January 6, 2020
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Legislature to focus on transportation, climate, technology and more

State lawmakers are prepared to address several high-profile issues in the 60-day legislation session that begins Jan. 13.

By most accounts, the state transportation budget rises to the top of the list. State Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said recently that lawmakers could cut $450 million from the transportation budget. That's because voters recently approved lower car-tab taxes. Transportation projects around the state have been put on hold while the results of the election are contested in court.

"Even though the injunction was granted, the state is putting that money into a reserve account," Billig told The Inlander. "We really can't spend that, because if we were to spend that money and then lose the case, we'd have to pay all of it back. So, the important part out of all of that is the Legislature is going to have to write a budget that assumes that 976 money is not available."

State and local governments could lose billions in transportation funding if the initiative ultimately prevails in court. This loss in funding comes as Washington's population and economy continue to grow.

In other transportation-related news, a low-carbon fuel standard is on Gov. Jay Inslee's agenda, the Capital Press reports. The proposal "effectively taxes fossil fuels and subsidizes renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel," the news outlet reports.

California adopted a low-carbon fuel standard in 2010 which increased the price of gasoline and diesel, Capital Press reports. The standard will add 46 cents per gallon to the price of gasoline there by 2030, according to state estimates.

Although the standard would not apply to farm equipment, Washington farm advocates say it would raise transportation costs for growers.

"You can't download food over the internet," said Jon DeVaney of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

Inslee highlighted the standard among other climate-related measures just before the holidays in December.

"We need action this year," Inslee said. "We’re well short in doing what's necessary to protect Washingtonians from the scourge of climate change."

AWB's Mike Ennis will give an update on the low-carbon fuel standard, among many other issues, when the AWB Transportation Committee meets this Wednesday with State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens. Contact Ennis to learn more.

Lawmakers will also debate data privacy and facial recognition technology this year, Crosscut reports.

The Port of Seattle recently halted a planned rollout of facial recognition cameras at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The port's commission has approved a moratorium on the technology until new regulations can be adopted.

Many are concerned about the accuracy of the technology, and using it for mass surveillance and harassment. Some say the technology can improve accuracy and remove bias when properly used.

Lawmakers will discuss the appropriate use of the technology by both government agencies and private businesses, Crosscut reports.

"It's bound to be one of the thornier issues on the agenda when the Legislature convenes Jan. 13," Crosscut's Melissa Santos writes. "Similar discussions about regulating facial recognition technology fell apart at the Capitol last year, as legislators and others disagreed about how to enact adequate consumer protections."

AWB's Bob Battles has been active in the discussion about privacy issues, especially how they create heavy new burdens even on small businesses. Contact Battles to learn more.

Billig, meanwhile, is confident the Legislature will adjourn on time.

"The last two years have been very busy, productive legislative sessions, really across all policy areas, including climate, education, higher education, behavioral health, voting access," he said. "In contrast, I think this session will be a true short session, with a lower volume of bills."

The 2020 AWB Legislative Day & Hill Climb is an opportunity for employers to make their voices heard on these issues and more.

Contact AWB's Vice President for Government Affairs Gary Chandler for more information about this year's session.

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Forward into Space Investment

Federal space push is an opportunity for Washington

By The Seattle Times Editorial Board

The new federal Space Force received just $40 million in the $738 billion defense budget that Congress recently approved.

That amount is as comical as the name Space Force, which sounds like something from a low-budget sci-fi movie.

But that belies serious effort and spending the federal government is now devoting to space activities. Snickering aside, this should renew Washington state efforts to be sure its universities, workers and growing cluster of space companies play substantial roles in these national investments.

As the nation increases space investment, legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee should nurture and grow space research, development and manufacturing in Washington, building on its historical leadership in aerospace and software.

Read the full editorial in The Seattle Times