Submitted by Trent House, Trent M House Government Relations
Friday, February 7 marked the first critical hurdle of the session, the deadline for a bill to pass the policy committee in the “House of Origin”. Any policy bills left in committee Friday evening are considered dead for the session, though no idea is really ever lifeless until the legislature adjourns. Tuesday, February 11th, is the cutoff for bills to pass fiscal committees, however a large number of these bills could ultimately be considered necessary to implement the budget (NTIB), breathing time into them for the rest of the session.
As the homelessness crisis has visibly grown across the state, Governor Inslee and Legislators of both parties came to Olympia in January prioritizing the issue, though little unity exists on an approach. While Senate Republicans have introduced a number of bills concerning homelessness, the bills have died with Democrats controlling both chambers and the Governor’s office. SB 6109 (O’Ban, R-Lakewood) would have allowed local governments to appoint a guardian to exercise power of attorney on behalf of a homeless individual struggling with mental health or substance abuse but refusing treatment and resources. SB 6196 (Braun, R-Centralia) would have created a sanitation grant program to provide money to county and city chambers of commerce located in areas with a homeless population of greater than 500 people.
The House Finance Committee heard and passed HB 2907 (Macri, D-Seattle) this week, a regional approach to funding for homelessness. The bill authorizes King County to enact a payroll tax of 0.1% to 0.2%. Exemptions are provided for grocery businesses, as well as for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees if at least half their employees make under $150,000. Collections, estimated to be $121 million per year, could be used to buy, build, or operate affordable housing or supportive housing; provide rental assistance; or provide intervention services that prevent or address homelessness, such as behavioral health treatment programs. 43% of the revenue would be allocated to the city with the highest homeless population, Seattle. Indeed, Seattle bears the distinction of having not only the highest rate of homelessness in the State, but the third highest among major cities in the United States after New York and Los Angeles. Mayors of the suburban Cities of Kent and Auburn protested not only the application of the tax to businesses their communities are courting, but the lack of inclusion they experienced, having learned about the proposal from the media. The general approach to a regional tax has drawn the ire of the greater business community, but is supported by Amazon, Alaska Airlines, Microsoft, and Starbucks, to name a few. That business support however is key to the fierce opposition of Socialist Seattle City Councilwoman and author of the Tax Amazon movement Kshama Sawant and her followers who criticize the bill as an opportunity to ban cities like Seattle from raising higher taxes on big business.
Representative Nicole Macri (D-Seattle) has sponsored a number of other bills this session aimed at reducing homelessness, including a “just cause” bill. 2453 would require landlords specify the reason for eviction, give 120 days-notice if the unit is being rehabilitated or sold, and offer a new lease when the old one expires. Under current state law, a residential landlord may evict a tenant for any reason by issuing month-to-month tenants a 20-day no-cause termination notice, or by not renewing a lease. Seattle, Burien, and Federal Way have already passed local “just cause” laws, as have Oregon and California. Critics testified the law lacks adequate safety protections for landlords and other tenants when addressing unsafe situations, often reported to them on conditions of anonymity. Landlords also claim they are already reeling from legal changes in the past few years and eviction is an action of last resort, as the average eviction costs a rental housing provider $3,500 in costs, lost rent, repairs, and marketing. The bill passed out of the House Committee on Civil Rights & Judiciary on February 7.
SB 6490 (Darneille, D-Tacoma)/2878 (Davis, D- Shoreline), popularly called Fair Chance Housing, has died. The bill would have echoed a Seattle ordinance prohibiting the use of criminal history in tenant screening. HB 2779 (Macri, D-Seattle), a bill to lift the statewide ban on rent control has also already died in the Legislature but may be pursued after session in other venues. Washington Community Action Network has indicated they will explore a statewide ballot measure to address rent control and “just cause” if measures fail this session. Last year Washington CAN backed the Stable Homes initiative in Federal Way, which imposed the strongest renter protections in the state and passed by 10 points. The initiative ended no-cause evictions, prohibits retaliatory evictions and eviction discrimination, and allows immediate family members to live with renters without facing eviction so long as it doesn’t break occupancy codes. In addition, if a landlord violates any of the protections, they will owe the tenant 4.5 times the unit’s rent, plus attorney and court costs. 37% of residents in Washington are renters.
To the disappointment of the Association of Washington Cities, several bills that preempt the authority of cities to make choices about housing density are all still alive. These bills could all usher in momentous change in the landscape across Washington. SB 6536 (Das, D-Kent) mandates cities with a population of 15,000 or more to eliminate single-family zoning, instead allowing duplexes through six-plexes, stacked flats, townhomes, and courtyard apartments in areas now zoned for single-family homes that are within half mile of a transit stop. Cities with 10,000 or more people must allow duplexes in all single-family zones. It also prohibits any regulations that discourage the development of such housing. HB 2570 (Gregerson, D-SeaTac) requires all GMA planning cities with a population of 2,500 or more adopt prescriptive ordinances and development regulations allowing at least one accessory dwelling on all single-family lots. SB 6617 (Liias, D-Mukilteo) requires all cities create or update their accessory dwelling unit ordinances. The proposal prohibits cities from requiring on-street parking for ADUs within a half mile of a transit stop. Owner occupancy requirements are also prohibited unless the unit is used as a short-term rental or the owner has five or more ADU properties.
In a further step to improve Washington State’s medical and legal response to sexual assault, the Senate unanimously passed 6158 (Dhingra, D-Redmond) on Wednesday, February 5, creating a task force to develop model protocols for hospitals and clinics where sexual assault survivors are treated. The task force will bring together a broad range of groups to provide input and will include legislators, the Washington State Hospital Association, sexual assault survivors, medical providers, judges, law enforcement, and local government officials. Last year, the Legislature passed HB 1016 (Caldier, R-Port Orchard) requiring hospitals that do not provide rape kits to inform survivors immediately so they can seek a kit at another hospital.
The House Local Government Committee heard and passed 2777 (Frame, D-Seattle) this week. The bill creates a pilot program to allow a permit for home-based kitchen operations selling no more than 30 meals per day or 150 meals per week. Supporters says this helps bring illicit home-based catering businesses into the system, giving entrepreneurs an opportunity to scale up in an industry that is difficult to break into without capital. The Washington Association of Local Public Health Officials and the Washington State Department of Health expressed serious concerns about the bill, and it is opposed by the Washington Hospitality Association, as well as the Washington Food Industry Association, who all testified with concerns about food safety.
Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island) introduced a bill Monday to ban firearms on campus. The bill, 2925, came as a reaction to an un-permitted protest by the Washington Three Percenters last Friday, January 31 when 250 armed supporters of Representative Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) appeared on campus. Legislative staff were allowed to go home early if made to feel uncomfortable and many lobbyists evacuated campus. The protesters proudly carrying weapons including assault rifles were reportedly verbally abusive towards an assistant to House Minority Leader JT Wilcox (R-Yelm), who earlier this session suspended Shea from participation in the caucus after an investigation concluded he had participated in domestic terrorism. Speaker Representative Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) and Majority Leader Senator Andy Billig (D-Spokane) have announced the bill will not move forward this year due to its late introduction, but the topic will be considered next year. Jinkins has indicated the House Democratic Caucus has not come to a conclusion on what to do about Shea. While a majority of caucus members wish to expel the embattled representative, nine Republican votes would also be needed to make up the required two thirds majority. This week, Shea introduced two measures from his basement office, HJM 4017 “Requesting Congress and the President to declare the Muslim Brotherhood and unindicted co-conspirators in the 2008 Holy Land Foundation Trial as designated terrorist organizations” and HJM 4018 “Requesting Congress and the President mandate investigations of the John Brown Gun Club, Redneck Revolt, Antifa, and the Socialist Rifle Association, and their ties to international terrorist and other criminal originations.” Neither bill has additional sponsors, nor will they be scheduled for action.
This week, two longtime members of the House of Representatives announced they will not seek reelection. House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Renton) first elected in 2002, recently took a position as Community Ambassador for the National Hockey League, in anticipation of the expansion team’s start of play in 2021. The 37th is a strong Democratic district and will remain so. Democrat Kristin Harris-Talley immediately announced her candidacy for the seat. She currently serves as the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. Former Minority Leader Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis) also announced his retirement this week, after having served in the House since 1996. The 20th is a strong Republican district and also will remain such. Republican lawyer and Centralia Councilmember Peter Abbarno announced his candidacy immediately and has been endorsed by both DeBolt and his seatmate Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama).
Initiative 976, the measure to reduce car tab fees to $30, was heard this week in King County Superior Court. Though 53% of voters approved the measure, nine plaintiffs including the City of Seattle, King County, the Port of Seattle, the Association of WA Cities, and the Washington State Transit Association filed suit, arguing I-976 violated the single-subject rule and several other constitutional provisions. In late November, the initiative was blocked from taking effect pending conclusion of the case. If upheld, 976 will lower state vehicle registration fees, repeal additional local fees and attempt to repeal or lower Sound Transit taxes, all of which fund road and transit projects across Washington. A decision is expected the week of February 10, though that conclusion will likely be appealed.
Feb 7 – House of Origin Policy Cutoff Feb 11 – House of Origin Fiscal Cutoff Feb 19 – House of Origin Floor Cutoff Feb 28 – Opposite House Policy Cutoff March 2 – Opposite House Fiscal Cutoff March 6 – Opposite House Floor Cutoff March 12 – Sine Die