Legislative Update

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

Preview of Legislative Session

The 2017 legislative session begins January 9. The session is scheduled to last 105 days, but most expect this Legislature will need additional time to tackle the challenges posed by the state budget, the Supreme Court mandate (McCleary case) to fund basic education, and the impacts of several other court cases involving water resources and mental health services.

The 2016 election did change the composition of the Legislature. While the Governorship remains the same, there are 12 new Senate members and 18 new House members this year. The Republicans continue to control the Senate, but by a reduced margin of 25 to 24, and the Democrats continue to control the House by a 50 to 48 margin. Effective this session, the legislature’s committee structure has been altered in the Senate – the Senate Government Operations Committee, which hears bills pertaining to land use, public disclosure, elections, and local government, has been split into two committees: Local Government and State Government. Sen. Dansel will be the chair of the new Senate Local Government Committee and Sen. Miloscia will chair the new Senate State Government Committee. The House committee structure changed somewhat; the most significant change is the movement of growth management related issues from the House Local Government Committee to the House Environment Committee.

Like previous sessions, the state’s budget problems will dominate the 2017 session. Caseload increases and other costs associated with the state’s biennial maintenance budget are forecasted to create a deficit of about $1.5 billion. That figure does not include the $700 million in public employee contracts that the Governor negotiated and the Legislature must either accept or reject, but does include $1,750 million for McCleary (K-12) compensation.

During the 2017 session, the Legislature will grapple with several issues of interest to the planning community. The Hirst court decision provides uncertainty regarding comprehensive plans and how counties address water resources. Currently, there is no consensus on how to address that uncertainty. The Legislature is expected to again address the school-siting issue and whether schools that mostly serve urban students can be sited outside the urban growth area. Also, local governments will push for infrastructure funding and property tax reform (addressing the one percent cap). Last, annexation procedures and incentives will draw attention due to small pockets or “islands” of unincorporated parcels that are surrounded by cities.

Collaborative Road Map to Washington’s Future

This fall, Darren Nichols of the Ruckelshaus Center and Joe Tovar, on behalf of the University of Washington, made two presentations about Collaborative Road Map to Washington's Future (Collaborative Road Map Project) to the House Local Government Committee. The chapter has been engaged in this project from the start, including a contribution of $10,000 in seed money. Phase II of the project depends upon the legislature allocating $500,000 in the 2017-2019 biennium budget. They expect that presentations will be made in the 2017 Session to several House and Senate committees to support the project funding request. They planned briefings during the month of December 2016 with state agencies as well as other stakeholder organizations they have not yet had an opportunity to reach.

Two documents set forth the latest draft of the project prospectus and the PowerPoint presentation developed to provide to the Legislature in 2017. The project prospectus was shared with the many stakeholder groups through outreach completed in the last three months, while the PowerPoint presentation will provide the Legislature an overview with more detail on the project.

Joe Tovar and Darren Nichols will be making similar reports to many others, including the project sponsors who have committed seed money totaling $20,000 to Phase I of the project. Project sponsors include the Washington Chapter of the American Planning Association, as well as the Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties, Futurewise, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, and the Washington Department of Commerce.

In addition, National APA has awarded the Washington Chapter a $50,000 grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control to support the Road Map Project. There is now sufficient funding to support the start of Phase I, but additional fund raising is still underway.

2017 Legislative Priorities

During the fall of 2016 the Chapter’s Legislative Committee, requested input from the Chapter membership as well as the Legislative Committee members via a LEAD e-alert for the 2017 Washington APA Legislative Priorities. The document produced was presented to the Chapter’s Board of Directors at the December 8, 2016 meeting and approved for finalizing. The 2017 Legislative Priorities will be distributed to Legislators and their staff as well as to allied professionals and the public. The document will also serve as a reference for Legislative Committee members during the 2017 Session’s review of bills and other legislative and policy issues. During 2017 the topics listed will each be developed into more detailed descriptions with links to resources and serve as a legislative and policy guide for the Chapter.

Legislative Committee 2017 Session Work Program

The Legislative Committee will begin its weekly conference calls on Friday, January 6, 2017. Chapter members who are interested in participating in bill reviews and drafting recommendations on positions for the Chapter should contact the Legislative Committee Co-Chairs Esther Larsen and Yorik Stevens-Wajda via email.

APA needs your help developing three new policy guides

You are invited to contribute your knowledge, experience, and expertise to policy guides now in development on three important topics. APA hopes you will use this opportunity to shape the collective position of planners about core principles and best practices.

In 2016, the APA Legislative and Policy Committee approved three topics for new policy guide development:

APA invites you to engage in the policy guide development process in any of the following four ways:

  1. Sign Up for Updates on These Guides – Stay informed on the progress of draft guides. We will e-mail you when there are important updates. We may also reach out if we need feedback on a critical issue in the guides. Contact [email protected].
  2. Review Early Drafts – Another way to be involved is to be a reviewer of the early drafts of the guides. Reviewers will provide their input on the text as it evolves. They will be asked to assess whether they have suggestions to improve the documents. Contact [email protected].
  3. Submit Policy Ideas and Recommendations – Have specific ideas or recommendations for content that should be covered in any of these guides? Provide your ideas to the authors. Contact [email protected].
  4. Volunteer to Help Draft Policy Guides – Interested in drafting any of the policy guides? Contact [email protected].

Return to the November/December issue of The Washington Planner