Legislative Committee – 2020 Session Update

Co-Chairs Yorik Stevens-Wajda and Esther Larsen and Chapter Lobbyist Michael Shaw

The Legislative Funnel

The 2020 session of the Washington State Legislature (60 days: Jan 13–March 12) began with a record number of bills filed for consideration in a short session in which most bills will be left behind by the funnel of our legislative process.

Bills from the last session are automatically reintroduced this year, and adding them all up gives around 3,000 bills introduced this biennium. Luckily for us, only a few committees deal with the majority of planning-related topics, which significantly narrows the scope of the task. In the House Environment & Energy committee during last year’s session, for example, 68 bills were referred to the committee, 36 bills passed out of the committee, and 24 became law. In Senate Local Government, 66 bills were referred to the committee last year, 43 moved out of committee, and 27 became law.

In this year’s short session, February 7 was the last day for a bill to make it out of its committee of origin – the first cutoff for policy bills. February 19 is the last day for bills to be heard in their chamber of origin, then policy committees have only nine more days to consider bills passed from the other chamber. Given that policy committees had four weeks to consider their own bills, that is not much time. Given that this is an election year and legislators wish to start campaigning as early as possible, signs do not point to any extensions.

APA’s Legislative Work

The chapter’s executive committee approved the APA-WA 2020 Legislative Priorities in December, and the legislative committee got right to work implementing them. We began preparing for the session and holding conference calls in November to discuss strategy and share information. We started up our weekly calls in early January. During these lunchtime calls, usually attended by 8-12 members of the committee, we cover the following:

  • Review a weekly bill tracking list put together by the chapter’s lobbyist Mike Shaw and hearing his report on the scuttlebutt in Olympia
  • Discuss bills of interest, what they would do, and how that relates to our priorities
  • Prepare our approach to advocacy
  • Learn and build up experience in our state’s planning framework, the key topics of the year, and the legislative process that we interact with

The first weeks of a session are always overwhelming for us. Dozens and dozens of planning-related bills have the potential to move forward in the process, some of them very consequential. One bill, for example, would have upended best available science in only two pages, another bill would have used 56 pages to reduce the number of counties fully planning under the GMA. Neither made it out of committee.

Many bills look like a big deal but committee chairs and other legislative leadership already know that they don’t have a shot at making it into the RCW. Public hearings are often scheduled out of courtesy to a bill sponsor, or to make a point or amplify a message. Our lobbyist helps sort through as much of the chaff as possible so that we can spend our analysis and advocacy energy where it’s most productive.

Beyond the struggle of knowing which legislative proposals have real potential, there is the hard work that legislative committee members do to attempt to fully understand the implications of a bill if it were to pass. The next step once we understand the effects of a bill: deciding what the chapter’s position is. Not many proposals are straightforward for us to respond to, even with the benefit of an approved APA-WA 2020 Legislative Priorities document and a shelf full of nationally vetted APA Policy Guides.

The legislative committee has been paying particular attention to two thorny questions this year:

  • When might additional state preemption of local authority be appropriate? Many proposals that we’ve seen, for example, seek to streamline housing production by limiting regulatory barriers established by cities and counties. Sounds good, but what is a regulatory barrier to one person is an essential step in proper planning and community participation to another.
  • What actions might be considered for exemption, or partial exemption, from procedural or substantive challenge under the State Environmental Policy Act or Growth Management Act? Similar to regulatory streamlining, we’ve seen proposals to streamline housing production, infill development, or other desirable outcomes by reducing some requirements for environmental impact analysis and SEPA adequacy challenges. However, once again, what is an excessive impact analysis requirement and pathway to endless litigation to one person is a minimum standard of adequate policy analysis and disclosure of likely impacts of a project or policy change to another.

Bills of interest

Now that the list of bills with a shot at making it to the governor’s desk has been winnowed down by the first cutoff, here are a few that we are focusing on:


HB 2343: This bill is a sequel to last year’s HB 1923, which: established a list of actions that cities could take to expand housing choices and capacity in return for potential state planning grants and exemptions from some appeals; facilitated the siting of supportive housing; and mandated lower parking requirements for senior and low-income housing near transit. This bill is likely to see a trajectory of amendments and substitutes through the session similar to what we saw with HB 1923 – in fact the bill was already significantly amended before passing out of the House Environment & Energy committee. The early-February version of the bill tweaks the list of local actions from HB 1923, extends the eligibility timeframe, and opens them up to smaller cities; revises the definition of supportive housing; takes further steps to limit local parking requirements that can suppress housing production, and revises the appeal exemptions. The legislative committee had not yet come to a consensus position on this bill in early February.

HB 2570: This bill would require that counties planning under the act with a population above 15,000, and the cities within them with a population above 2,500 amend their development regulations to limit regulatory barriers for accessory dwelling units by July 1, 2021 (~18 months from now). Those plan and code amendments would not be subject to SEPA or GMA appeal. Cities and counties would also be preempted from requiring additional off-street parking for an ADU (except far from transit with no street parking), an owner residency requirement (except for short term rentals), or excessive fees. The legislative committee had not yet come to a consensus position on this bill in early February.

HB 2620:  This bill would extend and expand the multifamily tax exemption (MFTE) program. This, along with its companion SB 6411, are governor-request bills that seek to address a number of buildings nearing the end of their tax exempted status and affordability requirements. The bill would also expand the areas in which the tax incentive is allowed. Stakeholders continue to disagree on the details, as do members of the legislative committee. Regardless, this bill is likely to survive to the end of session in some form. The legislative committee had not yet come to a consensus position on this bill in early February.


HB 2427: This bill would add the following climate change goal to the growth management act: “Develop and implement comprehensive plans, development regulations, and regional policies, plans, and strategies under RCW 36.70A.210 and chapter 47.80 RCW that help achieve state greenhouse gas emission reduction limits; adapt to the effects of a changing climate; build resilient infrastructure; and protect people and property from natural hazards exacerbated by the changing climate”. However, a compromise amendment in committee restricted the applicability of the goal to only Clark, King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. The amendment removed 25 out of 29 fully planning counties from even this modest responsibility to incorporate climate into comprehensive planning, but at least the watered-down version still covers 59% of the state’s population and 68% of the state’s growth in the 2010s. The legislative committee supports the bill, but would prefer stronger language and broader applicability.


Road map report follow-up budget proviso – a proposal has emerged to add $350,000 in this year’s supplemental budget to facilitate stakeholder working groups to develop recommendations on six key topics identified in the road map report for additional work: annexation, LAMIRD, SEPA, permit timelines for housing, integration of tribal planning into regional planning, resilience to changing climate and natural hazards. The legislative committee has expressed support for the additional work on these difficult topics.

HB 2342: This bill would modify the timelines for comprehensive plan and shoreline master program periodic updates, including switching from an 8-year to a 10-year cycle, and moving the next comprehensive plan update deadline back by a year (except Franklin, Kitsap, Lewis and Walla Walla counties). The longer period between updates might imply less overall planning work is required since many jurisdictions let plans lie until an update is mandated. On the other hand, a five-year review of critical area regulations, housing plans, and other elements identified in future rulemaking would be added. The bill is being negotiated in tandem with HB 2427 regarding a climate change goal, since the additional time could be used to better address climate policy in comprehensive planning. Whether the Senate is willing to act on either bill is in question. The legislative committee had not yet come to a consensus position on this bill in early February.

SB 6574: This bill would reduce the number of growth management hearings board members to five, and would clarify administrative powers, duties, and responsibilities of the board and the environmental land use and hearings office. The legislative committee submitted advance comments on a related bill from the Governor’s office (HB 2802, which is now dead). The legislative committee had significant concerns with HB 2802, but has not come to a consensus position on SB 6574, although the committee supports requiring one or more hearings board members to maintain AICP credentials.


SB 6398: This bill, already dead, would have revised the state’s transportation planning goals and better integrated those goals and key performance metrics tied to them, to state transportation funding and project selection decisions. The proposal, along with a similar one to elevate maintenance and preservation as transportation goals, was widely seen as only an initial foray into a transportation policy debate and potential funding package development expected next year. The legislative committee is weighing in on the broader debate about how we spend our transportation dollars with a letter supporting a performance-based, outcome-driven transportation planning and funding process.

HB 2461: This bill would add the following health goal to the state’s statutory transportation planning goals: “To improve the health of Washington's residents, by considering health implications and encouraging active transportation when designing, building, and maintaining Washington's transportation system”


Although the legislative committee’s session work program will end in March with a summary of the session’s results published in the chapter newsletter, advocacy opportunities will continue during the interim between sessions to prepare for 2021.  We need chapter members to participate in drafting the 2021 Legislative Priorities, serving on a bill proposal subcommittee if the chapter would like to consider running a bill, writing articles for the newsletter and LEAD e-blasts, and coordinating with National APA on legislative and policy items, including conversations among members of other state chapters regarding their advocacy efforts. Participation in the chapter’s legislative work is a great way to build experience with planning techniques and the legislative process, and a way for us to give back to our profession and state. Questions, comments, and ideas always welcome at our new email address: [email protected].

Return to the January/February issue of the Washington Planner