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Legislative updated from WRPA Lobbyist

Minimum wage, sick leave, voting rights, and oil train safety had time in the sun during Week 8 as lawmakers churned through bills on the House and Senate Floor and passed the halfway point of the 2015 Session.

The issues above received a stamp of approval from the House, mostly on party-line votes that will sharpen the distinctions between the narrowly-controlled Democratic House and the narrowly-controlled Majority Coalition Senate.  The bill to increase the statewide minimum wage (HB 1355) to $12 over four years passed 51-46, the bill to mandate minimum sick leave standards for employers (HB 1356) passed 51-46, and the “Voting Rights Act” (ESHB 1745) passed 52-46.  The bill to enhance oil train and oil spill safety through increased user taxes, reporting, and inspections (ESHB 1449) actually garnered nine Republican votes, passing 60-38 last Thursday night. 

All these bills will go to a Senate where the Majority Coalition has very different ideas about minimum wage and sick leave employer mandates, and rebuffed a Democratic attempt to force a Floor vote on the Voting Rights bill.

Next week lawmakers will come up on their March 11 deadline for either passing bills off the House or Senate Floor or having them considered “dead” for the 2015 Session.  Bills deemed “Necessary to Implement the Budget” (NTIB) are exceptions to that rule.  After Floor cutoff, many legislators have scheduled Town Hall meetings in their Districts; I’ve attached a list with this report in case you want to use it as a way to connect with your lawmakers.

It was a very solid Week 8 on the WRPA front, as our priority “amusement and recreation services” sales tax bill moved off the House Floor, our Youth Athletic Facilities funding efforts advanced, and priority legislation on outdoor recreation moved a Senate Floor vote away from advancing to the House.

Following is an overview of where we stand on 2015 WRPA “Top Priority” and “Support” items, and then a bullet-style rundown on a few other bills.  There are a few Week 9 hearings listed at the bottom of this report.

Top Priorities

Enhance WWRP funding in 2015-17 Capital Budget (Capital Budget):  We are now hearing some signals of $80 million as a funding level being examined by the House.  We are not hearing specific funding levels from the Senate, but we know the House figure will be the “high-water mark.”  We joined the WWRC in pushing for $97 million for the program, and the Governor started the legislative process by sending over a 2015-17 Capital Budget with a $70 million funding level.

HB 1550 - Department of Revenue (DOR) request legislation on “Amusement and Recreation Services” sales taxes (Policy Bill):  Last Monday, on a 70-27 vote, the House passed 1550 and sent it over to the Senate.  An amendment to exempt skydiving and ballooning activities from sales tax failed on the House Floor.  The House Finance Chair does not support exempting skydiving and we’ve let Senate Majority Coalition Caucus staff know that is a sensitivity as the bill moves to the other chamber.  HB 1550 simplifies sales taxation of “amusement and recreation services” and reduces the administrative tax collection burden associated with these services.  The DOR legislation would statutorily exempt swim lessons as well as basketball, soccer, softball, and volleyball leagues.

Re-establish competitive grant funding for the Youth Athletic Facilities (YAF) program (Capital Budget):  Last Friday, following a Tuesday conference call with a few of you and a couple of days of batting options around, we shared with Senate Ways & Means staff three different options of how their Capital Budget Chair, Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside/15th Dist.), could condition whatever YAF funding he allocates in the 2015-17 Capital Budget.  To be clear, it was not our idea to condition the YAF funds, but rather something Senator Honeyford is insistent upon.  On the good-news side, the Senator appears prepared to provide $6 million for the YAF in his 2015-17 Capital Budget.  On the not-so-good-news side, he does not want to see jurisdictions receive YAF grants and then place new fees, or inordinate fees, on youth non-profit groups that may well have a significant number of low- and lower-income participants.  We’ve provided Ways & Means staff with three options for ensuring that local parks and recreation agencies have discount rates or scholarships for non-profit youth.  We tried very hard to forward options that were not overly prescriptive and that did not undermine your ability to charge particular hourly rates, or rental fees, or special tournament fees.  I’ll keep you all posted on what we hear back from Ways & Means staff.

Support Key Recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Outdoor Recreation (Capital and Operating Budgets; Policy Bills):  Last Monday, thanks to Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island/23rd Dist.), SSB 5843 advanced to the Senate Floor Calendar.  We believe the Senate may act on the bill as early as Monday.  Prime-sponsored by Senators Kevin Ranker (D-San Juan Islands/40th Dist.) and Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee/12th Dist.), this bill would resuscitate two key Blue Ribbon Task Force recommendations not advanced by Governor Inslee:  1) an outdoor recreation sector lead within the Governor’s office; and 2) re-established funding for the “No Child Left Inside” (NCLI) program.  The bill allocated $1.3 million for the two items ($1 million NCLI, $300,000 sector lead), but that funding was stripped in the Ways & Means Committee and is now subject to the budget process.  Senator Ranker, who is one of the Senate’s Operating Budget negotiators, is confident of securing the 5843 funds in the budget, though he acknowledges the amount for the outdoor recreation sector lead may need to be pared back some. 

As for other Task Force recommendations in the Governor’s Budget or introduced as bills or budget items:

  • Sustainable State Parks Funding:  Nothing new to report.  State Parks is looking for about $23.3 million more than the $136 million in 2015-17 Operating funds for Parks in the Governor’s budget.
  • Real Estate Excise Tax Flexibility:  See below.
  • “Lid removal” for non-highway purpose fuel tax accountsSHB 1738 remains on the House Floor CalendarThe bill is sponsoredby the Committee’s Ranking Member Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama/20th Dist.) and by Chairwoman Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.).  1738 includes a future-year removal of a ‘lid’ that has diverted the percentage allocation of 14 ½ cents of gas tax into the Motor Vehicle Fund rather than into the dedicated accounts for boating facilities, off-road vehicles (“NOVA” account), and snowmobiling.  The legislation targets the year 2031 to fix this issue.


Support Items

Making permanent the optional authority for cities and counties to use “REET” proceeds for Parks M&O, and ‘harmonizing’ the first and second quarter percent REET – HB 2122; SSB 5585:  The HB 2122 legislation moved to the House Floor Calendar last Wednesday and appears to be the 2015 Session ‘vehicle’ since SSB 5585 is still stuck in Rules.  This bill would continue to provide some flexibility for cities and counties in the use of their REET proceeds – but not the amount we would like it to.   2122 allows cities and counties to permanently use either $100,000 or 25 percent of available 2nd-quarter-percent REET proceeds, up to $1 million annually, for operations and maintenance of existing capital projects as defined in REET II.  Cities and counties will need to be able to show that “adequate funding” exists for these capital facilities within their six-year plans.  The bill does not do much in the way of ‘harmonizing REET II proceeds with the broad array of purposes allowed under REET I.  

Protecting Recreational Liability Immunity (Policy Bill):  No policy bill forthcoming for 2015.

Advocate for key “Safe and Healthy Communities” needs, local funding, and “lid removal” in any Transportation Investment Package worked on in 2015 (New Revenue):  Last Monday, the Senate voted 27-22 and 41-8, respectively, on the revenue (ESSB 5987) and “additive funding” (ESSB 5988) bills that make up the transportation revenue package.   The 16-year revenue package contain these funding levels for some of our priority items:  1) Bicycle and pedestrian funding and Safe Routes to Schools – a total of $106 million; 2) Direct funding distributions for cities and counties - $375 million; 3) Local financing options for cities and counties – allows City Councils and County Councils with adopted Transportation Benefit Districts (TBDs) to impose up to a $40 Vehicle License Fee as one of the TBD financing mechanisms (current ‘councilmanic’ maximum is $20); 4) “Complete Streets” – $160 million for grants over 16 years; and 5) a percentage of the 11.7 cents in new gas tax is deposited in the dedicated accounts for the Boating Facilities Program, “NOVA,” and snowmobiling. 

Another bill, SB 5724, sought to ensure a minimum amount of federal pass-through funding ($10.4 million a biennium) for the Safe Routes to Schools program.  That bill did not move out of the Senate Transportation Committee and may be “dead” for the 2015 Session.

On the “local options” front, HB 1757 by former Tacoma City Council Member Jake Fey (D-Tacoma/27th Dist.) remains in the House Rules Committee.  We support this bill, which increases from $20 to $50 (as opposed to $40 in the package above) the ‘councilmanic’ maximum Vehicle License Fee a city or county can impose if it has a TBD.  However, House Leadership has determined this issues will be decided via the larger transportation package and 1757 appears to be ‘dead’ as a stand-alone bill.

Support general-obligation bonds to restore a prior-year diversion of funds from the Recreation Resource Account (RRA) (Capital Budget): We continue to support recreational boating organizations, Ports, and sport fishing groups in their effort to allocate a one-time $3.3 million in general obligation bonds in the 2015-17 Capital Budget to restore funding diverted from the Recreation Resource Account (RRA) in 2012.   Recreational boating interests pitched this one several times last Monday during their lobby day in Olympia.

Support legislation to remove the 23-cent “lid” on the amount of fuel tax deposited into non-highway-purpose accounts for boating, off-road-vehicle, and snowmobiling infrastructure (Policy Bill; Transportation Budget):  See above for information on SHB 1738.

Protect funding for dedicated accounts within the Capital Budget (Capital Budget):  We have shared with Capital Budget negotiators our concern over the Governor’s budget diverting about half of the $7 million for the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account.  The Governor’s budget uses those diverted funds to help prop up the Operating Budget for the Department of Natural Resources and other resource agencies.  .

Protect and if possible expand authority for use of Metropolitan Park Districts (MPDs) (Policy Bill):  We’re not aware of any bill. 

Easing property tax ‘suppression’ pressures on MPDs/Parks Districts: (Policy bill):  We’re not aware of any bill on this front.  A bill put forth on behalf of the King County Flood Control Zone District, SHB 1940/SSB 5799, does not appear to have an adverse impact on the Si View Parks District.  5799 passed off the Senate Floor last Wednesday on a 46-2 vote.

Amend the Public Records Act to protect the identities of immediate family members and guardians of children who enroll in parks and recreation programs (Policy bill):  Last Thursday, 5396 passed unanimously off the Senate Floor; last Friday, 1554 moved to the House Floor Calendar.  5396, which we support, already has been scheduled for a hearing in the House this coming Thursday.  These bills amend state law on protecting the identities of children enrolled in parks and recreation and other youth and early learning programs.  They add parents of children, and in-home guardians for children, to the list of those whose names can’t be released.

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