Last updated on July 14th, 2023 at 09:42 am
Retail crime in the state has been emboldened in recent years due to limited policing ability. Police or security officers have been restricted from pursuing suspected shoplifters unless they personally saw the crime take place. This has led to some of the “worst ever” crime in grocery and c-stores, Hetrick said.
However, a recent senate bill from the special session in May takes steps to address the issue.
“In 2021, the Washington Supreme Court struck down the previous drug possession laws,” Hetrick explained. “What it had done was make drug possession pretty much legal…with this bill, they’ve again made illegal drug possession a misdemeanor. It doesn’t fix it all, but it does help.
SB 5536 also returns some authority to law enforcement. Hetrick hopes the measure will dissuade habitual retail criminals, who often have drug issues. “It is a weird little turn-around, but it is significant…now, at least, police can enforce something,” she said.
She continued saying the organization will support any other bills that could improve retailers’ ability to conduct business.
Workers are distressed as legislation that was voted on two years ago will be enacted July 1. Employers will need to begin deducting a 0.58 percent payroll tax from employees’ paychecks. The deductions will fund Washington’s first-in-the-nation, long-term care insurance program, WA Cares.
The bill has been through much legislative turmoil. Implementation was paused in 2022 to allow time for lawmakers to fix key issues, said Hetrick, adding the program needs additional revision.
The organization aims to educate as many retailers as possible. “I think once this deduction starts happening, we’re going to see people up in arms,” she said.
Unless workers have their own insurance plans, they will have to pay into WA Cares, which creates another set of issues.
“If you don’t pay into it for 10 years, you can’t use it. So the people who are planning to retire in the next five, six, nine years won’t be able to use it but will still have to pay,” Hetrick explained.
In a recent WFIA newsletter, Hetrick shared a statistic from The Seattle Times that stated, “A worker earning a median income of $51,100, will pay $24 a month, or $288 a year, in deductions.”
“It’s pretty significant,” Hetrick said. “Not huge, but it’s another deduction. And right now, Washington is not being favorable on taxes.”
The state government also implemented HB 1106, known as the “voluntary quit bill.” It expanded unemployment benefits for workers who voluntarily leave under four circumstances – death, disability, lack of access to child care or care for vulnerable adults.
WFIA understands the potential benefits but wants to ensure the measure is carried out “in accordance with unemployment laws,” Hetrick said.
The state’s economy looks strong, but people are struggling to buy groceries, according to Hetrick. Inflation is having a large impact, but Hetrick also cited high fuel prices, specifically in border cities.
At the beginning of the year, the state government implemented a bidding process for oil and fuel companies. This has caused gas stations to report up to 60 cents per gallon charges.
“And it just keeps going up. That tax is a direct hit every time you fuel up,” Hetrick said.
The initiative comes from the government’s attempts to increase electric vehicle usage in Washington. Retailers along the edges of the state are reporting a loss in revenue as consumers can find gasoline for about a dollar per gallon less in Oregon and Idaho. WFIA is continuing to educate consumers and retailers about the growing gas prices in an effort to enact change.
On the other hand, the organization has been working with EV groups to develop funding for grants. “The state did put almost $30 million into EV grants, and they want to get those up and down our main highway corridors…quite a few grocery stores are going to be applying for those to see if we can get them in some of our independent grocery stores,” Hetrick said.