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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hundreds of new Washington laws go into effect on Sunday covering areas from police accountability to wildfires to education

The Washington Capitol building in Olympia, photographed Jan. 5, 2017, features the classic dome architecture and houses the governor's office and the Legislature's two chambers.   (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Major new policies in Washington that effect drugs penalties, climate change, taxes and other issues will go into affect on Sunday.

The state Legislature passed more than 300 bills last session. On Sunday, 90 days since adjourning, most bills will go into effect.

Legislators came into the session with hefty goals: respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, aid in its economic recovery, reform policing, fight a changing climate and more. Democrats left with big wins, passing many long-awaited bills dealing with climate change, taxes and equity.

The $59.2 billion two-year budget is aimed at helping the state recover from the pandemic, assist schools with reopening, expand public health services and improve the state’s wildfire fighting capabilities.

Here’s a look at some of the changes to state law:

Drug possession

Possessing a controlled substance is now considered a simple misdemeanor, not a felony. That means possession is now punishable by up to 90 days behind bars, a $1,000 fine or both.

For the first two offenses, those possessing drugs would be diverted to treatment not jail.

The change went into effect July 1, but additional funding for community-based recovery programs will be allocated on Sunday.

The change followed a state Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s law against drug possession, which at the time was punishable by five years in prison or up to $10,000 in fines, was unconstitutional.

The new law leaves open the possibilities that the misdemeanor penalty could be eliminated in 2023. The Legislature will set up a committee to review the state’s drug laws over the next two years to come up with a long-term fix.

If no fix is implemented by 2023, the state would end all prosecutions for simple drug possession.

EnvironmentTwo of the biggest bills attempting to fight climate change passed the Legislature this session, although neither goes into effect immediately.

The cap-and-trade program sets a cap on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2023. The largest polluters in the state would need to clean up to meet the cap or purchase allowances from the state.

The state would receive the revenue from those allowances, which it would use to improve the environment and invest in programs to help those disproportionately affected by climate change.

The clean fuels standard would require transportation fuels in the state, such as those for cars, trucks, boats, trains and aircraft, to be cleaner over time. Starting in 2023, polluters must start reducing their emissions a little each year in order to hit a statewide goal of emissions 20% lower than 2017 levels by 2038.

Another new law aimed at creating a cleaner environment would require the state to better prepare for a zero emissions transportation future.

It requires the Department of Transportation to develop a publicly available tool to track charging and refueling infrastructure for electric vehicles. It requires the State Building Code Council to implement rules for requiring residential occupancies to have electric vehicle charging capability by July 1, 2024.

After more than a year of delays, the state’s plastic bag ban will be going into effect right before the stroke of Oct. 1.

In 2020, the Legislature passed a bill that would establish a statewide prohibition on single-use plastic bags that are noncompostable. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit more than a year ago, Gov. Jay Inslee put a pause on the ban.

Inslee’s updated proclamation lifts that pause at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 30, meaning the plastic bag ban will go into effect.

Shoppers who want to use single-use plastic bags or reusable bags that do not meet recycled content requirements will be charged 8 cents per bag.

A recycled paper bag must contain a minimum of 40% recycled material, according to the law. A reusable carryout bag must have the capacity to carry at least 22 pounds and be durable, so it can be washed and disinfected.

Capital gains tax

One of the session’s most controversial bills will technically go into effect Sunday, but funds from the capital gains tax won’t be received by the state until 2023, at the earliest.

The law implements a 7% tax on the sale of stocks, bonds, some property, businesses and other investments, if the profits exceed $250,000 annually. The tax will be applied to sales after Jan. 1, 2022.

The law is caught up in the courts, with two lawsuits claiming the tax is unconstitutional. The suits were consolidated into one case earlier this month.

Wildfire fighting funding and disaster relief

The state will allocate $125 million to the Department of Natural Resources to aid in wildfire fighting, forest health and community fire prevention.

The funds will be received at the end of July, but as fires continue to burn across the state, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said funds would be too late for this season.

The $150 million will fund 100 more firefighters, two airplanes and the state’s Forest Health Strategic Plan, which treats the state’s forests to make them more wildfire resistant.

As the state faces a drought, Franz said the department has secured temporary contracts for additional planes, until the new funding can be received.

Those who have experienced property damage due to natural disasters, such as wildfires, will be able to apply for a tax exemption for improvements to single-family homes.

Starting with taxes levied in 2022, physical improvements to a property damaged by a natural disaster will be exempt from property taxes for three years following the completion of the product.

To qualify, the property must be in a governor-declared disaster area and reduced in value by more than 20% as a result of the disaster that occurred on or after Aug. 31, 2020.

The person applying for the exemption must have owned the property at the time it was reduced in value.

A taxpayer must file an application with the county assessor before beginning construction on the improvement. If the property owner started construction before July 25 of this year, they can apply for the exemption by Oct. 1.


A significant amount of federal and state funding will go toward helping schools reopen and address learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of that will fund new educational technology and learning devices, as well as increased broadband connectivity for students. It also will help schools make up for a loss in enrollment and transportation funding.

High-poverty schools will get additional funding for guidance counselors for each school level beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

Along with new funds, some school districts may have to change their logos or mascots.

Those that use Native American names, symbols or images s have until the end of this year to change.

Beginning Jan. 1, schools may no longer use any Native names, symbols or images, unless the school is located on or adjacent to tribal lands and works with the tribe to respectfully use the name.

Two Spokane schools – North Central High School and Garry Middle School – have already changed their mascots.

Health care

The biggest change in public health will be the additional funds allocated toward foundational public services.

The state’s two-year budget allocates $147 million for public health services statewide – a significant increase from previous years. That funding likely will go toward local health jurisdictions.

Additionally, local health district boards may look a little different. Districts have until July 2022 to change the makeup of their boards to include an equal number of nonelected and elected members.

The nonelected members must include an equal number from three categories:

• Those with experience in public health or health care, such as physicians, nurses or health care workers;

• Consumers of public health, such as residents in communities that face health inequities;

• Or other stakeholders, such as community-based organizations or representatives from the business community.

If the county contains tribal land, the board must include a tribal representative.

A significant amount of federal funding will be allocated to the Department of Health to aid in the fight against COVID-19, such as increased vaccinations and data collection.

With new laws in effect, the state has a permanent universal health care commission, which will work to implement benefits packages and reimbursement rates. The commission’s main focus will be to help the state transition to a universally financed health care system, according to the Alliance for a Healthy Washington.

Police accountability

The way law agencies interact with the public is changing.

Officers no longer will be able to use chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants. Agencies will no longer able to acquire certain kinds of military equipment, including machine guns, armed helicopters and tanks.

The use of police dogs will be limited and a work group will meet to determine the best training and use of K-9s. There will be restrictions on car chases, prohibiting them unless there is probable cause or the chase is necessary for identifying a person in the vehicle.

Tear gas will be prohibited in public riots, unless law enforcement receives approval from the highest elected official in the jurisdiction. For the city police department, that would be the mayor, and for the Washington State Patrol, that would be the governor. An officer must then announce one time that tear gas will be used before deploying it.

Other new laws include the creation of an independent task force for investigating police use of force, changing requirements for certification and de-certification of officers, and requiring officers to intervene if they see excessive use of force by another officer.

Starting next week, the Office of the Attorney General will establish an advisory group to develop and implement a statewide use-of-force data program. The Office of the State Auditor will begin conducting compliance audits of any deadly force investigation.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.