The Legislature continued its frenetic pace in week two of the short session, with 93 committee hearings held just this week and 1,350 bills introduced in just 2022 (2,425 total for 2021-22).
SB 5155 is a tort liability bill carried over from last year. This bill would allow interest on judgments for tortious conduct to begin to accrue from the date on which a person suffers an injury or loss. This means interest would start to accrue before a claim was filed and, in some cases, even before a county was made aware of the injury or loss. Current law provides that interest begins to accrue on the date a judgment is entered by a court. The date when interest starts is especially important in an era where litigation and even settlement negotiations can drag on for years. Much delay can result from plaintiff choices or court schedules, neither of which is within county control. On Wednesday, WSAC (working with other stakeholders) was able to get an amendment that exempts local governments from the bill (meaning the law is unchanged for counties), but the ultimate form of the bill is still very much in doubt. WSAC will continue to pay close attention to this bill as it moves forward.
Please call your House members and tell them to support the bill as it came over from the Senate, with our amendment, as there is a movement to strip it from the bill.
A number of election bills have been introduced this year. SB 5597, a sweeping voting rights omnibus bill modeled on pending federal legislation, continues to be worked on. WSAC has worked with other stakeholders (such as AWC) to submit substantial comments and edits because, whatever the policy aims, our belief is that the bill as written does not work as intended. Language has been pulled from other states (or federal law) and everything from structure, to terms used, does not fit our state. The language is very broad and could cover a variety of non-election functions. Among other things, this bill creates thresholds for minority populations (10% of voter totals) that would require pre-clearance (e.g., approval from a court or the Attorney General) before a local government could undertake a variety of actions relating to voting, boundaries, and “plans of government.” The bill also creates a state demographics database at the University of Washington and requires reporting of data regularly to this database. We’re working to make sure we are not stuck with an unworkable set of new mandates. There are also bills to move primary elections to May (SB 5540), implement discretionary ranked-choice voting (SB 5584), and eliminate odd-year elections (HB 1727). We’re working on all of these to express concerns and ensure that, if enacted, they work with other laws, programs, and processes as well as with each other.
HB 1819 is a bill that, along with a proposed constitutional amendment, would raise the personal property tax exemption from $15,000 to $100,000. Counties are heavily dependent on property tax revenue, and we closely follow any potential shift or revenue loss. The bill could cost counties over $2 million per year in lost revenue. We are working with the sponsors and stakeholders for changes that could mitigate this loss. Finally, HB 1982 is a follow-up to delinquent property tax interest and penalty reform bill from last year (HB 1410). The bill would make technical—but important!—changes to rates, application, and time periods to ensure consistency and mitigate any lost revenue that could have come from the earlier (HB 1410) change. There may need to be further changes to HB 1982 to get the language technically right, but WSAC will work to support county treasurers as this bill moves forward. There is a hearing on this bill on Monday, January 24 at 10:00 in the House Committee on Finance.