2016 Legislative Session and Special Session Summary

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

After the historically protracted and quarrelsome 2015 session, most had low expectations for the 2016 session: it would be 60 days of marginally important bills as they passed supplemental budgets and finished on time. No one seemed pleased to be back in session, and a few remarked that they just wanted to get it over with. Most have re-elections pending, and a large component have other offices to seek like Lieutenant Governor, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Commissioner of Public Lands.

Consequently, the session started with little energy. There were few prefiled bills so some legislative committees struggled to find enough bills to fill their agendas. The pace eventually picked up, but with the split Legislature (a Democratic House and a Republican Senate) bills needed overwhelming support to survive - bills that had minority party opposition were destined for failure in the other chamber.

Some Legislators did introduce some provocative legislation, but these bills died quickly. Yet, this session did have its moments: a Senate investigation of the Department of Corrections; the non-confirmation of the head of WSDOT; the Governor’s mass veto of 27 bills, and another special session that lasted for three weeks.

Even with those highlights, most seemed to be looking past the 2016 session to the 2017 session. The November election may re-shape the Legislature. Also, numerous senators retired this year, which will cause an impact in both chambers as their house seatmates run to replace them. The McCleary/K-12 funding issue must be resolved; the revenue forecast indicates a general fund budget deficit; numerous ballot initiatives (carbon tax, vehicle license fees) may pass, and there are still several court cases on mental health that need to be addressed.

Long-time political pollster, Stuart Elway, recently published a poll of Washington State lobbyists. Collectively, they gave the 2016 legislature a C minus – the lack of meaningful progress on K-12 funding issues weighed down the grade. The lobbyists polled gave similar grades to the House Democrats and the Senate Republicans and Democrats. The House Republicans graded out a bit better, and the Governor was given low marks, although most expected him to be re-elected.

Regarding APA issues, the Chapter was successful in working with our members to engage the Legislature. Chapter President, Paula Reeves, repeatedly made time to testify on the Chapter’s behalf, and members of the legislative committee quickly reviewed these and many other bills. Thus, while there were no large policy initiatives passed this year, no harm occurred either. Moreover, the relationships created with committee chairs, like Rep. Sherry Appleton, who chairs the House Local Government Committee, should help us be more effective next session.

Few bills of interest to the Chapter passed the Legislature, and only one, HB 2815, involved planning in a meaningful way. That bill modified the eligibility requirements for certain counties with ferry terminals to form a regional transportation planning organization. The following bills failed to pass, but were of great concern to the Chapter:

HB 1802, funding long-term planning – This bill died early in session due to opposition from the building industry. It would have allowed permit fees to be used to fund planning. It was a Chapter priority, and a priority of the Washington State Association of Counties.

HB 2945, GMA task force – This bill created a legislative task force to review the growth management act. We successfully advocated for an amendment to include us as members of the task force. The bill failed to pass the House.

SB 6173, greenhouse gas limits – This bill would have prohibited rules and policies that limit greenhouse gas emissions. The Chapter opposed the bill, which died in Senate Rules.

SB 6420, land capacity review and evaluation – This bill would apply the buildable land program to every local jurisdiction planning under GMA. In any action brought under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act to ensure compliance with the BLP, the prevailing party would be entitled to reasonable costs and attorneys' fees. The Chapter opposed this bill and it failed to pass the Senate.

SB 6426, school siting – This bill would allow the siting of schools outside the urban growth area, by deeming them essential public facilities. The Chapter opposed this and other similar bills. This bill, which had passed the Senate, did not pass the House.

The table below sets forth the bills reviewed by the Legislative Committee along with the recommendations made regarding the bills and their current status.




Chapter position



SB 5921/ HB 1394

Bills would reinstate the common law vesting doctrine that had prevailed before the legislature codified vesting in statute in 1987.


Passed Senate in 2015. Did not pass house.


Commerce budget request

Commerce requested $500,000 in operating budget for plan update grants.


Not approved.

Zero-out of MRSC budget

Senate proposed supplemental budget eliminated funding for MRSC.


(APA members contacted numerous key legislators)

Not approved.

HB 1802

Bill would allow jurisdictions to use development review fees to fund long range planning.


(APA testified to House Local Government committee)

Passed out of House Local Government committee, but no further.

School siting

HB 1420

Bill would allow Pierce County to permit schools outside of the urban growth area when certain criteria are met.


(APA testified to House Local Government committee and submitted a letter)

Passed House in 2015. Did not pass Senate.

HB 6426

Bill would allow schools to be sited as essential public facilities outside the urban growth area.


(APA testified to House Local Government committee and submitted a letter)

Passed Senate, did not pass House.

Buildable lands

SB 6420

Bill would modify subsection .215 of the Growth Management Act to make buildable lands review applicable to all jurisdictions planning under the GMA. It would also require jurisdictions to integrate a ‘land capacity analysis’ into the Buildable Lands Report looking only at ‘available’ land, rather than just ‘suitable’ land for development.


(APA testified to Senate Government Operations committee and submitted a letter)

SB 6420 passed out of Senate Government Operations & Security committee, but no further.

Climate change

SB 6173

Bill would prohibit the department of ecology from adopting a rule or policy establishing a statewide limit, cap, or standard, to control the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.


Passed out of Senate Energy, Environment, and Telecommunications committee, but no further.

HB 6306

Bill would establish a carbon tax ($8/metric ton of CO2).


Died in committee.

Initiative to the legislature 732

Initiative would establish a new carbon tax and use revenue to reduce the sales tax rate, the business and occupation tax rate on manufacturing, and fund a sales tax exemption for low-income persons.


Legislature did not act on the initiative or propose an alternative.

Initiative will be on the November 2016 ballot.


HB 2395

Bill would Authorize a city or town to impose a fee for condo conversion.


Died in committee.

HB 2397

Bill would authorizes cities to impose a fee for demolition of residential dwellings.


Died in committee.


SB 6168

Will would remove drainage ditches from the definition of habitat conservation areas.


(APA testified to Senate Government Operations and Security committee and submitted a letter)

Died in committee.

SB 6175

Revises watershed improvement district provisions with regard to watershed management actions.


Died in committee.

SB 6527

Modifies SEPA review process to establish time limits for environmental analysis and limit review under SEPA if a valid NEPA document is available.


Passed Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee, but no further.

GMA review

HB 2945

Bill would establish a legislative task force to review the growth management act.

Support with amendment to add a planner to the task force

Bill successfully amended to add a planner to the task force.

Amended bill passed out of House Local Government committee, but no further.


The challenge facing planners in the 2017 session is the budget dilemma faced by the State. In the past, the Legislature has diverted money from the Tobacco Settlement, the Public Works Assistance Account, and the local share of the liquor tax to patch holes in its budget. There is little left to divert, and next year, the Legislature is facing even greater budget pressure and unless it raises revenues, the money to cover the K-12/McCleary obligations and maintenance level budget demands. How the Legislature solves that problem will impact us all.

In the meantime, the Chapter’s Legislative Committee will be working on a number of programs during the interim and is inviting Chapter members interested in participating to contact Esther Larsen at [email protected] and Yorik Stevens-Wajda at [email protected]. Among the work programs are the following: ongoing items involving the GMA Task Force bill that did not pass out of the Legislature, school siting issues and proposals to assist school districts with siting schools inside UGAs, climate change issues and Initiative 732, a refresh of the Legislative Agenda for the 2017 session, advocacy with other stakeholders and allied professionals, national APA policies and legislative programs, and preparing for the 2017 Legislative session with the potential for a Bill Proposal Process during the Interim.

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