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May 26, 2022

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In Our View: New laws taking effect Saturday will have impact

The Columbian
Published:

As we prepare for all that 2022 has to offer, allow us to provide a public service announcement: A burrito smothered in cheese and sauce from your favorite takeout restaurant is difficult to eat with your hands. And it’s messy.

As a spate of new state laws go into effect Saturday, we’re guessing that a few Washingtonians will find themselves in that predicament. Restaurants, you see, will no longer provide plastic utensils unless requested by the customer. The same goes for plastic straws, condiment packages and cup lids — all part of an effort to reduce single-use plastics in the state.

Many laws passed by the 2021 Legislature are already on the books. Legislation related to police accountability, criminal sentencing and other topics took effect in July — 90 days after the end of the legislative session. But others take effect Jan. 1 of the following year.

The most prominent of those is a capital gains tax, after lawmakers approved a 7 percent tax on profits of more than $250,000 from the sale of long-term assets such as stocks and bonds. For example, if an individual makes $300,000 in profit from selling stocks in a given year, they would pay the state $3,500 in taxes — 7 percent of the amount above $250,000.

Payments are not due until 2023, but the tax might not be around that long. Legal challenges claim the capital gains tax amounts to an income tax, which is unconstitutional in Washington. The issue is winding its way through the courts and likely will end up before the state Supreme Court late in 2022.

Meanwhile, another tax that would impact a much larger number of people is up in the air. A payroll tax to fund long-term care was passed several years ago with a start date of Jan. 1, 2022. The tax amounts to 0.58 percent of an employee’s wages — $290 for somebody making $50,000 a year.

Lawmakers on both sides of aisle have expressed misgivings with the law and are expected to make changes early in the legislative session, which begins Jan. 10.

Most of the laws that begin Saturday, however, will not impact pocketbooks.

One will allow those who were convicted of a felony to have their voting rights restored if they are no longer imprisoned. Those people still must register to vote once that right is restored.

Another new law will establish a state-run police watchdog agency. The Office of Independent Investigations will examine all instances of the use of deadly force by police in Washington, and Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik has been appointed to an 11-member panel to oversee the office.

Those are among 335 bills that passed both chambers of the Legislature in 2021 — the lowest total for a 105-day odd-year session since at least 1983. In 2009, by comparison, 583 bills were passed.

Many of those are ceremonial and do not create new laws, but the effect on Washington residents is clear — and can be overwhelming.

The Revised Code of Washington contains 99 sections known as Titles. Under those are hundreds of chapters including minutiae such as “Control of spartina and purple loosestrife” and “Ladybugs and other beneficial insects.” And RCW 70A.388.190 prohibits the use of X-rays to see whether shoes fit properly.

All laws were passed for some reason at some point in time, but lawmakers should consider whether a little editing of the RCW might be in order. Washington residents already have enough laws to ponder while eating their burritos.

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