The Washington State Legislature crams its session into sixty days in even years, allowing lawmakers to dedicate more of the year to their campaigns, business ventures, and/or primary professions. That condensed schedule means bills are quickly running out of time to make it to a floor vote to advance out of their house of origin and stay alive. Some exciting legislation is in play, but without clearing a floor vote by 5pm February 15th, these bills will be dead for the year.
The Urbanist has dedicated much attention to House Bill 1782, which would replace a good deal of single-family zoning across the state with fourplex zoning. This would encourage the construction of missing middle housing that is more accessible to working class people than expensive single family homes are. The bill was referred out of Rules Committee on Thursday and is on the floor calendar and could be pulled for debate and potentially a floor vote. Exciting news! Still, HB 1782 needs to pass that vote to stay alive and then clear the senate. More than 1,300 people have sent a letter to their legislators backing HB 1782. Join them here. A recent poll showed legalizing missing middle housing is very popular with Washington State voters, with over 60% of those polled expressing support for a statewide bill.
Plenty of other bills are on the bubble, too, and signing in as pro on the legislation and contacting legislators would be a big help.
One big exception to the cutoff calendar is the state transportation package, dubbed Move Ahead Washington, which can continue to be voted on until the last day of session on March 10th. And that might be how it goes down given how much difficulty legislators have run into trying to pass a transportation package in the last three sessions. Move Ahead Washington includes $16 billion worth of investments over 16 years and is more focused on transit and active transportation that any recent predecessors. The package is split into two bills, which each have identical companion bills in both chambers. SB 5974 / HB 2118 directs revenue from the Climate Commitment Act in transit and other other new sources, while SB 5975 / SB 2119 appropriates a variety of revenue sources (including gas tax, vehicle fees, and general operating funds) on highway expansion, maintenance, and fish culvert removal to improve salmon runs. (Read Ryan Packer’s comprehensive rundown on the transportation package for more information.)
I’ve flagged eleven other bills to watch in addition to the aforementioned missing middle bill and transportation package. Six still need to clear their house of origin as of time of post, while five others have either cleared that hurdle or are immune, but that is only a temporary respite in this short session.
Bills needing to clear house of origin by February 15th
- Moving local elections to even years: HB 1727 would move local elections from odd years to even years, which could nearly double voter participation in local races based on recent voting patterns. Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac) proposed the bill and it sits in the Rules Committee. I presented a case for even year elections last month.
- Authorizing ranked choice voting in local elections: HB 1156 would allow for the use of ranked-choice voting systems in local elections. Like it sounds, ranked choice voting would allow voters to rank their top choices for an office. Theoretically this encourages voters to vote their conscience and take a gamble on less established candidates knowing that if their preferred candidate is eliminated due to lack of support, their second place candidate would then get their vote, and so on, until a candidate has accumulated at least 50% of votes cast.
- Requiring six-month notice for large rent increases: HB 1901, sponsored by Rep. Strom Peterson, requires landlords to give at least six months written notice for significant rent increases of 7.5% or more, allows a tenant to move without penalty if they can’t afford the rent increase, and limits late fees to $75. While not rent control, it would slow the pace of rent gouging. It is in the House Rules Committee and needs a floor vote by February 15th.
- Sunsetting Houghton and East Bellevue community councils: HB 1769 would sunset community municipal corporations, better known as community councils, within 30 days of passage. The Urbanist has covered the unfair and undemocratic impact that Houghton Community Council in Kirkland and East Bellevue Community Council have had on their respective cities’ policy, carving out fiefdoms and blocking housing growth, has urged support for the bill. These are the only two communities afforded these unique powers under the law. Update: The House passed this bill on February 12th.
- Strengthening state energy building codes to promote green construction: HB 1770 would push the state energy building codes toward greener standards and begin to ready buildings for a net-zero paradigm. Governor Jay Inslee requested the bill as part of his climate action strategy, and while it included a senate companion, but it’s the house version that is advancing. The bill was passed out of Rules Committee and is on the floor calendar. Assuming it passes, it will survive and head to the Senate. Update: The House passed this bill on February 12th.
- Prohibiting owner occupancy restrictions on accessory dwelling units: HB 1660 “prohibits an owner-occupancy requirement from being imposed on a lot with an accessory dwelling unit unless an accessory dwelling unit [ADU] on the lot is being used for short-term rental, and sets deadlines for local jurisdictions to comply with this prohibition,” the bill report notes. The bill sits in Rules Committee awaiting the greenlight to be added to the floor calendar. Owner occupancy requirements reduce production of this missing middle housing type, which is why some cities like Seattle avoided them as a number of jurisdictions across the state have jumped on ADU bandwagon.
Bills facing March 4th deadline in second chamber
Bills that cleared their house of origin still face a second cutoff to clear the other chamber. March 4th is that date for most bills, except those that fit under exceptions allotted to ballot initiatives, budgets and matters necessary to implement budgets, and differences between the chambers.
- Enhanced service zones to fund Sound Transit projects: SB 5528 would provide new taxing authority to Sound Transit to fund specialized expansion projects within “enhanced service zones.” Cities, towns, and other areas that want to fund such specialized projects would have to vote on a measure authorizing them and new taxes. Last year, a Seattle-specific bill, HB 1304, had similar aims.
- Banning high-capacity gun magazines: SB 5078, and its companion, would ban high capacity magazines for guns. The bill sets the high capacity limit at magazines holding more than 17 rounds of ammunition and establishes a violation as a gross misdemeanor. It passed the Senate on a party-line vote, with Republicans opposed, and it will need to pass the House by March 4th to advance to the governor’s desk.
- Climate action in growth management: HB 1099 would add climate as a key goal and part of the Growth Management Act, pushing local jurisdiction to focus on climate action in their Comprehensive Plans, which guide development and infrastructure investments in their borders. The bill has already passed the house and avoided the February 15th house of origin cutoff date. It has until March 4th to pass the Senate. Futurewise has led the multi-year Washington Can’t Wait campaign to pass this legislation, and The Urbanist has endorsed the effort.
- Closing illegal growth loophole in the Growth Management Act: Likewise, another Futurewise-backed bill closing a “illegal growth” loophole in the Growth Management Act, SB 5042, has passed the Senate and has until March 4th to pass the House. It has a public hearing scheduled at 1:30pm February 17th.
- Authorizing Housing Benefit Districts: HB 1880 would authorize cities and counties to establish Housing Benefit Districts, which get sales tax credits from the state to get started in the four pilot cities, but come with the authority to impose sales and uses tax to fund land acquisitions for the purpose of land banking near major transit stations and developing a mix of low-income housing, middle-income housing, and for-profit housing, with each getting a third of the land. Proceeds from sales or leases would fund yet more land acquisitions and affordable housing development. The bill is in House Committee on Finance, with an executive session scheduled on February 17th. Because it uses a sales tax credit, it’s been deemed necessary to implement the budget, buying it some time and making it immune to the house of origin cutoff. The companion bill (SB 5861) stalled out in the Senate, so it’s up to the house to keep this moving.
Update: This article was updated on February 14th to clarify that HB 1880 doesn’t face the February 15th bill cutoff.
Doug Trumm is the executive director of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.