Rep. Sells’ Newsletter: Higher-Ed Investments, Rail Safety and Committee Bills Passed

Honoring our Promise to Washington Students

There will be more than 750,000 job openings in Washington in the next few years, and there aren’t enough qualified applicants in the state to fill those jobs.

Last year we passed the Workforce Education Investment Act to grant free tuition or financial aid to people who would otherwise not be able to get a higher education. It has been very successful, in fact, the demand for going to school or going back to school has increased.


On February 10, the governor signed a bill to simplify and improve the way we collect the funding for these programs and making it easier for businesses to comply.

People want to get the education they need to land good-paying jobs and we offered them a solution, a promise. With this year’s bill, we can continue honoring that promise.

Improving Rail Safety

On December 18, 2017, a train derailed near DuPont, resulting in three deaths and multiple injuries. It was a tragedy that could have been avoided.

Amtrak derailment

This session I am supporting two measures to improve rail safety:

House Bill 2287 was sent to the Senate on a 92-4 House vote on February 12. This legislation will result in best practices in rail safety governance to be provided to the Legislature’s transportation committees. Those practices could include some of the findings from the National Transportation Safety Board, which found there was an absence of clearly defined roles and responsibilities. When it comes to the complexity of rail safety between state, local, and federal agencies, we all need to be on the same page.

House Bill 1841, which passed the House on a 65-30 vote back in January, makes public safety a priority by establishing minimum crew size requirements for freight and passenger trains, as well as trains carrying hazardous materials, to effectively respond to emergencies.

Earlier this week, the Everett Herald ran an opinion piece Sen. Derek Stanford and I co-authored on the rail safety issue.

Committee Bills Update

This morning we began hearing the bills we received from the Senate after the week-long marathon sessions we spent voting on House bills. It’s a good opportunity to give you a brief update on some of the bills passed in the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee that are now in the Senate:

HB 1841 (65-30 vote)

As you read in the previous section, this bill makes public safety a priority by putting well-trained people on freight and passenger trains to better respond to emergencies.

HB 2266 (97-0 vote)

Breast milk is food that should not be prepared in a bathroom. This measure eliminates barriers for working mothers to breastfeed or express milk in a private, clean space that is free from intrusion. Last year’s bill added expressing milk to laws requiring reasonable accommodations. This bill de-links the requirement to provide written certification from a health care provider.

job title

HB 2308 (60-38 vote)

This measure requires employers to include occupational data or job titles of their employees in the quarterly tax reports to the Employment Security Department. Gathering accurate occupational data will enable the state to evaluate the effectiveness of our training programs. This information will help students choose their education paths toward good-paying jobs.

HB 2409 (52-44 vote)

This legislation modernizes industrial insurance employer penalties, which is long overdue, as they have not been updated since 1985. This will level the playing field between workers and employers to make sure the intent of the original compromise of the workers’ compensation system is honored.

HB 2474 (96-0 vote)

I sponsored this bill as a matter of fairness. Currently, workers who earn commissions, such as sales representatives, and are later terminated or move on to another job, are not guaranteed the payment of those commissions as part of their final wages, even though they earned them.  This is an injustice. My bill bars employers from refusing to pay former workers their duly earned sales commission prior to termination. It also clarifies that the failure to pay an earned sales commission is a wage payment violation.

HB 2511 (59-39 vote)

To ensure workplace safety, this bill, known as the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, will enable domestic workers like nannies, cooks, gardeners, housekeepers and housecleaners, who are vulnerable and often working alone and in private residences, to access workplace protections against harassment and discrimination.

HB 2613 (96-0 vote)

This is another one of my bills and it is also about fairness, but this time for the employer. It allows for employer relief of unemployment insurance benefit charges for claimants unable to satisfy a job prerequisite. It’s a small but important change in the law that will help companies, especially small businesses by providing them with appropriate relief, while still allowing employees access to benefits.  This could prevent situations where an employee lied on their application about pending charges and was eventually discharged, as required by law, but the employer was penalized through its experience rating.

Paid Fam Med leave

HB 2614 (60-37 vote)

In 2017 we passed the Paid Family and Medical Leave program to provide partial wage replacement to employees on leave for specified family and medical reasons. This bill exempts “casual labor” from the definition of covered employments, refines other definitions, lays out penalty process steps, and makes technical fixes to the program. These changes will ensure that the intent of the original Paid Family and Medical Leave bill is intact.

HB 2758 (97-0 vote)

Emergency dispatch personnel witness physical and mental trauma on the job. They are, in fact, the first first-responders in the event of an emergency, even if it’s over the phone. Firefighters and law enforcement officers may make occupational disease claims stemming from PTSD developed due to on-the-job stress. But 911 dispatchers, who regularly communicate with people in traumatic and life-threatening situations, and are therefore exposed to major psychological stress, are not guaranteed the same or a similar remedy. This bill fixes that by allowing them to file PTSD claims, provided they undergo a psychological examination.

Thank you for reading my newsletter.  If you need more information on any of the issues discussed here, or on any other legislative matter, please don’t hesitate to contact my office.


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