After weeks of declining COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations, Governor Brad Little announced that statewide metrics justify returning to Stage 3. Idaho is now surrounded by states that have detected a more contagious variant strain of COVID-19. Health officials predict that it is only a matter of time before it is discovered in Idaho. Early indications show the COVID-19 vaccine will protect against the variant strains. One of the many challenging circumstances through the pandemic is that many agriculture commodity conventions, trade shows, annual meetings and seed and commodity schools have been cancelled, re-scheduled or held virtually. This trend doesn’t look to change in the near future.
Under Stage 3 Idaho remains open, but with necessary limitations to protect lives, healthcare access, and the economy. Social gatherings should be limited to 50 or fewer people. This does not apply to political and religious expression, educational activities, and health care related events such as COVID-19 testing or vaccination events. It does not apply to youth sporting events, as long as organizers comply with spectator plans administered by the Idaho State Board of Education. Large events, such as trade shows, weddings, and sporting venues with more than 50 people, may receive an exemption if the organizer submits proof to the local public health district confirming the event will follow necessary physical distancing and hygiene protocols as outlined in their safe operations plan.
Trespass for private landowners was discussed several legislative sessions ago and a major overhaul was done within Idaho Code to make sure that landowners’ property rights were secure. This session, legislation has been proposed to amend a section of Idaho Code that deals specifically with recreational trespass. This issue has stemmed from a case where a federal court broadened the initial scope of Idaho’s recreational trespass statute. The purpose of Idaho’s recreational trespass statute is to encourage, but not mandate, landowners to make their property available to the public without charge for recreational purposes. In return the landowner would receive limited liability if people enter upon their property to recreate. The goal of S1020 is to amend the definition of land to include water facilities, parks and campgrounds. It will also clarify that recreational activities can include the act of traveling across the land owned by another for the purpose of recreating.
PEST DEFICIENCY FUND
S1023 reimburses the Idaho State Department of Agriculture for costs accumulated during the past year to survey and control pests on state and private lands. Idaho Code authorizes the use of deficiency warrants under certain circumstances. The agencies pay the bills and return to the legislature during the next legislative session for the cash to reimburse those costs. These funds go towards the control of pest infestations such as Mormon Crickets. S1023 passed the Senate and House without any opposition. It will now go to the Governor for his consideration.
DAM BREACHING PROPOSAL
There is beginning to be quite a stir in the state and Pacific Northwest with a number of meetings, presentations and conversations starting to emerge concerning a Congressman Simpson plan to establish a $32 billion fund for salmon recovery. An official plan has yet to be released but will undoubtedly have ramifications on many different sectors of industry, landowners and millions of power company ratepayers. It is sounding like this would be a major restructuring of the Pacific Northwest and one of the most problematic priorities would include the breaching of the four Lower Snake River dams.
There is a great deal of time and effort that has been and is currently being done for salmon recovery. With more committed funding, for on the ground efforts in water quality as well as trying to scientifically understand the ocean’s cyclical and unpredictable role for fish migration, there is still much work to be done.
Unfortunately, a key portion of the proposal is removing dams which would not allow commodities and products from being transported down the river. It would also increase the costs of important inputs that make the trip back to the inland northwest from the West Coast.
There are a multitude of scientific studies, logistical impediments, environmental damages and common-sense reasons why removing the Snake River dams is not a benefit to the Pacific Northwest. The removal of those dams could alone be an environmental disaster due to the damage sediment could have down river on natural habitats. The four Lower Snake River dams have more than a 95% fish migration survival rate and the barge traffic they support eliminates millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during a period of time when the U.S. is committed to reducing greenhouse gases. No feasible power alternative is currently available except to use oil or coal at this time. Massive infrastructures would need to be built to even attempt solar or wind power to be a viable option, and it would likely still not reach any kind of efficient outcome. There is no doubt that these dams also make possible fuel-efficient, low-carbon, safe and reliable barge transportation. We will see what the full proposal entails with its expected official release in the coming days. Credit AMG Idaho
COVID/Governor Brown Press Conference:
Governor Brown held a press conference to provide a COVID-19 vaccination update. She said that it’s been nearly a year since the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Oregon. States are now receiving a more than 20% increase in vaccine allotments. Next week, Oregon will begin statewide vaccinations for those people 80 years and older. In some counties, vaccinations for seniors are already underway.
The Governor and OHA Director Pat Allen cautioned that Oregon is still managing a scarce resource and there are not enough vaccines for all groups that are eligible. Still, Allen said the state is ahead of their initial projections and is targeting early April (rather than May) to begin vaccinating the Phase 1b groups (which include a still undefined group of “frontline workers”). If there are new vaccines authorized by the federal government, this timeline could change for the better. There is a new OHA/Google online tool called “Get Vaccinated Oregon” to help connect people with vaccination appointments: covidvaccine.oregon.gov. Additionally, the “211” phone line is available for seniors with questions.
Pat Allen cautioned that next week will be very chaotic, confusing and frustrating for seniors. You can imagine the chaos of repeatedly refreshing a webpage as you’re looking for a vaccination appointment, trying to navigate through online tools or an informational phone line, etc. Pat Allen still said that the best source of information is still local county public health authorities because this process is happening at the local level.
On reopening schools, the Governor was asked whether she’s doing everything she can to get kids back in school and she defended her actions and said she’s using every tool in her toolbox, including legal ones. Shortly thereafter, legislative Republicans pushed back and continued the push to open schools.
Finally, in an unrelated topic, Governor Brown said that Rep. Diego Hernandez (who has been accused of sexual harassment by several former staffers and people who worked in the Capitol building) should “resign immediately” and that his conduct is unacceptable anywhere, including a workplace. The Legislature’s Conduct Committee will considering resolutions regarding Rep Hernandez.
Redistricting Update: The Legislature’s ability to redistrict legislative and congressional seats this year (as required by the Oregon Constitution for the year after the census) has been compromised by the delayed census data. It is unlikely the Legislature will finish their work before the end of the legislative session and they are now exploring legal options.
Federal Disconnect: An amendment to SB 137, which was heard in the Senate Finance & Revenue Committee would raise taxes on thousands of Oregon businesses by disconnecting those businesses from certain benefits of the Federal CARES Act. The disconnected elements include net operating loss carry-backs, business loss carry-forwards, and additional business interest deductions. These aspects of the CARES Act were passed on a bipartisan basis to help businesses weather a global economic storm. The business community is actively opposing these attempts that would hurt businesses recovering from COVID economic fallout.
Non-Competition Agreements: The business community had reached a neutral position with labor advocates on a non-competition agreement bill that did not make it through the 2020 Legislative Session. That bill has been reintroduced this session as SB 169, and would set a salary threshold for non-competition agreements ($100,533 for 2020). Current law, unchanged in the bill, requires payment of 50% of the employee’s salary or 50% of the salary threshold for one year. An amendment to the bill proposed by labor would change the amount an employer has to pay to 75% of the employee’s salary or 75% of the salary threshold. The business community is opposed to the amendment and will be advocating for the original compromise on this issue contained in SB 169.
Manufacturing Overtime.: SB 481 proposes to limit manufacturing employees from exceeding statutory overtime caps in the case of certain emergencies. Currently, a manufacturing employees may work above established overtime caps if the employee is engaged in “making necessary repairs or in the case of emergency where life or property is in imminent danger.” The bill would limit the time a manufacturer could use that provision to 3 weeks. It was not, and still is not, entirely clear what problem this bill is trying to solve. However, this is the same provision that BOLI used to help manufacturers remain operational during COVID. The bill was originally scheduled for a hearing, but has been removed from the agenda. We do not know if this will become an issue later this session.
The Washington State Legislature has completed its fourth week of work. Legislative committees
transitioned this week to more executive session action to vote bills out of policy committees. The first
policy cutoff is scheduled for February 15. The 15th is the last day to read in committee reports (pass bills
out of committee and read them into the record on the floor) in house of origin, except House
Appropriations, Finance and Transportation committees and Senate Ways and Means and Transportation
committees. At that time all policy bills must be out of committee and on their way to the House and
Senate Rules committees.
The first fiscal committee cutoff is just two weeks away on February 22. The 22nd is the last day to read in
committee reports (pass bills out of committee and read them into the record on the floor) from House
fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees in house of origin.
Rep. Larry Springer and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig addressed a group of business
representatives on Thursday. Billig focused his comments on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the
state. Over 770k doses of vaccine have been administered. About 45k per day. Supply of the vaccine has
become an issue.
Springer discussed the two transportation package proposals from Sen. Hobbs and Rep. Fey. Springer
believes that there is a majority of House Democrats that will vote for a transportation package this
session. Billig was pleased to hear this and agreed. Billig believes a transportation package compromise
will be reached and the final package will be somewhere in the middle of the proposals released by Hobbs
and Fey. The Senate proposal is $18 billion, and the House proposal is $27 billion, each plan funds a list of
transportation projects over 16 years.
The House held a virtual floor debate on ESHB 1368, the bill addresses financial relief for those impacted
by the pandemic. The bill appropriates $2.2 billion in federal funding from a combination of the federal
programs. The funds will provide assistance with Medicaid for K-12 public schools, public health,
healthcare, assistance to individuals and families, housing assistance, and business assistance. It passed
off the House floor with a vote of 61-36 (1 excused) and went to the Senate, where it had a public hearing
on February 2 and an executive action in Ways & Means on February 4.
SHB 1091- establishes a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) and authorizes the Washington State
Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program, which would increase the cost of gas by 57-cents
per gallon and diesel by 63-cents per gallon by 2030. This bill had a public hearing on February 4, over
2,000 people signed in on the record (1,450 opposed and 650 support) and is scheduled for an executive
session on February 8.
NWACC joined many agricultural organizations and farmers in opposition to HB 1091 during the hearing.
HB 1406- Billionaire Tax, would apply a 1% tax on state resident’s taxable intangible wealth over $1
billion. The bill would impact approximately 100 people. It would raise nearly $4.95 billion during the
2023-2025 biennium. The bill had a public hearing on February 2.
HB 1170- Establishes a state goal to double the state's manufacturing employment base, the number of
small manufacturing businesses, and the number of women and minority-owned manufacturing
businesses in 10 years. It was introduced with the intention of building economic strength through
manufacturing. It had executive action on February 3.
SB 5022- relating to the management of certain materials to support recycling and waste and litter
reduction, had a public hearing last week in the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology committee.
Executive action was taken on the bill and it was passed out of committee on Wednesday. The bill now
goes to the Senate Ways and Means committee to debate the fiscal impact. The bill had significant changes
made in the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology committee including:
• Removing the extended producer responsibility subsection in the intent section. Exempts
nonprescription drugs and dietary supplements as plastic beverage containers subject to the
minimum recycled content requirements.
• Providing the following separate minimum content requirements for dairy milk containers: 2028
through 2030, no less than 15 percent; 2031 through 2035, 25 percent; and after 2035, 50 percent.
• Allowing a manufacturer to submit national data allocated on a per-capita basis for Washington to
approximate required reporting information if the manufacturer demonstrates to Ecology that
state level data is not available or feasible to generate.
• Revising the fee calculation as a product of both of the following: the total pounds of plastic used
multiplied by the relevant minimum postconsumer recycled plastic target percentage, less the
pounds of total plastic multiplied by the percent of postconsumer recycled plastic used; multiplied
The bill will continue to be amended before it leaves the Ways and Means committee. Sponsors of the bill
feel that additional changes are necessary. A competing version of plastic recycling is being developed
among business interests, facilitated by the Washington Refuse and Recycling Association. That bill may
well end up being an alternative to SB 5022.