He said, she said

Small business owners spoke, but what was heard?

In honor of National Small Business Week which ended today, we are highlighting the laws passed in the 2006 Washington Legislative Session that are good for small and family-owned businesses. The small business arm of the Washington Policy Center took policy recommendations from more than 350 small business owners during its statewide conferences last year. Business owners said what was important to them and the following reflects what became law. Unfortunately the number one conference recommendation – the legalization of bare bones health coverage – was not passed, and so the session was considered a disappointment by many small business owners.

HB 2537. Establishes a pilot program to allow employers to assist employees in completing applications for industrial insurance benefits. Passed in the House 97-1 and the Senate 45-2.

HB 2572. Establishes the Small Employer Health Insurance Partnership program. The program will offer premium subsidies for small businesses or enrollment in a health plan offered by the state Health Care Authority. Passed initially in House 57-41. Amended in the Senate and passed 42-5. House stripped amendments and passed stripped version 56-42 and the Senate concurred with the paired-down version 25-23.

HB 2671. Would extend the due date for receipt of sales, use, Business and Occupation, and public utilities taxes from 20 days to 25 days after the month for which the tax is due. Passed in the Senate 47-0 and in the House 98-0.

E2SHB 2860. Creates a new program to guide the appropriation of Columbia River mainstem waters. Increases new water storage by building new reservoirs. Two-thirds of the water would go to farmers and cities, and one-third would go back to the river for fish. Passed the House 94-4 and the Senate 48-0.

HB 2972. Will require that premiums for health benefit plans for individuals who purchase the plan as a member of a purchasing pool will be calculated using the adjusted community rating method that spreads financial risk across the entire purchasing pool of which the individual is a member. Passed the Senate 42-5 and the House 95-0.

SB 6185. The bill expands the scope of the Family and Medical Leave Act requiring minimum amounts of unpaid leave for the care of foster children, legal wards and domestic partners. Passed the Senate 37-12 and the House 54-44.

SB 6885. Makes permanent the changes made to the unemployment insurance (UI) system in 2005. Gives small businesses a temporary tax break because the UI trust fund will be spent down to alleviate UI fees, while maintaining generous benefits. Retains benefits based on a two-quarter average system. Also allows spouses who quit their jobs to follow their spouses because of military transfers to continue to qualify for benefits. Passed the Senate 44-2 and the House 97-1.

Are these laws that affect your business? Which ones? What are you pulling for in the next session? What would have made a difference this year? We want to know. E-mail jswanson@vbjusa.com. For more information about these and other bills from the 2006 session, visit washingtonvotes.org or washingtonpolicycenter.org.