2020 Federal, State, and Local Public Policy Recap

Life Science Washington’s public policy and lobbying team were busy in both Washington, DC and the state capitol this Spring.  By the middle of April, we had already worked with our partners in Washington, DC to secure a full repeal of the medical device tax, the state legislature completed its legislative session on time, we met with the City of Bothell to discuss modernizing the Canyon Park business park, and we completed two rounds of negotiations with the Governor’s office to ensure that life science operations were deemed essential in the Governor’s Stay Safe, Stay Home order.  Here’s a summary of the federal, state, and local issues we have been working on for you.

Medical Device Tax Repealed! – After almost a decade of advocacy by Life Science Washington and our coalition partners, the final bipartisan budget package that was signed by the President on December 20th permanently repealed the 2.3% medical device tax.

This repeal has been a top priority of Life Science Washington since it was originally enacted in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act.  LSW participated in a comprehensive, multi-year advocacy campaign that was closely coordinated with our national partners AdvaMed, MDMA and MITA.  Our efforts included continual direct engagement with our Congressional delegation on the issue through a combination of regular meetings with Congressional staff in Washington, DC, organizing LSW sign-on letters to our delegation, hosting CEO Roundtables on the issue with members of Congress, and facilitating local company tours.

This win is a reminder that big public policy changes often take years to achieve; it also shows what can be accomplished when we all work together to advocate for a clear, consistent policy change year after year.

Consumer Data Privacy (2SSB 6281) – Consumer data privacy was a primary focus of the legislature this year.  The primary target of these bills was to give consumers access to review, modify and control their person information. To ensure that healthcare data was treated effectively in the legislation, we brought together a healthcare data privacy coalition that included: Life Science Washington, the Washington Hospital Association, AdvaMed, BIO, and PhRMA to present a coordinated voice on healthcare privacy issues.  The approach worked well.  After seeing a flurry of privacy bills introduced with different areas of focus, the primary privacy bill for the session was Senator Carlyle’s 2SSB 6281.

The coalition’s legal experts developed legislative language that would align state policy with existing healthcare regulations and exempt healthcare and life science organizations that comply with HIPPA.  We were able to get all of the language that we requested included in the bill.  California passed privacy legislation last year, which had some problems that needed to be fixed.  Having learned from the California experience, our coalition  believes that the healthcare language included in 6281 is good enough to serve as model legislation going forward.

Biosimilars Prescriber Notification Sunset (HB2251) – This is technical legislation that extends the interchangeable biological product notification requirement (to enable the continued prescription of biosimilars) from August 1, 2020, until August 1, 2025. It passed both chambers unanimously and was signed by Governor Inslee on March 18th.

Gene Editing Study Bill (HB2273) – Gene editing is not well understood and the specter of ‘designer babies’ caused some members to call for regulating genome editing.  This bill was introduced to open a dialogue on the topic.  We worked with the sponsor to strengthen the bill and we testified on the topic. This provided an opportunity to educate legislators about the incredible potential of gene editing technology and the fact that the FDA and other institutions have effective frameworks in place to ensure the ethical development of gene editing technology and medicines in the United States.

Washington’s Cancer Research Endowment (CARE Fund) – Due to the CARE Fund’s unique funding model, the CARE fund needed new budget authority and supplemental funding this year.  The Governor’s budget fixed the budgeting problems and the final budget appropriated an additional $7.5 million for the CARE fund.

Career Connect Washington Funding – Career Connect Washington, which works with employers and industry groups including Life Science Washington to develop career pathways for high school students, received an additional $1.5 million in supplemental funding

Science & Technology Caucus Briefing – Life Science Washington organized a briefing for the State Legislature’s Science & Technology Caucus on Washington’s life science industry.  We kicked-off the presentation with LSW’s new video, which was followed by a panel discussion with Leslie Alexandre and Life Science Washington Board Members Margaret McCormick and Nancy Whiting who helped legislators better understand what it takes to bring a new therapy to market as well as how tax policy impacts life science companies.

WSU Vancouver Life Sciences Building (Design) – The new building received $4 million for design.

King County Payroll Tax (Head Tax) Authority (HB2948) – Legislation was introduced that would allow King county to collect a .25% payroll tax on employees with salaries above $150,000 to pay for affordable housing and homeless programs.  Small businesses with less than 50 employees and less than $3 million in revenues were exempted.   The bill was supported by the business group Challenge Seattle and a number of large employers in the region who believed that a small county-wide tax was a better approach than a more detrimental payroll tax from the City of Seattle.  We reminded legislators that life science organizations conducting long-term research don’t have the same ability to pay additional taxes as companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Expedia.   After several conversations with bill sponsors, we were told that non-profit research institutes would be exempted, but the bill failed to advance to out of committee.  So, a new draft was never circulated.

Battery Stewardship Program (HB 2496) – Often, we have to play defense to make sure member companies aren’t inadvertently impacted by legislation targeting others.  That was the case with a battery recycling bill aimed at having battery manufacturers take responsibility for keeping batteries out of landfills.  Without an exemption, medical device manufacturers that produce devices with batteries in them, would have been responsible for setting up complicated, expensive, closed loop (take back) programs to collect the batteries in their devices.  So, we worked with AdvaMed to ensure that medical devices were exempted from the bill.

Life Science Exemptions Included in Gov. Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Order – Ever since the Bay Area issued the first Shelter-In-Place order, Life Science Washington has been in direct contact with the Governor’s office and other local jurisdictions to ensure the continuity of operations for Life Science Washington members as Shelter-In-Place directives were issued.

Gov. Inslee’s initial“Stay Home, Stay Healthy”order included a number of critical exemptions that Life Science Washington had requested.  The original essential businesses list provides for continuity of operations for life science operations, manufacturing, and the medical supply chain. It also provides for continuation of construction projects, as well as essential building maintenance, operations, and security.  

We felt these exemptions covered most of the essential operations that life science companies need to ensure continuity of operations.  However, due a lack of clarity in the order, we also filed a petition to explicitly include research, development, and clinical trial activities, which were included in the Governor’s March 31 guidance.

Bothell/Canyon Park Zoning & Redevelopment – On Thursday, February 27th Life Science Washington and Seattle Genetics hosted a work session with the City of Bothell to discuss the city’s Canyon Park Visioning plan to modernize and redevelop the Canyon Park business district. 

After successfully developing downtown Bothell, the City of Bothell is now turning its focus to the Canyon Park business district.  The city has spent over a year laying the foundation for updating the Canyon Park district.  Given the number of life science businesses in Canyon Park they asked us to convene a meeting specifically with local biotech and medical device companies.

The city’s visioning plan is an important opportunity to help shape the future of the Canyon Park business district into a vibrant neighborhood with new amenities that help attract and retain talent, provide transportation connections that make it easier for employees to get to work and local amenities, and provide linkages to UW-Bothell and other regional educational institutions, while ensuring space for companies to expand and the next generation of start-ups to get a foothold.

During the meeting, it became clear that local life science companies had very different goals for the business park than the city had heard from local real estate representatives that were more concerned with reducing costs than providing amenities.

Outcomes from the meeting included a discussion of possibly raising building height limits, keeping current industrial areas zoned industrial, finding ways to locate additional amenities deeper into the business park, and the need to provide transportation from the I-405 Bus Rapid Transit stop into the business park.
HCA Emerging Therapies Working Group – Last fall, Washington’s Healthcare Authority (HCA) convened an emerging therapies working group ostensibly to think about how to handle and fund new “emerging therapies” such as gene therapies.  After telling the legislature that they would host an open stakeholder dialogue on the issue, the HCA  created a closed-to-the public internal panel that primarily focused on high cost drugs.  To remedy this situation, we successfully fought to have the HCA open some of the meetings to the public, we testified at the fall meeting, and we coordinated with BIO to provide testimony at the most recent meeting.  After dismissing industry for much of the process, the workgroup did engage with industry at the last meeting and has asked for additional input going forward.