We have just 32 days remaining in this legislative session. The next cut-off is March 29, the last day to pass bills out of policy committees, except House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees.
We are in a budget year in Washington state, and our legislature must pass a biennial budget for 2023 through 2025. Governor Inslee released a $70 billion biennial budget earlier in the year, a 12% increase over the current $63 billion budget. This is a significant increase in spending, with more than half of the difference slated to build housing. The Senate will release its budget today and the House will release theirs next week before the two chambers negotiate an agreement. WR will continue testifying in strong support of the $3 million funding of the Attorney General’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force. The task force’s next meeting will be held in Tacoma on March 29.
HB 1155 — Health Data Privacy
House Bill 1155, which relates to health data privacy, has been the most challenging bill this session. The bill seeks to protect sensitive healthcare data not currently covered by the federal HIPAA Law (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). The legislation is extremely broad as presently written and would unintentionally include many non-sensitive healthcare products and services, such as numerous over-the-counter medications, vitamins, health foods, health-related clothing, devices, and tools.
WR supports consumers having access to and control of their personal data. However, as currently drafted, this bill will be problematic for retailers to know what is and isn’t covered—leaving them exposed to unwarranted lawsuits and legal actions.
Rep. Vandana Slatter (D-48-Bellevue) is the prime sponsor of HB 1155. The bill was voted out of committee yesterday, March 22, and referred to the Rules Committee. The effective date of the legislation has been extended to March 31, 2024. The bill is waiting on a final vote by the full Senate. If passed, the bill will go to the House for a concurrence vote. The Governor has indicated he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
WR remains concerned about the legislation’s overly-broad definition of consumer health data.
SB 5352 — Law enforcement vehicle pursuits
SB 5352 addresses House Bill 1054, which raised the bar in 2021 for police pursuits from reasonable suspicion to probable cause that an individual has committed certain crimes before initiating a pursuit. SB 5352 would authorize law enforcement officers to initiate a pursuit if they reasonably suspect that an individual in the fleeing vehicle has committed or is currently committing a violent crime, sex offense, vehicular assault, domestic violence, an escape, or driving under the influence. The bill includes amendments that mandate additional training and require law enforcement officers to communicate more effectively with local authorities during chases to safeguard bystanders. It does not include retail theft. Even at its watered-down stage, it does not enjoy broad support from the majority caucuses in the House or the Senate. The bill was heard on Monday. WR testified in support of adding back property crimes so law enforcement can chase thieves that steal from our retail establishments.
SB 5187 ORC Task Force Funding – Operating Budget
WR met with the House and the Senate budget writers regarding funding for the Attorney General’s ORC Task Force in anticipation of their budget proposals. We hope they will include $3 million in funding for the task force and are testifying to that end.
SB 5171 Gender Price Discrimination
SB 5171 addresses gender price discrimination and was amended to align with similar laws in New York and California, making gender-based pricing illegal. The bill was filed by Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, following a presentation by six Kirkland high school students, claiming that studies had shown that prices for personal care products marketing to women are 13% higher on average than products for men. The bill passed out of the Senate and had a hearing before the House Consumer Protection and Business Committee on Tuesday, March 21. Rose Gundersen, WR VP of Operations & Retail Services, provided comments on behalf of WR, testifying to the fact that pricing is primarily determined by manufacturers and should be exempt from the “business” definition in the bill.
WR has significant concerns with compliance and wants retailers to be removed from the language as they should not be held responsible for manufacturers’ differential pricing.
HB 1068 Injured workers’ rights during medical exams
HB 1068 concerns injured workers during independent medical exams. In the workers’ compensation system, a claim manager representing a State Fund or self-insured employer can request for an injured employee to undergo an independent medical examination (IME). These assessments are utilized to decide if a claim should be allowed or re-opened, to resolve new medical issues, support appeals, determine case progress, and evaluate a worker’s permanent disability or work restrictions. IME examinations are performed by medical providers approved by the Department of Labor and Industries.
HB 1068 would allow an injured worker to record video of IMEs using their phone or any other recording device during an exam by one person of the worker’s choosing. WR opposes this bill because L&I anticipates it will cause scheduling delays if a provider does not consent to an audio or video recording, and even more problematic amongst mental health providers. It will also lead to costs spiraling higher, as any delays in services for injured workers will increase future disability and claim costs. The bill was voted out of the House last month, had a hearing before the Senate Committee on Labor & Commerce last week, and now awaits executive session in that committee. WR is working with the chair, Karen Keiser (D-33), and the Senate on an amendment requiring consent from a doctor and the patient and advance notice to both parties that any recorded video must be securely stored.