No red wave in Washington

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

While there are a couple of legislative races still too close to call, it is clear that Democrats will expand their majorities slightly. In the Senate, Democrats have picked up one seat (29-20) as Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham) has defeated Sen. Simon Sefzik (R-Ferndale) who was appointed last January to replace Sen. Doug Ericksen after he passed away in December 2021. In the House, Democrats are close to picking up one seat (58-40) in the 10th Legislative District, but the race is too close to call. Now that the election is over, House and Senate leaders will meet to elect their leadership and determine committee structure and composition for the 2023 Legislative Session

Economic revenue forecast updated

On Sept. 21, the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released the updated September 2022 Economic Forecast. Once again, projections for Washington’s current two-year budget period increased, this time by approximately $43 million more than what was anticipated from the last quarterly update.

The update, however, was not all good news. The numbers released by the council reflect a decrease for the next two-year budget cycle (ending in 2025) by $495 million. The decrease in collected revenues predicted for the 2023-25 biennium is due to several factors, including high inflation, rising interest rates and lower personal income. 

No new gas vehicles by 2035

At the end of August, Gov. Inslee announced that Washington state will follow California and require all new light-duty cars and trucks sold in Washington to meet zero-emission vehicle standards by 2035. California’s decision is having a ripple effect, triggering a process by which Washington must enact the same rules. That’s because in 2020, Washington legislators passed a law tying Washington’s vehicle emissions standards to California’s. This year, Washington legislators set a goal of phasing out sales of new internal combustion-powered cars by 2030.

The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) must go through a rule-making process to finalize the details of Washington’s phase-out plan, with final adoption expected by the end of this month.

Minimum wage increases

Washington state’s minimum wage will increase to $15.74 an hour in January, up $1.25 an hour. It is being reported that this will be the nation’s highest state minimum wage. Cities can set higher minimum wages if they choose, which Seattle ($17.27 an hour), Sea-Tac ($17.54 an hour), and Tukwila ($19 an hour) have done. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has also calculated new minimum salary requirements for managers and other employees who are exempt from overtime rules. The 2023 minimum salary for overtime-exempt employees working for employers with 50 or fewer workers is $57,293.60 a year, or 1.75 times what a full-time minimum wage worker earns. The minimum salary is $65,478.40 a year for larger employers.

L&I proposes workers comp rate increase 

Recently, L&I proposed a 4.8% increase in workers compensation insurance tax rates for 2023. The proposed increase comes on the heels of a 2022 rate increase of 3.1%. 

L&I reported that the increase would work out to an additional $61 jointly from employers and workers per year. L&I also noted that workers will continue to pay on average about a quarter of the premium, a similar percentage to that paid in 2022. If adopted, the new rate will take effect at the beginning of next year.  

Paid family leave program facing deficit

The state’s paid family leave program will have an $8.7 million deficit by the end of 2022 according to consultants hired by the state. The report shows that the current premium rate is not keeping up with the demand for this state program that began in 2020.

In response, the state’s Employment Security Department announced premiums on workers’ wages will rise on Jan. 1 to 0.8% from the current 0.6%. Of this, employers with 50+ employees pay up to 26.78%, and employees will pay 73.22%.

Ecology finalizes cap and invest rules

At the end of September, Ecology finalized the regulations for the state’s first cap-and-trade program. Under the Climate Commitment Act passed by the Legislature in 2021, Ecology is required to implement the program by Jan. 1, 2023. Washington is only the second state in the country to adopt such a program.

Under the cap-and-invest program, businesses and organizations responsible for 75% of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions will have to obtain allowances to cover their emissions. Over time, the number of these allowances will be reduced. Some allowances will be awarded at no charge, while others will be sold at quarterly auctions, with the first auction planned for the second half of February 2023. The Legislature designated three business types — electric utilities, natural gas utilities and emission-intensive, trade-exposed entities — that receive some of their emissions allowances for free. These businesses must report additional information to determine the number of no-cost allowances they should receive.

L&I proposes permanent heat rule

L&I is building on the temporary rulemaking implemented earlier this summer to draft permanent rulemaking for ambient heat exposure in the workplace. The temporary rule lays out multiple requirements for employers once the temperature reaches a specific trigger temperature. Some of the requirements under the current rule include:

  • Providing that the required water is cool enough to safely drink.
  • Providing adequate access to shade.
  • Mandating cool-down rest periods.
  • Allowing and encouraging workers to take additional paid preventative cool-down rest.
  • Encouraging close observation of newly assigned employees for 14 days.
  • Observing employees for signs of heat-related illness.

The updated draft rule notably deviates from the temporary rule by lowering the trigger temperature to 80 degrees (52 degrees if wearing nonbreathable clothing), considering the expansion of meal and rest break requirements under high heat procedures, and applying the rule year-round (previously the rule was only in effect from May through September).