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Published on Monday, January 15, 2018

Short Session – Little time to solve big issues

The opening week of this “short” legislative session began with the new Senate Democratic majority getting settled and the Governor delivering his annual State-of-the-State address where he outlined his priorities. The pace of work accelerated as committees heard numerous important city issues, with even more teed up for committee or floor consideration this week.

Like every other year, the legislative session runs for a continuous 60-days, and this includes holidays like today’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The holiday will not go unnoticed, as King’s legacy is celebrated under the Capitol dome before the workday begins.

Dominating much of the session so far has been whether or not a bipartisan agreement can be reached quickly to address the Hirst water rights standoff, which Republicans have used to block passage of a capital budget. AWC has been one of many interests working to help find a solution to this year-old impasse. Cities want this resolved and a $4.3 billion capital budget quickly passed so that critical housing, school, and infrastructure projects can be built, including $100 million to fund Public Works Trust Fund projects.

House and Senate committees both heard and considered bills aimed at enhancing the ability of citizens to register, vote, and be represented. For AWC, our focus has been on bills in each chamber that would (1) authorize any city to choose to have district voting for council positions in general elections (which we strongly support), and (2) what happens and how it’s resolved if one or more classes of voters believe that they don’t have an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. Solutions to this later issue have been debated and stalled for several years and now with the change in leadership in the Senate, we expect something to pass and we are working to share input with proponents on how best to structure a process.

Fiscal committees in both chambers were briefed on the Governor’s ideas for a supplemental operating budget, something he’s required to submit with his ideas on how to “tweak” and/or improve upon the biennial budget recently adopted. As expected, much of the attention centered on issues surrounding K-12 education funding and human service needs. AWC used our two minutes to testify and highlight our ideas.

Hearings on important city issues are coming up this week relating to things like new standards and responsibilities for addressing stress-related diseases for public safety personnel, a number of ideas on how to help combat opioid and chemical dependency addiction, tools to help address affordable housing shortages, and at least two different ideas on how cities can address deployment of broadband and new cellular technology. We also anticipate and hope there will be forward progress on a capital budget.

The pace continues to pick up as committees aim to move their priorities forward by early February for consideration and action in each chamber. AWC looks forward to welcoming more than 350 city officials coming to town for our City Action Days conference on January 24–25. Attendees will hear from numerous legislators, state leaders and other interest groups, and will have the opportunity to meet and mingle with their own representatives to share their views and priorities. We will be sharing our newest edition of our popular Pocket Guide offering tips and suggestions on how best to engage and contribute to the sausage-making process here in Olympia, and will make it available online and in print for those who’d like one. It’s designed to provide tips on how you can influence what happens here even from the comforts of home.

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