Clean up their acts | North West

Outside with the old, with the new.

That’s a sentiment common this time of year – but not a sentiment Washington lawmakers can fully embrace in the 2022 legislative session, which begins Monday.

In addition to focusing on new policy programs and initiatives, lawmakers must also spend time dealing with old business this session, correcting missteps and unintended consequences of past legislative actions.

The main one is the long-term care tax, which the legislature approved in 2019.

The tax is 58 cents for every $ 100 of gross salary, or $ 290 per year for someone earning $ 50,000. It entered into force on January 1. It aims to meet the long-term care needs of eligible individuals by offering a lifetime benefit of up to $ 36,500. The money can be used to pay for home health, assisted living and / or nursing home services, starting in 2025.

Those who take out their own long-term care insurance are exempt from the tax. Otherwise, employers are supposed to start deducting money from employee paychecks this month.

Critics have highlighted several issues with the tax. For example, only Washington residents who have contributed to the fund for at least 10 years – including three of the last six years at the time they apply for benefits – are eligible for benefits. Out-of-state residents who work for Washington companies are not eligible, although they will pay tax. Likewise, people who leave the state lose their eligibility, no matter how long they have contributed to the fund.

There is also a loophole that allows someone to purchase insurance to qualify for an exemption, but then abandon the policy once the exemption is approved.

“It’s flawed in every way imaginable,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said of the law.

Schoesler has a bill this session to repeal the tax and replace it with a study commission to examine private sector options. A lawsuit has also been filed seeking to overturn the law, and an initiative petition is circulating that would convert it into a voluntary membership program.

Responding to widespread criticism, Democratic leaders recently agreed to postpone collecting the tax until spring 2023. They will need to pass legislation in the coming weeks to achieve this.

“The legislature has the option of delaying (the tax) this year in order to make improvements to the fund during the 2022 session, and we fully intend to do so,” said House Speaker Laurie. Jinkins, D-Tacoma, who sponsored the original. invoice in 2019.

Representative Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, is hoping the legislature will drop the law and start over. If that doesn’t happen, however, he has a “fallback” bill this session to address some of his main flaws.

“I have no doubts that (the tax on long term care) will be different after this session,” he said.

Other items on the agenda for the 2022 session include:

Law enforcement officials across the state have raised concerns over the police reform bills that were passed in the last session, saying they could potentially reduce public safety and put endangered officers.

The reforms came in response to high-profile police shootings in Washington and across the country. They include measures prohibiting the use of stranglers or neck restraints and limiting vehicle chases for most crimes.

The Washington Sheriffs and Chiefs Association said the reforms could help reduce the number of violent interactions between law enforcement and the public.

However, the group also said it was “deeply concerned that some police service reforms could have unintended results that would lead to increased levels of confusion, frustration, victimization and increased crime within of our communities “.

The association wants lawmakers to make several changes to reform bills this session, including clarifying when physical force might be needed and allowing vehicles to be chased in situations where public safety is threatened.

Local authorities wish list

With the state’s revenue rising, Washington counties are hoping lawmakers will use some of the money to ease the burden on their local partners.

Whitman County Commissioner Michael Largent, outgoing president of the Washington Counties Association, cited public defense spending, transportation funding and the Blake decision as three major areas in which counties hope to see some consideration. .

The Blake ruling, which was handed down by the Washington Supreme Court last February, overturned the state’s main drug possession law and overturned decades of minor drug convictions.

The implications of this are still being determined. However, counties may be required to reimburse fines or fees collected at the time of conviction; they could also face lawsuits for damages.

“This leaves the counties in a precarious position,” Largent said. “We applied the law on behalf of the state, so suggesting that the legislature has no obligation (to cover the cost of the ruling) is no good.”

Likewise, the counties would like the state to assume a greater share of the costs of public defense.

“If you force counties to pay for public defense and pay it with property taxes, you get justice by geography,” Largent said. “The ability to provide adequate public defense is determined by the jurisdiction in which you live. “

In recent years, counties have become more aggressive in pushing back mandates from unfunded states.

In 2019, for example, the counties association sued the state after the legislature asked counties to increase the number of ballot box collection sites they provide in an election. Whitman County was also a party to the lawsuit.

“We won the case, but the state appealed,” Largent said. “It was a glaring example of an unfunded mandate. “

The counties are also considering legal action related to the costs of public defense, he said, but their preference is to work with the legislature to resolve the issue.

“All of these issues impact our general fund budgets,” Largent said. “If we could move forward on public defense, the Blake decision, or transportation funding, that would put Whitman County in a much better position. “

In addition to trying to ease the tax on long-term care, Representative Schmick has a few local bills in the works this session.

One stems from a 2019 fine of $ 2,700 on the town of Pullman after firefighters used a front loader to rescue several people trapped by a flood on Grand Avenue.

The Washington Department of Labor and Industry said the city failed to use proper safety restraints – a move Schmick at the time called “ridiculous.”

“I was livid,” he says. “I don’t want other cities to have to go through something like this.”

His bill would give the director of the Ministry of Labor and Industry the ability to waive certain fines, depending on individual circumstances.

In response to a request from Asotin County Commissioners, Schmick also has a bill allowing counties to use local anti-poverty funds to pay for the funeral of a deceased county resident in a neighboring state. .

Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, is hoping to gain traction this session for her Outdoor Recreation and Climate Adaptation (ORCA) plan.

The proposal uses the revenue from the Climate Commitment Act to reduce camping fees in state parks and eliminate the state’s Discovery Pass. It also provides money for new parks, resolves the growing backlog of park maintenance needs, and funds a variety of healthy forestry initiatives and Puget Sound restoration projects.

The plan “focuses on the realities we face today and provides a better quality of life for all citizens,” Dye said in a recent interview.

Governor Jay Inslee, however, has other ideas for the Climate Commitment Act, which is expected to raise around $ 4.4 billion over 10 years through a new “cap and trade” auction program. intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Inslee wants to use the money for various projects to reduce transportation-related emissions, as well as a new climate investment account to help underprivileged communities.

Schoesler hopes to push forward a bill this session that would require school districts to create an account to meet long-term maintenance needs.

He sees this as a better approach to funding school maintenance projects, as opposed to alternative proposals that would reduce the 60% majority needed to pass the school bond levies.

“Schools could deposit up to 3% of the annual budget into the account,” Schoesler said. “The money couldn’t be used for anything other than building maintenance. Better to go to the taxpayer (with a levy request) for things that should be paid in cash. “

However, Inslee has already unveiled a full list of new and expanded programs to fund this session. Combine that with this short 60 day session and it’s unclear how much work will actually be done this year.

“When you try to move public policy forward in 60 days, rather than 105, it won’t be well prepared,” Schoesler said.

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