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Published on Thursday, April 28, 2016

Changes to GMA fail. School siting, vesting and eminent domain may return in 2017

It was a busy session in the land use arena. But it was also a year that fit the old adage “don’t mistake activity for progress.” The House appointed a new chair to the House Local Government Committee with the departure of Dean Takko to the Senate. AWC was happy to see Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) ascend to this leadership position. We knew Rep. Appleton would be a sympathetic ear to our issues, as a former AWC board member, and we were not disappointed. We very much appreciated her willingness to meet and strategize with us.

There were a number of Growth Management Act (GMA) related bills proposed this session, some of which were very concerning to cities. Rep. Appleton decided that she did not want to tackle any significant GMA policy changes in a short session, and wanted to hold them until they could be considered more holistically throughout this interim.

In contrast, several GMA-related bills passed the Senate. Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn), chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee moved bills through the Senate aimed at accommodating rail dependent uses in Clark County, and more controversially, authorizing the siting of schools that serve urban students to be sited outside of Urban Growth Areas.

While Rep. Appleton declined to move the Senate versions of these bills, the school siting bill in particular remained alive until the final days of session. Rep. Springer (D-Kirkland), Rep. Wilcox (R-Yelm) and Rep. Taylor (R-Moxee) continued to press the issue, while the schools, cities, counties and Futurewise worked to find common ground. Ultimately compromise was not to be found, and the clock ran out on the issue. We may have been saved by the fact that the vote to preserve the state’s charter schools had been incredibly difficult for House Democrats and that seemed to have taken the air out of proposals to address other controversial education related issues that would pit Democrats against Democrats. We expect that the school siting issue will be back on our plates again next year.

After last session and continuing into 2016 there were discussions amongst stakeholders and a few legislators about a reform package for the state’s vesting system for land use and building permits. Consensus was hard to find and nothing ever gelled into a full bill. This also feels like an issue that is not going away, and we may see more discussions take place this interim in preparation for 2017.

Finally, for several years now the Senate has passed a bill prohibiting the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes. Each year we oppose those bills because the constitution already prohibits this, and these bills have the potential to upend many decades of established rules of the road and create a litigation nightmare where cities and the public attempt to reestablish the boundaries of appropriate practice in eminent domain. In a change this year, Sen. Mike Padden’s (R-Spokane Valley) bill (SB 5363) actually passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. A number of cities joined in the efforts to educate legislators about the negative impacts of this bill and ultimately it did not advance any further.

Changes to current law for any of these three issues: school siting, vesting, or eminent domain could have significant implications for cities. If these all come back and gain more traction they will add to the heavy load that is already on the plate of the Legislature in 2017. It will be interesting to see if there is enough oxygen left to consider so many major policy initiatives on top of their preeminent challenge of finally dealing with funding for K through 12 education.

On the environmental front, our efforts were focused primarily on trying to protect funding for toxic cleanups and stormwater. Please see the Infrastructure article for more on that story.

BillTracker Bill # Descriptive title Final status
  HB 2430 Updating water conservation standards for faucets and toilets Failed
  HB 2468 Allowing rail dependent uses in rural areas under the growth management act Failed
  HB 2763 Using the state environmental policy act to encourage development that is consistent with forward-looking growth plans Failed
  SB 5363 Prohibiting the use of eminent domain for economic development Failed
  SB 6334 Allowing rail dependent uses in rural areas under the growth management act Failed
Yes SB 6420 Requiring cities to conduct land capacity evaluations Failed
  SB 6426 Requiring local governments to allow schools to be sited outside of urban growth areas Failed
  SB 6570 Prioritizing the expenditure of funds associated with the model toxics control act for the cleanup of toxic pollution Failed