FILE - long term care

Elderly man in nursing home, looking outside window.

(The Center Square) – Washington state Democrats look to move quickly on passing a bill to delay for 18 months the collection of a payroll tax that funds the WA Cares long-term care program. The possible delay via House Bill 1732 is meant to give lawmakers time to address legal and logistical issues plaguing the program.

It would postpone the 0.58% payroll tax deduction on Washington state workers until July 2023. The bill is sponsored by House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, and former Speaker Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.

“You know, our first time together this session is going to be short, and the list of what we hope to accomplish is long,” House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said during Monday’s House opening ceremonies of the 60-day 2022 legislative session.

At or near the top of that list is HB 1732 – pre-filed on Jan. 3 – that aims to fix problems with WA Cares program to deal with people being unable to "access long-term care without first spending themselves into poverty and losing everything they have worked for their entire lives,” according to Jinkins.

WA Cares has been bedeviled by various challenges, including a lawsuit by Washington workers who live out of state and have no plans to retire in Washington, what critics called a narrow one-time opt-out, and a website that was supposed to facilitate opt-outs crashing from overuse.

“Maybe this week,” said House Minority Leader J.T. Cox in an email responding to The Center Square’s questions about a timeline for a vote on the bill. “But nothing is confirmed yet.”

Elizabeth Hovde, director for Worker Rights and Health Care at the Washington Policy Center, offered a more detailed explanation of what could happen.

“I think they’ll vote the bill out of the House this week,” she said in an email to The Center Square, adding, “What I do know is they want the bill fast-tracked. The payroll tax is coming out of checks and making a mess this month without the legislation.”

Hovde went on to note, “Then the bill leaves the House and goes to the Senate and then still needs any massages before becoming law. The Senate could fast-track it, too, and it could be a done deal by the end of the month. OR it could take longer — mid-February, taking a more usual path through the process, a legislative staffer told me.”

Bills are pre-filed in the month before the session convenes. Then bills are assigned to a committee, where leadership can decide to amend a bill, substitute it, or present it to the House as-is. Many bills don't make it past the committee phase. 

Bills must also make it through a rules committee, second reading, and third reading before they get passed.

On Dec. 17, Gov. Jay Inslee and Democratic state leaders announced a pause in the collection of the new payroll tax.

On Dec. 23, Inslee released a statement saying he does not have the authority to put a stop to the tax and that employers are still legally obligated to pay the full amount owed to the state.

“The governor resisted calling a special session to clear all this up before employers were supposed to be withdrawing the tax, on the one hand,” Hovde said. “Wouldn't he have if he and other lawmakers thought it needed a fast track and to beat a January buzzer facing employers? On the other hand, he urged the Legislature to fix the law asap, and employers need direction now.”

Staff Reporter

Brett Davis reports on Washington state government for The Center Square. He previously worked for public policy organizations the Freedom Foundation and Washington Farm Bureau, as well as various community newspapers.