State lawmakers drop income tax idea; several other laws passed

  • Peninsula Daily News news services
  • Friday, April 24, 2009 12:01am
  • News

Peninsula Daily News news services

OLYMPIA — The top state Senate Democrat says an income tax on high earners won’t move forward this year.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, joined by other Senate Democrats, held a news conference Thursday to say it’s clear they “don’t have the legislative support to move forward at this point.”

But Brown said a conversation on the issue will continue.

Brown has been talking about imposing an income tax on people making more than $250,000, even though the idea is considered politically risky.

Other Senate Democrats also introduced various measures that would impose a state income tax.

Washington is one of only a handful of states without a state income tax.

In addition, the chances for a sales-tax increase to pay for health-care programs are dwindling.

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, one of three legislators representing Jefferson and Clallam counties and part of Grays Harbor County in Olympia, said Thursday that the House does not have enough votes to advance the 0.3 percentage point sales tax increase.

That could mean the bill is dead, unless supporters pull off a big turnaround before Sunday’s scheduled adjournment.

A coalition of health-care interests has been pushing lawmakers for a voter referendum that would raise $1.1 billion over three years to take the edge off of state budget cuts.

New laws

State lawmakers rushing to adjourn this year’s legislative session on Sunday have passed several new laws. They include:

Breast feeding

Legislation signed into law by Gregoire will protect a mother’s right to breast-feed in public.

House Bill 1596 passed the state House last month and the state Senate earlier this month.

It was sponsored by Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood.

Currently, women in Washington can be asked to leave public places and feed their children in a private location.

The law that takes effect this summer makes breast-feeding in public a right subject to the state’s anti-discrimination law.

Women discriminated against under the law can file a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission.

Felon voters

It soon could be easier for thousands of convicted felons to vote again.

The Legislature approved House Bill 1517, which would restore the voting rights of offenders once they are out of prison, off probation and making a good-faith effort to pay their fines.

The bill now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Under current law, felons can’t vote until they complete their sentences, including probation or parole, pay all restitution and other court fees and ask a court to restore their voting rights.

Under the bill, voting rights could be revoked if a felon fails to make regular payments on court fees or restitution.

The House approved the bill 52-44 Wednesday, agreeing to changes made in the state Senate.

A spokesman for Gregoire wouldn’t say whether she would sign the bill but said in an e-mail Wednesday afternoon the governor “believes that the state’s current system is confusing and cumbersome.”

The proposal could affect some 167,000 Washington citizens, according to legislative staff.

Body piercing

Body piercers and tattooers must be licensed by the state under a bill that passed the Legislature.

The Senate, on a 45-2 vote, concurred with changes made in the House. Senate Bill 5391 now goes to Gregoire.

Body art, body piercing and tattooing have not been regulated in Washington.

Under the bill, people who pierce or tattoo, and businesses that offer the services, would need a license.

The measure also requires the state Health Department to adopt rules about the sterilization of needles and other instruments and jewelry used in body piercing or body art.

Hate crimes

Attacks against transgender people could be prosecuted as hate crimes under a bill signed into law by the governor.

Under current law, it’s a felony to threaten, damage the property of or physically injure a person because of ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

The hate-crime definition of sexual orientation previously covered gay, straight or bisexual people. Senate Bill 5952 adds “gender expression or identity.”

The law takes effect three months after this legislative session ends.

Impound cars

Gregoire is expected to sign a bill that impounds the cars of people arrested as clients of prostitutes.

Seattle police and the King County Sheriff’s Office supported the legislation, which would require clients to pay a fine to recover their cars.

Same-sex couples

Same-sex partners of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty could get state pension benefits.

The bill passed the Senate Thursday on a vote of 29-19. It now goes to Gregoire.

To be eligible for death benefits, couples must be registered domestic partners in the state of Washington.

Under the provisions of the measure, domestic partners will be given the same rights as married couples, including retirement and disability benefits.

Payday loans

The size of a payday loan would be limited to 30 percent of a person’s monthly income or $700 — whichever is less — under a bill approved by the Legislature Wednesday night.

The bill, ESHB 1709, also would bar people from having multiple loans at different payday companies, and it would set up a database to track the number of loans taken out by individuals.

Last week, state senators voted to strip a House bill of regulations that proponents had described as a compromise between the payday-lending industry and consumer advocates.

The House rejected the Senate’s amendment and asked the upper chamber to drop the changes.

On Wednesday, the Senate rejected the House’s request.

But just a few minutes later, in a surprise move, the House sent the bill back to the Senate.

After political maneuvering, senators stripped their own amendment and approved the House version on a 26-23 vote.

The bill now heads to Gregoire.

Tuition rates

In other developments, in Olympia, the state budget will probably cut state spending on colleges and universities, with higher tuition rates helping to soften the blow.

The state Senate began work Thursday on a bill that strikes a statutory cap on annual tuition increases for resident undergraduates.

New tuition caps will be set in the budget.

Officials expect them to be about 14 percent per year for four-year universities and 7 percent per year for community and technical colleges.

Those caps could last for the next two state fiscal years. Schools set their own tuition rates.

A 14 percent tuition increase would translate to about $875 more per year at the University of Washington. Officials say UW and Washington State University are the four-year schools with the highest tuition.

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