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Tuesday, November 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  WA Government

Hundreds of new Washington laws take effect Sunday

UPDATED: Sat., July 27, 2019

Although legislators wrapped up their 2019 session and went home three months ago, most of the bills they passed don’t become law until Sunday.

They agreed to hundreds of new laws or changes to existing ones, and a wide variety of rules including ones covering apiarists and partially full wine bottles.

They banned fracking for oil and natural gas, and eliminated the personal exemption that allowed some students to skip the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

They toughened laws for motorcyclists, political ads, dog fighting and their own misbehavior. They provided more help for college students, went a bit lighter on teen sexting and approved a process for people with misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions to have their records wiped clean.

All of these, and many more, take effect Sunday under a constitutional provision that says bills that aren’t emergencies or don’t have a special schedule must wait 90 days after the session ends to become law. It’s designed in part to allow anyone who disagrees with a law to try to block it by gathering enough signatures on a referendum petition that would put it on the November ballot.

Most bills, however, become law without much fanfare and can catch some of the people affected by surprise. Here’s a roundup of some of the Legislature’s work:

Nursing moms

in the workplace

Businesses with 15 or more employees must provide “reasonable accommodations” for a worker who is breastfeeding, including break time and a private location – something other than a bathroom – for a nursing mother to express milk for up to two years after her child is born. If the business doesn’t have such a space in its building, the employer must work with the employee to find a convenient location and a schedule to accommodate her needs.

Legislative ethics

Sexual harassment and harassment are added as violations of the Legislative Ethics Act. This was prompted by the Legislative Ethics Board ruling in January that inappropriate or harassing communications did not violate the act, unlike offering special access, soliciting tickets to a sporting event or pressuring an agency for favors for a relative. It follows some high-profile complaints against lawmakers that prompted resignations.

Vaccines

In one of the most controversial decisions of the session, the Legislature removed a parent’s ability to cite personal or philosophical reasons for refusing to vaccinate a child for measles, mumps and rubella. Religious and medical exemptions for the MMR vaccine remain, as do personal or philosophical exemptions for other childhood vaccinations. The law was prompted by a measles outbreak in Vancouver.

Motorcycles

Motorcyclists are now required to have liability insurance similar to what the owners of cars and trucks must carry. They can either get a policy with at least $25,000 for the injury or death of another person, or a liability bond. They can be asked for proof of the insurance or bond when stopped by law enforcement, and get a ticket if they don’t have it.

The Legislature also approved some changes to the licensing procedures for motorcyclists, including a $250 fine for driving without a valid motorcycle endorsement on your license. But that law doesn’t kick in until Jan. 1.

Campaigns

and elections

It will be more difficult to hide the donors to independent campaigns for or against a candidate or issue by moving the money through a series of political action committees. State law requires the top five donors to the campaign be listed on the ad, and the new requirement says if any of those five are separate political committees, the top three donors to those committees must also be listed. No more hiding donations to the Committee for Goodness and Niceness in Government by laundering it through the Committee for Niceness and Goodness in Government, which gets its money from People for Good and Nice Government. The Public Disclosure Commission will also develop rules to prevent PACs from finding a way around the new rules, which they are sure to try to do.

The Native American Voting Rights Act requires county auditors to put at least one ballot drop box on a reservation if a tribe requests it, and voters can use nontraditional addresses, which are common on reservations, when registering.

Members of the Electoral College won’t be fined $1,000 anymore if they try to cast a ballot for someone other than the candidate who got the majority of votes in the state. They’ll simply be replaced by someone who will cast a ballot for the winner of the state’s presidential election. The change follows Washington’s 2016 Electoral College meeting, when four Democratic electors decided to vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton, who won the state that year.

Voters can update their registrations with new addresses by mail or online up to eight days before an election. (For the Aug. 6 primary, that’s Monday.) After that, they can make the changes, or register to vote, up until 8 p.m. on Election Day, but they have to do it in person at a county elections office or some other designated location.

Efforts to fix ballots with mismatched signatures or no signatures at all must be tracked and reported on a daily basis, with those reports available within days.

The presidential primary was officially moved to the second Tuesday in March. It will be the only election every four years in which voters must select a political party, and mark the ballot only for a candidate from that party.

Animals

Laws against dog fighting were enhanced, elevating the crime of animal fighting, stealing an animal for fighting or training, or owning or selling paraphernalia for animal fighting to a Class B felony, which has maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Dogs and cats can’t be used as collateral for payment purchases of the animals from pet stores or breeders. Lawmakers said some dogs and cats are sold with a payment plan known as a consumer lease, with low initial payments but a total cost several times the original purchase price. The pet is used as collateral for the loan. If the payments aren’t made, the pet is taken from the family, which animal advocates argued is inhumane.

Judges can allow “courthouse facility dogs” to accompany and assist crime victims and witnesses during proceedings, but must make sure that in a jury trial a dog’s presence doesn’t prejudice any member of the jury.

The state Agriculture Department must establish a program to promote habitat for honey bees and other pollinators. Apiarists – beekeepers – who conform to local ordinances can’t be held liable for civil damages unless they are negligent.

Marijuana

Washington residents with a misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession when they were at least 21 can apply to have that stricken from their record by applying to the court where they were sentenced.

Clerks in licensed marijuana shops can face a gross misdemeanor if they’re caught selling to someone under 21, or a felony if they know the person is under 21 or provide marijuana products to an underage person outside the store.

Medical marijuana patients can have an easier time renewing their authorization. Health care providers who think the annual physical would create a severe hardship can allow it to be automatically renewed.

Education

Qualifications for College Bound Scholarships, which can provide up to four years of tuition to qualifying students, were adjusted for the upcoming school year so that students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches in ninth grade are eligible. Those with families below 65 percent of the state’s Median Family Income get priority for a maximum grant.

The state’s Community and Technical College system will pick four districts – two in Eastern Washington and two in Western Washington – for pilot programs to help homeless students by providing them access to laundry, storage, showers and locker rooms, reduced-price meal programs and housing.

Community and technical colleges must issue high school diplomas to students ages 16 to 20 who complete an associate degree without a high school diploma.

State colleges and universities must award as much credit as possible to incoming high school students with high grades in Advanced Placement or other similar courses.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will begin developing lessons on the Holocaust, which will be available for junior high and high school students in the 2020-21 school year.

Crime and punishment

The statute of limitations was abolished for crimes involving child rape and sexual exploitation of a minor, and lengthened to as much as 20 years for some other sexual assault cases.

Minors who share sexually explicit photos – or sext – with other minors will face misdemeanors if both parties are 13 or older, but could still face felony charges and be required to register as a sex offender if one of them is 12 or younger, or is selling the photos. Adults who share or sell sexually explicit photos of minors are still subject to felony charges.

Hospitals need to begin preparing procedures for informing sexual assault victims whether they have someone trained in administering rape kits, and to assist them in finding another facility if they don’t.

Miscellaneous

A person with a physical or mental disability can’t be denied an organ transplant solely because of his disability.

If you drink only part of the bottle of wine you buy at a winery or tasting room, you can have the bottle corked and take the unfinished portion with you. State law already allowed that in restaurants, but didn’t include wineries. The law also applies to saké.

Hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – for oil and natural gas exploration or production was banned in Washington, although opponents of the bill pointed out there is no natural gas production in Washington and it’s already illegal to frack where it could affect drinking water.

Cities can adopt ordinances to create “tiny house” communities, and schools or training programs can contract with service organizations to build them for low-income housing.

Strip clubs must put panic buttons in rooms where a dancer might be alone with a customer and record any accusations against a customer for violence, ban the customer for three years and share information about that customer with other clubs.

The Legislature also passed a series of bills designed to improve the environment and fight climate change, but while they technically become law Sunday, they have timelines that require studies or new rules so the changes don’t start for years. For example, a bill designed to reduce the amount of hydrofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting chemicals becomes law today but the restrictions on certain products that contain those chemicals will be phased in starting in 2020 and ending in 2024.

State agencies were also directed to identify products with certain toxic chemicals. But they have until next June to identify the products that are significant sources of those chemicals and June 2022 to come up with regulations to control them.

Restrictions on railroad cars carrying crude oil were also passed, but they take effect only after the increase in rail shipments to a particular facility hits a certain level.

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