Newsletter — February 1, 2024








What we are tracking — WR Legislative Hot List

Artificial Intelligence Bills (SB 5838)/(HB 1934), (HB 1951)

  • Progress: Senate version heard, waiting for a vote; House hearing imminent. 
  • WR’s Stance: More information is needed before the state begins regulating. Supports retail inclusion in a task force, seeks timeline extension; high-priority concerns. Believes a national solution would be preferable.
  • Status: SB 5838 had hearing 1/30/2024; HB 1934 had executive session 1/31/2024; HB 1951 had hearing on 1/19/2024

Washington Recycling and Packaging (WRAP) Act (HB 2049)/(SB 6005)

  • Focus: Defines ‘producer’ to put manufacturers at the top of the responsibility chart and retailers at a lower position, preventing them from paying for packaging and recycling for every item on their shelves.
  • Status: In committee waiting for a vote. Facing opposition from many stakeholders, WR expressed concerns that the program is too broad and uncertain to adopt in a short 60-day Session.
  • HB 2049 hearing scheduled for 2/1/2024 and executive session 2/3/2024; SB 6005 had hearing 1/23/2024.

Beverage Container Recycling (HB 2144)

  • Features: Similar to Oregon’s long-time program, optional retailer take-back, and mandatory redemption kiosks in larger stores.
  • Concerns: WR worries about kiosk requirement, Department of Ecology biased oversight, and rural infrastructure challenges.
  • Status: Executive action taken 1/18/2024; scheduled for hearing 2/1/2024

Organic Food Management (SB 6180)/(HB 2301)

  • Objective: Reduce methane production through statewide food waste mandates.
  • Position: Support intent with concerns for mandates’ feasibility.
  • Status: Both SB 6180 and HB 2301 Hearing on 1/23/2024; Executive action taken on 1/30/2024.

Unemployment Insurance (UI) for Striking Workers (SB 5777/HB 1893)

  • Removes UI disqualification based on a lockout of employees in a multi-employer bargaining unit
  • WR is opposed to these bills
  • Status: SB 5777 passed out of Rules 1/17/2024 with second reading 1/24/2024; HB 1893 Executive session on 1/24/2024 and referred to Appropriations 1/30/2024

Retail Workforce Workgroup (SB 6296)

  • Objective: Establish a workgroup to standardize retail credentials and degrees as recommended in a 2023 report.
  • Position: Strong support, aligns with workforce initiative.
  • Status: Hearing on 1/26/2024 and executive session 1/31/2024; referred to Ways & Means


Gift Certificates as Unclaimed Property (HB 2095/SB 5988)

  • Proposal: Unused gift card balances remitted to State after three years.
  • Concerns: Privacy issues, operational challenges; WR actively opposing.
  • Status: HB 2095 and SB 5988 hearings on 1/16/2024

Consumer Protection on Gift Certificates (HB 2094/SB 5987)

  • Changes: Increase ‘cash-back’ limit, assign cash value to loyalty rewards, payment flexibility.
  • WR’s Involvement: Actively engaged, sharing concerns in coalition.
  • Status: SB 5987 hearing on 1/16/2024; executive session on 1/30/2024 but no action was taken. HB 2094 hearing on 1/16/2024.

Incentives for Return to Work (HB 2127/SB 5368)             

  • Changes: Increases maximum employer reimbursements for Stay-at-Work programs; offers employers with 100 or fewer employees to offer offsite light-duty work with non-profits
  • WR supports these bills
  • Status: HB 2127 referred to rules 2 for review; SB 5368 awaiting 2nd reading by rules committee

Concerning penalties related to eluding police vehicles and resisting arrest

(SB 6200/HB 2930)             

  • Proposal: Allows for the seizure of vehicles used when eluding police; places criminal on electronic monitoring, and mandatory community service
  • WR supports these bills
  • Status: Executive action taken and 1st substitute bill passed

First session cut-off passes

January 31 marked the first Legislative Session Cut-Off. All bills had to be voted out of their policy committee of origin in order to receive further consideration. Of the several thousands of bills introduced, many will go by the wayside. The cut-off dates are designed to narrow the number of proposals and keep the process moving forward. 

Many bills that either bring in money or expend money will end up in a fiscal committee – either Appropriations or Finance in the House or Ways and Means in the Senate. These committees have until February 5 to hold a hearing and vote on bills they would like to move forward. 

The next major hurdle is the House of Origin Cut-Off on February 13. All House bills have to be voted over to the Senate, and all Senate bills have to be voted over to the House, where the hearing process starts all over again. 

The last day of Session is scheduled for March 7 – known in Latin as “Sine-Die.” 

Now for the disclaimer. No bill is totally dead until the legislature adjourns and goes home. Many bills are considered “necessary to implement the budget.” This means they are immune from all cut-offs and can be considered until the end of session. Additionally, any bill that fails to make a cut-off can be revived through a number of parliamentary procedures. This is rare and done only on exceptional basis – like to usurp the power of a chair of a committee that refuses to move a bill that a majority of the assembly wants. 

WR is working diligently to keep several bad bills from advancing and to move along several good bills.

Washington certifies opt-out option initiative for long-term care tax

The Washington Secretary of State’s Office recently certified a pivotal initiative, I-2124, which introduces an option for workers to opt out of the state’s long-term care tax. This is the sixth and final initiative by “Let’s Go Washington” to be slated for the November ballot, bypassing the need for legislative intervention.

Originally, Washington legislators had enacted a groundbreaking tax on workers to support the Washington Cares Fund, a long-term care program funded by a 0.58% payroll tax on employee wages. This law, which took effect in July, initially allowed individuals to opt out of the policy before December 1, 2022. However, I-2124 extends this provision, offering workers the flexibility to opt-out at any time.

Brian Heywood, the founder of Let’s Go Washington, criticized the existing tax in a news release, labeling it as a “cynical government money grab” that ostensibly offers a legitimate insurance product but is marred by mandatory participation and payout flaws. He argues that these flaws benefit union bosses at the expense of vulnerable elderly patients and contrasts this with how a similar scheme by a private company would likely face legal challenges.

Heywood further explains that the initiative doesn’t strip away the right to participate in the program for those who wish to remain; instead, it empowers individuals forced into a system they believe won’t benefit them with the option to opt-out.

Opposition to I-2124 comes from groups like We Care for WA Cares, which contends that the initiative could effectively dismantle the long-term care program by repealing the tax. They highlight the program’s significance, especially for the estimated 860,000 unpaid family caregivers in Washington, who are predominantly women or people of color, noting that WA Cares offers the possibility of compensating a family member for caregiving services.

This initiative represents a critical juncture in Washington’s approach to long-term care, balancing between providing a sustainable care program and offering individual financial autonomy.

Legislature works to put safeguards on AI technology

Senator Derek Stanford (D-1) introduced SB 6299 to protect employee rights concerning artificial intelligence, which underwent a public hearing on January 29.

WR recognizes Senator Stanford’s intent to establish employee safeguards in the artificial intelligence (AI) era. However, the concise two-page bill attempts to address multiple issues with broad language, potentially leading to negative unintended consequences.

In response, several business associations, including WR, AWB, and the WHA, testified against the bill’s broad nature. Concerns were raised regarding the prohibition on employers using replicas of an employee’s likeness. While the goal is clear – protecting employee likenesses – the current language may inadvertently impede employers from ensuring a secure workplace. This broad interpretation might restrict the use of photographs or videos for essential tasks, such as personnel identification and store management, during non-standard hours.

The legislation also seeks to address AI’s use of employment evaluation tools but lacks clear definitions. The absence of precise distinctions may categorize various AI-based tools as employee evaluation tools, irrespective of their intended purpose.

Additionally, WR is concerned about the bill’s attempt to define “artificial intelligence” and “generative artificial intelligence” without a thorough scoping of the definitions. This lack of clarity could lead to confusion and disputes regarding their application in this legislation and potential future AI-related laws.

While acknowledging the bill’s attempt to address critical issues, WR stresses the need for comprehensive input and careful consideration due to the intricate nature of these matters. In line with this, WR and the broader business community support the establishment of a robust AI task force. This task force, comprising members from the public and private sectors across various industries and special interest groups, aims to facilitate the development of AI legislation, addressing concerns and ensuring a balanced outcome.

Watch Crystal Leatherman’s video update on current AI bills

To stay up to date on AI legislation and participate in the WR AI Workgroup, email Crystal

SB 6296 will create a win-win for retail workers and employers

WR testified last Friday in support of SB 6296 before the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. The bill sponsored by Senator Boehnke was drafted in response to two of the action items identified in the Washington Retail Workforce Report published in December 2023.

The bill requires the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) to establish a retail workgroup consisting of relevant stakeholders to identify education opportunities and programs in support of the retail sector and to recommend up to four colleges for pilot programs for short-term credentials to in support of the retail workforce by October 2025.

SBCTC and Ryan Reygers, a 13-year instructor for the Retail Management Certificate program at Clover Park Technical College, testified in support of the bill. Reygers testified to policymakers explaining that retail jobs are not just cashier and stocker positions. Retail jobs include financial forecasting, site selectors, logistics and numerous other jobs that market products. He also provided data showing strong correlation between the completion of short-term certificate programs and job promotions, many leading to higher education opportunities.

WR is pleased to support two bills in the 2024 session that promote its Retail Workforce Initiative; to make retail jobs visible and desirable. We have urged committee members to move SB 5958, which establishes a grant program for low-income students pursuing retail-related micro-credentials, and SB 6296 out of the committee this week.

Organic food management legislation gets mixed reactions

HB 2301 and HB 6180 propose seven major programs to improve food waste management. WR and many who testified at the Senate and House Environment & Energy Committee hearings supported the bills’ intent—with various concerns. The following is a summary of WR’s comments and a subsequent substitute bill published in response:

Many larger grocers currently use third parties to process edible foods for food banks, convert the rest through anaerobic digestion to biogas, and then provide digestate for agricultural purposes. WR asked for policies to ensure that food management ordinances enacted by local municipalities will not limit access to alternative mechanisms for businesses of any size.

  • In response, sec. 301 (e) in SHB 2301 requires Ecology to adopt standards under which local jurisdictions may exempt entities from the local sour-separated organic solid waste collection services.

Section 4 includes two mandates with feasibility concerns:

Establishing a Washington food date labeling standard effective January 1, 2026. This may cause consumer confusion because the Federal Food and Drug Administration plans to issue new rules with the same effective date.

  • In response, the food date labeling requirement section was eliminated altogether.

Requiring all produce stickers to be compostable by January 1, 2028. Many testified about the availability and quality of technology. For grocers and consumers, compromising the adhesiveness of produce stickers will cause a logistical inconvenience.

  • In response, sec. 401 now requires Ecology and the Department of Agriculture to produce a summary report on the status of produce sticker technologies and options by September 1, 2025.

However, this proposal’s viability may hinge on whether $25 million in proposed new grant programs is available through the Department of Ecology. Currently, the funding is not included in the Governor’s budget. Both bills were moved out of the House and Senate’s committees this week.

Red Sea turmoil amplifies global supply chain risks

The Red Sea region’s escalating turmoil is exacerbating global supply chain challenges and potentially creating new bottlenecks in an already overburdened system. This development is especially alarming for the global economy, which is struggling with increasing instability. Recent actions by the U.S. and U.K., involving targeted strikes in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, emphasize the growing geopolitical tensions and their direct impact on international trade routes.

These tensions have led to a significant rise in oil prices and have disrupted shipping operations for numerous companies, including Tesla, which had to halt production in Germany due to supply chain issues. The situation raises the potential of prolonged goods shortages, which could reignite inflation and spur discussions about moving production closer to U.S. and European consumer markets. The disruptions are exacerbating price increases, adding to the economic strain initially caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The concept of “nearshoring” — moving production closer to home — has gained traction since the supply chain crisis of 2021-22, driven by the pandemic and geopolitical conflicts. Mexico has emerged as a key player in this shift, overtaking China as the U.S.’s largest trading partner, thanks to its proximity, free trade agreement with the U.S., and competitive labor costs.

However, the transition to nearshoring is swarming with challenges. Despite efforts to diversify supply chains and make logistics more resilient, replacing one production hub with another, especially in distant locations, is not straightforward. Mexico’s success in nearshoring is partly due to its established role in supplying key imports to the U.S., such as automobiles and electronics. Yet, potential risks to Mexico’s free trade relationship with the U.S. could hinder the nearshoring process.

The bottom line: While relocating production closer to consumer markets is a prudent move to diminish geopolitical risks, it presents its own set of challenges. The ongoing turmoil abroad highlights the immediate risks to inflation and the supply chain, emphasizing the complexities of navigating global economic interdependencies.

Valentine’s Day spending to reach new record

Valentine’s Day spending is expected to reach a new record of $14.2 billion this year, with people spending more on their significant others than ever before. Retailers are preparing to cater to consumers’ diverse and sophisticated tastes, with a blend of traditional and luxury gifts such as candy, greeting cards, flowers, jewelry, clothing, and exclusive evenings out. This shift reflects the deepening of personal relationships and highlights the consumer’s desire to create unforgettable experiences.

The average spending per individual is on an upward trajectory, further emphasizing the holiday’s growing significance in the cultural and commercial calendar. Interestingly, the celebration of love is not confined to romantic relationships alone. The trend of commemorating various forms of companionship, including pets, friends, and colleagues, continues to enrich the holiday’s scope. However, this year witnesses a subtle yet significant reorientation towards prioritizing significant others, signaling a return to the holiday’s romantic roots.

The digital domain remains the preferred shopping arena, with a notable increase in consumers opting for online purchases. This shift not only reflects the convenience and breadth of choices available online but also mirrors the broader trend of online shopping.

Council President Sara Nelson lays out her vision

In an uncommonly bold approach to Council leadership, newly-elected President Sara Nelson set forth her goals and vision in an OpEd in The Seattle Times.

President Nelson has gone from being in a one or two-vote minority over her first two years on the Council to its leader. This transformation was driven by her success in electing five new Councilmembers in last year’s election – and the selection of Tanya Woo to fill the citywide position vacated by CM Teresa Mosqueda so that she could take her seat on the King County Council.

Council President Nelson vowed that the new Council “won’t externalize our policymaking authority.” With her authority to refer legislation to committees, Nelson said that no referrals would happen until the legislation “has gone through a robust stakeholder process.”

Nelson also made it clear that the Council will respond to public demands for “faster progress on homelessness and public safety.” She vowed stronger oversight of service providers.

She was equally unwavering in her commitment to “break our reliance on new revenue (taxes) to pay our bills. . . . The real problem is spending.” Facing a $220 million annual general fund deficit, CP Nelson expressed confidence that her “incredibly accomplished” colleagues will be capable of dealing with “some very difficult choices” to bring the budget into balance.

Washington State Legislature focuses on enhancing worker and public safety

Mark Johnson, Sr. VP of Policy & Government Affairs, recently highlighted the legislative efforts aimed at bolstering worker and public safety in Washington state. With the state legislature prioritizing safety, numerous bills are in the pipeline to address these concerns, particularly focusing on mitigating retail theft and organized crime.

A key piece of legislation under consideration is House Bill 2390, which proposes stricter penalties for retail theft, including the authority for law enforcement to confiscate vehicles involved in such crimes. This bill, having been discussed this week, is now set for a vote in the House committee, signaling a significant step towards its enactment.

Additionally, Initiative 2113 is gaining traction, driven by over 400,000 supporters. This initiative seeks to empower law enforcement officers with the ability to pursue retail thieves under specific, regulated conditions, a practice currently restricted in Washington. The initiative underscores the necessity for a more proactive approach in combating retail theft.

WR is advocating for these legislative measures. The association believes that the successful passage of House Bill 2390 and Initiative 2113 will not only secure a safer working environment for retail employees, but also ensure a more secure community for the public at large. The call to action is clear: it’s time for the legislature to advance these critical bills to safeguard Washington’s workers and residents.

Watch Mark’s recent report

Washington State leads in retail theft, impacting small businesses nationwide

Organized retail crime has escalated into a significant challenge for retailers across the United States, compelling major stores to shut down outlets due to theft-related losses and safety concerns. The National Retail Federation highlighted an increase in the prioritization of organized retail crime among American retailers, with a notable rise from 70.7% in 2022 to 78.1% in 2023. Additionally, an alarming 88% of retailers reported a surge in the aggressiveness and violence of shoplifters over the past year.

Forbes Advisor conducted an in-depth analysis of retail theft statistics to identify the states most affected by this issue and surveyed American small business owners to gauge the impact on their operations. The findings revealed that 90% of small business retailers have encountered theft, with 83% acknowledging it as a significant concern. Washington state emerged as the most affected by retail crime, while Wyoming was the least impacted. Pennsylvania stood out for having the highest average total value of stolen goods per capita, amounting to $430.

The survey also uncovered that 85% of small business retailers experience theft annually, with a majority reporting an increase or consistent frequency of theft in 2023 compared to previous years. Losses from theft predominantly ranged between $500 and $2,500 monthly for most retailers, prompting many to adopt measures such as price increases and the installation of security cameras to mitigate the impact.

The repercussions of theft extend beyond immediate financial losses, affecting small businesses’ overall operation and sustainability. Most small business owners resort to filing theft claims with insurance and reporting incidents to authorities despite the challenges and reluctance associated with these processes. Adopting anti-theft measures is widespread among small business retailers, reflecting the urgent need to address this growing concern.

In summary, organized retail crime is exerting considerable pressure on retailers nationwide, with Washington state experiencing the highest incidents of theft. The impact on small businesses is profound, leading to significant financial losses and necessitating various strategies to combat this pervasive issue.

Benton County Sheriff’s Office considers AI tool for identifying suspects

The Benton County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state is at the forefront of adopting advanced technology to enhance law enforcement capabilities. They are considering implementing Clearview AI’s technology, a sophisticated artificial intelligence system designed to identify individuals in photographs and videos. This initiative, if approved, would mark the first use of such technology by a law enforcement agency in the state.

Clearview AI’s system compares images from criminal cases to a vast database of over 40 billion photos from social media and other public domains. This comparison process aims to assist detectives in identifying potential suspects more efficiently, potentially saving hundreds of investigative hours. The proposed $7,500 annual subscription to Clearview AI’s service is seen as a valuable addition to the existing toolkit used by law enforcement officers.

Sheriff Tom Croskrey emphasized that this technology would serve as an auxiliary tool, supplementing traditional investigative methods rather than replacing them. The technology’s primary function is to aid in the initial identification process, which is currently performed through manual searches on social media and other platforms.

However, the proposal has sparked a debate about privacy and civil liberties. Critics, including several U.S. lawmakers, have raised concerns about the potential misuse of facial recognition technology. They argue that such tools could infringe on individuals’ privacy rights and deter public participation in democratic activities like protests and rallies. Concerns have also been raised about the accuracy of facial recognition technology, particularly its reliability in identifying individuals of diverse racial backgrounds.

The Benton County Sheriff’s Office is undergoing a state-mandated accountability process in response to these concerns. This includes hosting a public meeting to discuss the technology’s use and drafting an accountability report outlining the software’s intended use, decision-making protocols, and measures to minimize the collection of extraneous information.

The public’s response to this proposal will be crucial in determining the future use of AI in law enforcement within Benton County. The upcoming public meeting and the subsequent 90-day comment period will offer a platform for community members to voice their opinions and concerns, ultimately influencing the commissioners’ decision to adopt this technology.

A retail giant’s tech evolution and innovation

Walmart, a name synonymous with retail, is also becoming a formidable force in the technology sector, operating as a conglomerate of multiple tech companies. Walmart executive Anshu Bhardwaj shared this insight on the Retail Gets Real podcast, revealing the company’s extensive tech portfolio. Walmart’s tech ecosystem is vast, encompassing 17 different entities specializing in areas ranging from cybersecurity and advertising to customer data, real estate, computer vision, and financial services. This diversity was highlighted during a live podcast recording at Retail’s Big Show.

Bhardwaj, who has been with Walmart for 14 years, played a key role in the company’s strategic acquisitions from 2010 to 2014, aimed at integrating innovative products and ideas to transform Walmart’s engineering capabilities. A notable acquisition was Kosmix in 2011, which was rebranded as Walmart Labs and became a cornerstone for future technological advancements.

Central to Walmart’s tech endeavors is a customer-centric approach, with Bhardwaj emphasizing the importance of leveraging technology to enhance the shopping experience. She encourages her teams to merge retail expertise with technological innovation to address customers’ changing needs. A prime example of this synergy is the success of Sam’s Club Scan and Go technology, which was launched nationwide in September 2016. This innovative solution, which combines computer vision, in-app payments, and machine learning, was realized when a product manager identified its potential to improve customer experience by eliminating checkout lines.

Walmart’s commitment to innovation, strategic acquisitions, and a focus on customer service solidify its status not only as a retail leader but also as a dynamic technology group, accomplished at navigating the complexities of the digital age.

Identifying safety vulnerabilities is vital

Reviewing the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) for a specific task is crucial to for management to ensure the adequate safety protection of employees.

A JHA can also be an opportunity to engage employees in safety practices, techniques, and critical thinking skills. Knowing how to self-identify hazards in the workplace is a valuable tool to build and encourage a safety-conscious culture in every team member. Additionally, integrating JHA as part of operations can drastically minimize incidents, injuries, and illnesses.

The JHA heavily relies on the employee’s expertise and management’s teaching to ensure employees are well trained, have job task expertise, and know the specific safety practices for each. The JHA, when used as a continuous improvement tool, enhances communication among front-line employees, team leaders, supervisors, and managers.

Additional points to remember:

  • If you see claims revolving around a specific tool or task, it is time to review the JHA to make sure it is correct. Also, consider re-training employees for proper PPE use. 
  • A JHA template can be found here. It is recommended that your company’s JHA is reviewed annually or when there is a change in the operations process.
  • When the JHA review is complete, ensure that your Accident Prevention Program (APP) reflects the JHA and its quality.
  • If you do not have an APP for your business, try our free eAPP, which has the JHA template as part of the library templates.

Our safety team is available to help members improve their safety programs beyond compliance and toward quality safety practices. Contact us at to learn more.

WR diversity statement

WR is committed to the principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. We strive to create a safe, welcoming environment in which these principles can thrive.

We value all people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, identity, sexual orientation, nationality, or disability, and that is the foundation of our commitment to those we serve.

Washington Retail Staff

Renée Sunde, President/CEO — 360.200.6450 — Email

Mark Johnson, Sr. VP of Policy & Government Affairs — 360.943.0667 — Email

Crystal Leatherman, State & Local GA Manager — 360.200-6453 — Email

Rose Gundersen, VP of Operations & Retail Services — 360.200.6452 — Email

Robert B. Haase, Director of Communications — 360.753.8742 — Email