(The Center Square) — Several new laws went into effect on Sunday, July 23, in Washington state pertaining to elections and candidates, economic development, taxes, and consumer protection.
The various measures became effective 90 days after state lawmakers adjourned this year’s legislative session in Olympia. Here’s a summary:
ELECTION FILINGS, CAMPAIGNS, VOTER SIGNUPS
- Under Senate Bill 5182, beginning in 2024, the weeklong filing period for elective public offices in Washington state will open on the first Monday in May. Previously, the filing period opened two weeks before the Memorial Day holiday – this year, that was May 15. The closing period remains unchanged at 5 p.m. on Friday of filing week. Candidates who opt to withdraw have until the following Monday at 5 p.m. to request removing their names from the ballot. Filing fees are not refundable.
- House Bill 1317 affects sponsors of so-called “grassroots” lobbying campaigns and their filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission. It requires disclosure of certain information – names, addresses, and campaign purpose — by organizations or individuals donating $25 or more. Additionally, advertising of grassroots campaigns must now closely align with existing statutory requirements for other political advertisements used in print, radio, and television ads and billboards and posters.
- Beginning Jan. 1, House Bill 1048 amends the state’s Voting Rights Act to allow judicial review of allegations that district boundaries discriminate against persons based on race, color, or minority language.
- Senate Bill 5208, which takes effect July 15, 2024, allows any person registering to vote online to use the last four digits of their Social Security number to verify their identity instead of using state-issued identification, such as a Washington driver’s license. However, the person must also submit “signature images” as part of the confirmation notice process.
Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5460, which now limits property tax collections to 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation within state-designated irrigation and rehabilitation districts. The levy cannot exceed that amount unless an increase is approved by voters within the district.
The measure was co-sponsored by state Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, and has application to the Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District. It follows a legal dispute between the MLIRD’s board of directors and the Grant County Treasurer over allowable property tax levies within the district.
Such districts have navigable lakes or waters with exterior boundaries and granted rights of 50,000 acre-feet or more, which can be used for irrigation and public access.
Washington has 39 counties, 30 of which are deemed rural. Substitute House Bill 1267 allows them to collect a portion of retail sales tax – up to 0.09% – to finance public facilities and personnel serving local economic development.
The tax must be deducted from a portion of state tax otherwise collected by the Department of Revenue and allocated at no cost to qualifying counties. The state’s base sales-and-use tax is 6.5%; local rates add to that and vary by location.
In utilizing the funds, counties must consult with their cities, towns, port districts, and any associated development organizations to ensure expenditures are aimed at attracting, creating, expanding or retaining businesses, providing “family wage” jobs, and providing affordable workforce housing or facilities.
The state auditor’s office is expected to monitor such expenditures as part of its annual fiscal review of individual counties. By definition, counties are considered rural if they have a population density of less than 100 persons per square mile or are smaller than 225 square miles in size.
Counties can continue to collect the tax for 25 years after the date it is first imposed.
Requested by the state Attorney General’s Office, the Robocall Scam Protection Act, HB 1051, was ultimately passed without dissent by both the House and Senate, an indication of the public’s overwhelming distaste for robotic phone calls.
The act makes it illegal for callers to disguise their identity by using fake caller identification and bars phone service providers from knowingly enabling illegal robocalls.
The measure also prohibits calls to state residents listed on the federal “Do Not Call” registry. Previously, Washington did not have a law that specifically barred companies from contacting residents who signed up.
The bill targets “commercial solicitations” made by automated dialing devices which play a recorded or artificial message to encourage a person for donations or to purchase property, goods, or services. Offenders may be subject to civil penalties ranging from $500 to $2,000 per violation, and face lawsuits from affected parties.
There are exemptions for recognized non-profit organizations, organizations contacting their own listed members, or lower-volume commercial operations.
Complaints can be filed with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at https://www.atg.wa.gov/consumer-issues, or by calling 1-800-551-4636.
The measures signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee were among 1,781 bills that were introduced during this year’s legislative session, which began in January and concluded in April. The bills, their text, and legislative history can be viewed at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/.