Things move swiftly in a short 60-day legislative session. Last week, the fourth week of the session, was noteworthy as it was policy cut-off week and essentially marked the midpoint of the session.
The cut-offs are critical moments on the legislative calendar. Any bill not out of its policy committee of origin by this week is officially pronounced dead. Though no bill is fully dead until the end of the session, bills left behind after the policy cutoff take extraordinary circumstances to revive. And for the bills concerning the forestry sector and working forests, those circumstances seem unlikely.
The Legislature is the most human of institutions, and as such, most hard decisions would be pushed off to a later date if that option exists. In recognition of this, these artificial deadlines are self-imposed to keep the process moving. The policy committee cutoff that happened this past Thursday was quickly followed by the fiscal committee cutoff this past Monday. Bills that survived will then face the house of origin, or floor vote, cutoff on February 15th. There are a new set of cutoffs once a bill is in the other chamber. This process has a funneling effect, with each cutoff making the funnel that much narrower.
The Department of Natural Resource’s priority bill, Keep Washington Evergreen (HB 1895 and SB 5633) did not survive the cutoff and is now dead. The DNR was able to form a coalition of support that included all aspects of the forest products industry, many tribes, trade unions, moderate environmental groups, and social justice groups jointly advocating for the importance of forests of all types on the landscape. There is some talk about reviving parts of the bill in a budget proviso, but it is too early to tell if that will happen and what that process may look like.
Keep Washington Evergreen wasn’t the only bill of interest to private forest landowners that met its demise at the policy committee cutoff. Other notable bills to not proceed past the cutoff are the Governor’s salmon bill, the “green amendment” to the state constitution, multiple bills that would have restructured the Fish and Wildlife Commission, and an effort to conserve 30% of the state in 30 years.
Bills that survive the policy committee cutoff are sentenced to a detour to a fiscal committee if they raise a tax or fee, create or change the use of an account, or require state resources to implement. This is another full committee stop complete with a hearing, amendments, and a vote needed before the fiscal committee cutoff. That cutoff was this Monday, leaving both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee working long days and evenings over the weekend.
Some bills of note that did not progress in the fiscal committees include the “Buy Clean” bill that would require the state to report environmental product declarations on the building materials, a bill that changes the administrative overhead rates for the timber tax program, a bill that outlines the responsibilities of pulp and paper facilities under the new cap and trade program and a pilot program for rangeland fire protection districts. However, a new bill that promotes the use of biochar and an electric utility wildland fire bill moved out of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means over the weekend.
Week Five of the session will see the attention switch from the fiscal committees to full floor action. All bills must be out of their house of origin by 5 PM Feb. 15th. There is a mounting pile of bills waiting for floor action, and they will be joined by all the bills passed out of the fiscal committees this weekend. Some of the bills already eligible for floor action include the state aerial imaging coordination bill, the spotted owl safe harbor agreement bill, and the bill to extend the current preferential tax rate on hog fuel.