Photo depicting the front exterior of the Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia, Washington.

New State Laws for 2022 Expand Voting Rights, Create Capital Gains Tax, and More

by Ben Adlin

Expanded voting rights, limits on disposable plastic utensils, and increased access to attorneys for young people questioned by police were among the changes to state law that took effect with the new year. While most laws passed during the last legislative session took effect in July, a number of notable changes didn’t take place until 2022.

Other newly effective laws include a ban on the use of Indigenous names and symbols for most school mascots or logos, the establishment of a new capital gains tax, and planned increases to the minimum wage both in Washington and the City of Seattle.

Here are some of the biggest new changes to Washington State law:

Expanded Voting Rights for People With Felony Convictions

HB 1078 automatically restored the right to vote to people with felony convictions on Jan. 1, 2022, and further provides that any person with a felony conviction who is not currently serving a sentence of total confinement is eligible to vote, including those currently on parole. 

Anyone with newly restored voting rights must register to vote regardless of whether they’ve been registered in the past.

The change was aimed in part at racial justice and addressing the effects of disproportionate policing of BIPOC communities. Black and Indigenous people represent 16% of people on parole despite making up just 6% of the state’s total population, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington said last year, citing State Department of Corrections data.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton), who was herself incarcerated before becoming a lawyer and being elected as a lawmaker in 2020. According to the Associated Press, Simmons was the first formerly incarcerated person elected to the State Legislature.

Access to Attorneys for Juveniles

Under HB 1140, law enforcement must provide juveniles access to an attorney before questioning them, and officers are required to record all interrogations of young people. Supporters have said the measure helps ensure teens have adequate constitutional protections and will better protect against false confessions caused by police intimidation or coercion. Some county prosecutors, however, have said the change could get in the way of investigations because attorneys would likely advise against cooperating with police.

Prior to the change, juveniles were treated much like adults during investigations under the law. After being read their rights, they could be questioned freely by law enforcement.

The bill had broad support in the legislature, with nearly 30 listed sponsors. 

Restrictions on Indigenous-Themed Team Names and Mascots

Washington public schools that used Indigenous-themed names or symbols for team mascots had until 2022 to either find a new name or consult with a nearby tribe and receive permission for respectful use under the new law, HB 1356, which banned “the inappropriate use of Native American names, symbols, or images as public school mascots, logos, or team names.”

In a signing statement last April, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said the bill would “end the disrespectful use of Native American imagery in our public schools.” At the time, State education officials said that about 32 Washington schools had Indigenous-themed names or mascots, such as the Indians, Chiefs, Warriors, and Braves.

Most but not all of the affected schools are in Central or Eastern Washington. Last month, Tulalip Tribes members narrowly voted to allow Marysville Pilchuck High School to keep its mascot (or nickname), “the Tomahawks.”

The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Anacortes), is a member of the Tlingit tribe. “When we see others using us in a mascot form of regalia [by] using a deer hide, using the salmon skin, using the feathers in mockery, this is not a way in which we are being honored as the first Washingtonians,” she said, according to Yakima-based KIMA-TV.

Minimum Wage Increases

The statewide minimum wage, which applies to most employees over the age of 16, increased to $14.49 per hour on Jan. 1, up 5.83% from last year. Workers who are 14 or 15 can be paid 85% of that amount (or $12.32 per hour).

In the City of Seattle, the minimum wage increased to $17.27 per hour, although companies with 500 or fewer employees can pay a minimum wage of $15.75 per hour if they contribute the difference — at least $1.52 per hour — toward medical benefits or if employees earn $1.52 per hour in tips.

The increases aren’t results of new laws but rather planned increases in minimum wages tied to higher costs of living such as housing, food, household furnishings, and gas.

Law to Limit Plastic Utensils and Other Waste

Under SB 5022, restaurants and other food service businesses were required to stop automatically including single-use utensils, straws, beverage lids, and other disposable items in to-go orders as of Jan. 1. The items can still be given to customers, but only if they specifically request them or businesses make them available in self-service areas.

Certain exceptions apply to the rule, which is aimed at reducing plastic consumption and environmental waste. Restaurants can provide beverage cup lids on hot beverages, for example, or those purchased from a drive-through or at certain large music or sports events. Some designated facilities, such as senior nutrition programs and health care providers, are exempt from the law.

California has passed a similar law, as has the City of Portland, Oregon.

Office of Independent Investigations

A new State-run agency aimed at improving police accountability is set to open this year under HB 1267. The Office of Independent Investigations is tasked with looking into all uses of deadly force by police in the state. Investigations would happen independently from any police or law enforcement agencies involved in a killing.

The office, which is set to begin work after July 1, 2022, was the result of a request from Inslee following the 2020 police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Manuel Ellis in Tacoma as well as the resulting nationwide protests against police violence and racism.

Sponsored by Rep. Debra Entenmen (D-Kent), the bill is based on recommendations made by a governor’s task force. “The new Office of Independent Investigation will help our state rebuild the trust between law enforcement and communities of color by ensuring that there is true accountability for unnecessary police violence,” Entenman said when the bill passed in April last year. “It is simple, we cannot have police investigating police.”

New Capital Gains Tax Takes Effect

Under SB 5096, Washington will begin collecting a capital gains tax on earnings from individuals’ sale of stocks, bonds, certain property, and other investments this year, which will fund early learning, child care, and school construction.

The law creates a 7% tax on capital gains of more than $250,000 from long-term capital assets. Real estate, assets in certain retirement accounts, and other specific property types are exempt from the tax. Officials have put first-year revenue estimates at roughly $415 million.

While the new State tax will apply to investment earnings beginning Jan. 1, the tax itself won’t be paid until taxes are due in 2023.

New Process for Removing Discriminatory Property Covenants

Property owners who have an unlawful, discriminatory restrictive covenant on their property can now remove the covenant from their property’s chain of title. The University of Washington and Eastern Washington University will be identifying restrictive covenants on private property and informing property owners and the appropriate county. Real estate agents and property owners will be also required to disclose any discriminatory covenants during property transactions.

If a King County property owner wants a covenant removed, they’ll need to go to the King County Superior Court and file a replacement document with the King County Recorder’s Office.

For details on how to remove or modify a racially restrictive covenant in King County, visit the King County website.

Other New Laws and the 2022 Legislative Session

In addition to the changes above, new laws kicking in this year also adjusted rules and processes around health care decisions, wage liens, home foreclosures, vehicle transporters, child support debt, professional license applications for individuals with past criminal convictions, and more.

Additional changes will be coming this year. Lawmakers have already filed dozens of bills for the current legislative session, set to begin on Jan. 10, and more are being introduced daily.

Ben Adlin is a reporter and editor who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives on Capitol Hill. He’s covered politics and legal affairs from Seattle and Los Angeles for the past decade and has been an Emerald contributor since May 2020, writing about community and municipal news. Find him on Twitter at @badlin.

📸 Featured image is attributed to cmh2315fl (under a Creative Commons, CC BY-NC 2.0 license).

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