2024 Legislative Update Report #1

2024 Legislative Update Report #1

by Michael Rainey, President/Executive Director on February 3, 2024

2024 Legislative Session Opening Report 

The 60-day Washington legislative session kicked off on January 8 and runs through March 7. Despite the short session, we have several legislative goals that will strengthen our Union's ability to help improve the work and lives of Council 2 members. One of our highest priorities is supporting  SB 5770 – which would revise the 1% property tax cap to reflect inflation and population growth up to 3%.

With our allies at the Washington State Labor Council and our siblings at WFSE Council 28, we have banded together to support new legislation strengthening our collective bargaining rights and improving work lives and benefits for many Council 2 members. Below are a few bills we are focusing on during this session.

Please use the list of legislators attached to this document to contact your local elected legislators and ask them to support these bills.

Please contact President/Executive Director Rainey if you have questions regarding these bills or if you have legislation that is not on this list that you believe our Union should support.

SB 5770 Providing State and Local Property Tax Reform.

Our Union is proud to unite with over 30 organizations in supporting SB 5770, a bill that brings much-needed revisions to the property tax cap. Under this Bill, the cap, currently set at 1%, will be able to increase up to 3% in line with both inflation and population growth. Importantly, we expect a substitute version of the Bill to limit the increase to the local property tax cap, exempting the state's cap. This Bill also includes enhancements for seniors and disabled veterans, ensuring they receive necessary property tax relief.

It is essential to understand the background of the 1% cap. Initially proposed by I-747 in 2001, this initiative was later deemed unconstitutional. However, the Legislature took prompt action during a special session to implement the 1% cap. Before the initiative, jurisdictions had the ability to raise their property tax collections at the rate of inflation or up to 6% in exceptional cases.

By supporting SB 5770, we are advocating for equitable and sustainable property tax policies that benefit our communities and address the evolving needs of our citizens.

The current 1% cap has created a structural deficit in local government budgets, causing many to struggle with funding critical community needs. The current cap reduces the ability to respond to new and emerging issues and diminishes their capacity to serve our state's growing population. For comparison, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has averaged around 3% in the last decade. 

The cap makes it difficult to sustain vital local services like:
  • Police, Fire, and Emergency response
  • Public Health Program
Local Libraries
Emergency Shelter services
Parks and Recreation
Criminal Justice Services like Courts and Jails
Local Streets and Transportation Infrastructure

SB 5770 doesn't automatically increase property taxes. Instead, it allows local elected officials to make decisions about how best to fund city services. Local elected officials are directly responsible to our residents about the decisions we make.

SB5808 Provides Interest Arbitration for Public Safety Telecommunicators Employed by Public Employers.

Under PECBA, specific uniformed personnel are prohibited from resorting to strikes as a method of resolving labor disputes due to public policy. In cases where contract negotiations with these personnel reach an impasse, the PECBA mandates binding interest arbitration as the necessary course of action when mediation fails to provide a resolution. 

SB5808 aims to expand the scope of interest arbitration procedures for uniformed personnel under PECBA to include public safety telecommunicators employed by public agencies. These dedicated individuals are vital in receiving, processing, and dispatching emergency calls for law enforcement, Fire, emergency medical, and other public safety services. By recognizing their importance and ensuring fair arbitration for their working conditions, SB5808 seeks to prioritize the well-being of these essential workers.

HB2258 Providing Funding for Municipalities Participating in the Regional 911 Emergency Communications System.

HB2258 mandates that counties with regional 911 emergency communications systems, which impose an excise tax on phone lines, transfer a portion of the excise tax revenue to local governments that operate municipal 911 emergency communications systems. This requirement applies when the county transfers emergency calls to the local government for dispatch. This ensures that the revenue generated from the tax is distributed to the appropriate entities, facilitating effective emergency communication and response at both regional and local levels.

HB 2031 Recognizing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as an Occupational Disease for County Coroners, Examiners, and Investigative Personnel.

County coroners and medical examiner personnel deserve support and recognition for the mental toll they endure on the job. With HB2031, workers' compensation occupational disease claims can now include mental conditions stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder. This important legislation acknowledges the challenges these dedicated professionals face and ensures they receive the assistance they need.
Other Bills of Interest
SB 5773 Concerning Public Defense Services.
The Washington State Association of Counties reports the state only covers slightly over 3% of the cost of Public Defense Services, and the local jurisdictions are responsible for most of the costs of providing public defenders. However, this Bill proposes a gradual increase in the amount allocated to counties by the state, starting with 10% in 2024 and reaching an impactful 50% by 2028. By passing this Bill, we can significantly enhance access to justice for those who cannot afford legal representation and help reduce the workload and stress of the unionized public defenders we represent.

SB6060 Concerning the Acceptance of Electronic Signatures by the Public Employment Relations Commission for New Organizing Petitions.
SB 6060 is crucial for the progress of workers' rights. It mandates the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) to accept electronic signatures for new organizing petitions, allowing the formation of new bargaining units or the inclusion of unrepresented workers in existing units. This rule, subject to PERC's established guidelines, enhances efficiency and accessibility in the labor industry.

HB 2246 Concerning vacation leave accrual for state employees.
Passing HB 2246 is valuable as it allows state employees to keep 280 hours of earned vacation leave each year. This legislation will benefit state employees by preventing the loss of earned benefits and aligning Washington law with other states. Notably, many of our contracts currently limit vacation carryover to 240 hours. Increasing this amount for state employees will support our efforts to raise these limits in our CBAs and strengthen our overall cause.

HB1940 Protecting workers' rights to refrain from attending meetings or listening to their employer's speech on political or religious matters.
HB 1940 seeks to protect employees by prohibiting employers from taking adverse action in response to an employee's refusal to attend or participate in employer-sponsored meetings or listen to speech primarily focused on communicating the employer's opinion on religious or political matters.