Olympia - Capitol

The Washington State Legislature will convene today at noon. Hundreds of bills have already been prefiled for the marathon 105-day legislative session. In the coming weeks, legislators in the upper and lower chambers will continue to submit hundreds more as committees meet to consider and shape the text of legislation for passage. So far, we have identified 37 bills on the environment, land use and housing, public safety, and transportation and infrastructure that are worth watching. It is important that constituents provide feedback to legislators early and often to impact amendments they make and votes they take.

Land Use and Housing Bills

House Bill 1051 would make the Growth Management Act (GMA) apply to only the largest counties in the state while smaller ones currently fully planning under the GMA could choose to stop participating altogether. This is a rehash of prior anti-sustainable planning efforts by state Republicans. Though the bill is unlikely to gain serious traction, it is a concerning policy proposal that should be watched. Representative Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) is the sole sponsor of the bill. 

House Bill 1003 would further restrict where licensed marijuana retailers could locate and make existing licensed retailers have to comply with statutory changes. New locational separation requirements would apply from preschools, private playgrounds in addition to public ones, and school bus stops. The bill would virtually ban marijuana retailers in most areas of the state despite no evidence that proximity of child-oriented facilities increasing or reducing marijuana use. Representative Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick) is the sole sponsor of the bill.

Senate Bill 5008 would increase the maximum number of lots that could be permitted as a short subdivision in urban growth areas. Under current law, cities and counties fully planning under the GMA may allow up to nine lots to be created through a short subdivision. The proposed bill would increase this number to 30 lots, which could expedite the permitting process for lot creation and thereby housing. Senator Guy Palumbo (D-Maltby) is the sole sponsor of the bill.

Senate Bill 5025 would create a new tax sales and use tax exemption for improvement and development of self-help housing. This type of housing is generally considered to be ownership housing for low-income households where individuals in the household have provided labor for construction.

Senate Bill 5051 would create new tax incentives for Class A office space development in urban centers outside King County. The tax exemptions would apply to certain sales and use taxes as well as well property taxes. Only cities with a population of 50,000 and greater outside of King County would be eligible to implement the tax incentives. Senator Steve O’Ban (R-University Place) is the sole sponsor of the bill.

Senate Bill 5084 would establish the Washington Community Development Authority, an agency under the umbrella of the Washington State Department of Commerce. The authority would be charged with coordinating and sponsoring development of private and public low-income and affordable housing projects in poor rural areas and communities of color. In addition to being able to accept external grants and issue debt to finance projects, the authority would receive a permanent funding source. Senator John McCoy (D-Tulalip) is the sole sponsor of the bill.

Senate Bill 5117 would exclude privately-owned correctional or detention facilities from being considered as Essential Public Facilities under the GMA.

Senate Bill 5151 would require the Growth Management Hearings Board to publish all rules and decisions using a searchable index. Senator Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver) is sole sponsor of the bill.

Senate Bill 5152 would create a new exemption from a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit under the Shoreline Management Act for the establishment an additional dwelling unit on a lot when it would be accessory and support someone in need of continuous care or a person who is 62 years old or older and related to a resident of the principal unit. Senator Wilson is the sole sponsor of the bill.

Environmental Bills

House Bill 1040 and Senate Bill 5106 would create a work group to deliver recommendations on disaster mitigation and resiliency strategies, particularly pertaining to flooding, wildfires, and earthquakes.

House Bill 1110 would establish a clean fuel standard for vehicles similar to Oregon and British Columbia. This would nudge industry to make more efficient vehicles and fuels progressively. Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of transportation fuel energy would need to be reduced 10% below 2017 levels by 2028 and 20% below 2017 levels by 2035. The standard, however, would not apply to any fuels exported from the state, fuels used by boats, locomotives, aircraft, and several other instances. The bill would also pacify several “poison pills” that were dropped into transportation legislation in 2015. Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Seattle) is the sole sponsor of the bill.

House Bill 1112 would create a new program to regulate and reduce hydrofluorocarbons, which are typically found in air conditioning and refrigerants. Hydrofluorocarbons are known to have since impacts as a greenhouse gas emission. Representative Fitzgibbon is the sole sponsor of the bill.

House Bill 1113 would expedite the state’s process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and commit to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. A new goal would require the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 19% below 1990 levels by 2025 but encourage a 21% reduction consist with the Paris Accords. The bill would also modify future goals by requiring a 40% reduction below 1990 levels by 2035 (currently 25%) and a 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050 (currently 50%).

House Bill 1114 would create a new food waste reduction program in the state. By 2030, food waste would need to be reduced by 50% from 2015 levels. The Washington State Department of Ecology would be charged with developing the state Wasted Food and Food Waste Diversion Plan in consultation with the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Department of Health. The plan would establish a variety of strategies to reduce edible food waste, facilitate other productive uses of food wastes, help direct pre-waste foods to food banks and other facilities that need it, and compost.

House Bill 1127 would allow electric utility companies and districts in the state to adopt a transportation electrification plan, which may establish specific programs and incentives for customers.

Senate Bill 5077 would ban the practice of selling single-use plastic straws in the state by July 1, 2020 to reduce plastic wastes from beverages. The bill contains a requirement for the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services to work with health groups and advocates of disabilities to develop recommendations on how to help address any potential impacts to healthcare facilities and individuals with disabilities. Local health agencies would be required to enforce the bill with penalties of $25 per offense after the first two, but not exceeding more than $300 per year. Senator Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue) is the sole sponsor of the bill.

Senate Bill 5130 would increase transportation-based revenues to provide more funding to remove and replace transportation-related barriers (e.g., culverts) to fish corridors.

Senate Bill 5135 would charge the Washington State Department of Ecology to enforce a new program to prevent toxic pollution from harming sensitive species and human populations. Toxics include things like organohalogens, phenolic compounds, and polychlorinated biphenyls.

Senate Bill 5145 would ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing (commonly know as “fracking”) to pump fluids into the ground in pursuit of oil and natural gas exploration and extraction.

Public Safety Bills

House Bill 1057 would require all school buses in the state to have operable automated school bus cameras and seat belts for passengers by September 1, 2020. A portion of fines from the cameras would go toward funding seat belts, upgrading bus fleets, and other safety program incentives.

House Bill 1103 would require the state’s smoke detector installation law to apply to all newly-sold dwelling units rather than just newer manufactured homes and apartments.

Senate Bills 5061 and 5062 and companion House Bills 1073 and 1068 would generally make the sale, manufacture, possession, and importation of high capacity magazines, untraceable firearms, and undetectable firearms illegal in the state.

Senate Bill 5115 would establish new efficiency standards for a variety of appliances that would be gradually implemented over the next several years. It would affect things like compressors, faucets and showerheads, computers and computer monitors, portable air conditioners, and urinals and water closets.

Senate Bill 5116 would set the state to be on a path to greenhouse gas neutral electricity by 2030 for retail customers. As a major first step, the all electricity companies in the state would need to end charges to customers that are associated with coal-fired energy, except costs associated with decommissioning and remediating such energy facilities, by the end 2025. Eventually all electricity provided to customers in the state would need to be from non-emitting generating and renewable energy sources by 2045.

Transportation and Infrastructure Bills

Senate Bill 5018 would terminate the I-405 express toll lanes (ETLs) program and convert ETLs first to one high occupancy lane and any extra ETLs to general purpose lanes. The bill would also end study of ETLs on SR-167 and redirect any remaining revenue after decommissioning of I-405 ETLs to build a parking garage at Canyon Park Park-and-Ride in addition to an HOV direct connector ramp to I-405 from Canyon Park. Senato Palumbo is the sole sponsor of the bill.

Senate Bills 5037, 5042, 5043, and 5044 would require voters to:

  • Revote on Sound Transit 3 based upon project scope changes or any projected cost overruns of the plan;
  • Revise the car tab fee valuation method without any identified funding replacement to voter-approved projects; and
  • Weaken funding streams by allowing for various nullification methods of voter-approved taxes by a minority of voters.

Senator Steve O’Ban–a perennial troll of all things Sound Transit–is the sponsor of the bills, which are similar to ones he has previously proposed. In the spirit of the War on Christmas, he symbolically prefiled the slew of bills on Christmas Eve. Expect more anti-Sound Transit bills to be brought forward by Senator O’Ban throughout the legislative session. Last year, transportation advocates were successful in getting the legislature to kill anti-Sound Transit bills and should continue to let their legislators know early and often that Sound Transit 3 must be fully funded with no exceptions. Transportation advocates should also pressure state legislators to directly fund transit expansion programs across the state, including Sound Transit 3.

Senate Bill 5075 would create an adjustment and credit program to the Sound Transit 3 car tab fee for qualifying low-income households. The bill would reduce the car tab fee for vehicles that are 10 years old or newer when an individual, depending upon family size, is determined to make income at or below 200% of the federal poverty line in the county that he or she lives in. Senator Kuderer is the sole sponsor of the bill.

Senate Bill 5085 would allow towns, cities, counties, and certain districts deploy broadband internet services, primarily in rural areas. The bill stipulates several conditions that would allow local jurisdictions to deploy such service, such as slow broadband speeds and lack of another provider willing to provide sufficient service. Senator McCoy is the sole sponsor of the bill.

Senate Bill 5104 would remove the ability of local governments to impose tolls on roads, taking aim at Seattle which is currently evaluating a decongestion pricing system for the Downtown core. Well-calibrated decongestion pricing would result in reduced travel times in the city center, benefitting bus riders and improving air quality. Senator Tim Sheldon (R-Potlach) is the sole sponsor of the bill.

Senate Bill 5157 would direct the Washington State Department of Transportation to study a passenger-only ferry service between Seattle and Olympia, including direct service and additional stops along the way. The study would be due for delivery to the legislature by January 7, 2020.

You Can Take Action

The Washington State Legislature has made it easy to provide feedback on bills online, which allow residents to comment their support or opposition to a specific bill to their legislators. All of the bills we are following so far are linked above. Throughout the session, we’ll provide further updates on major transportation, land use, and housing bills. In the meantime, consider sharing your feedback to support, improve, or oppose bills.

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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.