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In Session: Lawmakers consider wealth tax proposal, increased hazing fine

From a new tax proposal to an 8-year-old boy lobbying lawmakers to make a change to insurance coverage for hearing aids. Here's what you need to know.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — From a new tax proposal to an increase in hazing fines and to an 8-year-old boy lobbying lawmakers to make a change to insurance coverage for hearing aids, it was a busy past week in Olympia.

Washington state Democrats are calling it a "wealth tax" and similar proposals were filed across the county last Thursday. It would only impact those who have more than $250 million in assets but still, just the thought has a lot of Republicans concerned.

Lawmakers also made some movement on the issue of when police can chase after someone.

In 2021, new restrictions were put in place in regard to when police can chase after someone, limiting the types of crimes that can result in pursuits. Police have complained that the law has led to an increase in crime. A bill to roll back the law has bipartisan support in the House, but if it makes it to the Senate, it could be dead on arrival.

Republican leaders such as Rep. J.T. Wilcox have stated, "I think that everyone is sensitized to the danger that can be involved in pursuits. They're also supersensitized to what happens when people they'll feel like they can behave with impunity, and they can't be pursued." 

On the other hand, Democratic leaders like Sen. Dhingra have said, "I think that language is problematic because it takes us backward to a time when we had innocent people dying because they just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I think what I would be open to is actually, you know, having our CTT (Criminal Justice Training Commission) study, that study from the perspective of what are best practices across the country."

A Bellevue mother, Jolayne Houwtz, whose son was killed in a hazing incident at Washington State University, is trying to get a bill passed in her son's memory.

In 2019, her son, Sam Martinez, a 19-year-old freshman at Washington State University, died from alcohol poisoning. Police said it was caused by a hazing incident at his fraternity. Hazing is currently a misdemeanor and she wants to make it a more serious crime, a gross misdemeanor. In cases where there's "substantial bodily harm," it would be a felony.

"It's toxic. This culture, history, tradition of hazing as a means of initiation somebody into a group," Houwtz said. "My daughter texted me this morning and said Sam would be so proud and I think that's right."

Hugo Esterhay, 8, is the youngest lobbyist seen in Olympia and also has moderate hearing loss. When he was diagnosed at age three, the problems he had with speech and socializing went away thanks to hearing aids. However, they cost his parents thousands of dollars, more than $15,000 over the past five years. Insurance companies are not required to pay for hearing aids, so a lot of families cannot afford them. Hugo and his mom are trying to make the state require insurers to offer those benefits.

"My name is Hugo. I'm in second grade. I really hope that you can pass this bill. It will help a lot of people. Hearing aids are not optional for us, we need them. I can't hear without my hearing aids. It makes me really sad to know that some kids can't have them. Thank you very much for your support and time." Hugo testified. 

Hugo was one of several children with hearing loss who testified and no one testified against the bill.

In the upcoming week, lawmakers will be looking at a bill to increase funding for K-12 tutoring to help students hardest hit by the COVID shutdowns at schools. On Monday, a Senate bill will be introduced requiring the state to pay for free breakfast and lunch for every public school student in the state, regardless of their income. This idea is supported by the state's superintendent and would cost the state about $86 million a year.


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