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4 new laws that will take effect in Washington state on Jan. 1, 2020

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Four new laws go into effect on January 1st across Washington state.

Smoking age increases from 18 years old to 21

Washington state will be the ninth state to raise the smoking age to 21. Attorney General Bob Ferguson first proposed the bill in 2015. Had the Legislature approved it then, Washington would have been the first state to raise the smoking age.

The law will not penalize youth possession, but prohibit tobacco sales to anyone under 21 years of age.

According to the governor’s office, the first city to raise the smoking age (Needham, Mass.) saw a 50 percent reduction in tobacco use among high school students in the following years.

“By passing this bill, the Legislature is saving thousands of Washingtonians from a lifetime of addiction and smoking-related illnesses,” Ferguson said in March 2019 when the Legislature passed the bill. “Because 18- to 20-year-olds supply younger teens with tobacco and vape products, this will reduce the number of cigarettes and vape products in our high schools, which will lead to fewer kids getting addicted.

Minimum wage increases to $13.50 an hour

The state minimum wage increases on Wednesday from $12 an hour to $13.50. In some cities, like Seattle, the minimum wage is already higher than the state’s. In SeaTac, minimum wage is $15.64.

Voters passed Initiative 1433 in 2016 to increase the state’s minimum wage every year from 2017 to 2020. At the time, Washington’s minimum wage was $9.47 an hour. Prior to the vote, Ballotpedia says Washington state had the eighth highest minimum wage in the country. In 2014, Seattle voters passed a $15 minimum wage.

Paid Family Medical Leave goes into effect

If you have worked 820 hours in Washington state in the last 12 months and have had a qualifying life event, you can take advantage of a new insurance program called Paid Family Medical Leave.

Workers are eligible for 12-18 weeks of paid leave for events like: the birth or adoption of a child, a serious health issue, a serious health issue of a family member, and certain military events, including the return of a family member.

Not eligible for the program are federal employees, people employed by a business on tribal land, or self-employed people who choose not to opt into the state program.

Workers will receive up to 90 percent of their weekly pay — or up to a maximum of $1,000 per week.

You have rights as you return to work. However, your employer is not required to keep your job if you work for a company that employs fewer than 50 people, you’ve worked for the company for less than a year, and if you’ve worked less than 1,250 hours in the year before you took leave.

Car seat rules change

Depending on their height, middle school aged kids might have to go back to sitting in booster seats. According to the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission, changes to the law include:

–Children up to 2 years old should be in a rear-facing car seat.
–Children 2 to 4 years old must be in a harness car seat, either forward or rear-facing.
–Children over 4 years old and under 4 feet 9 inches tall must be in a booster seat with a seat belt or harness. Many children will be using a booster until they’re 10 to 12 years old.
–Children over 4 feet 9 inches tall can ride without a booster seat, but must wear a seat belt.
–All children under the age 13 should ride in the back seat with a seat belt.

Drivers can be ticketed if passengers under the age 16 are riding without the proper seating or seat belt.

“These changes will help parents protect their children on the road,” said Dr. Beth Ebel, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and member of the Washington State American Academy of Pediatrics. “This change brings us in line with current best thinking about keeping kids safe.”

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