OLYMPIA — State lawmakers concluded a sometimes contentious 2022 session Thursday night after a final day highlighted by passage of a record-setting supplemental state budget and a nearly $17 billion transportation package.
With only minutes to spare, they wrapped up a 60-day session in which COVID’s enduring presence forced dozens of members to work virtually, as they did a year ago.
But the pandemic didn’t slow lawmakers. They passed hundreds of bills. Most will soon be signed into law.
Here are nine things they did — and one they didn’t — that will be the subject of conversations for a while:
Payroll tax halted
A top priority when the session began was putting the brakes on WA Cares, a program providing eligible workers with money to defray the costs of long-term care support and services. Legislation signed Jan. 27 by Gov. Jay Inslee delayed the start for 18 months and stopped the payroll tax that some workers had been paying. This law also allows out-of-state workers, military families and temporary non-immigrant workers to opt out of the program (they couldn’t before). Questions linger about the solvency of this initiative.
A matter of force
Reforms enacted in 2021 to curb violent interactions involving law enforcement got retooled as police expressed concerns that restrictions on their use of physical force handcuffed their ability to do their jobs. One new law permits use of reasonable force in a non-criminal incident, such as helping a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Meanwhile, another bill heading to the governor would allow the use of force to prevent people from fleeing temporary investigative stops.
Hey, big spender
Lawmakers approved a two-year, $59.1 billion operating budget last April. The supplemental plan adds $6.2 billion in new spending. Among the big adds are a $2 billion transfer to the transportation package, $350 million to shore up the paid family leave program, $232 million for raises and one-time retention payments for state workers and $236 million for a cost-of-living adjustment for public school teachers. Among the small adds are $341,000 for two additional Snohomish County Superior Court judges, $200,000 for a task force to study the potential for a legal psilocybin industry and $50,000 to identify historic African American-owned properties in Washington.
Buses, cars, ferries, oh my!
On the last day, a 16-year, $16.8 billion transportation plan cleared the Legislature, along partisan lines. Democrats didn’t involve Republicans when they drafted the Move Ahead Washington package. Not surprisingly, Republicans voted against it, while acknowledging it contained some worthy investments. There is no gas tax increase like previous packages. Senate Democrats did propose a tax on exported fuel. It got ditched in favor of sweeping money each year from the general fund — an idea long pushed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats — and from the public works trust fund. The rest of the dough will come from increases in several vehicle-related fees, federal dollars and proceeds from the sale of carbon emission allowances through a cap-and-trade system. That $2 billion transfer from the operating budget, which is in addition to those annual sweeps, will get spending started this year.
Smaller medical bills
The Legislature significantly expanded who is eligible for free hospital care or discounts on their hospital bills. They did it with changes to the state’s charity care law, meant to help low-income patients. House Bill 1616 sets different requirements for hospitals, depending on their size. Patients at large ones, like Swedish Edmonds and Providence in Everett, will be eligible for some level of financial assistance if their household earns less than 400% of the Federal Poverty Level, which is $111,000 for a four-person household. Patients at smaller hospitals in Snohomish County would qualify if they earn less than 300% of the poverty standard — $83,250 for a four-person household. Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who requested the bill, estimates 1 million more people will be eligible for assistance.
Meanwhile, Inslee has already signed a new law to cap out-of-pocket expenses for insulin at $35 for a one-month supply. The current cap is $100, based on a law passed in 2020.
Guns and ammo
Democrats achieved one of their long-sought goals by banning the manufacture, sale, distribution or import of large-capacity ammunition magazines, defined as those capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. A separate bill outlaws all firearms at school board meetings, ballot counting centers and election offices. It also bars “open carry” of guns where city and county councils meet, but allows a person with a concealed weapons license to conceal carry at those locations. No Republican supported either bill.
Tax-free, tax breaks
You won’t see an across-the-board cut of sales, property or business taxes this year. You might be eligible for a tax break. One measure will exempt baby and adult diapers from sales tax starting Oct. 1. And an estimated 125,000 businesses may not have to pay business-and-occupation taxes next year under another measure. Tax payments are now triggered when the annual gross income exceeds $28,000 for a non-service business or $46,667 for a service business. That threshold is rising to $125,000 for both.
Combating converter theft
A continuing surge in catalytic converter thefts from vehicles has led to new efforts to deter would-be thieves. House Bill 1815 imposes restrictions on scrap metal businesses that purchase used catalytic converters. They won’t make cash payments on the spot. Rather, they’ll pay by check a few days later. If you go to sell a catalytic converter to one of those businesses, you must prove you own the vehicle from which it came. The bill also requires development of a comprehensive law enforcement strategy to deal with catalytic converter thefts.
In search of the missing
Washington will soon deploy an alert system to help locate missing Indigenous people. When activated, the alert will broadcast information about missing Indigenous people on message signs and in highway advisory radio messages. It also will provide the information through news releases to local and regional media. It will operate in the same manner as “silver alerts,” issued for missing vulnerable adults.
ONE BIG THING THEY DIDN’T DO …
This session, like the last, Republicans called for limiting the emergency power of the governor. They’ve argued the time is long past for Inslee to lift the emergency declaration he issued more than two years ago at the outset of the pandemic. Majority Democrats have been unwilling to act. This year, the Senate did pass a bill to position lawmakers to terminate an emergency under certain conditions. It didn’t do much, yet Senate Bill 5909 still died in the Democrat-controlled House.
Reporter Katie Hayes contributed to this report.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dospueblos.
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