*This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of The Washington Hospitality Association Magazine
By Nicole Vukonich
For the first time in a while, when the Legislature convenes on Jan. 14, 2019, the House of Representatives and the Senate will begin with stronger Democratic majorities. With 57 Democrats in the House and 28 Democrats in the Senate, the balance of power in the Legislature has shifted left. What does this mean for hospitality? To put it plainly: This shift left brings opportunities and challenges for the coming session. The hospitality industry has positioned itself well for this change with a reputation founded on being solutions-oriented and collaborative with all members of the Legislature.
This session, the Washington Hospitality Association will focus on workforce development and affordable housing. Amid one of the lowest rates of unemployment, how can we assist the industry by ensuring we have a trained and prepared talent pipeline? By working with the Washington Hospitality Association Education Foundation and by leveraging public/private partnerships we hope to continue the good will and good work established to ensure that anyone seeking a job has an opportunity within the industry. As employers, we want to make sure that there are affordable housing options are available in our communities and for those who are seeking shelter.
Additional issue areas as approved by the Government Affairs Committee include:
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Support reasonable solutions that build strong communities and help the industry thrive.
Homelessness and the need for affordable housing is an issue affecting nearly every community across the state, impacting every employment sector. The hospitality industry is proud to offer jobs at every level of employment – from first jobs to second chances within the workforce to lifelong careers. We believe in affordable housing and want to ensure flexibility in housing options. We believe that there are reasonable solutions to these issues and want to be at the table so we can help our communities thrive.
Find reasonable solutions to employee needs that allow the hospitality industry to continue to operate, serve the community, people and careers.
We care about our employees, the reasons why they joined our industry and why they continue to stay. This session we will take measures to continue to protect our workforce. We know our employees are on average younger, more mobile and more flexible compared to those employed in other industries. We will continue to advance our workforce and help prepare them for a bright future.
Ensure new environmental and sustainability requirements allow hospitality businesses to reasonably comply.
With an emphasis on the environment and reducing pollution, the hospitality industry is already familiar with finding alternatives to single-use plastics and removing plastic bags and other single-use plastics from its supply chain. This culture shift is happening quickly within the hospitality industry and is trickling down into our everyday lives. Last session the Washington Hospitality Association supported a ban on toxic chemicals in some food packaging. This session, we will continue to be on the cutting edge of environmental safety based on science and seek to maintain flexibility within the industry.
Health and Nutrition
Ensure public safety requirements are applied consistently across hospitality sector businesses, are based on science and allow for consumer choice.
This year, the state Department of Health has opened the Washington State Retail Food Code for revision. As stakeholders in this 18-month process we will continue to advocate on behalf of our members during this process. At the Legislature, we will continue to monitor any bills related to health and nutrition to ensure our members can continue to deliver the wants and needs of their customers.
Regulatory and Business Operations
Create and maintain efficiencies in the regulatory process allowing hospitality businesses to thrive.
As technology advances and as our world relies on cloud-based storage, concerns over data privacy are increasing. With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in the European Union, we anticipate similar proposals to come up at the state level. How can we best protect our customers and their data? We expect this to be a hot topic this legislative session. Additional regulatory and business topics include issues relating to alcohol regulations and anti-human trafficking regulations and education.
Rulemaking with the Agencies
Continued participation in the rulemaking processes to position the hospitality industry for success.
Currently, there are three different rulemaking processes with which the Washington Hospitality Association is involved. The first is ongoing rulemaking for the implementation of the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program. The Washington Hospitality Association continues to hold a seat on the Paid Family and Medical Leave Advisory Council as the rulemaking is implemented in phases. The second rulemaking we are closely watching is the Department of Labor & Industries policy proposals for tips/gratuities/service charges. With a second draft of the policy circulating, we are pleased the department’s policies align with the federal protections. Finally, we are heavily engaged in activating our members’ comments to the second pre-draft version of the state’s updates to the overtime rules. With more than 150 comments from our membership, this makes it one of the most commented on issues to date.
Ensure hospitality businesses are taxed fairly; find opportunities to reduce the tax obligation to stimulate economic growth.
With a $3.7 billion-dollar tax proposal in Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget, the hospitality industry will need to play defense against additional taxes to the industry. Already, the governor is proposing a capital gains tax, changes to business and occupation (B&O) taxes and a restructuring of the real estate excise tax (REET). When session begins, we will hit the ground running to fend off increased taxes on hospitality businesses. We want to defend our member’s interests so they can continue to serve their communities, support the local economy and invest in their future.
Tourism and Short-Term Rentals
Create a robust tourism marketing program that is supported by the state, ensuring that businesses who provide accommodations are held to the same standards and provide ROI.
We know that Washington is the best place to be – we just need some help convincing tourists to agree. With last year’s win of funding and the creation of the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority (of which Washington Hospitality Association President and CEO Anthony Anton was elected vice president by his fellow board members) we need to ensure that funding is not diverted away from this newly created entity. Additionally, we want to bring fairness to our lodging operators. We will accomplish this by holding short-term rental platforms to the same regulatory and safety standards as everyone else.
Workforce Development and Safety
Strengthen the workforce by finding public partnerships/support to train and develop programs for the talent pipeline.
We continue to hear that the labor shortage within the industry remains to be a top issue for our members. We’ve heard you and we are here to help. Workforce development will be one of our top priorities of the session and we will be seeking the Legislature’s support for our industry-wide hiring events. When we build a prepared workforce, we are training the owners and operators of tomorrow.