NW REporter

New year, new laws for Washingtonians

Take-out diners will have to ask for utensils, the minimum wage will increase, the wealthy will pay more on capital gains, and felons will have their voting rights restored.

Those are some of several new laws that became effective in Washington state on January 1.

Also enacted are bans on the use of Native American names, symbols or images as public school mascots, logos or team names. Schools located within Native American areas are exempted from the law, which takes effect during the 2021-2022 school year. Schools in counties adjacent to Native American areas can seek the nearest tribe’s consent to continue using a name, mascot or symbol.

Around two dozen schools are believed to be affected. They may seek a grant from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to help offset the cost to make changes in order to comply with HB 1356.

Under SB 5022, single use utensils, condiments and beverage cup lids will be provided only if a customer requests them. The measure, designed to reduce single-use product waste, exempts senior nutrition programs and healthcare providers.

Another measure will automatically restore the right to vote to as many as 20,000 people with felonies once they are released from Department of Corrections custody. Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton) sponsored HB 1078. She was incarcerated for 30 months before becoming a civil rights advocate and voice for redemption.

The New Year also ushered in a raise for minimum wage earners. They will get an 80-cent bump, from $13.69 to $14.49, based on a cost-of-living adjustment tied to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, as compiled for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS attributes the increase to more expensive gas, housing, household furnishings, and food. The new wage applies to workers who are 16 and older.

A new Office of Independent Investigations is opening this year. Created at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee, OII is charged with conducting “independent, unbiased, competent and thorough investigations of cases involving police use of deadly force” after July 1, 2022. Past cases may be investigated if new evidence is produced.

SB 5096, a controversial proposal that passed by narrow margins, imposes a 7% tax on the sale of stocks, bonds and other high-end assets in excess of $250,000. At least two lawsuits are challenging the constitutionality of the bill. If not overturned, the measure applies to individual residents but gains recognized in 2021 are not subject to the new tax. Several categories of assets, including real estate, are also expressly exempt from the tax. An estimated $415 million is expected to be raised from the tax in 2023. The first $500 million in tax revenue is to be deposited into the state’s Education Legacy Trust Account to support early learning and childcare programs. Additional amounts are earmarked for the Common School Construction account.

Another contentious measure is the state’s long-term care tax, which is to be funded by a payroll tax. It allows eligible adults to collect up to $36,500 starting in 2025 for long-term care expenses like in-home care, hearing aids, memory care, necessary home renovations, and delivered meals. Based on HB 1323’s tax rate of 0.58% per $100 of earning, someone making $75,000 annually would pay about $435 a year into the fund. Workers who purchased a private long-term care insurance plan by Nov. 1, 2021, could opt-out of the payroll tax. Self-employed workers are not required to pay into the benefit, but may opt to. Gov. Inslee has delayed the start of this tax to allow legislators to refine and improve the state bill authorizing the tax.