2018 legislative summary of new laws that impact fire districts or special purpose districts 

This legislative summary is provided by Inslee Best. You can find more information on their website at www.insleebest.com or contact Jacob J. Stillwell | Attorney, Skyline Tower, Suite 1500 | 10900 NE 4th Street | Bellevue, WA 98004. 

P: 425.450.4276 | F: 425.635.7720                    jstillwell@insleebest.com

NOTE: The following is intended to be a summary of the described legislation and should not be construed as legal advice.

Chapter 28, Laws of 2018 (SHB 2576) (Effective June 7, 2018): Allowing fire protection district annexations and mergers within a reasonable geographic proximity.

A city or town may annex to a fire protection district, provided it is located within a reasonable proximity to that district. Two districts located within a reasonable proximity to each other may also merge. A “reasonable proximity” means geographical areas near enough to each other so that governance, management, and services can be delivered effectively. Under this law, districts located within a reasonable proximity to each other, rather than just adjacent, may form a regional fire protection service authority (RFA). Additionally, a district may merge with an RFA located within a reasonable proximity, rather than just adjacent to, that district. Finally, this law allows property owners to petition a district for annexation, provided the property is within reasonable proximity, rather than just adjacent to, that district.

Chapter 286, Laws of 2018 (ESSB 6413) (Effective June 7, 2018): Reducing toxic chemicals in firefighting activities.

Perfluorienated and Polyfluorinated (PFAS) chemicals are toxic chemicals used in a variety of water-resistant products, primarily used in firefighting activities, that the EPA has concluded may cause harm to humans and the environment. This bill prohibits the manufacture, sale, and distribution of certain firefighting foam that has PFAS chemicals added beginning July 1, 2020. By July 1, 2018, persons or manufacturers selling firefighting equipment that contain PFAS must notify purchases of the PFAS, and this notice must be kept on file for at least three years and provided to the Department of Ecology upon request. A manufacturer of qualifying firefighter foam must provide written notice to retailers of the PFAS, and must recall and reimburse the retailer or any purchases no less than a year prior to the prohibition. Violators are subject to civil penalties.

Chapter 37, Laws of 2018 (HB 1133) (Effective June 7, 2018): Limiting the uses of the fire protection contractor license fund.

The Washington State Patrol Director of Fire Protection administers licensing and certification requirements for licensed fire protection sprinkler system contractors. All receipts from license and certificate fees are deposited into the Fire Protection Contractor License Fund. The primary purpose of the Fund is to finance training for sprinkler installation contractors. Expenditures from the Fund include costs associated with fire protection inspections for facilities potentially becoming licensed hospitals. However, hospitals are now paying for these inspections; thus, this law eliminates that expenditure from the list of activities for which the Director is authorized to use Fund monies.

Chapter 136, Laws of 2018 (SHB 2627) (Effective June 7, 2018): Authorizing EMS levies.

An emergency medical service (EMS) levy is a regular voter-approved property tax levy used to provide emergency medical care or services. An EMS levy may be authorized for six years, ten years, or permanently. There are different voter approval thresholds based on the voting jurisdiction’s voter turnout history. If approved, a qualifying taxing district may impose an EMS levy at a rate not to exceed 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value. Qualifying taxing districts include (among others) cities, regional fire protection authorities, and fire protection districts.
Current law allows voters to approve an interrupted continuation of an EMS levy; however, if the levy rate increases, approval must be by supermajority. This law eliminates that requirement and permits any EMS levy to be continued by a simple majority, regardless of whether the levy rate increases. Current law also does not allow a countywide levy proposal to be placed on the ballot without the approval of the legislative authority of every city in the county that has a population in excess of 50,000. This law reduces the number of required approving cities to 75 percent of those within the county.

Chapter 264, Laws of 2018 (SSB 6214) (Effective June 7, 2018): Allowing industrial insurance coverage for PTSD affecting police and firefighters.

Under the state’s industrial insurance laws, a worker who, in the course of employment, is injured or suffers disability from an occupational disease is entitled to certain benefits. An occupational disease is one that arises naturally and proximately out of employment. The Department of Labor and Industries has promulgated rules that stress-caused mental conditions or disabilities claims do not fall within the definition of an occupational disease. Under this law, this rule does not apply to occupational disease claims resulting from PTSD of certain firefighters, EMTs, and law enforcement officers. A prima facie rebuttal presumption exists that PTSD is an occupational disease for qualifying employees. For this presumption to apply, the PTSD must develop after the employee has served at least ten years. It does not apply to stress caused by disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, layoff, demotion, or termination taken in good faith by the employer.

Chapter 227, Laws of 2018 (SHB 2561) (Effective June 7, 2018): Requiring study and report by Wildland Fire Advisory Committee.

The Wildland Fire Advisory Committee advises the Commissioner of Public Lands on all matters related to wildland fire protection services in the state. The Committee is comprised of various county commissioners, the State Fire Marshal, fire commissioners, and other representatives from eastern and western Washington. This law requires the Committee to study and provide recommendations on several aspects of wildfire prevention and preparedness, including quantifying areas of the state that are not contained within an established fire protection district. A status report is due to the legislature by December 31, 2018 and the final report is due November 15, 2019.

Chapter 243, Laws of 2018 (ESSHB 1673) (Effective July 1, 2019): Adding to public works responsible bidder criteria.

Bidders for public works contracts must meet responsible bidder requirements. Prevailing wages must be paid by contractors on all public works projects. The Department of Labor and Industries provides trainings on prevailing wages. This law requires responsible bidders for public works contracts (or subcontracts) to receive training on prevailing wages, either through L&I or another provider whose curriculum is approved by L&I. The bidder must designate a person or persons to be trained. Bidders who have completed three or more public works projects and have had a valid Washington business license for three or more years are exempt. L&I must keep records of entities that have satisfied the training requirements or are exempt and must post the records online. Responsible parties may rely on L&I’s records for determining whether a bidder meets this requirement.

Chapter 151, Laws of 2018 (SSB 6340) (Effective July 1, 2018): Increasing PERS 1 benefits.

The basic retirement allowance of a Plan 1 member of the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS 1) is equal to two percent of the member’s average final compensation, calculated based on the member’s highest consecutive two years of compensation, for each year of service. This law increases the PERS 1 monthly benefit by 1.5 percent, up to a maximum increase of $62.50.

Chapter 237, Laws of 2018 (SHB 1209) (Effective June 7, 2018): Adding credit unions as public depositories.

Public funds of cities, municipal corporations, and other public agencies may only be deposited in a financial institution that has been designated as a public depository by the Washington Public Deposit Protection Commission. To be an approved public depository, the financial institution must meet certain minimum requirements, including pledging securities as collateral to protect public funds on deposits above the amounts insured under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Public depositories also participate in a pool that covers deposits lost by failed institutions that do not have sufficient liquidity to reimburse public depositors after exhausting FDIC insurance and collateral.

Currently, a credit union may receive public deposits up to the maximum insured amount, but are not otherwise considered a public depository. This law includes credit unions in the definition of public depositories and allows them to accept public deposits greater than the maximum insured amount from municipal corporations located in a county with a population of 300,000 persons or less. Those credit unions must meet all of the minimum requirements, including pledging security as collateral over the FDIC amount and participating in the public depository pool.

Chapter 38, Laws of 2018 (2SHB 1298) (Effective June 7, 2018): Governing criminal records during job application process (The Washington Fair Chance Act).

This law prohibits employers from including any questions relating to criminal history on an application for employment, inquire about an applicant’s criminal history, or obtain information about an applicant’s criminal record, until after the employer initially determines that the applicant is otherwise qualified for the position based on the basic criteria as stated in the job description. “Criminal record” includes any record regarding a citation or arrest for criminal conduct, not only arrests that led to charges being filed or convictions. Once the employer has initially determined that the applicant is otherwise qualified, then the employer may inquire into or obtain information about criminal records. An employer also may not advertise job openings in a way that excludes people with criminal records, either through explicit prohibition or implementing policies or practices that exclude people with criminal records. This law does not apply to employers hiring a person who may have unsupervised access to children, vulnerable adults, or other vulnerable people; employers who are required or permitted to inquire into an applicant’s criminal record under federal law; law enforcement agencies; and employers requested to comply with certain Securities and Exchange Act requirements.

This law does not create a private right of action. The Attorney General has the exclusive right to enforce this law by investigating violations on its own initiative or in response to complaints. The Attorney General must use a “stepped” enforcement approach in which the first violation results in a warning and subsequent violations result in monetary penalties. Existing local ordinances providing greater protection to job applicants may be enforced as an alternative to this law.

Chapter 116, Laws of 2018 (2SHB 1506) (Effective June 7, 2018): Relating to gender pay equity.

The state Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying women less than men in similarly employed positions. This law clarifies that under the Equal Pay Act, employees are “similarly employed” where the performance of the job requires similar skill, effort, and responsibility, and the jobs are performed under similar working conditions. Job titles alone are not determinative of whether employees are similarly employed. The employer is permitted to raise the affirmative defense that the pay differential is based on bona fide job-related factors that are consistent with business necessity, are not based on or derived from a gender-based differential, and account for the entire differential. Examples include educational attainment or a seniority system. In addition to pay differentials, this law applies to employers who inhibit women from career advancement opportunities.

An employer also may not require employees to agree to wage nondisclosure as a condition of employment or retaliate against an employee for inquiring about wages or assisting another employee in exercising their rights under this law. The law creates a private cause of action for certain provisions and authorizes the Department of Labor and Industries to conduct administrative investigations for others. Depending on the action, remedies include judicial relief, civil penalties, and reinstatement.

Chapter 117, Laws of 2018 (SSB 5996) (Effective June 7, 2018): Prohibiting nondisclosure agreements regarding workplace sexual assault and harassment.

This law prohibits employers from requiring an employee, as a condition of employment, to sign a nondisclosure agreement, waiver or other document that prevents the employee from disclosing sexual harassment or sexual assault occurring in the workplace, at work-related events coordinated by or through the employer, or between employees, or between an employer and an employee, off the employment premises. Further, any such nondisclosure agreement, waiver or other document that has the purpose or effect of preventing the employee from disclosing or discussing such actions or activities is void and unenforceable. This law also makes it an “unfair practice” under the Washington Law Against Discrimination for an employer to retaliate against an employee for disclosing or discussing sexual harassment or sexual assault occurring in the places discussed above.

The term “employee” does not include human resources staff, supervisors, or managers when they are expected to maintain confidentiality as part of their assigned job duties. It also does not include individuals who are notified and asked to participate in an open and ongoing investigation into alleged sexual harassment and requested to maintain confidentiality during the pendency of the investigation.

The law does not prohibit settlement agreements between an employee or former employee alleging sexual harassment and an employer from containing confidentiality provisions.

Chapter 120, Laws of 2018 (SSB 6313) (Effective June 7, 2018): Prohibiting waivers of discrimination claims in employment contracts.

This law prohibits employment agreements that require an employee to waive the employee’s right to file a complaint under the Washington Law Against Discrimination or federal antidiscrimination laws, or that require an employee to resolve claims of discrimination in a confidential dispute resolution process.

Chapter 47, Laws of 2018 (HB 2661) (Effective June 7, 2018): Protecting survivors of domestic violence from employment discrimination.

Under the DV Leave Act, employees have the right to take reasonable leave from work to obtain assistance with respect to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Employers may require verification. Employees are entitled to use a portion of their paid sick and family leave time when exercising rights under the DV Leave Act. This law further prohibits an employer from refusing to hire an otherwise qualified individual because the individual is an actual or perceived DV victim and from discharging or otherwise discriminating or retaliating against an individual because the individual is an actual or perceived DV victim. Additionally, employers may not refuse to make a reasonable safety accommodation requested by a victim, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on business operation. The remedies allowed under the DV Leave Act apply to this law, including a private right of action and prohibitions against retaliation under the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

Chapter 303, Laws of 2018 (EHB 2097) (Effective June 7, 2018): Limiting disclosure of religious affiliation information.

This law makes it an unfair practice under the Washington Law Against Discrimination for any employer, whether public or private, (1) to require an employee to disclose the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, unless the disclosure is for the purpose of providing a religious accommodation at the request of the employee, and (2) to require or authorize an employee to disclose information about the religious affiliation of another employee, unless the individual whose religious affiliation will be disclosed (a) expressly consents to the disclosure and (b) has knowledge of the purpose for the disclosure.

This law also prohibits a state or local government agency or public employee from (1) providing or disclosing to federal government authorities personally identifiable information regarding the religious beliefs, practices, or affiliation of any individual, except where the employee is a witness to a crime, (2) using public funds, facilities, property, equipment, or personnel to assist in creation, implementation, or enforcement of any government program compiling a list, registry, or database of personally identifiable information about individuals based on religious beliefs, practice, or affiliation, for law enforcement or immigration purposes, or (3) making personally identifiable information from agency databases available, including any databases maintained by private vendors contracting with the agency, to any entity for the purpose of investigation or enforcement under any government program compiling a list, registry, or database of individuals based on religious beliefs, practice, or affiliation, or national origin, or ethnicity for law enforcement or immigration purposes. Similar prohibitions apply to state and local law enforcement agencies.

This law adds a new section to the Public Records Act that exempts from disclosure records that relate to or contain personally identifying information about an individual’s religious beliefs, practices, or affiliation.

Chapter 99, Laws of 2018 (HB 2851) (Effective June 7, 2018): Clarifying the calculation of military leave for employees working shifts that span more than one calendar day.

An employee of a political subdivision of the state who is a member of the National Guard or U.S. military is entitled to military leave for up to twenty-one days each year, in addition to any accrued vacation or sick leave. An employee is charged military leave only for the days he or she is scheduled to work. For employees who are scheduled to work nontraditional shifts, such as twenty-four hour shifts, the common law definition of “day” has resulted in employers charging two days of military leave when a shift spans two separate calendar days, but the actual scheduled work time was not two full calendar days.

Under this law, when an employee requests military leave to cover days for which he or she is scheduled to work, if the employee is scheduled to work a shift that extends into a subsequent calendar day, the employee is charged military leave for only the first calendar day of the shift. If the shift extends into later subsequent days, the employee is charged military leave for each calendar day of the shift except the calendar day on which the shift finally ends.

Chapter 57, Laws of 2018 (SB 6197) (Effective June 7, 2018): Eliminating the limit on indebtedness paid to survivors of deceased public employees.

If at the time of death of an employee, the employer is indebted to the employee for work, labor, or services performed, and no executor or administrator of the estate has been appointed, the employer must upon request of the surviving spouse pay the indebtedness to the surviving spouse or others as described in the law. This law removes a payment limit of $10,000 and establishes no limit.

Chapter 150, Laws of 2018 (SSB 6334) (Effective January 1, 2019): Requiring payment to Washington support registry by electronic funds transfer.

This law requires any employer that has received an income withholding order from the Department of Social and Health Services, which requires payment to the Washington state support registry, to remit payments through electronic funds transfer under certain conditions, such as the withholding order applies to an employee or contractor, the employer has ten or more employees, the employer uses a payroll processor to handle its payment, payment, and tax processes and the payroll processor has the capacity to transmit payment through electronic funds transfer. DSHS may waive the requirement under certain circumstances.

Chapter 295, Laws of 2018 (ESSB 6614) (Effective June 7, 2018): Reducing state property tax.

The Washington State Constitution limits regular property tax levies to a maximum of one percent of the property’s assessed value, typically expressed as $10 per $1,000 of assessed value. In addition to the constitutional rate cap, most regular property taxes are subject to a statutory revenue growth limit based on the lesser of inflation or one percent over the previous year’s levy rate. Of the $10, the state is allowed to levy up to $3.60 in property taxes. Under this law, in calendar year 2019, the state property tax is lowered from $2.70 to $2.40 per $1,000 assessed value. This corresponds to a property tax reduction of approximately $390 million in 2019.

Chapter 113, Laws of 2018 (ESSB 6002) (Effective June 7, 2018): Enacting the Washington Voting Rights Act of 2018 (counties, cities, school districts, fire protection districts, port districts and public utility districts).

Within eight months after receiving federal census data, counties, cities, school districts, fire protection districts, port districts, and public utility districts must prepare a plan for redistricting its election districts. Each district must be relatively equal in population, compact, geographically contiguous, and preserve existing communities of related mutual interests. This Washington Voting Rights Act makes it unlawful for any covered jurisdiction to implement an election process that impairs the ability of members of a protected class to have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of an election due to minority voter dilution.

The Act: (1) authorizes covered jurisdictions to voluntarily amend their election system, (2) allows individuals to propose remedies and authorizes jurisdictions to work with these individuals to implement a remedy, and (3) creates a cause of action allowing plaintiffs to seek equitable relief to force jurisdictions to amend their election system.

If a jurisdiction voluntarily amends its election system, it must provide public notice and obtain a court order certifying that the remedy complies with the Act and was prompted by a plausible violation of the Act. If the jurisdiction obtains such an order, it is immune from suit under the Act for four years, so long as it does not modify the new election system.

Any voter who resides in the jurisdiction may notify the jurisdiction’s government of the voter’s intent to challenge the election system and provide a description of the alleged violation and a possible remedy. The voter must work with the government in good faith to implement a remedy. Any person may file an action against the government under the Act if the government does not adopt a remedy within 180 days, or, if after July 1, 2021, within 90 days. If no remedy is adopted, any voter who resides in the jurisdiction may file a lawsuit alleging a violation of the Act. This claim has two elements: (1) the jurisdiction’s elections show polarized voting, and (2) members of the protected class do not have an equal opportunity to elect members of their choice or influence the outcome of an election. Trial must be set within one year, and for purposes of the statute of limitation, a cause of action arises each time there is an election under a districting method that is the subject of the court action.

If a violation is found, the court may order appropriate equitable remedies, including mandatory redistricting or the creation of a district-based election system. If the jurisdiction implements a court-ordered remedy, it is immune from suit under the Act for four years, unless the jurisdiction makes subsequent changes.