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Published on Sunday, January 7, 2018

2018 session likely to be brief and concise – Cities hope for help to prosper and care for those less fortunate

The 60-day 2018 legislative session is here. Over the coming weeks, legislators and Governor Inslee will consider, debate, and ultimately decide how to help manage and invest in our collective future. Following the historically long and difficult 2017 session and with Democrats nominally in charge, it’s likely this one will focus on a short list of issues.

Late last week, legislative leadership from each of the four caucuses outlined their priorities – several of which impact cities and mirror AWC priorities.

  • Legislators in all four caucuses hope that a stalled capital budget will pass so that millions of dollars in critical infrastructure and housing projects can move forward. Whether or not the dispute over some water rights issues can be resolved remains unclear, but AWC remains optimistic they’ll find common ground.
  • They all want to help make housing available to all parts of the state and for those who need assistance.
  • There is a recognition of the growing crises in homelessness and chemical dependency that plagues many of our communities and tears families apart. They acknowledge the frontline impacts in our communities and we’re hopeful we can find common ground during session to make a difference.
  • Their press event was dominated at first by the breaking news that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo rescinding all guidance to federal prosecutors that minimized the priority of enforcement actions against states with legalized marijuana – either medical or recreational. As a state whose voters chose to allow legal marijuana, legislators have worked in a bipartisan fashion to develop a regulatory system that conformed to past guidance. AWC has strongly advocated for local choice so that elected local officials are responsible for deciding whether or not to allow production and retail facilities. With the state’s budget already having received over $830 million in excise tax revenues and a flourishing new industry, there are obvious questions about what happens next.

For the 85th consecutive year, AWC is prepared to engage and represent city interests during the legislative session. Our legislative priorities are set, and we will provide updates on their status each Monday morning here in Legislative Bulletin. Also look for mid-week updates in our CityVoice e-newsletter. We’ll also report on the many more issues that are important and impact cities. These are items that we spend much of our time responding to and working to ensure our voices are heard. Many require us to politely, yet firmly, suggest that the issue is best addressed at the local level and that legislation isn’t appropriate.

Legislative sessions have schedules and rhythm, and it’s helpful to anticipate them. Issues and ideas are considered and debated in both the House and Senate, and in order to move forward, they need to pass both chambers in identical form. This takes time, and leadership sets a schedule on what needs to happen by when.

This first week will mostly involve setting the stage. New legislators get their bearings, committees organize themselves, and hearings are held – several of which are highlighted within this week’s Legislative Bulletin. There are ceremonial activities such as the Governor’s State of the State address. Things get a bit more serious towards week’s end after preliminary discussions of what the Governor has proposed as supplemental funding adjustments to the recently adopted operating budget, and how he’d suggest paying for it.

Bills have deadlines to pass out of committee and each chamber before being considered by the other chamber. This year, the deadline is Valentine’s Day for bills to pass from one to the other, or else the issue most likely will not move forward—what we call “dead.” By the first days of March, the opposite chamber needs to move the version it wants or that issue also is no longer considered. Then by March 8 – any differences between versions need to be reconciled, or they stall out and it’s time to go home.

Our weekly communications will help you know what’s happening, and every so often, you may receive an Action Alert or a phone call asking for time-sensitive contact with your legislator. We issue these sparingly and only when we really need your engagement and attention.

We are always available to answer questions, give guidance, or help you navigate this process. We look forward to your feedback and engagement and encourage you to join us during our City Action Days here in Olympia on January 24 and 25 when you have the opportunity to hear from and engage with legislators and state agency movers and shakers.