The Washington Legislature stayed in a holding pattern in early June on two bills that will affect Mid-Columbia businesses.
Behind-the-scenes negotiations continued on legislation to simplify digging for new wells and to install a paid family leave law. The talks are dragging along with the sluggish talks on resolving the state budget and education impasses.
The first bill deals with the development-related fallout of a 2016 state Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision passed the Republican-dominated Washington Senate on Feb. 28. But that bill has stalled in the House as environmental interests clash with farm and development constituencies.
The bill by Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, is designed to deal with an October 2016 Supreme Court ruling known as the “Hirst ruling.” It came from a lawsuit by the environmental organization Futurewise against Whatcom County over a complicated technical issue involving the Growth Management Act. In practical terms, the ruling means that a landowner must prove a new well won’t threaten nearby stream levels needed for fish.
“It pretty much turned water law upside down,” Warnick said.
“It’s been frustrating. There’s been a little bit of movement. It’s taking a little bit longer than it should,” she said.
She said the House Democrats have been negotiating in good faith, adding that a major point needing resolution is the mitigation measures for the fish and well diggers. She declined to elaborate on details of the talks.
Testimony favoring the bill in hearings contended the Legislature has always expected household wells to be exempt from this issue because of their insignificant impacts. And pro-bill supporters argued the Hirst ruling has brought home construction in rural areas almost to a stop.
Bill opponents argued the bill would allow developers with more-junior water rights to take precedent over people with more-senior water rights. Opponents also argued the bill would harm people relying on salmon for food, recreation and cultural uses. And opponents contended the status quo requires counties to allow house construction in only areas where water is legally available.
The two sides also disagree on the extent new household water wells actually has on river and stream flows.
The same situation exists with the closed-door talks on paid family leave.
A bill by Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, has passed the Senate and another bill by Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, has passed the House. The compromise talks have lasted several weeks with both sides voicing optimism, but declining to provide details of the negotiations. “It’s very complex. We’re negotiating in good faith on both sides,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, who introduced a clone of Robinson’s bill in the Senate, but it did not get a vote. She is part of the negotiations.
The family leave bills are prompted by 2016’s passage of Initiative 1443, which increases the state minimum wage to $13.50 and mandates sick leave for employees. The initiative passed by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.
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