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County-Focused Bills from the 2022-2023 Legislative Session

Close up of newspaper with headline, "Changes coming in 2023."

A number of bills came out of the 2023 legislative session that uniquely affect Washington counties. Here’s a summary, but please check with your county’s prosecuting attorney to see how they affect you and to get help drafting new ordinances or policies to implement the new laws (if necessary).

A quick glossary before we begin:

  • “HB” means “House Bill,” showing that the law originated in the Washington State House of Representatives.
  • “SB” means “Senate Bill,” showing that the law originated in the Washington State Senate.

Other “secret” codes include whether the bill was a substitute (and which number substitute it was). These codes are useful if you need to dig into the legislative history of a bill, but most of you probably won’t need to do that. Keep an eye out for other MRSC blogs on new legislation that applies more generally to local governments. On to the summaries!

Bills from the State House of Representatives

HB 1100 allows a board of county commissioners to provide for the disposition of the remains of an indigent resident of the county who dies in an adjacent county outside of Washington. Otherwise, the remains will be handled by the county in which the person dies (even if the person is a resident of another Washington county).

HB 1349 revises various provisions related to nonjudicial foreclosures of deeds of trust. While most of these provisions apply to private trustees, counties should be aware of them for recording or scheduling purposes.

The bill extends the time a borrower can be referred to mediation from 20 days after the notice of sale is recorded to 90 days prior to the date of sale listed in the notice. It also prohibits counties from seeking or receiving certain excessive fees for locating foreclosure surplus funds.

Under 2SHB 1474, beginning January 1, 2024, county auditors must collect a document recording assessment of $100 to fund the Covenant Homeownership Program (Program). Counties may keep up to 1% for administrative costs but must send the rest to the state treasurer. Documents exempt from this charge are:

  1. Assignments or substitutions of previously recorded deeds of trust;
  2. Documents recording a birth, marriage, divorce, or death;
  3. Any recorded documents otherwise exempted from a recording fee or additional assessments under state law;
  4. Marriage licenses issued by the county auditor;
  5. Documents recording a name change order under RCW 4.24.130; or
  6. Documents recording a federal, state, county, city, or water-sewer district, or wage lien or satisfaction of lien.

The rest of the bill describes the Program, the purpose of which is to provide down payment and closing cost assistance to certain economically disadvantaged classes of persons. This is a state-administered program, so while your housing assistance office should be aware of it, there are no other county requirements other than collecting and remitting the fee.

Bills from the State Senate

SSB 5353 removes the date by which counties must have elected to join the Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) for the protection of critical areas and agricultural lands. The bill provides that a county electing to join the VSP is eligible for a share of funding made available to implement the program and establishes that a county electing to join the VSP is not required to implement the program in a participating watershed until adequate funding is provided.

SSB 5437 establishes a new process for filling vacancies on an elected nonpartisan governing body of certain special purpose districts where property ownership is not a qualification to vote. The bill adds some notice requirements that the special purpose district must follow but does not change the duties of the county legislative authority in those situations when the remaining members of the special district governing body fail to act in a timely manner.

SSB 5627 amends the process to appoint members to a salary commission in noncharter counties and removes the “cap” of 10 commission members. A noncharter county must now select at least one member from each county voting district by lot. If the county commission or council chooses to appoint additional members, a majority of members must still be selected by lot.

While SSB 5627 does not specifically address this question, MRSC thinks that currently appointed salary commissions continue to have their full authority even if the composition of the commission does not exactly follow state law. Absent a specific statute or county law to the contrary, the salary commissioners could hold over in their position until a qualified replacement is appointed. MRSC has referenced AGO 1954 No. 362 where the Washington State Attorney General (AGO) cites the following general rule in this state:

(T)he rule of law is that an officer shall hold office until his successor is appointed and qualified, unless by statute such holding over is expressly or by clear implication prohibited.

Also, AGO 1954 No. 362 summarizes case law regarding the “hold over” doctrine and notes that the incumbent is de facto officer whose acts are valid.

SSB 5714 establishes that tax payments generated by an automated check processing service or payments received via United States mail with no discernable postmark date are not delinquent if they are received within three business days of the due date.

While this blog covered some of the bills that uniquely impact counties, there were additional bills that impact other local governments as well as counties. Watch for our other blogs and our newsletters.

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.