Three additional bills are worth noting now that session has ended:
HB 2409 relates to penalties under the workers’ compensation system, which affects the counties as an employer. WSAC strongly supports worker safety, remedial measures, and compensation for injuries. This bill, however, relates not to injuries, but instead focuses on administrative violations: paperwork, filings, and licensing. As it was introduced, the penalty for these administrative violations would have been draconian, raised by over three times current law levels with mechanisms to raise them even more over time. WSAC worked with other local government and private employer groups to scale this language back so that penalties are increased, but at a reasonable level and with an opportunity for an employer to explain circumstances and make corrections before penalties are assessed. The bill also requires claims administrators—including those employed or contracted by a county—to be licensed and regulated by the Department of Labor and Industries. The intent of this licensing requirement is to ensure that fewer administrative mistakes are made overall. Counties should take steps to make sure their claims administrators are in compliance with this new law.
HB 2919 corrects a problem unintentionally created by legislation passed last year when the state created a graduated the real estate excise tax (“REET”) collection model. REET is assessed on the selling price of property and is typically paid by the seller of the property. REET is collected by the counties on behalf of the state and then distributed per a state formula. County treasurers retain 1.3 percent of the REET collected by the county, along with a treasurer’s fee of $5, to defray the costs of collection. What this means is that counties with lower property values, especially rural counties, ended up collecting less than they did prior to last year’s change, while certain urban areas with higher property values collected much more. HB 2919 fixes this problem by allowing counties with populations of less than 400,000 to keep 1.48 percent of the REET collected instead of 1.3 percent. WSAC worked hard last year to flag this problem with the initial legislation, and gave strong support to the fix in HB 2919 this year. The bill also authorizes 25% of REET collected in King County (e.g., the only county with a population greater than two million) to be used on certain housing programs.
HB 1390 provides a retirement benefit increase to certain retirees of the public employees’ retirement system, Plan 1, and the teachers’ retirement system Plan 1. WSAC strongly supports retirees and would like to provide an increase to all of them, but has concerns about this bill and opposed it based on fiscal prudence: these retirement plans are closed; there are no new employees paying into them, and the number of current employees paying in necessarily gets smaller each year. Soon, the plans will have only recipients of benefits with no additional contributions. WSAC worries about keeping these accounts solvent and also strives to ensure that it treats all employees fairly, not wishing to prefer any group over any other simply because of the plan they are in. The bill did pass, and the state did fund its share of the increased costs in the state budget, but offered no help to any local government, which can expect to absorb at least $107 million in additional costs over the next ten years.