During the May CEO Podcast, Washington Hospitality Association President & CEO Anthony Anton welcomed Julia Gorton, the state government affairs director. 

The two talked about legislative priorities the team had for the 2023 session and updated everyone on its successes. 

“For those who have never lived through a legislative session, I always try to describe it as a roller coaster,” Anthony said. “One day, you’re just tiring them out and you think things are going great. The other day you just question your very existence because everything is going wrong. And then you hope the roller coaster ends in a good spot when it all settles down.” 

Julia said it certainly was a 105-day-long roller coaster. “I think our industry fared pretty well this session.” 

This year, the team had four priorities going into the session, based on feedback the team received from the Government Affairs Committee. If you are interested in joining the committee, please see your territory manager. 

The priorities included increasing tourism marketing funding for promoting the state and to become more competitive with our neighboring states. Another was continuing some pandemic allowances for alcohol home delivery. Julia said that her team heard loud and clear from membership that public safety is a challenge across the state. The affordable housing crisis is also starting to impact the hospitality workforce. 

She added that public safety is the issue the Legislature is coming back for in a special session starting May 16. The session is going to deal with the Blake decision that is related to drug possession. In 2021, the state Supreme Court struck down the felony drug possession laws. The Legislature passed a temporary fix to get us through a longer discussion, but the fix expires on July 1. If they don’t come to a resolution, essentially drug possession will be legal in the state. 

Our top direct industry priority this session was the tourism funding bill. 

“Our request started at $26 million per biennium,” Julia said. “We ended at $9 million a biennium, which is a step forward.” She added that the Legislature is expecting an economic slowdown, which made the industry request a challenge. 

The team also passed the alcohol home delivery bill this session. The governor signed SSB 5448 on May 4. 

The bill gave the opportunity to study and review any delivery problems during the pandemic.  

“We struggled a lot this summer with third-party delivery of alcohol,” Julia said. “Those companies were authorized to deliver on our behalf and did a pretty awful job with it.” 

As a result, third-party companies are no longer eligible to deliver alcohol under this new law. 

Restaurants will be able to do take out and can deliver their own product. 

Julia said the budget the Legislature passed included no new taxes directed at our industry. She is expecting a larger fight on this front during the next biennium once the economy takes a downturn, but they were able to avoid that this year. 

The team was also able to defeat a bill that would have reduced the legal blood alcohol content for DUI offenses from 0.08% to 0.05%.  

She anticipates this issue will most likely come back next year, so we should talk about how the industry is trained to recognize the signs of intoxication.  

“That’s how we’re able to serve alcohol responsibly,” she said. “We’re able to identify when someone may have been overserved.” At 0.05% there are no signs of intoxication and there is no acceptable training available at this level. 

Ergonomics came back this year, re-branded as musculoskeletal injuries. The team was able to come to an agreement with the prime sponsor this year to avoid a one-sized-fits-all standard.  

“Essentially, only the industries that have two times the state average are eligible for any ergonomic rulemaking,” she said. “We will not be subject to rulemaking.” 

Natural gas was also an issue that came up this year. A bill introduced at the state level would have eliminated all new natural gas hook ups in Puget Sound Energy’s service area, which is most of western Washington, by July 1. This bill was one of the issues where we received the most engagement from our members and it was defeated. 

You can find a complete wrap-up of the legislative session on our Hill Climb website.