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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

First, I would like to thank all of you who attended the town hall event Rep. Leonard ChristianSen. Mike Padden, and I hosted a few weeks ago. It is important for us to hear your questions and concerns. If you were unable to attend, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time.

Special session – Blake decision

As you may know, we returned to Olympia for a one-day special session on May 16 to address a critical public safety issue – the Blake decision – a new drug possession law.

In February 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled under “Blake v. State” that Washington’s drug possession law was unconstitutional. During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5476, as a temporary stop-gap measure with a July 1, 2023 expiration.

Despite attempts to reach a fix during the regular session we adjourned without one. In fact, on the final day House Democrats brought their version of a “Blake fix” to the House floor for a vote, where it failed by a vote of 43-55. The bill lacked teeth, set people up to fail and would have perpetuated the overdose and drug crime problems that have increased.

After we adjourned in April, the governor called a special session for May 16. Both chambers and caucuses worked on a compromise, Senate Bill 5536. I supported the measure. It could be stronger, but many points House Republicans wanted were included in the final bill. Plus, it was critical to have legislation in place before the other law expired July 1.

Long-term care payroll tax starts July 1

In 2019, the Democratic majority party passed a mandatory long-term care payroll tax program.  It was unpopular, as 63% of Washington voters voted to “repeal” it that year.

More than 480,000 workers opted out of the program. However, many were unable to find private plans in time. Others were unaware of the new payroll tax.

The majority did agree to delay its implementation by 18 months, but it is now set to start July 1.

Most workers in Washington, including part-time and temporary workers, will pay up to 58 cents on every $100 of their earnings for this new program. If you earn:

Exemptions: For those who were looking to opt out of the program, you were able to do so if you purchased a qualifying long-term care insurance plan before Nov. 1, 2021, and applied for a permanent exemption from the WA Cares Fund. If you did so, you are not subject to the new payroll tax.

Beyond the private insurance exemption, there are only a few exemptions including:

  • if you live outside of Washington state;
  • are the spouse or registered domestic partner of an active-duty service member of the U.S. armed forces;
  • have non-immigrant work visas; or
  • are a veteran with a 70% service-connected disability rating or higher.

Learn more about exemptions here.

I have a number of other concerns with this payroll tax. It is a government-mandated, “one-size-fits-all” plan for current and future workers, with no flexibility for individuals to choose their own long-term care or providers. The maximum benefit is $36,500, which is inadequate for long-term care needs. Finally, the solvency and financial viability of the program is highly questionable. That means the payroll tax may need to be increased in the future.

For more information, click here.

New electrical trainee law effective July 1

In 2018, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 6126. The legislation essentially eliminated all but one path for eligibility to test and receive a commercial electrician’s (01) license. Effective July 1, 2023, in order to be eligible to test and receive a 01 electrical license, you must complete four years of related supplemental instruction (RSI) and 8,000 hours of training through a Washington State Apprenticeship and Training Council (WSATC) approved program. Unfortunately, a large number of contractors did not get their trainees enrolled in WSATC approved programs in time to meet this deadline. I have heard from electrical contractors from all over Washington state that were not prepared for this deadline.

In the 2023 session, to address this issue, I sponsored House Bill 1393 to modify the requirements to obtain a journey-level electrician certificate of competency. The bill was an attempt to delay the deadline put in place by Senate Bill 6126 for two years. My bill did not make it out of committee, but it got the attention of legislators and stakeholders. I was asked to work with Sen. Zoe Saldana and Rep. Liz Berry, as well as stakeholders to come up with a compromise agreement that would allow employers and employees participating in the trainee program to get credit for a portion of their current training while transition into WSATC approved programs. The result of our work was Sen. Saldana’s Senate Bill 5320, but we must do more to eliminate the current barriers for new programs and increase the capacity of the programs already in existence.

Governor’s climate policies boost gas prices in Washington state

Never in my life have I witnessed gasoline prices nearly $5 a gallon — that is, until now. According to AAA, Washington state now has the highest gasoline prices in the nation. In Spokane County, the average price of regular gas is $4.761, while the average state price is $4.912.

If we break this down, part of the reason we are paying higher prices than other states is due to state taxes and climate policies pushed by Gov. Inslee and adopted by the majority party in the Legislature.

For example, gasoline in Washington is taxed at a rate of 49.40 cents per gallon, the third highest among states. State gas taxes account for about 11.2% of the total cost of fuel.

Now enter the Climate Commitment Act, the state’s cap-and-trade program from the governor and the majority party that was adopted by the Legislature in 2021 but took effect in January. Affordable Fuel Washington reports prices in Washington state have spiked an additional 44 cents for gasoline and 54 cents for diesel fuel since the state launched the tax on CO2 emissions at the beginning of this year.

Washington Policy Center’s Environmental Director Todd Myers writes, “It is strange that the Department of Ecology continues to deny the evidence which includes real-world prices, actual invoices from fuel suppliers, and agreement by other states (including California and Oregon) that these policies increase gas prices. It is even more ridiculous when the express purpose of CO2 taxes is to increase gas prices and provide an incentive to use less gasoline and other CO2-emitting fuels. And yet, the governor and staff at the Department of Ecology still blame everyone but themselves for rising gas prices.”

These prices affect us all — from the mom who needs to drive to the grocery store to get milk, eggs and bread for her family (and those prices are higher due to the increased gas costs), to people who must commute each day to work, and senior citizens who may need to see their doctor or pick up a prescription at the pharmacy. We’re all being pinched — and in Washington state it is even harder because of outlandish state government policies.

To offset these higher prices and inflation, I supported efforts to provide sales tax relief, property tax relief, and expand the Working Families Tax Credit. Unfortunately, Democrats would not consider real tax relief during the 2023 session. Nevertheless, we will continue those efforts to help families struggling in these times of higher prices.

Following your state government

Please stay informed on what is happening in state government even though the Legislature has adjourned. Check out the websites below. The Capitol Buzz and Ledger are updated daily.

Do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance navigating state government, want to schedule a meeting, would like me to tour a facility, or speak to your association or organization.

It is an honor to serve the 4th District!

Suzanne Schmidt

State Representative Suzanne Schmidt, 4th Legislative District
468 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7820 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000