New laws affecting business in 2014

Capital building

Other legal changes highlighted by AI are either very focused, such as tweaks to how unemployment insurance works for corporate officers, or they only affect niche industries, such as one that clarifies workers compensation rules related to horse racing.

Nisle considers this year’s relative quiet to be good news for businesses, giving companies an opportunity to make plans for the future.

“Uncertainty has stifled business and stifled transactions in the past,” he said. “My view – and I’ve heard this from a lot of economists – part of what has slowed growth a lot in the past few years has been a lack of stability. Now we’re in a situation with a little more stability.”

Minimum wage, sick leave

One of the most prominent non-health-related law changes affecting businesses in Southwest Washington, and across the state, was also a familiar and predictable one: the 13-cent-per-hour hike in minimum wage, which now stands at $9.32.

Meanwhile, a new law in Portland could catch some Southwest Washington employers by surprise: That city now requires any company with an employee who works within Portland city limits for at least 240 hours a year to provide paid sick time to that worker.

The ordinance can affect Washington based businesses that allow their Portland-based employees to telecommute, and applies even to part-time and temporary workers, said Clarence M. Belnavis, an employment law attorney at Fisher & Phillips LLP.

“Washington employers need to review the nature of the work being performed by their employees to verify which individuals are covered,” Belnavis said.

Businesses that have offices in both Portland and Washington state may also want to consider updating their Washington sick leave policies in light of law change, said Bremer at Miller Nash. “You may want to make sure your policies are consistent, even though technically the law doesn’t apply here in Washington.”

Health insurance

The Affordable Care Act’s business rules kicked in on Jan. 1, but most affected business owners should have started planning for those changes months in advance.

The rules require companies with more than 50 full-time or equivalent workers to provide insurance to their workers, and to make sure those plans meet federal quality standards. But a delay in the implementation rules means that larger businesses actually have until 2015 before they face fines for failing to comply with these new rules.

Smaller companies, meanwhile, can start buying insurance for workers through the state’s WAHealthPlanFinger.org insurance exchange, and many qualify for higher tax credits. So far, however, the state exchange only offers Kaiser Permanente plans in Southwest Washington.

According to Senator Maria Cantwell’s office, nearly 92,500 Washington small businesses will be eligible for insurance-related tax credits.

More change to come?

Stability may be welcome to business owners frustrated by ever-changing laws, but local leaders say that some legal changes would be good for Southwest Washington companies.

The Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Identity Clark County and Columbia River Economic Development Council in December put together a wish list for Washington’s 2014 legislative session.

Most of the items on the wish list would support businesses without creating new rules to follow. The groups are seeking funding for road and rail projects, sewer improvements in north Clark County, and also more state support for schools and universities in the region. The groups also hope to see regulatory reform aimed at streamlining permitting.

Clark County and its cities have done a good job at streamlining the local permit process, said Bremer. “I have every reason to believe that will continue. We have positive attitudes in planning departments.”

But what about state-level permit requirements?

According to Emily Makings, a policy analyst for the Washington Research Council, a statewide effort to reform permitting and regulations is already under way, though progress has been incremental so far. The State Auditor’s Office has been leading the review of state permitting, and is encouraging the governor’s office to develop a review of effective streamlining options by the end of this calendar year.

Those slow-in-coming changes may not affect most Southwest Washington developers in any case, Bremer said. “Those efforts matter if you need a permit from the state Department of Ecology or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is still important,” she said. “But I don’t think we’ll be able to go to one place to get all the permits. You’ll still have to deal with the local building department, the local planning department – though if the state were to make its process easier, that is an improvement.” 

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