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Published on Friday, April 18, 2014

Bills related to homeless funding, fish passage barriers and archaeological resources pass

The 2014 session was in some ways dominated by attention to the coming showdown over education funding in 2015. The size of the problem facing the legislature next year seemed to dampen enthusiasm for big policy fights – even in unrelated fields like land use and environment. Nonetheless, a number of bills impacting cities were debated.

Funding for homeless housing and assistance

The highest profile bill AWC worked on this year in regard to land use and environment was undoubtedly the bill to extend the fees that underpin the state and local response to homelessness. The bill (SB 5875) took a tortuous path to the Governor’s desk, spawning a flurry of newspaper editorials exhorting for its passage when it was temporarily killed in the Senate. At the end of the day, the bill saved $104 million in homelessness funding through 2019 that would have otherwise expired – $63 million of that directly locally controlled and the balance passed through the state to be expended in our communities. Literally scores of community nonprofits, such as YWCA domestic violence shelters or Salvation Army cold weather shelters, would have been dramatically cut.

Fish passage barriers

Also of long term interest is a bill (HB 2251) we helped develop to create a coordinated state approach to fish passage barrier removal. As the state begins to address its court ordered obligation to remove barriers on state-owned lands (mostly inadequate culverts under roadways), the Legislature recognized the need to develop an approach to address local barriers as well. Not doing so would mean that we still won’t see the fish recovery we need. This bill sets up a task force to develop this coordinated plan, and AWC expects to be heavily involved in that with your help over the next several years.

Protecting archaeological resources and traditional cultural places

Interestingly, HB 2724 looks towards the future by honoring our past. As we have worked over the last several years to streamline environmental permitting statutes to ensure protections while minimizing duplication – a constant concern has been how the state’s historic and cultural resources would remain protected. In many ways these resources are especially reliant on protections from the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Through the discussions, an alternative form of protection that identified potentially sensitive areas up front was deliberated, a system offered for local government use by the State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP). Those discussions identified a catch-22 situation: Native American tribes would only provide this sensitive information to the state if it could ensure that those details wouldn’t get into the wrong hands, while public records disclosure laws inadvertently precluded local governments from protecting the information once they got it. This legal exposure kept some cities from signing up for this system, and with that loophole closed, we’re hopeful that more cities will find value in collaborating with the state and tribes with this system. Review the DAHP website or contact Annie Strader (360) 586-3078 to discuss this program and see if it might make sense for your city.

Fighting off the bad bills

Like any year, there were also a number of bills we opposed because of their negative impact on cities. We were fortunate this year that the most damaging bills did not advance all the way through the legislative process. Perennial topics such as prescribing the timing of collection of GMA impact fees (HB 2677), and changes to the authority for cities to assume water and sewer districts (SB 6008) were debated and ultimately put down. Similarly, extensive changes to annexation statutes (HB 1854) and amendments to city authority to shift from septic to community sewers (HB 2186) did not advance. Undoubtedly, some of these bills will be back next year, and we will continue to work to find resolution to these issues that can be supported by cities.

Looking ahead

Moving forward, the 2015 session promises to be one of the most contentious in recent memory as the state grapples with how to put significant new resources into K-12 education. For cities interested in land use and environmental issues, this dynamic will have significant spillover effects. There will likely be a lot of attention on protecting existing revenues dedicated to areas important to cities. It may also put a bit of a negative drag on big policy proposals, as the Legislature only has so much bandwidth to take on controversial issues. All of that said, every session brings its own surprises and we’re looking forward to mixing it up for cities again next year.

Environment and land use

BillTracker AWC priority Bill # Descriptive title Final status
    EHB 1224 GMA opt-out for counties with populations under 20,000 Law; Effective 6/12/2014
    ESHB 2246 Financing for stewardship of mercury-containing lights Law; Effective 6/12/2014
    2SHB 2251 Creating a coordinated approach to fish passage barrier projects Law; Effective 6/12/2014
    SHB 2433 New requirements for annexation notifications Law; Effective 6/12/2014
    SHB 2724 Exempting information concerning archaeological resources and traditional cultural places from public disclosure Law; Effective 6/12/2014
  Other significant issue ESSB 5875 Extending filing fees to fund homeless housing and assistance Law; Effective 6/12/2014
    2SSB 6330 Allowing for multifamily housing property tax exemption in Belfair, Mason County Law; Effective 6/12/2014
  Endorse EHB 1367 Authorizing assessments for nuisance abatement Failed
  Endorse SHB 1579/
SB 5424
Creating a product stewardship program for paint Failed
    HB 1854 Requiring voter approval of annexations Failed
    HB 2161 SEPA traffic mitigation fees on projects outside of a city Failed
    SHB 2168 Preemption of requirements for minimum sizes of single family residences Failed
    SHB 2186/
SB 5995
Allowing for on-site septic systems in urban growth areas Failed
    HB 2499 Permitting school siting outside of urban growth areas Failed
Strongly defend against HB 2677 Requiring cities to offer deferral of impact fee payments Failed
    SHB 2709 SEPA requirements for cultural resources Failed
  Strongly defend against ESSB 6008 Requiring a public vote for assumption of water/sewer districts Failed
    SSB 6060 Providing notice to water system operators of GMA comprehensive planning activities Failed
    SB 6089 Prohibiting the use of eminent domain for economic development Failed