Legislative Update: Winding down

The legislature is required to adjourn no later than 11:59 pm June 12. With luck, and a little self-discipline, they will go home a few days earlier. Having started the session after a one-month hiatus to allow legislators and staff to get vaccinated and see what course COVID-19 would run, lawmakers returned February 16 with an ambitious (some would say overly-optimistic) agenda—much of which has been realized.

They have enacted a massive $5.3 billion transportation package funded by fees on everything from gasoline to retail deliveries to rides from Uber and Lyft. They have adopted a public/private health care plan which pushes insurance companies to work with the state to develop a standardized plan that must be offered at a price 15% lower than existing plans within three years. They have nearly completed work on legislation to rewrite workplace discrimination laws, protect and expand rights for agricultural workers, eliminate incarceration for a variety of “low-level” offenses including drug possession and theft—in short, re-weaving the social fabric of the state. Add to that the sweeping attempts at additional climate legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings, home heating, and appliances. Facing a veto by the Governor, proponents of SB 200 who called for hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions may settle for amending some provisions onto HB 1266 (environmental justice). Those amendments will likely include new APEN fees on GHG emissions. If the remaining bills receive final approval in the next few days, the 2022 General Assembly may face a dearth of progressive goals since their major targets have been addressed.

CMA has seen its share of challenges during the past five months. Nevertheless, we were successful in retaining the ability to do pre-employment drug testing in SB 176 (workplace discrimination) and avoided (narrowly) a new state dredge and fill program. The biggest disappointment was the phase-out of credits and exemptions from coal severance tax which, after a three-year battle, was accomplished through a sweeping package of tax legislation (HB 1311 and 1312). Those two bills addressed property tax, income tax, severance tax and exemptions for insurance companies. Despite hours of debate on the House floor to stave off these changes, the bills moved to the Senate where surprisingly little opposition was raised, with bills passing on a party-line vote. The battles we faced were shared by the business community generally, as a majority of the legislature sought to increase both administrative and financial burdens on business.