Developing A Small Business Bill Of Rights

Developing A Small Business Bill Of Rights
HB 1352 would better educate small business owners of their protections during a state agency inspection. This week, the measure passed the Senate unanimously. Photo: Bob Jagendorf

A bill seeking to equip small business owners with their own bill of rights during state agency inspections has passed both chambers of the Washington State Legislature. During Senate floor executive session this week, lawmakers across both aisles spoke to the bill’s importance for making sure those employers are informed of their protections, and ensuring state agencies are brought to the same understanding.

On Wednesday, April 12, the State Senate approved HB 1352 in an unanimous vote. In February, the House passed the measure in a 96-0 vote with one member excused.

Educating Small Business Owners

While in the House, prime sponsor State Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-2) presented the bill as a way to improve clarity surrounding small business audits and inspections. He told the House State Government, Elections and Information Technology Committee, “So often business owners like myself, we’re just busy with our heads down working our business and we’re not sure what that quite means when somebody walks through that door, and to have that communication that will remove that fear.”

He added, “Our goal is that with these best practices that businesses will start to improve their situations and have the ability to communicate better and the end result is when these government agencies walk in…it’s a bit easier and clearer that it can be more successful for both parties within this process.”

Although not a single person signed in to testify on the bill while in either chamber, representatives from the Association of Washington Business, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Independent Business Association argued last month the bill’s companion, SB 5230, would better educate small business owners of their rights during a state agency audit. Proponents also testified the bill would help level the playing field by decreasing regulatory and financial burdens for those firms, and increase understanding between employers and state agencies.

State Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-17) is sponsor of SB 5230, which passed the Senate in a 46-0 vote with three members excused in February. On March 22, the Senate bill passed the House Committee on State Government, Elections and Information Technology and the measure has since remained in Rules.

Wilson: “Legislation Is A Good Bill For Small Business”

During April 12 executive session of the House bill, she told colleagues, “(HB 1352) is a good bill for small business, it does give more predictability for the businesses and making them aware of the rights they already have.”

Under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), state agencies conducting an audit must provide the employer copies of any rules or laws broken and allow one week to fix the mistake before handing out any civil penalties or fines.

HB 1352 would require the Attorney General (AG) to review the APA and related statutes to determine what rights and protections small business owners have during state agency audits or other types of site visits.

Also, the State Departments of Agriculture, Ecology, Labor and Industries, Revenue, Security Employment, and the State Fire Marshall must send the AG copies of documents detailing employer rights during those inspections.

By the end of October, the AG must then organize and report the gathered information to the state agencies, with recommendations for how to better clarify a small business owner’s rights and enhance the posting of those protections. One month later, the AG would be required to detail the findings and provide suggestions to relevant legislative committees.

First Step Toward Complete Bill Of Rights

Also in support of HB 1352 was State Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-1). “We have a patient bill of rights, we have an airline passenger bill of rights, but we don’t have a small business bill of rights. This is the first step in that process,” he told colleagues on the Senate floor.

“It’s just basically to find out what kind of rights we have for enforcement action and existing law. It doesn’t change existing law and it doesn’t give us any new rights, it’s just a small step for supporting small businesses,” he said.

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