In the past week, the Washington State Legislature has urgently moving bills to the floor for consideration and possible vote out of their chamber of origin. Some bills have already been successfully passed on to the opposite house. Some, however, remain stuck in rules committees in the respective Senate and House chambers, despite popular support. This session, we’ve been closely tracking many key housing, transportation, and environmental bills that could be enacted this year under progressive leadership. However, some bills are still serious cause for concern.

Still in Rules Committees

Policy and fiscal bills must get a floor vote from their chamber of origin by Wednesday at 5pm. If they don’t, they’re likely dead unless they are resurrected as necessary to implement the budget or otherwise finagled back to life. Some bills that we profiled earlier this session are already dead. Here’s a rundown of bills still stuck in rules committees:

  • HB 2328, which would improve the state’s clean car standards by adopting California emission standards.
  • HB 2338, which would require establishment of Clean Fuels Program and eliminates funding penalties under the state transportation funding package adopted in 2015 if a clean fuel standard is created.
  • HB 2403, which would allow Seattle to pilot transit lane camera enforcement on up to three transit corridors.
  • HB 2782, which would establish specific regulations for electric-assist bicycles. The bill would eliminate the need for a license to operate such bikes, but prohibits their use on multiuse trails unless authorized by a local jurisdiction.
  • SB 6043, which would create a statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing app-based services like Uber and Lyft. While the bill focused on establishing licensing, reporting, and safety standards for drivers and ride-hailing platforms, it would also strip much of the authority from cities like Seattle to regulate them. A more progressive version of the bill, SB 6500, died in committee.
  • SB 6490, which would allow cities and counties planning under the Growth Management Act to impose an additional real estate excise tax without a vote of the public. Currently, such cities and counties must seek voter approval. The bill would also require an option for the public to initiate a referendum on any real estate excise tax imposed without a public vote.
  • SB 6516, which would allow sewer service lines in limited circumstances to be extended beyond urban growth areas to rural areas for economic development purposes. Specifically, light and heavy industrial uses on land zoned for such uses could be considered as economic development and therefore avail of the provision.

Bills Awaiting a Floor Vote

Several key bill continue to await a floor vote in their chamber of origin. These include:

  • HB 1144, which would establish more aggressive state goals on combating climate change. The bill would adjust carbon emission targets as follows: moving from 25% below 1990 levels to 40% below 1990 levels by 2035, from 50% below 1990 levels to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, and creating a new target of 19% below 1990 levels by 2025. The Washington State Department of Ecology would be required to track progress through various reports.
  • HB 1740, which allows certain cities planning under the Growth Management Act to exempt projects from appeal under the State Environmental Policy Act if a subarea plan has been adopted. The exemption would be extended through 2028 and requires at least 10% of units in a project to be set aside as affordable or a greater percentage if required by a city. The exemption would not apply in Seattle.
  • HB 1860Ÿ, which would require governing boards of public transportation benefit areas (PTBAs) like Pierce Transit in certain large counties to select governing board members as proportionally as possible to represent cities and unincorporated areas within the PTBA’s boundaries.
  • HB 1797, which would encourage the development and preservation of affordable housing in several ways. Cities could apply for a one-time return (remittance) of sales and use taxes from the state that are imposed on public expenditures for affordable housing development or infrastructure that support such development. The total remittance could be up to 4.37% on sales and use taxes. Additionally, the bill would allow King County and cities within it to impose a 0.1% sales and use tax without a vote of the public to provide mental health services and affordable housing. Separately, a city or county would be allowed to use up to 25% percent of its revenue from certain real estate excise taxes (not to exceed $1 million per year) to develop affordable housing development through June 30, 2022.
  • HB 1860Ÿ, which would require governing boards of public transportation benefit areas (PTBAs) like Pierce Transit in certain large counties to select governing board members as proportionally as possible to represent cities and unincorporated areas within the PTBA’s boundaries.
  • HB 1987, which would restrict the ability of larger counties and the cities within them to discourage affordable housing development on properties owned by religious institutions in urban areas if proposed housing would be provided as affordable. The jurisdictions would be required to provide a density bonus.
  • HB 2015, which would expand the lodging tax in King County to include lodging providers with 59 or fewer units, including short-term vacation rentals. Revenue from the tax would benefit the Washington State Convention Center only.
  • HB 2364, which would increase the Housing Finance Commission’s debt limit from $6 billion to $8 billion allowing more financing in the state of below-market-rate housing unit construction. Additional types of organizations such as public development authorities would also be eligible for financing under the Nonprofit Facilities Program.
  • HB 2402, which would modify the Energy Independence Act adopted in 2006 by focusing on further expanding renewable and green energy production.
  • HB 2437, which would allow counties and cities to impose additional sales and use taxes up to 0.25% (or 0.5% if the area is considered “distressed“) to fund acquisition, rehabilitation, maintenance, operation, and construction of affordable housing or provide rental assistance. Counties would have the first crack at imposing such taxes, though cities could begin to if their respective county has not by July 1, 2020, or in the case of cities in King County beginning on July 1, 2021. The option to impose the taxes would expire in July 1, 2023 if a city or county has not done so.
  • HB 2444, which would eliminate imposition of real estate excise taxes on property sold to bona fide low-income housing developments or where there is a controlling interest in a qualifying low-income housing development.
  • HB 2635, which would allow the creation of Military Benefit Zones within two miles of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Special funding would be available for participating jurisdictions to finance capital infrastructure investments.
  • HB 2864, which would require the Office of the State Fire Marshal to develop recommendations to reduce fires in rental housing units.
  • HB 2900, which would increase penalties for motorists who pose a threat to vulnerable users of roads and direct funding to programs raising awareness of the problem.
  • SB 5182, which would allow cities and counties to authorize local property tax exemptions to preserve existing affordable housing for very low-income households, except in high-cost counties where the maximum level may be up to 60% of the area median income. The exemption could be broadly applied, including to single-family homes and accessory dwelling units, for up to 15 consecutive years to a specific property so long as 25% of the dwelling units in multifamily property are reserved as affordable. In certain cases, the property tax exemption could be extended a further three years. No property, however, would be exempt from state property taxes.
  • SB 5955, which would make significant cuts to Sound Transit 3 funding by modifying the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) formulas. The bill does try to compensate for some funding cuts, creates a priority list for project delivery, and exempts permitting requirements for Sound Transit 3 in unincorporated areas. Another bill, HB 2201, has been passed out of the House and would achieve similar objectives but make much larger funding cuts.

Bills That Have Passed Chamber of Origin

Various bills have already moved to the opposite chamber for consideration, including:

  • HB 1085, which would allow local governments to eliminate or reduce minimum floor area requirements for detached single-family homes. The International Residential Code (IRC) is the standard building code requirement that the state requires local jurisdictions to implement. The current version of the IRC sets a minimum square footage requirement of 70 square feet with a minimum width of seven feet. This bill would ultimately allow the creation of smaller houses.
  • HB 1532, which would clarify that property tax exemptions given for nonprofit homeownership development must be tied to land being leased for 99 years or longer to low-income households in order to qualify for the exemption.
  • HB 1570, which would make permanent a $40 document recording fee imposed on documents related to development and housing such as deeds, plats, and boundary line adjustments. These documents are recorded with county auditors. The bill would also require the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to carry out a statewide homeless study every ten years looking at wide-ranging factors. The first study would be due to the legislature by January 1, 2020. The Washington State Department of Commerce would be additionally tasked with updating its strategic plan on homeless housing every five years instead of ten. New requirements would be added to the strategic plan. Other changes would also be made by the bill.
  • HB 2317, which would modify contractor bonding requirements for public transportation benefit areas and passenger-only ferry service districts. A similar bill, SB 6022, is stuck in Senate Rules Committee.
  • HB 2382, which would modify property surplus policy for state agencies. Through 2029, several state agencies subject to the law would be required to pay 10% of all proceeds from land sales to the Housing Trust Fund, through 2029. All state agencies would be required to notify state, local, federal and tribal entities of any sale of surplus state lands so that the property could be sold to any such entities at a fair price first. The law would also permit state and local agencies to surplus property any entity public or private for at no cost.
  • HB 2448, which is targeted at increasing housing choices for those with developmental disabilities. For qualifying individuals, residential property transferred for the benefit of those with developmental disabilities would be exempt from the real estate excise tax. Nonprofits could be eligible for the exemption. Additionally, required remodeling and improvements for health and safety could be eligible for state Housing Trust Fund grants.
  • HB 2578, which would prohibit landlords from engaging in source of income (e.g., Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and other rental housing assistance) discrimination against prospective or current tenants. It would also give legal recourse to sue in the event of such discrimination and provide a compensation measure by the state for private landlords if certain tenants cause significant damage to a unit.
  • SB 5288, which would allow an additional 0.3% sales and use tax to be imposed in portions of Thurston County to fund Intercity Transit services. A similar bill, HB 1410, is stuck in the House but likely is unnecessary give the passage of SB 5288 in the Senate.
  • SB 5408, which would increase the notification period for termination of tenancy from 20 days to 30 days. This would affect the process for ending a rental agreement whether month-to-month or prior to the end of a specified time period agreement. Unfortunately, the substitute version of the bill eliminated a 60-day notification period for tenants who have remained on the premises for two years or more. The Rental Housing Association of Washington is naturally opposing the bill since it would put more power in the hands of tenants.
  • SB 5450, which would require the Washington State Building Code Council to adopt rules for cross-laminated timber (CLT) in building construction. The bill does not expressly mean that highrise will be authorized.
  • SB 6294, which would fully exempt homeless shelters and emergency shelters for victims of domestic abuse from impact fees. A nearly identical bill, HB 2538, has also passed out of the House and would achieve the same outcomes.
  • SB 6347, which would widely expand the multifamily tax exemption allowed under state to all cities and towns through 2021. Other existing criteria for designating an area eligible for the tax exemption would remain.
  • SB 6434, which would establish specific regulations for electric-assist bicycles and define them in state law. A similar bill, HB 2782, is still the House Rules Committee and would clarify that there is no need for a license to operate such bikes, but prohibits their use on multiuse trails unless authorized by a local jurisdiction.
  • SB 6473, which would require the Office of the State Fire Marshal to develop recommendations to reduce fires in rental housing units. A similar bill, HB 2864, is awaiting a floor vote in the House.
  • SB 6475, which would prohibit the taxation on less than a whole parcel of land for Sound Transit 3 funding. The bill would only affect several hundred properties in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. An identical bill, HB 1958, is awaiting a floor vote.

If you want these bills to live or die, you should contact your legislators today as tomorrow is the cutoff for nearly all of these policy bills.

Tackling the Housing Crisis Takes Center Stage in Olympia

State Legislators Resurrect and Introduce Dozens of Transportation Bills

Article Author

Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.