2019 Legislative Session Recap

The 2019 session kicked off with a lot of promise and a lot of work to do. Notably, the legislature was finally free of two particularly thorny issues that had dominated the agenda for several years: education funding (McCleary) and permit-exempt wells (Hirst). The legislative committee started its work for the session in July of 2018, which was earlier than past years to provide time to prepare the APA-WA 2019 legislative agenda.

The legislative committee reached out to chapter membership with information and a survey asking what the chapter’s priorities for legislative advocacy should be for the long term, and which items from the 2018 legislative agenda should be carried forward to 2019. The most notable result of the survey to us was the emphasis on housing – far and away the most-selected topic. Accordingly, the committee dedicated significant energy to this policy area this session, which dovetailed nicely with APA’s focus through the planning home initiative.

National APA held its first ever state legislative summit in Austin, TX in December 2018, just before the beginning of this year’s session. Legislative committee and chapter leadership representatives from almost half of the chapters in the nation (legislative committee co-chair Yorik Stevens-Wajda attended for WA) met to share wisdom, ideas, best practices, and inspiration with each other. The policy focus of the summit was, you guessed it, housing.

We started our weekly conference calls in early January, and our bill tracking list was already filled with pre-filed bills. A typical conference call starts with a legislative report from our chapter lobbyist Michael Shaw – we call this the scuttlebutt from Olympia – followed by discussion on bills of interest, calls for volunteers to review bills, and discussion on recommended chapter position after bill reviews are done.

The beginning of the session was extremely hectic – with dozens of bills scheduled for public hearings in committees every week. Planning is a very broad discipline, affecting land use, transportation, housing, economic development, the environment, social justice, and more. To focus at least a little bit, the committee puts the most attention on bills that directly affect development and permitting, the Growth Management Act, SEPA, and housing… which still left us with over 50 bills on our tracking list in the beginning of the session. All told, over 2,500 bills were introduced this session and the Legislature passed 475 bills – much more than usual for a 105-day budget session.

Legislative committee members reviewed about 15 bills of interest, mostly in the first several weeks of the session when the legislature’s policy and budget committees were holding the most public hearings. Some bills were reviewed again after amendments or substitute bills significantly changed the provisions. Most of those bills – and most bills in general – did not make it out of the legislature’s committees, let alone pass the legislature and become law.

As the session progressed, the committee transitioned to more of an in-depth focus on a few bills rather than trying to do quick reviews and action on a larger number of bills. This approach recognized the limited capacity of a small number of chapter volunteers with day jobs and otherwise busy lives.

The two bills that the committee focused on late in the session both addressed providing additional housing supply and variety:

  • HB 1923, which became the vehicle for the session on housing planning, capacity, and diversity proposals. The bill was quite a moving target. It was substituted with complete rewrites several times and had at least four major versions in its two-month trip through the legislature.

    The chapter submitted a letter of support to Representative Joe Fitzgibbons, prime sponsor and chair of the House Committee on Environment & Energy, along with detailed recommendations for clarity and implementation. The chapter also submitted a letter of support for a later version of the bill to members of the Senate Committee on Housing Stability & Affordability. Finally, the chapter signed in support at the Senate Ways & Means public hearing.

    The bill passed the legislature, although without many of the mandatory provisions that the chapter supported.
  • SB 5812, which would have expanded opportunities for accessory dwelling units in urban areas throughout the state. The chapter submitted a letter of support to the House Committee on Local Government. The bill passed the Senate, and was passed out of the House Committee on Local Government, but did not pass the full House.

Other bills of interest that became law this year made the following changes:

  • Reforming condominium construction liability. It may take time (a year or up to three) for insurers and builders to regain confidence in condo projects, but developers are already seeing some indications of interest in condo construction. (SB 5334)
  • Providing funding for housing trust fund. The capital budget bill allocates $175 million to the state Housing Trust Fund, as compared to recent funding levels around $100 million per year. (HB 1102)
  • Providing funding for civics education curriculum development and teacher training. (ESHB 1109)
  • Extending the ability for local governments to use REET 2 funding for homeless housing through 2026 – now includes affordable housing as well (HB 1219).
  • Commissioning state building codes and protections for tiny houses and tiny house communities. (SB 5383)
  • Requiring the Growth Management Hearings Board to create a searchable database of its decisions. (SB 5151)
  • Sharing state sales tax with local governments for housing. Cities and counties can redirect a portion of the state sales tax to affordable housing projects – more if they work together (HB 1406)
  • Shifting the Real Estate Excise Tax from a flat tax to a graduated one. This change makes REET more progressive, but disproportionately hits apartments and other multi-unit buildings (SB 5998)
Some bills of interest that did not pass in 2019 would have:
  • Expanded and extended the multifamily tax exemption (SB 5363)
  • Delayed the effective date of urban growth area expansions and resource land de-designations (HB 1544)
  • Required minimum residential density throughout urban growth areas or near light rail stations (SB 5769 and SB 5424)
  • Tightening Growth Management Act planning requirements for comprehensive plan housing elements (SB 5440)
  • Allowing larger subdivisions to be processed as short subdivisions – smoothing the production of housing by limiting oversight a bit (SB 5008)

All of these bills will still be alive next session.

The work continues

Even though the session is finished, the committee’s work continues, although at a less frantic pace. Over the summer, between trips to the hammock and a big bag of ripe cherries, we will work with the board and chapter membership to refresh our legislative agenda, select a legislator of the year (send us your thoughts!), see about holding an in-person meeting and maybe even a session at the state conference in October, and work on our strategy and relationships for a productive next session.

The 2020 session will feature additional consideration of policy bills that didn’t pass this year, and potentially some bills based on recommendations from the Ruckelshaus Center’s Road Map to Washington’s Future report, which is due any day. Stay tuned for more info about 2020 in the next newsletter article, or shoot us an email anytime.

Help out!

The legislative committee is always looking for planners with an interest in learning about and helping to shape our state’s planning framework and advance good planning. Reach out to Legislative Committee co-chairs Esther Larsen ([email protected]) or Yorik Stevens-Wajda ([email protected]) for information.

Return to the May/June issue of the Washington Planner