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OLYMPIA, Wash. — Cybercrime became more of a crime. But proposed tax-breaks and gender-pay-equity bills died in committee. That’s how a few bills affecting the technology industry fared this year in the Washington Legislature.

Jay Inslee
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee could still veto some bills prior to an April 2 deadline. (Credit: Office of the Governor)

The main purpose of the 2016 session has been to make mid-course corrections to the state’s $38 billion 2015-2017 budget, adopted last year. The short 60-day session, the focus on education issues, plus a deadlock on the budget talks put many other matters on a political back burner this session.

One piece of legislation that made it through was a cybercrime bill by Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, that sailed through the House and Senate. The legislation will turn a variety of malicious online activities into prosecutable crimes with prison times and fines. 

“This was a pretty significant step,” Magendanz said. “Other states will be using this as a model.” 

While the House and Senate passed the bill, it is among several dozen that Gov. Jay Inslee could conceivably veto between now and April 2 as a measure to force the two chambers to speed up their lagging budget talks. Inslee vetoed 27 bills — none of them tech-related — late Thursday to show he is serious.

Inslee declined to say if and when he would veto any additional bills. April 2 is the deadline for them, including the cybercrime bill, to become law without his signature. So any Inslee action would have to occur prior to that date.

Hackers, take note. Magendanz’s bill create the following crimes:

  • Electronic data service interference: When an unauthorized person maliciously interrupts or suspends use of the transmission of data, data programs and other electronic communications. This would be a Class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • “Spoofing”: When an unauthorized person initiates the transmission, display or receipt of another person’s electronic or a fictional person’s electronic data in order to interrupt or gain access to a data service. Spoofing would be a gross misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
  • First-degree electronic data tampering: When an unauthorized person intentionally adds, changes, damages, deletes or destroys electronic data or introduces a computer program to commit a crime. This would-be a Class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Second-degree electronic data tampering: A less damaging version of electronic data tampering, which would be a gross misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
  • Electronic data theft: When unauthorized person obtains electronic data with the intent to commit another crimes. This would be a Class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

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Meanwhile, proposed tax breaks for life sciences, crowdfunding and the space exploration industry all stalled in the House Finance Committee. Committee chairwoman Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, said these bills are better suited to be tackled in the 120-day-long 2017 session when major and tax budget matters will be discussed.

A bill to regulate biometric identifiers easily passed the House but never made it out of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, whose chief focus this session has been an investigation into the Washington Department of Corrections’ inmate-early-release scandal. Biometric identifiers include fingerprints, voice prints, retinal scans and programs analyzing how a person walks and moves. The bill’s purpose was to address the unauthorized transfer of such information from one firm to another. It’s sponsor Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, plans to reintroduce that bill next year.

Rep. Tana Senn, D-41
Rep. Tana Senn, D-41

A bill by Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, to allow employees, especially women, to more actively pursue equitable-pay matters in their companies without retaliation died in the GOP-controlled Commerce & Labor Committee. That committee has been an unsurmountable hurdle for most Democratic wage-improvement bills in recent years. The tech industry strongly backed this bill, which easily passed the House.

Another bill that split the tech community was one by Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, that would have rendered void any “unreasonable” non-competition clauses in employee agreements. Under the bill, “unreasonable” non-compete agreements would have included those for seasonal and temporary employees, laid-off employees, those terminated without just cause, and those involving independent contractors. The bill also would have banned non-compete requirements that last for more than one year from the end of employment, and for employees who are not executives.

Stanford’s bill would have brought Washington state more in line with California law, preventing companies from keeping many departing employees from taking similar jobs at rivals for specified periods of time after they leave.

However, a pre-floor-vote count could not guarantee that the bill had the 50 votes needs to pass the 98-member House. A strong rule of thumb in the House and Senate is that no bill goes to a floor vote unless the majority caucus leaders already know passage is guaranteed. Stanford plans to reintroduce this bill next year.

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