The new year brings new WA laws for guns, minimum wage and more

Here are 12 new policies that will come into effect in 2024.

A person in a pear orchard holds a ladder and a poll

A farmworker picks pears at Rowe Farms outside of Yakima, Aug. 16, 2023. Starting Jan. 1, agricultural workers in Washington will have a mandated 40-hour workweek and be eligible for overtime pay. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

As we ring in the new year, Washington will also ring in new and updated laws and policies for 2024. These changes — approved either through the Legislature, ballot measures or administrative shifts — address the minimum wage, tenants rights, gun laws, labor, voting rights, cannabis use and more.

Here are 12 ways that rules and regulations in Washington will change in 2024.

Minimum Wage

The Washington minimum wage rises to $16.28 an hour in 2024, an increase of 54 cents an hour. Washington has the highest statewide minimum wage in the country, though some U.S. cities (including Washington, D.C.) have higher minimums. 

Several cities in the state set their own minimum wages. For 2024, employers in the Seattle city limits must pay at least $18.69 an hour, and employers in the city of SeaTac must pay $19.06 per hour. 

In November, Bellingham voters approved a ballot measure that raised the minimum wage to $1 above the state’s minimum wage, which will go into effect May 1. That will be followed by an increase to $2 above the state’s minimum wage, starting May 1, 2025. In subsequent years, Bellingham’s minimum wage would remain $2 an hour higher than the state minimum wage.

Gun purchase waiting period

An employee displays a gun for sale at Wade’s Eastside Guns in Bellevue on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. The new HB 1143 establishes a 10-day waiting period and the completion of a background check for purchasing any firearm. Previously, the waiting period applied only to purchasing pistols and semi-automatic weapons. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)

Gun buyers will have to follow new rules in the new year. House Bill 1143 establishes a 10-day waiting period and the completion of a background check for purchasing any firearm. Previously, the waiting period applied only to purchasing pistols and semiautomatic weapons.

The state also now requires a purchaser to provide proof of a recognized firearms-safety training program within the last five years, though certain professions, including military and law enforcement, are exempt from the training requirement.

The passage of HB 1143 came amid a raft of laws in recent years to tighten restrictions around firearms. 

In 2018, a voter-approved initiative mandated a 10-day wait for individuals purchasing a semiautomatic rifle, as well as enhanced background checks and certification from a firearms safety course. In Washington state, purchasers of handguns have long had the enhanced background checks — which adds a state check to the required federal check — that could result in a waiting period for the buyer. 

As originally drafted, HB 1143 was more ambitious legislation that would have also created a permit-to-purchase program aimed at helping to conduct annual background checks on current owners of pistols and semiautomatic rifles. The proposal was introduced after Crosscut reported in September 2022 that state officials never implemented the annual checks, which voters also approved in that same 2018 ballot measure. 

The slimmed-down version of the bill that is now law applies a waiting period and safety certification requirement beyond semiautomatic rifles to other long guns — such as pump-action shotguns or bolt-action rifles — as well as to pistols. 

Tenant protections

Voters in Bellingham and Tacoma both approved initiatives aimed at protecting renters at a time when rents throughout Washington have been skyrocketing.

Bellingham voters approved a proposal that would require landlords to provide 120 days of advance notice of rent increases. If rents go up 8% or more in a 12-month rolling time frame, a landlord could be on the hook to help pay for their tenants to relocate. 

About 120 miles south of Bellingham, Tacoma voters passed more wide-ranging tenant protections that took effect last month. The new law sets limits on rent increases and evictions. Late fees are capped at $10 a month. Landlords also must give six-months’ notice for a rent increase and pay a renter relocation assistance when rent increases are significant. Landlords also can’t evict tenants during cold weather or evict student tenants during the school year. 

Opponents of the Tacoma measure told Crosscut before the vote that the new laws put a huge burden on small-scale landlords. But supporters said that it gives tenants leverage in an unequal situation and amid rising rents.

The News Tribune reported that Tacoma city officials have said that enforcement of the new law would have to be through the court system, since the measure didn’t specify that the city has authority to apply the law administratively.

Pre-employment cannabis testing

As of Jan. 1, most employers will no longer be able to discriminate against a job candidate based on lawful use of cannabis off the clock, or because of a positive “non-psychoactive cannabis” result on a pre-employment drug test. 

Certain industries are exempt from this law, including first responders such as law enforcement, firefighters and dispatchers; corrections officers; airline employees; and other “safety-sensitive” positions. 

Pre-employment testing for other controlled substances is still allowed. The law also still allows employers to test their current employees for use of cannabis to investigate on-the-job accidents or because of suspected impairment at work, and to bar the use of cannabis at work.

Marijuana use has been legal for adults 21 and over in Washington since 2012, after voters approved a ballot measure. Medical marijuana has been legal in Washington state since 1998.

Agricultural overtime

Former Ostrom worker Luis Moreno pickets alongside other workers from Windmill Farm (formerly Ostrom) and UFW members on Mercer Street in Seattle to draw attention to unionization efforts, Aug. 31, 2023. New agricultural labor protections go into effect this week. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

Agricultural workers in Washington will see a mandated 40-hour workweek that will ensure a bonus for overtime, starting Jan. 1.

The Washington State Legislature passed a law that extended overtime to agricultural workers on a phased-in basis in 2021. As of today, agricultural workers who clock more than 40 hours a week will have to be paid at least time-and-a-half for overtime, or more than that if the overtime rate is negotiated through a contract. 

The law makes Washington one of the few states to require employers to pay overtime to agricultural workers. Last legislative session, agricultural companies asked lawmakers to carve out 12-week exemptions for the most labor-intensive periods, but the legislation died in committee.

Paid sick leave for construction

Starting today, many construction workers, who had been exempt from certain parts of the state’s paid sick leave laws, will now get paid out for the time off that they accrue after their jobs have ended. 

According to the state Department of Labor and Industries, an employer must pay the balance of a construction worker’s unused sick leave if they have not employed the person for 90 days.

While the update covers many construction workers, residential construction workers are not included in this update to the law. Supporters of the change told lawmakers that it would help construction workers who often switch employers as they work on different projects. 

Voting rights

A new state law bolsters the ability of civil rights organizations and Indigenous nations to challenge violations of the Washington Voting Rights Act, which protects classes of people from systemic voter suppression in local and state elections on the basis of race or ethnicity.

House Bill 1048 also clarifies that a protected class could include a coalition of people of different racial, ethnic or language-minority groups. It also allows a county to increase the number of commissioners in order to prevent a violation of the Washington Voting Rights Act against Indigenous nations that are located within its jurisdiction.

Newspaper business tax break

To help Washington's struggling newspaper industry, lawmakers approved a business and operations tax exemption for news organizations that primarily publish in print.

The tax exemption replaces a preferential tax rate for newspapers that was set to expire this year. The tax break will cost the state between $1.6 million and $2.4 million per biennium, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

Primary sponsor Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, said there was concern over local communities losing the service and civic engagement provided by newspapers as the industry struggles financially and local papers close or cut jobs.

According to a 2022 report by the League of Women Voters of Washington, Washington has 20% fewer print newspapers than it did in 2004. Total newsroom staffing in Washington also declined 67%, the report added.

Methow Valley News publisher Don Nelson told lawmakers that every dollar counts, especially at small newspapers. 

“I think more importantly, it benefits our readers and therefore your constituents,” said Nelson, also a member of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, an organization of community newspapers throughout the state. “They rely on our paper …  for a lot of reasons, mostly for community connections, and we want to be able to continue to deliver that to them.” 

Additional changes

The state’s Working Families Tax Credit, a tax refund for low- and medium-income people also eligible for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, will be expanded to people who file their taxes as "married filing separately." Tax credits range from $300 for income-eligible single people to $1,200 for eligible persons with three or more qualifying children. 

New air quality protections for outdoor workers affected by wildfire smoke will be enforced starting Jan. 15, according to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries. 

The process of getting Commercial Driver Licenses will be getting an update in 2024. Those renewing their CDLs may now do so online, and the state is adjusting CDL exam fees. 

The definition of illegal street racing has been broadened and enforcement procedures, including criminal charges and seizing of cars, have been outlined as of Jan. 1. 

Reporter Joseph O’Sullivan contributed to this report.


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