2017 Session Recap and 2018 Preview 

Legislative topics of interest included buildable lands and school siting, while APA continues to develop its Planners’ Advocacy Network. 
Co-Chairs: Yorik Stevens-Wajda and Esther Larsen, J.D.

2017 Session Recap

The legislative committee worked between the 2016 and 2017 sessions to reach out to Chapter membership and work with the Chapter Board of Directors to develop a new legislative agenda document. Once adopted by the Board at its December meeting, the legislative agenda was shared with key legislators, peer organizations, and others at the outset of the session, and served as a guiding document for committee reviews of proposed legislation.

The 2017 legislative session was dominated by negotiations and intrigue surrounding the operating budget and the legislature’s response to the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Several significant policy bills addressing buildable lands, renewal of the document recording fee for homelessness services, and siting of schools in rural areas were also debated throughout the session. Much attention was also paid to another Supreme Court decision, Hirst v. Whatcom County, which was released a few months before the beginning of the session. 

Lasting a historically long 195 days, the session was notable for how little was done during the regular session, and for a number of important but unrelated issues that were bundled together (e.g. renewal of the document recording fee for homeless services was bundled with buildable lands reforms, and a legislative response to Hirst was bundled with the capital budget). Negotiated behind closed doors rather than discussed and considered separately in committees and on the Senate and House floors, there was little opportunity for public input. This strategy did lead to some important compromises and resolution to some long-standing issues of concern, but it also hampered the ability of the legislative committee to track and influence legislation. Nevertheless, the committee did review, track, and weigh in on dozens of bills, especially during the early part of the session. The committee also lobbied on behalf of the Chapter for initial funding for the Road Map to Washington’s Future project, an effort that has been supported by the Chapter since its inception.

In the end, the Legislature adopted an operating budget that addressed McCleary, did not adopt a capital budget due to an inability to agree on a legislative response to Hirst, and passed several bills of interest to the Chapter. Major policy bills of interest that passed included HB 1017 and HB 2243, which facilitate the siting of schools for primarily urban students in the rural area in certain cases, and SB 5254 which amends the buildable lands analysis process to explore incorporating additional information that may impact developable land capacity. The Legislature also appropriated $600,000 for the exciting Road Map project – see Chapter president Rick Sepler’s article in this newsletter for an update on the Chapter’s response.

For details on and status of key planning-related bills that were tracked by the legislative committee in 2017, see the 2017 bill table.

2018 Session Preview

Looking forward to next year, the 2018 legislative session may be the first in the last four years where basic education funding does not cast a shadow over all other funding priorities.  While the House is expected to remain in Democratic control, November special elections could change which party is in charge in the Senate in 2018, from Republican control to Democratic control.  This would give one party control of both the legislative and executive branch during the 2018 session.

All bills that were introduced in the 2017 session will remain alive in the 2018 short session. While many of the 2017 chapter legislative priorities will remain in play, several key topics appear likely to retreat from the spotlight. School siting may finally quiet down as a state legislative issue given the two bills passed in 2017 (HB 1017, HB 2243), which both weakened what is already at times a fragile link between school siting and growth management. The legislature included funding for the Road Map project in the 2017 operating budget, so the focus will shift from gathering seed funding to actually implementing the early stages of that project.

The legislature will likely continue to grapple with a potential legislative response to the Hirst v. Whatcom County State Supreme Court ruling and will continue to work towards agreement on a capital budget, the fate of which was linked to Hirst legislation in the last session. Signs are pointing to renewed interest in taking legislative action to support greenhouse gas emissions reduction, potentially through a carbon tax. Other topics that are poised for additional conversation include annexation reform and incentives and continued work on the homeless housing surcharge.

Legislative Agenda Refresh

The legislative committee is reviewing the Chapter’s legislative agenda and updating it for the 2018 session. To-dos include removing items that were addressed by the Legislature one way or another in 2017 (e.g. Road Map funding has been acquired), identifying new and emerging priorities, and refreshing language to make sure it reflects the current legislative context. Please submit any comments or suggestions to Esther ([email protected]) or Yorik ([email protected]) by November 31. The 2018 legislative agenda will be brought to the Chapter Board of Directors for approval in December.

National Advocacy Update

APA hosted its annual Policy & Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C. in September. At the conference delegate assembly, APA amended and adopted a brand new policy guide on Healthy Communities (a yes vote to approve was cast by Washington Chapter delegate Yorik Stevens-Wajda). This policy guide represents the position of APA and the Washington Chapter, and will guide the organization’s advocacy efforts on this important topic. Many thanks to the task force that developed the draft policy guide and shepherded it through APA’s policy approval process.

APA continues to grow and develop its Planners’ Advocacy Network, which works to shape federal planning policy outcomes through targeted and timely engagement. APA Washington is working with the national APA to develop a Planners’ Advocacy Network State Chair position, which would act as a coordinator and liaison for the Chapter on national advocacy issues. A startup plan for this position will be submitted to the Chapter Board of Directors for discussion at its December meeting, so stay tuned!

More information about the Legislative Action Committee can be found at: https://apawa.memberclicks.net/legislative-committee   

Return to the September/October issue of The Washington Planner