WR successes and disappointments

Mar 17, 2022
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Written by Mark Johnson, Senior Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs
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For the fifth year in a row, the Legislative Session wrapped up on time and just before midnight on the final day.

In the success column, WR was able to stop a potentially costly and damaging data privacy regulation and restriction measure, House Bill 1850. This bill would have imposed a new tax on retailers, created a new regulatory and enforcement commission, adopted a private right of action that would have led to frivolous lawsuits, banned retail loyalty programs, and required attorney general enforcement. If passed, it would have been the worst data privacy law in the country.

Another noteworthy success was stopping an all-encompassing product packaging bill which would have impacted every retailer and each of their customers in Washington State. Senate Bill 5697 would have put in place unreasonable and unobtainable benchmarks for recycling plastic packaging, stipulated a minimum amount of recycled content in all packaging sold in Washington, and imposed a new and onerous tax on all businesses that produce plastic packaging.

WR and its members are working hard to reduce all types of packaging in the products they sell in their stores, prioritize the use of environmentally friendly materials, and emphasize recycling programs that help address the issue. Rushing to implement a one-size-fits-all solution would have led to product shortages in our stores, increased costs, and resulted in supply chain nightmares. Washington State’s population makes up only 2% of the U.S. consumer market, making it unlikely for global manufacturers to create specially packaged products just for our state. An issue of this magnitude deserves federal attention for a nationwide solution.

One of the most disappointing parts of the session was the lack of understanding or caring for the plight of public safety and retail theft. Multiple bills were introduced to fix the mess created by several of the so-called police reform bills. Of all the bills introduced, only two watered-down minor tweaks to last sessions laws were adopted. SB 5919 would have allowed police to pursue a suspect with probable cause. It was put down in the Senate.

Too often, when a thief hides goods on their person and heads for the door, the chase is on, many times ending in someone getting hurt or even killed. WR supported House Bill 1656, which would have helped protect customers, store employees, and even the thieves by allowing apprehension of suspects concealing products within our stores. This bill was held up in committee by House leadership.

Another bill held up by House leadership would have helped address the fencing or selling of stolen products online. HB 1614 was written to aid police and investigators in tracking down criminals that hide in the shadows of the internet to sell their stolen goods.

Senate Bill 5781, which passed out of the Senate on a vote of 46 to 3, would have increased penalties for retail theft rings that operate in teams. WR backed this important measure. This bill was killed in the House by the committee chairman and House leadership.

Even the narrowly-targeted cannabis theft act, SB 5927, which passed the Senate unanimously, was killed by House by leadership. Cannabis robberies are escalating and becoming increasingly dangerous.

How many more people must be hurt or killed before the legislature acts? How much more product needs to be stolen before the legislature acts?

Finally, another disappointment was the legislature’s refusal to allow a sales tax holiday for Labor Day Weekend. House Bill 2018, with broad bipartisan support, passed the House, was included in their initial budget, but then was put down by the budget negotiators. The cost of the holiday was estimated at $216 million. Really? Why would the legislature prevent hard-working Washingtonians from having a few of their tax dollars back when the state’s tax receipts are billions of dollars to the plus?