Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo

New laws bring changes to minimum wage, plastic silverware, voting rights for felons

Two taxes take effect, but the future of each is uncertain.

A new year means new state laws in Washington. Among the batch taking effect are laws to restore voting rights for felons, require overtime for farm workers, impose a new tax on the rich and cut back on plastic cutlery given away with takeout orders.

Most new laws passed by the Legislature last session became effective in July. Here’s a look at a few that kicked in Jan. 1.

Curbing plastics

A new law brings an end to restaurants and food service businesses automatically giving out plastic silverware, straws and condiment packets. Now, if a customer wants any or all of those items, they must request them, unless they are available at a self-serve station.

Lids for drink cups won’t be handed out either, except those provided at drive-in windows.

The goal is to reduce plastic waste and litter. Tons of single-use food service ware are contaminating Washington’s recycling system and decreasing the value of recycled materials, according to the state Department of Ecology.

Wage matters

Agricultural employees will be eligible for overtime for the first time. In 2022, a work week for farm workers will be considered 55 hours and OT will be paid at a rate of one and a half times regular pay for any hours worked in excess of that. Overtime will apply after 48 hours in 2023, and after 40 hours beginning in 2024.

On a related note, the new statewide minimum wage is $14.49 per hour, up from $13.69. That’s an 80-cent increase.

Do you have WiFi?

Home buyers should be aware that under a new law, sellers must disclose if the residence has internet service and the name of the provider. Sellers may check the “don’t know” boxes on the disclosure statement.

Voting rights

Those who were convicted of a felony in Washington, another state or federal court will have their voting rights restored automatically, as long as they are not imprisoned.

Those on parole or under some form of community custody will be able to cast ballots in all elections as long as they have registered to vote. No certificate of discharge petition is required. Also, a requirement that all legal financial obligations be paid before voting rights are reinstated is lifted.

Changing mascots

Public schools are no longer allowed to use Native American names, symbols or images as mascots, logos or team names unless the district consults with the appropriate tribe — and the tribe approves.

In one example, the Marysville School District is in the process of deciding on a change for Marysville-Pilchuck High School, whose mascot is the Tomahawks. School board directors were poised to switch to Mountaineers. There had been consultation with Tulalip leaders and the tribe’s Board of Directors had asked the district to stop using Tomahawks. But tribal members, at a general council meeting in early December, voted to override their board’s action and urged the school district to keep Tomahawks. A final decision by the Marysville School Board could come this month.

Payroll tax for long term care

There’s a new payroll tax for long-term care insurance in effect. But Gov. Jay Inslee and Democratic leaders of the Legislature hit the pause button to fix it first. That’s causing some confusion.

As written, the law requires workers in Washington to pay a premium of $0.58 per $100 of earnings for WA Cares, the state’s new long-term care program. Starting in 2025, those who qualify can get up to $36,500 for such uses as professional in-home care, facility care, equipment, training or meals. Employees can opt out if they buy a separate long-term care insurance plan.

Employers are supposed to collect the money from paychecks and send it to the Employment Security Department (ESD) every quarter. Amid opposition and concerns, Inslee and Democratic lawmakers plan to revise the law. The governor directed ESD to not collect premiums from employers right now. And he’s letting employers decide whether to implement the law as it stands or wait to see what happens.

Your body, your choice

A new law makes clear medically necessary gender-affirming treatments are covered by health insurers. It states that for plans issued or renewed on or after Jan. 1, a health carrier may not deny or limit coverage for gender affirming treatment, nor can an insurer apply blanket exclusions to such treatment.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler adopted a new rule to help implement the law. It clarifies wording that previously allowed insurers to deny coverage.

A right to an attorney

Juveniles must get access to a lawyer, in person or by phone or video, before they undergo any kind of interrogation by law enforcement officers. That’s the gist of a new law.

In most cases, if law enforcement fails to provide such access before questioning a juvenile, any statements made by the juvenile will be inadmissible.

Tax the rich

Democrats’ long-sought and highly controversial capital gains tax is in effect, but its future is uncertain.

The law imposes a 7% tax on the sale of stocks, bonds, some property, businesses and other investments, if profits exceed $250,000 annually. There are exceptions including the sale of real estate and small, family-owned businesses. First payments are due in early 2023.

It is projected the tax will generate roughly $400 million in the current budget and closer to a billion dollars for the next budget. That money is supposed to go to education and child care programs.

Several lawsuits have been filed alleging the tax is an unconstitutional income tax. The lawsuits have been consolidated with a hearing set for February in a Douglas County courtroom. This question is expected to be decided by the state Supreme Court. Getting there could take months, if not longer.


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