On Sunday (July 23) many new laws passed this year by the Legislature will take effect. Four of these new laws are based on bills prime-sponsored by 4th District Sen. Mike Padden: Senate Bill 5033, SB 5058, SB 5096 and SB 5218.
‘Kimberly Bender’s law’
The law created by Senate Bill 5033 reclassifies the crime of first-degree custodial sexual misconduct, (in which the corrections officer has sexual intercourse with the victim) now a Class C felony, to a Class B felony with a seriousness level of VII. That calls for an initial sentence of 15 to 20 months and a high-end sentence between 7.25 years and 9.6 years. The new law also reclassifies second-degree custodial sexual misconduct (in which the corrections officer has sexual contact with the victim) from a gross misdemeanor to a Class C felony with a seriousness level of V, which would bring a sentencing range of six to 12 months for those with the lowest offender score and a range of six to eight years for offenders with the highest offender score.
“Officers who work in jails and state correctional facilities are part of the law-enforcement community just as much as the officers who patrol our communities and investigate crimes,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “Like all the other people we entrust to administer justice, corrections officers must be held to a high standard, especially considering the unique level of authority they have over people in custody.”
Padden’s bipartisan bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate and House of Representatives, was inspired by a KING-TV investigation last year about a Clallam County jail guard, John Gray, who served just over a year in prison after sexually assaulting four women.
SB 5033 is called “Kimberly Bender’s law,” in honor of the 23-year-old Quileute woman who died by suicide in her Forks jail cell in 2019 after reporting to city officials that Gray sexually harassed her. Bender’s mother, Dawn Reid, asked Padden to name the bill after her daughter.
Gray was convicted in 2021 of two felony and two misdemeanor counts of custodial sexual misconduct and served 13 months of his 20-month sentence.
During the bill’s public hearing before the Senate Law and Justice Committee last January, Michele Devlin, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor for the Clallam County prosecutor’s office, testified in favor of SB 5033, pointing out that Gray sexually assaulted several women in his job as a jail guard.
“This bill acknowledges the disproportionate power dynamic between an inmate and a corrections officer. It also acknowledges the trauma experienced by survivors associated with sexual assault,” Devlin told the committee.
‘Missing middle’ housing
Senate Bill 5058, which was approved unanimously in both the Senate and House, will help encourage home ownership in Washington by making it easier for smaller condominium buildings to be constructed. The measure exempts buildings with 12 or fewer units that are no more than two stories high from the definition of “multiunit residential building.”
Padden said SB 5058 should result in more homeownership in the state.
“Washington has one of the lower homeownership rates in the nation, and this bill will help our state address this problem,” said Padden, who noted that the bill received support from cities with limited land area.
“These smaller condominiums will still have the same building requirements that a townhouse or single-family house has,” added Padden. “The reduction of additional inspections beyond requirements for a townhouse or a single-family house will reduce the cost of these condominiums, making them more affordable to more buyers.”
“SB 5058 is a Condominium Act reform bill that will help encourage the development of new, small in-fill condominium units and provides a critically important first step in attainable home ownership for middle-income families,” said Jim Frank, founder of Greenstone Homes. “The bill helps open the door to the ‘missing middle’ housing needed in cities across the state.”
Senate Bill 5096 is a bipartisan measure that will aid businesses looking to adopt an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) corporate structure.
The measure was backed by a diverse group, including the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.
“Employee ownership is great for our employee owners, our customers, and our communities and is a key part of our culture,” said Joey Nestegard, chief business officer at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. “SEL is proud to be 100% employee owned and we are thankful to Senator Padden for encouraging more businesses to consider this great model.”
“This new law will help promote employee ownership, which is valuable not only for employees but for our society,” said Padden. “Studies have shown that when employees are happier, they stay in their job longer and they retire in a much better financial position. The companies are more likely to remain in the local area.”
Padden added that the measure, which was passed unanimously by the Senate and House, will help maintain local businesses after a business founder retires.
“Many current business owners do not have a plan for when they transition out of the business, and employee ownership provides a valuable option,” Padden said.
SB 5096 specifically will create the Washington Employee Ownership Program at the state Department of Commerce to offer technical support and other services to certain businesses considering certain employee ownership structures; form the Washington Employee Ownership Commission to oversee the program; and provide a business-and-occupation tax credit for costs related to converting a qualifying business to an employee ownership structure.
ESOPs are recognized under federal tax law as a qualified defined contribution retirement plan. The ESOP must be designed to invest primarily in qualifying employer securities and meet certain other requirements. The IRS and United States Department of Labor share jurisdiction over some ESOP features.
A win for patients
People buying motorized wheelchairs or other mobility-improving equipment will pay less thanks to Senate Bill 5218, which makes such equipment tax-exempt. The Senate and House unanimously approved SB 5218.
“This law will help people with disabilities by removing the sales tax from motorized wheelchairs or other technological equipment, which will help them save money while also helping maintain their independence,” said Padden.
One of the people who provided written testimony in support of SB 5218 is Steve Gleason, a former Gonzaga Prep, Washington State University and New Orleans Saints football player who contracted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“This is a huge win for both patients, and companies that sell mobility-enhancing equipment, as it removes a barrier that a lot of times made it impossible for patients to get equipment,” said Don Whitney, chief operating officer of Inland Medical and Rehab. “Most insurances, including Medicare, did not pay for the sales tax, leaving either the patient or our company to pay the tax to the state Department of Revenue. In Spokane that is equivalent to 9%. So a $40,000 high-end CRT wheelchair would have a tax of $3,600 that needed to be collected from the patient or our company just absorbed the tax and paid it. We absorbed the cost just so we could service our patients, who are also our friends. In the last decade, over 60 independent companies in Washington state went out of business as they could not maintain paying sales tax and not being reimbursed it.
“My hope is this will help the bottom line for all companies providing services in Washington, leading to patients having more access to service and to receive better equipment. Patients who have to pay privately for this equipment will now also have greater access by not having to pay the tax. Most patients are on limited incomes, and without this equipment may be hospitalized or put into long-term care. The passage of SB 5218 has opened the door for people so they can stay in their homes and has helped companies improve their bottom lines to remain in business and provide quality product and access to service to its patients,” added Whitney.
The new law states that to claim the sales-tax exemption, the purchaser must provide the seller with an exemption certificate as prescribed by the state Department of Revenue. The tax exemption will apply to mobility-enhancing equipment sold or used on or after Aug. 1, 2023.