Legislative Update

By Esther Larsen and Yorik Stevens-Wajda, Legislative Committee Co-Chairs, Predictions from Michael Shaw, Shaw Government Relations

The 2016 Legislative Session starts on January 11 and it is a “short” session – 60 days in duration. After last year’s historically long session, with its budget stalemate and transportation funding package, it is tempting to assume this coming Session will be a bit underwhelming. Legislators want to get it over with and start the campaign season.

Yet, there are several issues that must be addressed before they can adjourn the 2016 session. They must address the charter school issue after the State Supreme Court opinion determined they were not “common schools” and thus not eligible for state education funding. They must come up with a plan to fund basic education pursuant to the State Supreme Court edict in the McCleary case. They must address numerous court opinions regarding the state’s mental health system. They do all of these tasks under the shadow of Initiative 1366, which passed last November. I-1366 requires a cut in the state sales tax unless the Legislature places a constitutional amendment before the voters concerning a super-majority vote requirement to raise taxes. Given that the Legislature is closely split between the Democrats and the Republicans, 60 days may not be enough time.

There are several changes to the legislative landscape since the 2015 Session. Senators Kohl-Welles and Hatfield have left the Senate, and Representative Hunter has left the House. Due to those departures, Rep. Takko and Rep. Carlyle moved to the Senate and numerous house committee chairs were shuffled as a result. Rep. Appleton is the new House Local Government Chair, replacing now Sen. Takko. Rep Dunshee is the now the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, replacing Rep. Hunter; Rep. Tharinger is the new House Capital Budget Chair, replacing Rep. Dunshee; and Rep. Lytton is the new House Finance Chair, replacing now Sen. Carlyle.

Sessions that precede major elections always see bills that concern large issues – issues that may be too complicated for a 60-day session but make for good stump speeches. Expect renewed debate on the death penalty, climate change, fire arms, and tax policy. Expect little to be accomplished in the transportation realm beyond implementation issues for the 2015 transportation funding package. Due to the politics and disparity of approaches between the House and Senate, do not expect changes to the Growth Management Act or the state’s vesting laws, however, expect numerous “hero” bills that may try. Given the drought, flooding and forest fires suffered by the State this year, the Legislature may need to address the costs associated with natural disasters.

Some stakeholder groups will use the 2015 Session to stage their 2017 agendas; most of those issues will involve money, such as local infrastructure funding, public health funding and property tax reform. Last, but not least, the Interim after the 2016 Session is likely to be filled with task forces and studies, which Washington-APA will seek involvement in as appropriate.

2016 Legislative Agenda - Washington Chapter of APA

During the 2015 Interim the Chapter Vice-President and outgoing Legislative Committee (LC) Co-Chair Josh Peters led a group of Chapter members, including a number of LC members, in developing the 2016 Legislative Agenda, which provides a resource to assist the LC review specific bills during the Legislative Session and also serves as a platform to advocate for state action on policy issues involving GMA and other topics relating to the field of planning.

Among the resources that were reviewed to develop the Legislative Agenda were the following items from National APA, the Washington Chapter of APA and other organizations in Washington State:

The process began with a first draft titled 2016 Legislative Agenda Primer, which was reviewed, revised and then circulated as part of the GMA 25th Anniversary Conference hosted by the Chapter at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma on November 13, 2015. The 2016 Legislative Agenda Primer was part of the conference packet provided to all participants who had an opportunity to provide input during the sessions and via comment sheets available during breaks.

Members of the Chapter’s Legislative Committee and the Board of Directors received the Legislative Agenda prior to the Board’s December 3, 2015, meeting, and electronic copies were available via Basecamp Projects for both of the groups through December 18, 2015.

During the 2016 Legislative Session the 2016 Legislative Agenda set forth below will be available for distribution and publication via the Chapter website, LC e-Alert LEADs (Legislative Education, Advocacy and Direction) and other communications from the Chapter.

2016 Legislative Agenda

Washington State has one of the strongest community planning statutes in the nation, and for the past 25 years this has enabled our citizens, our elected leaders, and our profession to “make great communities happen” across the state. Since 1990, Washington’s Growth Management Act (GMA) has been successful at slowing or reversing unsustainable development patterns and loss of farm and forestlands. This year’s 25-year milestone provides an opportunity for the State Legislature to build upon the wins made possible through the GMA framework and enact targeted amendments that spur innovation and help support stronger, healthier, and more resilient communities.

Planners work with elected and appointed officials, such as mayors, councils, and planning commissioners, to plan for the short- and long-term future of our communities, ensuring we have adequate public facilities like schools, emergency services, transportation infrastructure, water and sewer, parks, etc., that are needed to support growing and changing populations. Planners help civic leaders, businesses, and citizens envision new and more cost-effective solutions to community problems. Planners work in rural areas, small towns, and large cities. They function in the public sector within federal, state, and local governments. They also work in nonprofits and within the private sector in real estate development companies and planning or multi-disciplinary consulting firms. Over the past 25 years, the GMA—the legal framework that planners and planning operate under in our state—has created a strong, dependable, predictable system that has streamlined and improved development in Washington. Without the GMA, the taxpayer dollar would not have created the lasting value in infrastructure, public space, and adaptable building stock while maintaining the quality of life and natural and cultural resources we all enjoy.

To inform our new set of legislative priorities for 2016, we asked planners around the state to share success stories, drew on our Ten Big Ideas Initiative, and surveyed our membership about priorities for legislative action.

APA Washington’s 2016 Legislative Priorities

APA Washington’s 2016 Legislative Priorities are an important, achievable, and timely set of recommendations for action from the state Legislature, drawn from APA Washington’s Ten Big Ideas initiative. APA Washington’s Legislative Committee will work with our state legislators, partner organizations, and other stakeholders to make progress on each one in the 2016 session.

Priority #1: Pass HB 1802 and support proactive and cost-effective planning, givelocal governments tools, including, but not limited to, restoring the Public Works Trust Fund, to address local infrastructure deficits, and work to ensure that funding decisions reflect state, regional, and local plans and policies.

Priority #2: Address climate change directly in local, regional, and state planning, including GMA, and direct state agencies to help plan for the worst by preparing vulnerability maps for climate change hazards in digital formats suitable for local government planning.

Priority #3: Develop a state framework for social equity and inclusive participation in comprehensive plans and environmental reviews. Where one lives impacts access to opportunity, quality of life, and ultimately, health and wellbeing. Develop a framework for addressing these issues through plans and policies.

For more information about our legislative priorities and other programs and initiatives, visit our website at www.washington-apa.org, email us at [email protected], or call our office at 206-682-7436.

Success Stories

There are numerous models the Legislature can look to in plans and projects across the state to understand what has worked and how to create the necessary tools for communities to thrive and grow. On October 26, 2015, Governor Jay Inslee announced the “Lifetime of GMA” Achievement Awards, recognizing efforts by communities to envision and plan for their future. Beyond the award-winning 16 cities, four counties, and one regional planning agency, there are numerous other examples of communities successfully managing their growth, including:

  • Revitalizing downtown areasWenatchee Waterfront Sub-Area Plan
  • Addressing poverty and changing demographics – Tukwila’s Community Connectors Program
  • Improving walkability – Safe Routes to Schools projects in many communities throughout the state
  • Innovative transportation planning - City of Bellingham Multimodal Transportation Concurrency and Urban Village Transportation Impact Fee Reduction programs

These are just a few examples of how communities have shown leadership and innovation in managing growth, while tackling complex new issues of climate change, social equity, and infrastructure deficits. The models are impactful and valuable; yet we need leadership from the Legislature to enable success across Washington State.

APA Washington’s Ten Big Ideas Initiative

In 2014, APA Washington kicked off an effort to tackle ongoing, difficult problems, and developed big ideas to make a substantial positive impact. Working groups of planners from across the state have developed tools, resources, and key opportunities for legislative action. APA Washington’s legislative priorities involve these Ten Big Ideas:

  1. Address climate change – This is one of the major issues of our time, and it’s ripe for action. World leaders gathered in Paris in 2015 to sign a landmark agreement and jointly commit to bend the trend; Governor Inslee recently signed an executive order directing state agencies to advance efforts to address carbon pollution; and dueling initiatives on the November ballot mean big visibility this year. The legislature needs to support communities that want to tackle this issue with innovative solutions.
  2. Enhance regional decision-making by strengthening statewide coordination and local collaboration
  3. Restore and protect ecosystems – Incorporate the value of ecosystem services in decision-making and address them according to natural boundaries, rather than jurisdictional ones.
  4. Link health and planning – Help communities combat the growing chronic disease health epidemic by requiring public health components in comprehensive plans and environmental review.
  5. Increase local government capacity – Good planning generates value and pays ongoing dividends through efficient and effective services, healthy tax base, and engaged communities. Local governments need resources and guidance from the state to do this valuable and proactive work.
  6. Support economic development – Empower sustainable economic development and incentivize local business growth with a coherent state plan and a dedicated funding source for planning.
  7. Foster social equity – Different areas of the state face different challenges. For some areas, affordable housing and displacement are the biggest issues; for others, more broad-based and meaningful public engagement is the key to more equitable communities. A coherent state framework for addressing social equity in comprehensive plans can help address all of these challenges and achieve consensus.
  8. Support sustainable agriculture and healthy food systems – Enable and encourage inclusion of healthy food access and urban farmland conservation components in both city and county comprehensive plans. Fund Washington State University Extension research, outreach, and training to farmers and gardeners.
  9. Build social capital – Build social capital by increasing civic engagement, supporting a culture of education, and fostering leadership and entrepreneurship.
  10. Rebuild infrastructure – The legislature made a significant stride in 2015 with the transportation package but more steps are needed. Resources for planning, which are cost-effective investments that pay dividends over time, have still not recovered from the recession. Local governments need tools like the Public Works Trust Fund to support local infrastructure deficits. The state should also establish mechanisms to ensure funding decisions reflect state, regional, and local plans and policies.

Legislative Committee Work Program for 2016

The Legislative Committee (LC) begins its weekly telephone conference meetings with Michael Shaw at 12 noon on Friday, January 8, 2016, to discuss the LC’s work programs for the Session, including reviewing bills, writing recommendations on positions statements, developing e-Alert LEAD messages, contacting Legislators and/or their staff members, testifying at hearings, meeting with other stakeholders and participating in updates to the 2016 Legislative Agenda to link ongoing work of the Chapter related to the Chapter’s Ten Big Ideas and collaborative programs of the Chapter’s recently formed Allied Professions Committee.

Chapter members interested in participating in the LC are encouraged to contact LC Co-Chairs Esther Larsen at [email protected] and Yorik Stevens-Wajda at [email protected].

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