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Legislation Aimed at Counties Impacts Coroners, Operational Continuity

Legislation Aimed at Counties Impacts Coroners, Operational Continuity

During the recent session, the Washington State Legislature adopted two bills affecting county officers: ESHB 1326 affects coroners and medical examiners, and EHB 1271 addresses continuity of operations. This blog is part of MRSC’s ongoing series examining new legislation that affects local government.


ESHB 1326 modifies several sections of the RCW related to coroners and medical examiners.

It requires coroners, medical examiners, and medicolegal investigative personnel to complete medicolegal forensic investigation training within 12 months of taking office or beginning employment. Part-time staff have 18 months to complete the training, though there is an exception for elected prosecuting attorneys serving as ex-officio coroners. The training requirements are being developed by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in conjunction with the Washington Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners. So, stay tuned for more information from these organizations.

The bill also requires all coroner’s offices, except those run by elected prosecuting attorneys, to become accredited by either the International Association of Coroners & Medical Examiners or the National Association of Medical Examiners no later than July 1, 2025, and to maintain continued accreditation.

There is a major change to the office of coroner in smaller counties scheduled in 2025. Currently, under RCW 36.16.030, the office of coroner is presumptively a separately elected official. In counties with a population fewer than 40,000, the elected prosecuting attorney is automatically also the ex-officio coroner. Beginning January 1, 2025, the county legislative authority of a county with a population fewer than 40,000 can decide to separate the office of coroner from the prosecutor, and to appoint a separate coroner instead.

Additionally, the bill gives specific authority for counties to enter agreements to provide coroner or medical examiner services to other counties. Beginning January 1, 2025, it establishes minimum salaries for coroners and increases the minimum reimbursement rate paid by the state to counties from the death investigations account when those counties perform autopsies. However, it also specifically ties reimbursement from the state to the new training and accreditation requirements.

Continuity of Operations

EHB 1271 is intended to help county elected officials ensure continuity of operation during public health crises. Here’s what it does:

  • Allows court clerks to attend court and public auctions of real property virtually or in-person.
  • For assessors, the bill changes the requirement for physical inspection by requiring taxable real property characteristics to be reviewed in accordance with International Association of Assessing Officers standards for physical inspection.
  • Adds coroners and medical examiners to a county’s Emergency Management Council, to the list of first responders who must be provided information by personal emergency service providers during an emergency, and to the list of government agencies that may access the Washington State Department of Licensing list of photos.
  • Allows county auditors to satisfy public document inspection requirements by posting the documents online.
  • Allows the Washington State Auditor to extend the due date of local government financial reports required by RCW 43.09.230 by 30 days during an emergency.
  • Allows the remaining amount due on annual tax assessments of personal property of over $50 to be paid by October 31, when at least half of the tax due (along with applicable interest and penalties) is paid after April 30, but before October 31.
  • Allows sales of property under Chapter 6.21 RCW to be conducted online and adds requirements for posting information about the sale.

This is part of MRSC’s ongoing series about bills passed in the 2020-2021 legislative session. Keep an eye on our blogs at MRSC Insight or in the MRSC E-Newsletters for additional legislative updates.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

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About Steve Gross

Steve Gross joined MRSC as a Legal Consultant in January 2020.

Steve has worked in municipal law and government for over 20 years as an Assistant City Attorney for Lynnwood, Seattle, Tacoma, and Auburn, and as the City Attorney for Port Townsend and Auburn. He also has been a legal policy advisor for the Pierce County Council and has worked in contract administration.