s Government Affairs team and Richard Davis of the Washington Research Council. This week, we’ll tackle the ongoing debate over transportation. To join the call, register online then use that number to call in each Friday during the regular legislative session. Your registration code is good for all calls this session. Questions? Archives are online (requires member long in). Contact J-Anne Nepomuceno if you need assistance registering for the call or accessing your membership on awb.org.

Senators, governor fire back-and-forth over low carbon fuel standards

Transportation-minded legislators on both sides of the aisle are increasingly nervous by Gov. Jay Inslee’s apparent interest in enacting costly low-carbon fuel standards, the Associated Press reports. According to figures based on the consultant working for the governor’s own climate change panel, some versions of low-carbon fuel standards could increase gas prices by a dollar or more per gallon. Inslee, who signed a West Coast climate change pact last year that included a commitment to low-carbon fuel standards, fired off a letter last week saying he has no specific proposal on the table. He also promised that any future proposal would not add “significant costs at the pump,” The Seattle Times reports (tiered paywall).

PRIORITY LEGISLATION
AWB to continue pushing for workers’ comp reforms

One of AWB’s policy priorities continues to be bringing down the high cost of workers’ compensation in our state. Fortunately the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has kept this as one of it priorities in building a better business climate in Washington. SB 5127 would expand the opportunity for structured settlements, dropping the age limit from 55 down to 40 and making other fixes to cut a backlog. Of 800 applications so far, only 79 settlements have been approved. Still, even those few settlements will save the state an estimated $100 million.

Mammoth workers’ rights bill from last year split into trio of bills that would punish employers

One of last year’s most contentious business-labor debates was over HB 1440, an ambitious proposal to clamp down on the use of independent contractors, prohibit perceived retaliation against employees for exercising a variety of employee rights, and increasing punitive damages against employers in wage disputes. HB 1440 is back with new life this session, now in three bills, HB 2332 (triple punitive damages in wage disputes), HB 2333 (anti-retaliation), and HB 2334 (independent contractors). This trio of bills, along with others addressing contractor issues related to the “underground economy,” are up for hearing Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee.

Grant County businesses illustrate value of rural tax incentives

A valuable tax incentive that helped bring jobs and businesses to rural counties was limited to only a handful of high-unemployment counties in 2010. Now there is a push to rebalance that program to rural counties, whose economies have improved but that still need help diversifying their economies. HB 2204, sponsored by Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, would bring back the exemption that was initially adopted in 1985 and extended through 2009. AWB members helped explain the value and need attached to the expansion during a hearing last week before the House Finance Committee. Olympia Business Watch has the story.

Push for mandatory paid sick leave grows to include generous paid vacation rules

A bill to mandate a Seattle-style paid sick/safe days requirement statewide has been a perennial feature of the Legislature since about 2006. This year will likely be no different, with HB 1313 still in the system from last year. At the same time, HB 2238 is a new bill requiring paid vacation time (three weeks worth for employees after five years of service). That bill, by Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Queen Anne, will have a public hearing Friday at 1:30 and will likely provoke substantial opposition.

Coordinating workforce training and plan for high skills, high wages

AWB Government Affairs Director Sheri Nelson testified Thursday in favor legislation aimed at closing the skills gap. SCR 8409, request legislation from the state Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, aims to bring career development to lower grade levels and increase employer engagement with students. It’s part of the High Skills, High Wages initiative endorsed last year by labor and business alike. “Everyone supports this plan as a really viable tool for our future in Washington state,” Nelson told members of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Computer and biotech firms push for extension of important R&D tax credit

The House Committee on Technology & Economic Development heard a bill Friday to preserve one of Washington’s best tools for attracting high-tech jobs: the business and occupation tax credit for research and development. HB 1303, prime-sponsored by Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, would extend the credit until 2035. It’s due to expire next year.

KEY HEARINGS, MEETINGS
Education & Workforce Training meeting to be held Tuesday afternoon

The AWB Education & Workforce Training Committee will meet Tuesday from 3-4 p.m. at the AWB office in Olympia. Contact Connie Grande to participate in the call-in option. The committee will discuss current and proposed bills, including HB 2063 on the education investment tax credit. Contact Government Affairs Director Sheri Nelson for more information.

Regulatory Reform Committee returns, set to meet Jan. 29

AWB’s Regulatory Reform Committee is being revived this year and needs new members. If you’re interested in joining, please contact AWB’s Mike Ennis or Brandon Houskeeper. The committee will meet at 10 a.m. Jan. 29 at AWB to hear from Department of Commerce officials about the Red Tape Index, a new tool modeled after one in Europe that the state will use to identify and reduce regulatory burdens faced by the business community. The Governor’s Office has asked AWB for input on the effort. There will also be a regulatory reform session with Commerce Department Director Brian Bonlender Feb. 6 at AWB’s Legislative Summit.

OTHER NEWS
Two new members join the Legislature, with two more still to come

Orting City Councilman Graham Hunt, a Republican, got the nod Friday to replace former state Rep. Gary Alexander in the 2nd District. Hunt is a businessman who owns an insurance agency in Orting. He is also a 10-year veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Olympian reports (tiered paywall). In the 26th District, county leaders chose business technology consultant Jesse Young to replace former Rep. Jan Angel, a Republican who was elected to an open seat in the state Senate. Hunt and Young will both be on the ballot this year to defend their appointments to voters. In Snohomish County, Democrats chose Rep. Marko Liias as their sole recommendation to fill former Sen. Paull Shin’s seat. To fill the vacancy from Liias’ presumed promotion to the Senate, Democrats chose state Hispanic Affairs Commission member Lillian Ortiz-Self, retired labor union official Darrell Chapman and Edmonds School Board President Susan Phillips as the candidates for the Snohomish County Council’s final decision, The Herald reports (tiered paywall).

House approves landmark $1.1 trillion budget; Senate approval would avert shutdown

Bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate passed a $1.1 trillion, 1,582-page budget last week to pay for federal government operations through September. President Barack Obama signed the bill Friday, a day before government funding would have run out. The budget funds every agency of state government and scales back automatic “sequester” spending cuts that had hit the Pentagon and other major spending areas.

AWB members explain the ‘very, very substantial’ changes, costs and delays of global EIS

The Department of Ecology’s decision last summer to study the global effects of building a coal export facility in Bellingham is a game-changer, according to AWB members who testified before the Senate last week. Dick Settle of Foster Pepper said the unprecedented expansion of the State Environmental Policy Act will be “very, very substantial” going forward. Permits that might once have taken 18 months might now take up to a decade, he said. Read more at Olympia Business Watch.

Senate committee work session highlights water quality challenge

An exchange last week between Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, and Dave Clark, senior vice president at HDR Engineering, during a Senate committee work session neatly summarized the problem that will face employers and municipalities if Washington officials end up adopting proposed new water quality standards. McCoy suggested that a state-of-the-art treatment facility used by the Tulalip Tribes is a potential solution, but Clark pointed out that the facility, good as it is, will not be good enough to meet the new standard. More details, including TVW video, is posted at Olympia Business Watch.

State unemployment insurance will no longer cover corporate officers; March 1 deadline looms

Washington corporations will no longer pay state unemployment taxes on their corporate officers unless they specifically request coverage by March 1. Previously, eligible corporate officers were automatically covered for unemployment benefits unless the corporation asked to be exempted. The Employment Security Department has summary of the change here and more details here.

AWB EVENTS & RESOURCES
Send us your nominations for environmental excellence

AWB is now accepting nominations for its 22nd annual Environmental Excellence Awards. This is a showcase for companies successfully implementing programs that demonstrate initiative in the area of environmental protection. Award categories include: Sustainable Communities & Green Building, Green Enterprise & Technology, Resource Conservation and/or Pollution Prevention, Leading Environmental Practices and Environmental Innovator. The awards focus on actions that create a better environment, products that help environmental quality, actions to prevent or reduce environmental problems as well as conserve resources and processes; including education and business operations that improve the environment. Awards will be presented May 13 at The Davenport Hotel in Spokane, in conjunction with the AWB Spring Meeting. Download a nomination form today. For more information contact AWB’s Karlee Keith.

There’s still time to nominate great businesses for Community Service Awards

Last year’s AWB Community Service Awards featured positive stories of how employees and workplaces are making their communities stronger and more vibrant. It’s time once again to nominate businesses for this important and meaningful award. Nominate in categories such as community beautification, education, helping people in need, mobilizing people into action, recognizing volunteerism and aiding youth organizations. The Community Service Awards will be presented at a special dinner during the annual AWB Spring Meeting May 13 at The Davenport Hotel and Tower in Spokane. Nominations are due by Feb. 10. Download a nomination form here.

THEY SAID IT

“I wouldn't hire Jay Inslee as my economist.” ~ Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, after the governor claimed during his State of the State address that substantially increasing the state’s minimum wage would not “kill jobs.” A comprehensive report (PDF) by the Washington Research Council on the topic suggests otherwise.

From the President: Let’s Get Down to Business (video)

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