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2017 Legislative Session in the State of Washington

Posted By Administration, Friday, April 14, 2017

By Rick Antezana, Dynamic Language

The 2017 legislative session in the state of Washington has been a rollercoaster of a ride, and a fascinating one for language companies seeking clarity in the law when it comes to linguists and whether they can legally be classified as either independent contractors or employees.

As people in other states can attest to as well, there is a lot of confusion on the part of auditors from both state (usually L&I and ESD) and federal (IRS) agencies on this issue, and many language company owners have been the victims of audits implemented based on laws that were written without the language industry in mind. This lack of clarity has resulted in audit rulings that have put some companies out of business, and financially devastated others. Even Washington language companies that defended themselves with few or no findings against them, have ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to protect their rights throughout a complicated and arbitrary process.

But a collective crossing of fingers is not the only way to deal with the murky legal situation that language companies find themselves in. Through the leadership of the late, great, Bill Graeper - founder of CLI - a bill was passed in the state of Oregon more than 15 years ago, exempting interpreters and translators from worker’s compensation and essentially solving the issue by making it very clear to state agencies and auditors how the law should be applied. Basically, with the passage of that bill, even less-than-competent auditors could no longer misinterpret the status of workers.

Fast forward to October of 2016, at an ALC Roundtable hosted by my company, Dynamic Language at our offices in Seattle, Elena Vasiliev of Universal Language Services, took inspiration from Bill Graeper's success. She presented the idea of collaborating as a group of language companies to pass similar legislation to the Oregon bill, in Washington state. Together, we all agreed to put together a coalition, and invest money and time into this endeavor, the success of which would have a hugely positive impact on all language companies in the state.

In November, we were able to engage with an experienced, and highly recommended lobbyist that would take the lead on every aspect of this effort. Unfortunately, as we found out from her, issues like this have the highest chance of success if you can start the process well ahead of the legislative session (more like summertime), so we were operating at a time deficit right out of the gate. Another challenging factor is that our issue is one that doesn’t come without opposition, and in particular, the state of Washington has an Interpreter’s Union which immediately came out against the bill from the start.

We did make quick progress during January and February, putting together a coalition of 20 language companies, and getting sponsors for our bill in both the

house and senate. And although the house version of the bill died fairly quickly in the Democrat-leaning house of representatives, we were able to get the bill heard in the senate committee on labor, where Sandy Dupleich, Vic Markus and others testified in favor of its passage. Their compelling testimony and some strategic lobbying by a number of coalition members led to successful passage out of the committee level, and onto the senate floor where with a vote of 30-18 (with one abstention), the bill passed.

According to our lobbyist, Vicki Christophersen, with a Republican-leaning senate, this result was not unexpected, though it was fortunate that we were able to have some bipartisan support on an issue that was actively being opposed by organized labor. Needless to say, because of the interpreter’s union being opposed to the bill, all of the state’s unions came out in opposition as well.

This is where the situation became more challenging as the bill, SB 5233, moved through the senate to the house earlier this month. Our coalition focused our phone calls, emails and meetings on the various representatives who could help convince the house labor committee to hear testimony, and eventually vote on the bill. We were surprised and very pleased when the committee did decide to allow testimony to be heard on SB 5233, and Sandy, Elena, and myself ended up giving our respective thoughts on the issue, and the opposition (including both the union, and a representative from L&I) did as well.

Unfortunately, there was too much political influence from the collective unions this year, and so the bill never came to a vote in the committee. And for 2016, it became official this week that it will not pass. However, we now have the rest of the year to get ourselves more organized, and to take the steps we wish we could have taken last summer to connect with, educate, and influence our legislators. With the continued efforts of our coalition and lobbyists, we plan to make our political presence felt, and we will get the bill over the finish line in the 2018 legislative session.

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