Legislative Committee – Session wrap up, then the world changed

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


The timing of the COVID-19 health crisis gripping the world gave the legislative committee whiplash between digesting the accomplishments, and misses, of the 2020 legislative session, and coming to grips with the vastly different context we find ourselves in only weeks later. This upheaval makes it difficult to reflect on the last session because the world it was responding to seems so different: a booming economy, breakneck employment growth, healthy public revenues, a housing crisis, a warming world. Well, the world is still warming and we’ve heard no indications that the housing shortage will suddenly abate.

Read on for a summary of the 2020 session, a few words about what the legislative committee will be working on over the summer, and a great big thank you to Esther, who is stepping down as committee co-chair after 16 years of tireless work.

The 2020 session

During the “short” 60-day legislative session, the legislature passed 386 bills. An overwhelming 2,025 bills were introduced, and 1,500 bills survived the chamber of origin cutoff, yet the session still ended sine die on time on March 12.

When the session started in January, a major focus was on housing and homelessness. The House had a new Speaker, Laurie Jinkins, for the first time in nearly two decades, and many thought this change would embolden an already progressive House chamber to address such issues as the death penalty, high-capacity ammunition magazines and a capital gains tax. Yet, by the end of session, none of these passed.

The COVID-19 crisis would overshadow all these issues in the final weeks of the session, resulting in a more restrained supplemental budget and a focus on public health. On February 29, 2020, the Governor issued a proclamation to declare a state of emergency in all counties of Washington and directed state agencies to take all reasonable measures to assist affected local governments to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 outbreak. The Governor also cancelled all public bill signings. Due to concerns how the crisis would impact revenues, the Governor vetoed 23 bills and vetoed 147 items from the supplemental budget. How any federal relief money will allay these budget concerns is unknown.

How did APA’s legislative priorities fare?

The chapter’s 2020 legislative priorities start from the national positions of APA as presented in the APA policy guides, then focus on items the legislative committee heard were important from our survey of chapter members over the summer, the input received at the state conference, and discussions within the legislative committee and chapter board of directors. This year’s priorities were similar to last year’s, including a focus on housing issues, climate change, and support for planning.

Housing & homelessness

The chapter’s priorities built off the recently-updated APA Housing Policy Guide, and focused on legislative tools to encourage and require affordable and accessible rental and owner-occupied housing. Rather than develop a whole housing strategy for our state, the chapter borrowed legislative recommendations from the Housing Affordability Response Team 2017 Recommendations and the Affordable Housing Advisory Board 2020 Legislative Agenda.

The following housing bills were adopted in the 2020 session:

  • In a follow-up to the 2019 session’s HB 1923, the legislature passed HB 2343, which: added a number of actions that cities could take, and receive grant funding support for, to increase housing capacity; extended the period in which those actions are exempt from challenges under the growth management act or state environmental policy act to 2023; adjusted the transit service threshold that triggers a limit on how much parking can be required by a city for affordable housing development; added a limit on how much parking can be required for market rate residential near transit with at least 15-minute headways; revised the definition of “permanent supportive housing” (HB 1923 added a requirement that permanent supportive housing be permitted in code cities wherever multifamily housing is permitted – see RCW 35A.21.305); and directed Ecology to remove parking as an aspect of the environment subject to required analysis under the state environmental policy act.
  • Authorized counties and cities to impose a councilmanic sales tax (HB 1590) or a property tax (SB 6212) to fund affordable housing.
  • Prohibited cities from requiring off-street parking for accessory dwelling units near transit (SB 6617).
  • Tweaked the categorical exemption from environmental review under the state environmental policy act inside urban growth areas (HB 2673).
  • Added new tenant protections, including a requirement that landlords accept installment payments for move-in costs and allow a grace period for late rent.

Several interesting housing bills were proposed but didn’t pass or were vetoed:

  • HB 2570 was this year’s proposal to preempt cities from certain restrictions on accessory dwelling units including additional parking and owner occupancy. This bill generated debate within the legislative committee, which was unable to come to consensus about the balance between our statewide need for affordable housing and the role of local control and public input, which can stifle housing supply in the name of neighborhood character and easy parking.
  • Multifamily tax exemption: HB 2620 would have expanded eligibility, but did not pass. HB 2950 extended expiring credits until 2021 and established a working group to review the overall program, but was vetoed by the governor as part of the April budget haircut.
  • HB 2797 adjusted last year’s HB 1406, which shares state sales tax revenue with cities and counties for affordable and supportive housing, but was vetoed by the governor to trim the state budget.
  • HB 2687 would have required counties and cities to plan for a variety of affordable housing and connect countywide housing goals to local planning.

Climate change

APA continues its support for strong greenhouse gas reduction targets, information and data to understand the challenge, and action at all levels to achieve those targets. Despite the increasing urgency of the world’s climate problem, no landmark climate legislation came out of the legislature in 2020 despite continued pressure from the governor’s office, advocacy groups, and concerned people around the state.

The legislature did update the state’s statutory greenhouse gas reduction targets to reflect the latest science though (HB 2311), demonstrating an understanding of the scope of change needed, and setting the stage for future actions.

A number of modest bills addressing climate change passed but weren’t really planning related: HB 2713 encourages better use of compost, HB 2518 addresses natural gas transmission, and HB 2528 addresses forest products.

One bill (HB 2427) would’ve brought climate change into the core of the growth management act by adding the following goal to guide local and regional planning in the state: “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”. The legislative committee submitted a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Duerr, supporting the bill while expressing disappointment that, at the time, the bill had been significantly weakened through amendments. The bill didn’t pass, but like Mariners playoff hopes, there’s always next year.

Support for planning

APA recognizes that planning creates value, and supports encouragement and requirements for planning work and state funding to support it. This year’s supplemental operating budget didn’t make major changes to planning grants or the fund to implement HB 2343 (see above under housing) and last year’s HB 1923.

The legislature debatedchanges to the periodic update schedule for most of the 2020 session and ended up passing a limited bill (HB 2342) that moves back the next comprehensive plan periodic update due date by one year for most jurisdictions. The next round of comprehensive plan periodic updates is now due in 2024–2027, and the next round of shoreline master program updates are now due in 2028–2031. Kitsap, Lewis, Franklin, and Walla Walla counties moved between groups to better align with their neighbors’ schedules. The legislative committee discussed concerns about earlier versions of the proposal, which would’ve moved the state from an 8-year to a 10-year periodic update schedule for comprehensive planning. Many jurisdictions only update plans when required, so that longer cycle would likely mean overall less planning work in the state, less innovation, more out-of-date regulations, and less public participation.

Inclusive planning

APA supports an approach of equity in all policies to address community engagement and empowerment, access to opportunity, safe, fair, and affordable housing, and health equity.

While the legislative committee didn’t see any bills that took inclusive planning head-on, our engagement on housing issues is directly tied to the mitigation of poverty, homelessness, displacement, segregation, and other socio-economic challenges. The chapter also weighed in with a letter supporting a proposal to better address health and health equity in transportation planning (SB 6452).

Planning for schools

The chapter supports collaborative efforts between school districts and others to advance community-centered school siting.

There wasn’t much activity in this area this year, with perhaps some topic fatigue after several years of debates about the balance between land costs and proximity to students and communities. The legislative committee did continue discussing the inclusion of schools and special districts as stakeholders and partners in comprehensive planning.

Road map to Washington’s Future

The chapter was an early supporter of the Road Map effort, and continues to support implementation of the findings and recommendations in the final report. While the Road Map report provided a wealth of information, well-organized and documented perspectives from a wide range of stakeholders, and solid recommendations for action, the legislature struggled to turn any of the recommendations into action in 2020.

Late in the session, a proposal emerged from the senate to fund $350,000 in the supplemental budget for Commerce to hire consultant services to facilitate a stakeholder working group to provide more specific recommendations to the legislature regarding implementation of items the Road Map report in the 2021 legislative session. The chapter sent a letter to the chair of the house appropriations committee supporting the proposal, which was ultimately included in the supplemental operating budget.

In early April, the funding for the road map follow up was vetoed by the governor in response to an expectation for significant decreases in revenue compared to what was expected only a few months ago. We still have the road map in hand (and you know how hard it is to fold those up and put them away), but like with many things now the path forward is a bit unclear.


APA supports loan programs, local funding authority, and state appropriations to address infrastructure needs that align with state, regional, and local plans and policies.

The chapter sent a letter[link: comment letter on transportation planning] to members of the joint transportation committee supporting several proposals to review and revise view and revise the state’s transportation policy goals and establish a more transparent and criteria-based transportation planning and project prioritization process. The three bills that caught our attention were (SB 6452 addressing health), HB 2285 (addressing maintenance), and SB 6398 and its companion HB 2688 (revising transportation goals and advancing performance-based project selection). 

Annexation reform

The chapter supports a state program of incentives and regulatory simplification to facilitate and encourage annexations in urban growth areas. The legislature didn’t dive into annexation issues much this year, but did pass SB 5522, which provides for annexations via a new interlocal agreement method between the county and city as long as adjacent cities and special districts are ok with it.


APA supports efforts to incorporate multimodal solutions, connectivity, safety, context-sensitivity, maintenance needs, and climate change mitigation into transportation planning.

Most of the chapter’s efforts in the transportation policy area this year focused on proposals to revise the state’s transportation policy goals and project selection process to better achieve those concepts. While this was not a budget year, the legislature grappled with I-976’s hit to transportation revenue (approximately $450 this biennium). Transportation budget leaders used underspending to allow certain projects that the governor had delayed to move forward. The governor vetoed language in the supplemental transportation budget pertaining to the legislative intent that these projects shouldn’t be delayed due to revenue reductions, which proved prescient as the COVID-19 crisis initially reduced ferry funding by about 45% and toll revenue by 50-80%.


Besides topics specifically called out in the chapter’s legislative priorities, a few other interesting bills passed this year:

  • The legislature commissioned a study, led by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, to identify changes to Washington’s land use, development, and environmental laws and rules, to advance net ecological gain.
  • The legislature adopted changes to the Growth Management Hearings Board through SB 6574, including reducing the number of members from seven to five, and requiring that two members have been a city or county elected official. The chapter submitted a letter to the governor’s office with comments on an early draft of this proposal, particularly about the selection process for new hearings board members. The legislative committee also testified at the House Environment and Energy Committee’s public hearing with a recommendation that one of the members be an AICP certified planner (which was unfortunately not brought into the final bill).

Then the world changed

The danger from COVID-19 started to become clear in the closing days of the 2020 session, with just enough time for the legislature to pass HB 2965, appropriating $175 million from the Budget Stabilization Account (the rainy-day fund) and $25 million from state general fund for COVID-19 response.

Beyond the human toll of the health crisis there is of course an economic crisis unfolding as well. Livelihoods are being lost, businesses may not reopen, whole industries are being shaken, and the public sector is no doubt entering into a period of significantly reduced revenue, which will further add to the pain. The governor took the first step in pulling back state spending with a partial budget veto, using his line-item veto authority to trim $235 million from the 2020 supplemental operating budget. That resulted in another $210 million in reduced spending in the state’s next two-year budget, hence the $445 million that has been reported in the media.

Committee work during the interim

While it’s hard to focus on legislative work when the sun’s out, the legislative committee does our best to make use of the interim between session to get prepared for the hustle and bustle of the next session. The committee has been working on developing a consensus on the thorny question of what cases state preemption of local control and exemptions from environmental review might be appropriate, and we’ll continue that debate.

We typically work on a larger refresh of our legislative priorities document in even years before each long session. This year, with the upending of normal life by the COVID-19 crisis, we expect new issues to come to the forefront: how to recover, how to adapt, how to make sure we’re better prepared for the next health crisis, wildfire, or earthquake. At this writing, APA’s Hazard Mitigation Policy Guide update was nearly complete, providing a valuable guide to our efforts in this area. Stay tuned for a membership survey in the summer and make your voice heard!

As always, send us your ideas for legislative advocacy at [email protected], or consider joining the committee to help the chapter advocate for a state planning framework that helps make great communities happen.

Thank you Esther!

Esther Larsen has guided the legislative committee’s work for an amazing 16 years. The chapter, and the state, are better off for it. The legislative committee will work with the chapter board to identify a replacement to carry on the work of Co-Chair. Esther will continue as a member of the legislative committee, and noted: “I was fortunate to work with and thank Co-Chairs Ivan Miller, Josh Peters and Yorik Stevens-Wajda. It was their expertise, dedication and creativity as planning professionals that resulted in the Washington Chapter being recognized by National APA for its advocacy programs and, in combination with our talented Chapter Lobbyist Michael Shaw, that legislators, their staff and other stakeholders recognized and sought out expertise from the Chapter and its members.”

Return to the March/April issue of the Washington Planner