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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Welcome to 2020 – and to some new laws in Washington

New Washington laws taking hold today include one that applies to sellers of homes near a working forest. Seller must provide an explanation to the buyer that normal forest practices are protected against lawsuits under the state Right to Farm Act. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP)

Jan. 1 means more than a new year with toasts at midnight and a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.”

It also means new laws.

Although most new Washington laws passed by the Legislature take effect 90 days after a session ends, some are always delayed until Jan. 1 or later to give residents, businesses and state agencies a bit more time to prepare. Some taxes went up, some new regulations started, some programs ended.

Some of the new laws affect a large chunk of the populace; others are specific to a person’s age, occupation or activities. Some, like new guidelines for child restraints in cars and a new age limit for buying cigarettes and vaping products, have received extensive coverage. Others, not so much. Here’s a quick look:

For home buyers

The real estate excise tax changes today, from a flat 1.28% of the sales price to a sliding scale. For the first $500,000, the tax is 1.1%; for the amount between $500,000 to $1.5 million, the tax is 1.28%; for the amount between $1.5 million and $3 million it’s 2.75%, and for the amount over $3 million it’s 3%.

A person buying a home without any smoke detectors installed in it must be provided at least one smoke detector by the seller.

The buyer of a home near a working forest must be notified by the seller, with an explanation to the buyer that normal forest practices are protected against lawsuits under the state Right to Farm Act.

For families

The state’s new Family and Medical Leave law takes effect today, which provides payments for certain work absences after seven consecutive days off the job. The payment is based on a formula involving a percentage of an employee’s weekly wage and a percentage of the state average wage, and can’t be more than $1,000 a week.

Children under 2 must be in rear-facing car seat while riding in a motor vehicle. A child who is older than 4 but less than 4-foot-9 must be in a booster seat until a standard seat belt fits properly.

For dog owners

Cities and counties cannot have an outright ban on the possession of a dog based solely on its breed. Any local government with an existing ban has to make an exception for a dog that can pass an American Kennel Club “good citizen” test or its equivalent.

For young adults

Teens can’t buy tobacco or vaping products. The state age for purchasing is now 21, matching a new federal law.

A person who committed a serious crime when younger than 18 but who was convicted as an adult can be transferred to the custody of the Department of Corrections to the Department of Children, Youth and Families if they are still younger than 25.

For health care

The state begins an effort to attack opioid abuse and addiction. Health insurance plans issued starting today must provide coverage for at least one product that treats opioid abuse. Health care professionals must inform a patient he or she has the right to refuse opioids, and if a patient refuses, they must avoid prescribing opioids until the patient revokes that request.

People who use an out-of-network health care provider in an emergency have more protection from higher bills and a better chance of paying their insurance plan’s in-network amounts.

Heath insurance carriers must post information about their mental health care and substance abuse coverage “in an easily understandable format” on their websites.

Marijuana products must have clear labels that accurately describe the THC and CBD chemical contents, can’t claim to treat, cure or prevent any disease, and can’t appeal to children.

For workers

Companies have new restrictions on requiring workers to sign “non-compete” clauses, which will have to be disclosed in writing at the time of hire and restricted to employees earning more than $100,000 or independent contractors earning more than $250,000 and can be voided if the employee is laid off.

Nurses at hospitals and other health care facilities must be given scheduled meal and rest breaks except in “unforeseen or unavoidable incidents.” Small hospitals with fewer than 25 beds are exempt at this point.

Health care facilities must develop and update their plans to prevent workplace violence every three years. Those plans should include procedures to predict violent behavior.

Hotels and motels with 60 or more workers must provide protection against sexual assault and harassment for those in isolated working areas.

For motorists

Car and truck drivers who don’t give enough room to pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists or other “vulnerable users” of the roadways when they pass them on the left, or don’t properly yield to them at intersections, could find the fines doubling if they get a ticket.

Motorcyclists will need to pass separate exams to get permits for a two-wheeled or three-wheeled motorcycle. Driving a motorcycle without a specific endorsement on your license will get an extra $250 fine if you are caught.

On taxes

Businesses that employ certain highly skilled and specialized workers, including architects, engineers, and lawyers or provide financial services, scientific research and telecommunications services will pay a “workforce education investment surcharge.” The charge is structured as a percentage of the regular business and occupation tax, and increases with the company’s gross revenue. The money will be used to expand the state’s college financial aid programs to cover students from families below the state median income.

The business and occupation tax on a large national or international financial institution with net income of more than $1 billion goes up by 1.2% of its gross income.

Shoppers from states with low or no sales tax can file for a refund for purchase in Washington between July 1 and December 31, but only if the tax paid was at least $25, and only one refund per person.

Tax exemptions for buying alternative energy machinery and equipment, like fuel cells, wind or solar systems drop from 75% of the sales tax to 50% of the sales tax.

On guns

The state’s bump stock buy-back program expires today, although technically the money ran out months ago.