Washington residents will experience several changes at the start of the new year including a higher state minimum wage, and the effects of new laws that were adopted during the 2023 legislative session.
On Jan. 1, workers over the age of 16 can expect a 3.4% statewide minimum wage increase from $15.74 per hour to $16.28, according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Cities such as Seattle, SeaTac and Tukwila have higher wages, as cities are able to set a higher minimum wage than the state’s.
Workers can expect other changes as well, such as a 4.9% increase in average workers’ compensation premiums for 2024. Jointly, workers and employees will pay an additional $65 per year for each full-time employee.
“Helping prevent workplace injuries and illness is our number one goal, yet we have to make sure that we have a healthy workers’ compensation system. This increase will help us do that so workers know they’ll have the help they need when they need it,” said Joel Sacks, the director for the Department of Labor and Industries, in a news release.
In addition, some legislation passed during the 2023 legislative session will go into effect.
Here are some of the other laws that go into effect on Jan. 1:
Senate Bill 5123: Certain employers in Washington will no longer be allowed to discriminate against applicants for their cannabis use outside of work. The law does not apply to certain safety-related jobs. Law enforcement, first responders, and positions in the airline industry, for example, will still have to take pre-employment screenings.
The law doesn’t regulate cannabis screenings after an individual has been hired, so employees can still be tested if an employer suspects impairment. It also does not impact an employer’s ability to maintain a drug-free work policy.
Washington will become one of three states including California and Nevada to ban the practice of pre-employment cannabis screening.
GUN WAITING PERIOD
House Bill 1143: This law will require a 10-day waiting period before purchasing any firearms in the state of Washington. Currently, a 10-day waiting period is mandatory in the state only when purchasing a semi-automatic assault rifle. Firearms dealers will not be able to sell or transfer guns without completion of a background check and until 10 days have elapsed since the check was initiated.
Those purchasing firearms also will have to show valid proof of a completed firearms safety training program within the last five years, or proof that they are exempt from training requirements.
Under the law, civil rights organizations and tribes are granted standing to challenge the VRA on behalf of their members. To avoid violating the VRA against members of a tribe, counties are now able to increase the number of county commissioners. Additionally, people or organizations that file a notice of intent to challenge an election system would be able to recover costs associated with research, “if the notice causes the political subdivision to adopt a remedy that is approved by the court.”
NEWSPAPER TAX BREAK
Senate Bill 5199: Certain newspaper publishers will see a Business and Occupation, or B&O, tax break starting in January. Online news sites that published newspapers before Jan. 1, 2008, will also see some tax relief.
The B&O tax rate is currently 0.35% for newspapers, and it will be reduced to zero. The new law is slated to be in effect for a decade.
Senate Bill 5319: This law intends to regulate the pet insurance market in Washington through a number of actions.
Certain requirements for selling and issuing pet insurance in the state are added, including establishing defined terms and required disclosures in pet insurance policies. Insurers must also disclose if those policies don’t cover things such as pre-existing or hereditary conditions.
The new law will also require insurers to be licensed and trained before they can sell, solicit, or negotiate a pet insurance product. Some marketing practices for pet wellness programs also will be prohibited.
COMMERCIAL DRIVERS LICENSES
House Bill 1058: Individuals renewing their commercial drivers license will no longer have to apply after Jan. 1, and will instead be able to renew online.
Additionally, fees charged by the Department of Licensing will be reduced to no more than $175 for the skills examination for a commercial motor vehicle license. For individuals intending to use their CDL to drive a school bus, the fees for up to two skills exams cannot exceed $100.
The DOL also can waive all or part of new qualification standards, including applicable testing and education requirements, for those who previously surrendered their CDL.
Senate Bill 5236: One part of a multi-faceted piece of legislation passed this year for nursing safe staffing standards that requires hospitals to establish hospital staffing committees is due by Jan. 1. Those staffing committees must be made up of 50% non-managerial nursing staff, while the other 50% of the committee must be made up of hospital administration, including the hospital’s Chief Financial Officer.
The committees must submit a staffing plan to the hospital’s CEO by July 1, 2024, and yearly after that.
ACCESS TO COUNSEL
Senate Bill 5046: This law allows the Office of Public Defense to offer indigent persons post-conviction access to counsel and also requires Public Defense to establish criteria prioritizing youth and “certain adult petitioners” for access to counsel. Under the law, Public Defense is able to “appoint counsel if the Legislature or a final decision of an appellate court creates an ability to petition the sentencing court or to challenge a conviction or sentence.”
Public Defense is also required to research the barriers to providing post-conviction counsel and then report those findings to the Legislature.
Senate Bill 5606: This law intends to deter illegal street racing by broadening the definition of racing to include “racing on any off-street facility and drifting.” Individuals who aid and abet illegal racing can be charged as accomplices under the new law. The law also clarifies that a person can be charged with other crimes as part of being charged with illegal street racing, and establishes the procedures for law enforcement to seize vehicles involved in illegal racing.
WORKING FAMILIES TAX CREDIT
House Bill 1477: This new law expands the Working Families Tax Credit. Those filing “married filing separately” on their taxes will become eligible to qualify for the credit. Additionally, the legislation allows retroactive refunds for up to three years for those who qualified but did not apply in previous years.
In 2021, legislators provided funding for the credit, which will affects about 400,000 households in the state. The program is for low- to moderate-income families statewide. If eligible, families can receive a cash refund up to $1,200 annually. Applications for the tax credit can be submitted online.