2018 Legislative Session Wrap-Up   

By Yorik Stevens-Wajda & Esther Larsen, Legislative Committee Co-Chairs and Michael Shaw, Chapter Lobbyist

The legislative committee worked last fall to reach out to chapter membership and work with the chapter board of directors to develop a fresh legislative agenda document for distribution to key legislators, peer organizations, and others at the outset of the session and to serve as a guiding document for committee reviews of proposed legislation. The board also gave approval for the committee to run a bill, which would allow permit fee revenue to fund long range planning work, for the first time in the chapter’s history. The bill didn’t pass but did raise the profile of the challenge of adequately funding planning. 

The 2018 Legislative Session

The 2018 Legislature adjourned the 60-day regular session on March 8th, having passed a biennial capital budget, a hold-over from last year; a fix to the Hirst water decision; and the usual supplemental budgets associated with an even-year session.   For only the second time in eight years, a special session was not a foregone conclusion. 

The 2018 session was largely dictated by last November’s special election concerning the 45th legislative district senate seat, which had been held by a Republican, the late Sen. Andy Hill, and was won by a Democrat, Sen. Manka Dhingra.  Controlling both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since 2012, the Democratic Legislature introduced a record number of bills for a “short” session (1,402), including many that had repeatedly failed in the Republican-controlled Senate over the last six years. This session for example, the Senate passed:

  • SB 6052/death penalty repeal, passed to the House,
  • SB 6203/carbon tax, passed to the Senate floor;
  • SB 6002/the Voter’s Rights Act, which was sent to the Governor. 

Numerous House bills that had failed in the Senate last year passed to the Governor’s desk this year including:

  • HB 1570, elimination of the homeless housing surcharge sunset, and
  • HB 1783, the reduction of criminal legal financial obligations.

The Legislature passed 317 bills during this year’s short session – similar to the number passed during last year’s historically long session (390).  During the session, the chapter’s legislative committee met via Friday noon conferences calls for 10 weeks beginning January 5 with a pre-session call and continuing through March 9.  An average of eight legislative committee members participated in the calls and provided reviews and comments on Basecamp, along with other members who were unable to make the weekly call.   Chapter lobbyist Michael Shaw provided a weekly bill tracking list, and the legislative committee Co-Chairs alternated weekly in providing Agendas, both via Basecamp.  As reflected in the prior chapter newsletter article at https://apawa.memberclicks.net/02-2018-legislative-committee-update, the session moved rapidly with many of the bills which were reviewed by the legislative committee with recommendations to oppose not making their way out of their committees of origin.  An overview of the legislative committee’s recommendations on bills along with the final status of the bills reviewed is set forth in the final 2018 Bill Table.

 Several long-serving House members announced their retirements at the end of the 2018 session.  They include:  Senate Majority Leader, Sharon Nelson, House Minority Leader, Dan Kristiansen, House Transportation Chair, Judy Clibborn, House Judiciary ranking member, Jay Rodne, Early Learning & Human Services Chair, Ruth Kagi, Rep. Larry Haler, Finance Chair Kristine Lytton, Finance ranking member, Terry Nealey, Rep. Liz Pike, and both representatives from Pierce County’s 25th district, Rep. Melanie Stambaugh and Rep. Joyce McDonald.   (Due to Rep. Kristiansen’s retirement, Pierce County’s Rep. J.T. Wilcox has been named Minority Leader.)

Supplemental Operating Budget

The $44.6 billion biennial general fund budget includes an increase of $1.2 billion from higher than anticipated revenue collections. New investments include: 

  • $863.4 million for K-12 public schools. 
  • $31.8 million for higher education institutions. 
  • More than $70 million (including federal match) is available for community rate stabilization and service enhancements for community mental health services.
  • $9 million to restore TANF, State Family Assistance, and Refugee Cash Assistance Grants to pre-recession levels.

Revenues from the higher revenue forecast were also used to temporarily decrease the state’s 2019 McCleary property tax rates by $0.30 per $1,000 of assessed value. This property tax cut is funded by redirecting $390 million that would have otherwise gone to the state’s Budget Stabilization Account.

Biennial and Supplemental Capital Budget

After not passing a capital budget last year, the Legislature during the third week of session passed its biennial budget, followed by a supplemental budget in March. Combined, the budgets invest $3.3 billion in capital construction including: 

  • $1.03 billion in new K-12 school construction. 
  • $861 million in higher education facilities,
  • $36 million in new community capacity grants for state hospital diversion projects.  Grants range to construct psychiatric residential treatment beds, crisis diversion and stabilization facilities, and supportive housing for people with mental illness.  $3.2 million is for Pierce County for a crisis diversion facility.
  • $350 million for competitively awarded water quality improvement projects. 
  • $93.9 million for projects to improve instream flows and out-of-stream needs of farming. This funding is part of the Hirst deal. $29 million of these funds will be awarded competitively.  
  • $35.4 million for Floodplains by Design.

Looking forward

The 2018 election will see all 98 House seats up for election and 24 of the 49 Senators.  As noted earlier, several long-serving House members announced their retirements at the end of the 2018 session. Collectively representing more than 100 years of service.  Since several of those members are committee chairs, there is speculation regarding who will be the new chair of the House Transportation Committee, the House Finance Committee and the House Early Learning Committee.   Of course, if the majority parties change that puts everything in flex.

Next session will be a budget year and the first without a McCleary court mandate in several years.  A carbon tax initiative may be on the ballot in November, and certain legislators may consider statewide elective office as 2020 comes closer.  Also, it is unknown what will transpire from Public Records Act case regarding the Legislature or the task force that was created after the Governor vetoed the Legislature’s attempt to exempt themselves from the PRA.

2019 APA-WA Legislative Agenda

The legislative committee is looking to get an early start on developing a legislative agenda for next year’s important long session. While in past years the agenda has been adopted by the chapter board in December, this year we are aiming to bring the agenda to the board in October to give time for the committee and chapter lobbyist to do early coordination work before the session starts. Please submit any suggestions to Esther ([email protected]) or Yorik ([email protected]) or join the legislative committee and participate throughout the process. The 2019 legislative agenda will be brought to the chapter board of directors for approval in October.

The chapter also has a process for evaluating proposals to run a bill. The time to get started is now if you have a proposal!

APA Policy Guide Development

On the national front, the national APA Legislative and Policy Committee has launched work on three policy guides, which determine APA’s positions and principles and serve as a guide to planners and policymakers at all levels of government. The policy guides under development address Social Equity and Inclusive Growth, Housing (update), and Transportation (update). Those are some big topics!

Working groups are currently plugging away at developing drafts of each policy guide. In a few weeks at the National Planning Conference, the Delegate Assembly will convene to discuss the guides and provide comments and suggestions. The working groups will then work through the summer preparing a final draft, and submit it for consideration, debate, and approval at the Legislative and Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C. in September.

There are a few ways to get involved: if you’re going to New Orleans for the National Planning Conference, let Rick Sepler know if you’re interested in serving as one of the delegates for the Washington chapter; contact [email protected] to sign up for status updates or volunteer to review early drafts; or just stay tuned to the policy guide website for available drafts and further information.

Join the Legislative Committee!

The legislative committee is always looking for chapter members who are interested in advocating for planning and making great communities happen. The committee starts each biennium somewhat fresh, so this is a great time to get involved and help shape the chapter’s advocacy efforts. Check out the committee’s website, or guide for new members, for more information and let Esther ([email protected]) or Yorik ([email protected]) know if you’re interested.

Return to the March/April issue of The Washington Planner