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News / Northwest

Lawmakers won’t act on Washington long-term care ballot initiative

Question will likely be on November ballot

By Claire Withycombe, The Seattle Times
Published: February 16, 2024, 5:24pm

OLYMPIA — Democratic leaders in the Washington Legislature said Friday they would not act on a citizen initiative that would let Washingtonians opt out of a payroll tax that funds a state long-term care insurance program, meaning the question will very likely go directly to the November ballot.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, also said Friday they would hold hearings on three other citizen initiatives later this month.

Their announcement means that legislators have now laid out publicly what the next steps will be for the slate of six initiatives filed and sponsored by the state Republican Party chair, Jim Walsh, and bankrolled by Redmond businessman Brian Heywood.

With each initiative, the Legislature has several options. They could do nothing, in which case the initiative would go directly to the ballot in November. They could pass an alternative policy to appear alongside the initiative on the ballot. Or they could pass the initiative into law.

Billig and Jinkins said earlier this week that they wouldn’t hold hearings on efforts to repeal the state’s capital gains tax and its carbon market, both recently established by legislation and both big drivers of the state’s revenue growth. Altogether that means they’re not acting on three initiatives, which means those three will almost surely be go before voters, but they could act on the three others.

“The three initiatives we are not taking action on would have a dire effect on the day to day lives of every single Washingtonian,” Billig and Jinkins said in a joint statement Friday. “These initiatives would dramatically decrease quality of life and devastate progress on K-12 education, child care, clean air, clean water, climate action, and aging with dignity — matters that are important to people across the state.”

The three other initiatives that lawmakers do plan to hold public hearings on would lift some restrictions on when police can chase suspects, require parents of public school students to be able to review curriculum and be notified of their student’s medical care, and bar the state and local governments from imposing an income tax.

Billig and Jinkins said the effects of the three were “less obvious” than the attempted repeals of the capital gains tax and carbon market and making payroll taxes for the long-term care insurance program optional, which advocates say could gut the program.

“Hearings will allow us to gather more information and hear from the public and others so that we can make informed decisions,” they said. “These initiatives will have a lasting effect on all Washingtonians. It is crucial we have every bit of information available and at our disposal so that we fully understand the consequences — both intended and not — of these initiatives and the ways they will affect the lives of every Washingtonian.”

Heywood said in a statement Friday that scheduling hearings on the three initiatives was “a step in the right direction.”

“Next, they need to pass those three initiatives into law to stop an income tax, restore reasonable police pursuit, and reestablish parents as the primary stakeholders in their children’s lives,” he said. “At the same time, voters who signed these initiatives have been asking why only these three are getting hearings.”

Supporters of the long-term care program, a form of social insurance similar to Social Security, say that making the 0.58% payroll tax optional would in effect kill the program, known as WA Cares. The program, the first of its kind in the country, is designed so that a person could get up to $36,500 to pay for services like in-home care or a nursing home if they need help with basic activities.

Lawmakers are advancing a policy this session to let people use the long-term care insurance benefits if they move out of state, and leaders have received confirmation the proposal does not count as an alternative that would have to appear on the ballot alongside the initiative that would make the program optional. Both the House and Senate versions of that proposal, House Bill 2467 and Senate Bill 6072, are still alive.

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