State lawmakers took on rental housing, long-term care, crime

State lawmakers took on rental housing, long-term care, crime

During the 2019 session of the Washington Legislature that ended in April, new laws emerged that bolster tenants’ rights, healthcare decisions for incapacitated patients, consumers struggling with debt, and voters trying to figure out the sources of campaign money. Not faring as well were corporate criminals.

Here are summaries of legislation in those areas:

CORPORATE CRIME. For the first time in nearly a century, corporations in Washington found guilty of criminal acts will face harsher penalties. House Bill 1252, sponsored by Rep. Mike Pellicciotti of Federal Way, increases fines for all corporate crimes to as much as $1 million for each crime. Previously, the biggest fine was $10,000, no matter how serious the crime is. This is the first time the Legislature has dusted off the law since 1925, a year when “a $10,000 penalty may have been a powerful tool in the prosecution of corporate crimes. That is simply not true any more,” said state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

TENANT PROTECTION. To address the state’s housing affordability crisis, House Bill 1642, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Barkis of Olympia, requires that whenever a property owner plans to demolish or remodel a home or change of use of the premises, they must provide written notification to the tenant of at least 120-days before termination of their lease. That gives more time for soon-to-be displaced renters to find new housing. “This is one of the good bipartisan pieces of landlord-tenant legislation to pass this session,” said Barkis. “With the continued lack of supply (of rental housing), if tenants are going to be asked to relocate, there needs to be adequate time they can find another place to live.”

INFORMED CONSENT. House Bill 11775 expands the list of people who may give informed consent for healthcare for incapacitated persons, such as dementia patients. Previously, only court-appointed guardians with durable power of attorney, spouses, adult children, parents, and adult siblings were authorized. Now, adult grandchildren, adult nieces and nephews, adult aunts and uncles, or other adults such as close friends or companions can make the decision—the way it can be done in 30 other states, too. “For patients unable to make decisions about their medical needs, and family members or close friends watching a loved one struggling, this catches Washington up with other states,” said Rep. Christine Kilduff of University Place, the prime sponsor of the legislation.

LONG-TERM CARE. House Bill 1087 builds upon the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program with a new long-term care insurance benefit. The benefit would first be payable in 2025. Workers would begin paying a premium of 58 cents per $100 of income in 2022, and vest after five years. The total benefit available would be nearly $37,000, which could be used toward long-term care services and support. This includes in-home care, assisted living, a skilled-nursing facility, or paying a family member to help with care. The benefit could also pay for meal delivery or construction of a wheelchair ramp.

CAPITAL BUDGET. About $255 million in state construction funds are flowing to Pierce County in the 2019-21 capital budget. Earmarks range from $1 million for rebuilding the Fircrest Community Center’s swimming pool and $52,000 for remodeling a kitchen at the VFW post in Puyallup to $23 million for  military installations (Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Camp Murray) and $72 million for Western State Hospital. In King County, amounts ranging from the hundreds to the multi-thousands were awarded to Auburn Arts and Culture Center, YMCA of Greater Seattle, NorthHaven Affordable Senior Housing (Seattle campus), Food Lifeline, and Wesley Homes.

CONSUMER DEBT RELIEF. Four bills on this issue. First, the goal of House Bill 1531 is to reduce the chances of medical debt spiraling out of control for patients and their families. Sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, it lowers the interest rate that often accrues before a patient receives a bill, prohibits healthcare providers from selling medical debt to collection agencies for at least 120 days after the first billing, and requires that patients are told how to apply for charity care.

House Bill 1066, sponsored by Rep. Christine Kilduff of University Place, ends the practice of “pocket service” by debt collector, in which a person can receive a debt-related summons that is difficult or impossible to verify. The consequences of ignoring a valid summons can be liens, wage garnishment, negative credit reports – even bench warrants.

House Bill 1602, sponsored by Rep. Kristine Reeves of Federal Way, brings down the interest rate on consumer debt and lets people retain more of their wages so they can pay for necessities, like rent.

And House Bill 1730, sponsored by Rep. Amy Walen of Kirkland, states the 10-year statute of limitations on debt can’t be unexpectedly revived by debt collectors. Otherwise, restarting the clock on the statute of limitations can leave people in an endless cycle of debt.

CAMPAIGN FINANCING. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Pellicciotti of Federal Way, House Bill 1379 requires political action committees, or PACs – organizations that raise money to influence elections or legislation – to list the names of people and corporations that are top donors on political advertisements. Previously, major donors could funnel money into vague sounding PACs to avoid being specifically listed. “The public can’t have full trust in government unless there is full transparency on what special-interests influence elections,” said Pellicciotti.