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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist 01/19/2016

REMINDER – WRPA/WWRC ADVOCACY DAY THURSDAY, JAN. 28:  We hope you’ve all booked your calendars for our second consecutive joint advocacy day with our colleagues from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition (WWRC).  Start your morning with a briefing at the Olympia Women’s Club, meet with your area legislators, hear from key players on the Capital Budget over the noon hour, and top the day off with a reception at the Governor’s Mansion (space limited, prior registration required).  We’re excited to see all of you, and hope you will come join us!***

The first week of the 2016 Session featured the usual assortment of events – swearing in of new Members on Monday, and the Governor’s “State of the State” address on Tuesday.  But it also began with some partisan wrangling between Senate Republican leaders of the Law and Justice Committee and both the Governor and Senate Democratic Leadership.  

At issue is whether the Governor’s investigation of major early-prisoner-release errors by the Department of Corrections is independent enough and whether the Senate Law & Justice Committee should exercise subpoena power to conduct its own investigation.  As Senators held a fact-finding hearing and grilled DOC and Executive Branch officials, the Governor angrily denied the ‘not-independent-enough’ charge.  Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson (D-West Seattle/34th Dist.) issued a statement urging her GOP counterparts to save the politics for the November election.  Here are a few articles that give you a sense of the testiness back and forth:

That political tiff aside, it was a very typical first several days for those of us on the ground, as we worked to get bills introduced, tracked the hundreds of new bills hitting the “Introduction Sheets,” and covered a wide variety of hearings and work sessions.

For WRPA, it was a very good Week 1.  The bill to update the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) is out and up for a Senate hearing; our recreational immunity bill has been prepared; and the early reception on our Boating Facilities Program funding priority has been extremely positive.
Following is an overview of where we stand on 2016 priority items, and then a bullet-style rundown of other issues that impact us.  A list of some Week 2 hearings is on Page 5 with recommendations on whether we should testify, sign in, or monitor bills in play.

WRPA Top Priorities

Support Updates & Refinements to WWRP While Preserving Structure, Integrity of Program
The Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) request bills, SB 6227/HB 2509, has been introduced.  As is protocol with Executive- or Agency-request bills impacting the Capital Budget, the bill is prime-sponsored by House Capital Budget Chair Steve Tharinger (D-Dungeness/24th Dist.) and Senate Ways & Means Capital Budget lead Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside/15th Dist.).  We are supportive of this bill, which would greatly simplify the WWRP funding-allocation formula to a ’45-45-10’ approach that slightly increases overall funding for local parks and trails.  The legislation also would tilt a bit more Local Parks category funding to development projects, directing the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board to allocate no less than 40 percent, and no more than 50 percent, to acquisition (vs. the current 50/50 assumption).  While we anticipate numerous Senators looking for a more pronounced change in development vs. acquisition funding across the board, and while groups such as WWRC have some fine-tuning ideas, the legislation has been well-received thus far.  6227 has been scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. Thursday hearing in the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee.  I am planning to testify in support.

Boating Facilities Program -- Appropriation in 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget
We’re very supportive of a $4.85 million allocation in the Governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget (SB 6201/HB 2380) for the BFP.  This funding in Sec. 3008 of the budget is not new money, but rather a proposal to expedite and put to use the first-year funding from the marine-fuel tax portion of the 11.9-cent gas tax the 2015 Legislature approved as part of the 16-year, $16.1 billion “Connecting Washington” transportation package.  As I noted, legislators we have met with are very supportive of this allocation, as it allows more state agency and local agency boating facilities projects to be funded without impacting Capital Budget capacity.

Clarifying and Reinforcing Recreational Liability Immunity for Multi-Purpose Trails
We thank Senate Transportation Committee Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima/15th Dist.) for his prime-sponsorship of SB 6384, legislation to clarify the “recreational immunity” statute (RCW 4.24.210) in state law.  The 6384 legislation attempts to clarify that trails which are dual-purpose in nature, and may have transportation-related funds in their overall financing, should still remain ‘covered’ under recreational immunity laws.  While the Camicia vs. Howard S. Wright Construction and City of Mercer Island case spurred the drafting of this legislation, we’re now aware of other troubling cases in Bothell and elsewhere.  We don’t want to see parks and recreation agencies face major liability exposure questions in the building or extending of trail systems just because they have both bicycle-commuter and recreation functions.  Look for groups representing trial lawyers and bicyclists to register concerns/opposition to this legislation – we have meetings scheduled with both.  No hearing has yet been scheduled on 6384, which is being referred to Senator King’s Committee.

Governor’s “Healthiest Next Generation” Initiative
We have let all of you know that the Governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2016 Operating Budget (SB 6246/HB 2376) includes $246,000 in ongoing funding and staffing support for the ‘HNG’ initiative.  The funds are in Sec. 219(15) for all you policy wonks out there.  It will be several more weeks before we see the Legislature’s Operating Budget leads trot out their versions of an operating budget.  As a practical matter, while we strongly support the Healthiest Next Generation work, we have urged the Governor’s Office to give more consideration and attention to ‘built environment’ programs that keep people healthy and active, such as the Youth Athletic Facilities (YAF) portion of the Capital Budget and of course WWRP.

WRPA Support/Oppose Items

Support funding and policy initiatives to address growing mental health, human services, and homelessness issues in local communities:  The 2016 Session is quickly becoming known as one where we will see a series of proposals offered to authorize local option tools to address affordable housing.  Among these are HB 2544/SB 6239, HB 2395, HB 2397, all of which are being heard in Week 2.  2544/6239 is a Seattle-promoted bill to extend the multi-family housing property tax exemption program for new construction to preservation of existing affordable housing.  2395 would assess a fee on developers who convert affordable housing into condominiums.  2397 would assess a fee on developers who are demolishing or “taking down” affordable housing units.  The Seattle bill, which focuses the property tax exemption on the local share only and is sponsored in the Senate by Floor Leader Joe Fain (R-Auburn/47th Dist.), likely has the best chance of passage among these bills.  6239 had a hearing Monday (1/18) in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

Provide Flexibility for Counties to Use Some Conservation Futures Proceeds Toward M&O
Nothing to report coming out of Week 1.

Protect funding for dedicated accounts within the Capital Budget
Nothing new to report coming out of Week 1.

Oppose legislation to prematurely place a moratorium on use of crumb-rubber materials for turf fields, but support efforts to further study whether the material presents measurable health risks
While we have not yet seen a moratorium bill on the crumb-rubber front, we have seen the introduction of HB 2547 by Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-Seattle/46th Dist.).  2547 has been referred to the House Environment Committee and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.  I want to thank Andrew Austin of Metro Parks Tacoma, who will be joining me this Friday for a meeting with the Committee Chair, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien/34th Dist.).  I have already talked with Committee Vice-Chair Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds/21st Dist.), who does not support the 2547 legislation.  While 2547 does not call for an outright moratorium on the installation of crumb-rubber, it has some pretty slanted language in the intent section and has Section 3 provisions that essentially allow the Department of Ecology to veto the use of crumb-rubber for any fields project if a broad array of conditions are not met.

”Big Tent” Outdoor Recreation Coalition – 4th Annual Rally Day, Wednesday, Feb. 3
The fourth version of the Big Tent’s Rally Day will be its biggest ever, and will actually be held in a (heated) Big Tent on the Capital Campus grounds.  While the Rally Day will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the program porition of the day is set for 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  Confirmed speakers include Governor Inslee, former Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, and Senators Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island/40th Dist.) and Andy Hill (R-Redmond/45th Dist.).  A tentative additional speaker is mountaineering legend Jim Whittaker.  Lastly, the Governor’s new outdoor recreation sector lead, Jon Snyder, will be part of the program as well.
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