More than two dozen new laws took effect Jan. 1 in Washington, including an increase in the state’s minimum wage, a 10-day waiting period and safety training requirement for firearm purchases, and rules regarding employment of persons using cannabis or marijuana outside the workplace.
The new statutes are among scores of bills approved by state legislators in 2023 and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. Most of the measures have already been enacted this year and less than a handful are on hold until 2025.
Here’s a summary of those on tap for 2024:
MINIMUM WAGE: As of Jan. 1, Washington state will have the nation’s highest minimum wage when the current rate of $15.74 jumps by 3.4% to $16.28 per hour. That’s more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which has remained unchanged since July 2009.
The state’s new rate will be even higher in the cities of Seattle ($18.69) and SeaTac ($19.06), according to the Washington Department of Labor & Industries. Most agriculture and non-ag jobs qualify for minimum wage. A lower rate is allowed for working minors ages 14-15, who must receive at least 85% of minimum wage, and certain on-the-job, student, disabled, and apprentice workers.
Annual adjustments are based on the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics' consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers as a result of Initiative 1433 approved by Washington voters in 2016.
FIREARM PURCHASE WAITING PERIOD: With the Legislature’s passage of House Bill 1143, licensed dealers may not transfer any firearm until completion of federal and state background checks of the purchaser’s eligibility to possess a firearm and a waiting period of 10 business days from when the dealer requested the background check.
The gun buyer or recipient must also provide proof of completing a recognized firearms safety training program within the last five years. The program must include safety training for semiautomatic rifles and instruction on state laws regarding use of deadly force for self-defense and techniques on avoiding criminal attacks and management of violent confrontations. Law enforcement officers and trained military personnel may be exempted.
EMPLOYER CANNABIS TESTING: Under federal and state laws, cannabis remains a controlled substance subject to criminal penalties even though Washington has allowed medicinal use for qualifying patients since 1998 and legal recreational use by adults since 2012.
Those contradictions are also compounded by state and federal laws which allow employers, contractors, and grant recipients in Washington to establish drug-free workplace policies, including drug and alcohol testing.
With Senate Bill 5123, employers are now prohibited from discriminating against a prospective employee based on that person’s use of cannabis off the job and away from the workplace. Nor can employers require drug screening tests which identify “non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites” in a person.
However, the new legislation does not prohibit an employer from:
making hiring decisions based on drug screening for substances other than cannabis or marijuana;
requiring testing of an employee following an accident on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances, or medications;
the right to maintain a workplace free of drugs and alcohol, or any other obligation required by federal law or regulation.
Nor does the bill apply to applicants seeking employment with law enforcement agencies, jails and corrections facilities, fire departments, emergency medical responders, 911 dispatchers, positions in the airline or aerospace industries, or other “safety-sensitive” jobs identified by employers for which impairment poses “a substantial risk of death.”
PAID SICK LEAVE FOR CONSTRUCTION WORKERS: Senate Bill 5111 will require employers to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked by an employee after 90 days. Up to 40 hours of unused paid sick leave can carry over to the following year. If there is a separation, an employee rehired within 12 months by the same employer is entitled to have previously accrued sick leave reinstated. Otherwise, the employer is not required to reimburse a worker who resigns, retires, or is terminated for unused paid sick leave.
The state’s paid sick leave requirements do not apply to union construction workers covered by collective bargaining agreements which already contain or specifically waive such provisions.
ILLEGAL STREET RACING: Senate Bill 5606 looks to deter and further penalize illegal street racing after law enforcement agencies in Washington reported an increasing number of sometimes violent or deadly events in recent years.
As defined by the new law, “willfully comparing or contesting the relative speeds of motor vehicles” on public roadways or unauthorized off-street locations constitutes racing, even if the vehicles don’t exceed the maximum speed limit. Racing is considered reckless driving – a gross misdemeanor carrying penalties up to a $5,000 fine and one year in jail.
Police making an arrest have the discretion to have the offending vehicles towed and impounded. Vehicles impounded for more than 120 hours are considered abandoned. If unclaimed by owners after notification by the Department of Licensing, the vehicles can be sold at public auction. Proceeds can by used by the police agency to “improve general traffic safety” within its jurisdiction. Officers and police agencies aren’t held liable for damages in an impound is later determined to be improper, the bill states.
Other new laws which start next week pertain to the state’s Uniform Commercial Code (SB 5077), enhanced voting rights (HB 1048), fire sprinkler contractors (SB 5425), paid family or medical leave data (SB 5586), newspaper tax breaks (SB 5199), pet insurance (SB 5319), commercial driver licenses (HB 1058), nurse staffing standards (SB 5236), eliminating college-in-the-high-school fees (SB 5048), tax credits for working families (HB 1477), providing post-conviction access to legal counsel (SB 5046), and collective bargaining for management employees in Washington state government (SB 1122).