• Inside Washington Retail - January 7 Newsletter

    January 08, 2021
    Washington Business coalition expresses concerns over remote legislative session
    Washington Retail has joined in signing a Council of Washington Business Organizations letter expressing significant concerns for the proposed remote 105-day Legislative session scheduled to commence on Monday.
    The letter addresses the many challenges of a remote only session and provides several recommendations the Legislature should consider in order to compensate for limitations that would prohibit in-person involvement by the public and other interested parties. Currently the Senate and House plans call for the capitol campus to be closed to the public, a majority of legislators and their staffs and for meetings to be televised and available on-line.
    We recognize and support efforts to provide for the safety of the public, legislators and their staffs in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19. But Washington State’s contingency plans for the session may be the strictest in the nation and nearly quarantine the public out of the legislative process.
    For example, Oregon, Idaho and California have no plans for remote-only legislative sessions. The business coalition has been hard pressed to find any other state legislature whose meeting plans are as restrictive for meaningful public involvement.
    Our letter outlines eight ways to improve the proposed process:
    ·     Increasing the length of time required for notice when bills move through various stages of action to 48 hours
    ·     Scheduling regular breaks/pauses between hearings and during floor action to encourage availability to the public
    ·     Requiring legislators be on camera throughout all proceedings, rather allowing them to attend with their cameras off
    ·     Expanding the virtual meeting view so all legislators are on camera when they are participating
    ·     Posting testimony online in an accessible and timely manner
    ·     Publicizing contingency plans in case of technical breakdowns
    ·     Identifying the plan to return to normal operations as infection cases decline
    ·     Rescheduling divisive issues that require more time for the 2022 legislative session.
    Meaningful public participation is the bedrock of our democratic process. The foundation of meaningful public participation is the opportunity to share information and to do it in a timely manner. One without the other is meaningless. It is, quite simply, the public’s business.
    We urge that these and other creative solutions will be incorporated into the 2021 legislative process. 
    State announces new recovery plan that falls short for businesses struggling to survive
    Beginning on Monday, Washington will enact its second pandemic recovery plan in nearly 8 months. “Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery” replaces Governor Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan that he announced last May, four months after the COVID-19 virus was first identified in Washington State.
    The new two-phase plan uses a different procedure for relaxing safety protocols but would keep retailers limited to operating at 25% capacity in either phase. All counties start Healthy Washington in Phase 1 with no specific target dates for advancing.
    The Department of Health will conduct weekly checks of four metrics to determine which of eight regions across the state can move forward in the plan. The regional approach replaces the county-by-county approach of Safe Start.
    To go forward from Phase 1 to Phase 2, regions must meet four metrics:
    ·     A 10% decrease in the two-week rate of COVID-19 cases
    ·     A 10% decrease in the two-week rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions
    ·     Total hospital intensive care unit occupancy of less than 90% including non-COVID patients
    ·     COVID-19 test positivity rate of less than 10%
    The plan does not require individual counties to apply for safety protocol relaxation. Advancement to Phase 2 status will now depend on how well counties in each of the eight regions improve their collective health metrics as determined by the Department of Health. 
    The newly proposed plan however falls far short of what retailers need to rebound fully, especially those small retailers who have been struggling since the start of the pandemic. Even with improved regional metrics, retailers who move to Phase 2 of the recovery plan would remain limited at 25 percent in-store capacity. “The plan fails to offer a path to full recovery,” says WR President & CEO, Renée Sunde.
    Throughout the pandemic, retailers large and small have made huge investments to operate safely including requiring employees and customers to wear masks and practice social distancing. There is no clear path forward for those retail stores unable to hire back full employment and some are still at risk of closing permanently. 
    Retailers are not the only industry that’s struggling. According to CEO Anthony Anton, Washington Hospitality Association, “Today’s announcement is not a roadmap to recovery. It is a roadmap to a near-complete collapse of main street neighborhood restaurants and hospitality businesses”.
    Given current state pandemic metrics, Inslee said he did not soon expect significant business protocol relaxation. However, he said regions could move forward or backward depending upon how their metrics change.
    Some minor protocol relaxations were included for entertainment and gyms. Gyms can now conduct training by appointment while admission to zoos and various outdoor event spaces requires timed ticketing for groups of no more than 10 at a time. Bowling alleys may reopen but general admission is prohibited in favor of private rentals of no more than six people.
    New bill would limit Governor’s emergency power
    The Governor would be unable to renew emergency proclamations for more than 30 days without a concurring resolution from the Legislature under a bill pre-filed on Christmas Eve by two state Senators.
    Sponsors Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) and Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver) maintain that Governor Inslee’s current exclusive authority to order closures to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus has been too disruptive and economically damaging to businesses and their employees.
    Under SB 5039, if the Legislature were not in session, the leadership in the state House and Senate could extend a resolution in writing before it could take effect.
    In a Washington State Wire article, Mullet noted that legislative approval of other types of proclamations already is in effect. Mullet also noted that legislative leadership already has approved some orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under his bill, every emergency order from the Governor would have to meet with legislative approval to extend it beyond 30 days.
    As the pandemic wore on in 2020, several state legislators appealed to Inslee to call a special legislative session to address the pandemic, but he declined. Meanwhile, Mullet said, several struggling businesses have been contacting him about the difficulty of not being able to prepare for Inslee’s pandemic-related proclamations.
    Mullet believes a requirement for legislative approval should include emergency business closures.
    “That to me is the whole point of the bill,” he said. “Just making sure that when there’s huge, giant, significant issue affecting the state of Washington, the Legislature, who is voted in by the people, has the ability to be involved in those decisions.”
    The Legislature will begin a remote 2021 session on January 11 to consider the bill.
    Read more.
    WR urges Legislature to do no harm to retailers
    Washington Retail executives shared their hopes in an online article that the Legislature refrain from adding new expenses on retailers when members convene for the 2021 session on Monday.
    Senior VP of Policy & Government Affairs Mark Johnson urged lawmakers to hold down expected increases in unemployment insurance premiums and refrain from approving a host of new tax proposals that will only threaten the livelihoods of retailers struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. He also urged the Legislature to delay a ban on plastic shopping bags due to a shortage of supply.
    “My small business owners are mortgaging their home a second time to pay their rent (and) trying to keep employees on the payroll,” Johnson said. “Don’t forget the brick-and-mortar little guys – they’re dangling by a thread.”
    CEO Renée Sunde added a statement about the host of challenges retailers encountered through most of last year.
    “2020 has been a challenging year for the retail industry marked by historical events, business closures, changing consumer demands, endless guidelines and restrictions and unforeseen changes to work and family life,” she said.
    Read more.
    Plastic bag ban delayed for a month
    An extension to June 30 is possible
    The statewide plastic bag ban that was supposed to take effect January 1 has been delayed for one month by the Governor’s proclamation.
    Washington Retail has advocated for delaying the ban in the middle of the pandemic that has put a strain on supply chains, especially for compliant paper and reusable plastic bags.
    A bill has been introduced to extend the delay until June 30. WR will actively support the needed House Bill 1053 in hopes of its swift passage.
    For more information on the bag ban please go here
    Six steps toward a better new year for retailers
    Retail consultant Bob Phibbs writes about a six-step process retailers can use to plan for a better New Year than the struggles of 2020.
    His formula can help you turn fear and anxiety into hope and become your own life coach.
    Here goes:
    ·     Take a deep breath or several and forget about last year.
    ·     Remember what strategies did work last year and carry them forward.
    ·     Envision your one most important goal for 2021 and write it down. Finish the sentence: “This year I want to........” It can be about anything. It’s called envisioning.
    ·     Devise a game plan listing the three things it will take to reach your goal. Is it hiring, learning new sales techniques, ignoring your smartphone when it chirps? Whatever it is, write these beneath your main goal.
    ·     Hold yourself accountable. Write three dates on a calendar or enter “How am I doing?” into your phone. Do this with a friend and each be the other’s accountability partner.
    ·     Sleep on it. Place the paper under your pillow after asking what you did that day to advance toward the goal. When you wake up, ask what you can do that day to move toward achieving your one specific goal.
    Read more
    NRF podcast explores the future of retail
    National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay discusses how the retail industry can recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in the 200th episode of the Retail Gets Real podcast.
    Shay believes the pandemic has made retailers nimbler and more innovative in introducing new, safer and more convenient ways to shop, from curbside pickup to more liberal return policies. He predicts that consumers will expect those innovations to continue.
    Though online sellers have earned market share from brick-and-mortar stores, Shay believes traditional stores will remain essential but will need to evolve to meet consumer preferences. He also notes that many retailers that began only online have begun to open brick-and-mortar stores whose atmospheres cannot be duplicated online.
    Listen to the entire interview here
    Safety tip: how to avoid L&I citations
    If a Labor & Industries compliance inspector ever pays an unannounced visit to your business, the first things they are going to ask you for are:
    ·     A copy of your accident prevention program
    ·     Notes from your safety meetings
    ·     If you regularly work with chemicals, your hazardous chemicals guidelines
    ·     Training records for topics including personal protective equipment, forklift operation, first aid and the like.
    ·     Any accident investigation reports.
    A look at 2020’s top five reasons for citations explains why inspectors ask those questions. They were:
    ·     A lack of a hazardous chemical safety program
    ·     An outdated or missing accident prevention program
    ·     Missing or poorly documented notes from safety meetings
    ·     Lack of training or no use of personal protective equipment
    ·     Lack of trained first aid cardholders or expired cards
    Each citation has adjustable dollar values assigned to them, and the fines can add up quickly especially if it is a repeat citation. Missing and incomplete items could lead to a broader investigation that could increase the total number of citations and fines significantly.
    Please contact Rick Means, WR’s Director of Safety & Education, so you can address any shortcomings regarding these issues and avoid findings or fines before you get a visit from L&I. Most of them are unannounced.
    Rick is available to members to help draw up safety plans and suggest topics for safety meetings. Contact him at 360-943-9198 x118, or rmeans@waretailservices.com