Members of the Washington state Legislature began prefiling bills last week, and lawmakers from the 19th legislative district so far haven’t shied away from showing their priorities.
On Dec. 6, Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, prefiled five bills as part of his systematic effort to repeal the WA Cares Fund and its associated 58-cent payroll tax on every $100 earned. The bill creating this system was passed during the 2019 legislative session.
House Bill 1594 would outright repeal much of the legislation passed during the 2019 legislative session. House Bill 1596 would expand the eligible beneficiary of long-term services to include those who later move out of the state. House Bill 1598 would allow benefits to be paid out to a beneficiary, estate or back to the state following the death of a qualified individual.
House Bills 1599 and 1597 both deal with exemptions for long-term care premium assessments on payroll for employees either undergoing hardship or who are recent high school or college graduates.
The payroll tax to establish this program is scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of 2022, and starting in 2025 eligible beneficiaries could begin claiming upwards of $36,500 over their lifetime to help pay for long-term care services, such as adult day services, home delivered meals, transportation and dementia support.
But the program’s sustainability has come under fire.
Last week, a number of state Senate Democrats urged Gov. Jay Inslee in a letter to delay the premium assessment on the program in order to court more public engagement, additional time for state agencies to implement the program, to allow more time for those looking for an exemption to file one and to allow the state to understand the fiscal impacts of those measures.
Democrats also said they heard from constituents who were concerned they would not be able to tap into the benefits they were taxed if they were to move out of the state later in life. House Minority Leader Pat Sullivan, in an article from The Seattle Times, said Democrats were already busy working to address holes in the bill.
Speaking with The Reflector on Tuesday, Dec. 7 Abbarno said the only real fix for the program is a full repeal.
He points to a study published and commissioned by the Office of the State Actuary as proof that the program is unsustainable in nature and would eventually need to either reduce benefits or increase the tax rate on payroll in order to retain financial feasibility.
“Ultimately, I don’t see it as a sustainable program. It’s an unfair program, honestly, and we might see through some lawsuits that it may not even be constitutionally legal,” Abbarno said.
The program, Abbarno also argues, acts as blanket assurance, when in reality the program won’t cover many of the necessities of long-term care planning. Abbarno said the legislative Democrats and Republicans should work together to repeal the program and work to incentivize long-term care planning through public-private partnerships.
“It’s just not a good deal for Washingtonians across the board,” he said.
When asked if he thought Democrats would buy into his fixes, Abbarno said he didn’t know.
“If their focus is on addressing concerns, then yeah, I think many of these bills will address these concerns my constituents have addressed to me,” he said.
Abbarno also introduced House Bill 1595 — also known as “Zach’s Law” — to deter jumping from bridges and at public recreational swimming sites to prevent cold water shock drownings. The bill is named after Zachary Rager, a Centralia teenager who drowned last March after jumping from a railroad trestle bridge while recreationally swimming in Chehalis.
Abbarno said the bill is garnering traction.
“I’m really happy to see that it’s getting a lot of bipartisan support, and so is (House Bill 1600), the suicide prevention hotline bill,” he said.
House Bill 1600 would require most public works projects to install signs displaying the 988 telephone number, which connects callers with the national suicide prevention and mental health hotline.
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