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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist 02/02/2016

***THANKS FOR A GREAT WRPA/WWRC ADVOCACY DAY:  It was a pleasure to see so many familiar faces last Thursday in the hallways of Olympia!  Dozens of you attended our second consecutive joint advocacy day with our colleagues from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition (WWRC).  I hope the morning training, the noon-hour session with key leaders on outdoor recreation (Sens. Judy Warnick and Karen Keiser, Rep. Steve Tharinger, and the Governor’s outdoor recreation adviser Jon Snyder), and your own in-office meetings made the day a success.  Some of you capped the day with the evening reception in the Governor’s Mansion.  I want to extend my appreciation to our President-Elect Cheryl Fraser for her comments at the reception, to Brittany Jarnot of my office for all of her work in setting up advocacy day, to WWRC for its efforts, and to all of you for making the time.***

Week 3 of the 2016 Legislative Session was a lively one, to be sure.

The week begin with controversial State Senator Pam Roach (R-Sumner/31st Dist.) being booted off a human trafficking task force for alleged disparaging comments she made to Task Force members and sex trafficking victims.  Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen rebuked Roach, though he has no authority to do more than that. 

Additionally, the House passed a future-education-funding framework bill (ESHB 2366) last Monday, with all but 14 House Republicans voting “no.”  The legislation now moves to the Senate, where, depending on what news media outlet you rely upon, the legislation simply requires a couple of minor course corrections or is doomed to receive “zero votes” in the Senate K-12 Education and Early Learning Committee unless a couple major changes are made.

Finally, a Senate Republican from Spokane rolled out a bill to pre-empt local governments from regulating things like wages and sick leave, while a group of activists intent on doing away with the Interstate 405 High-Occupancy-Toll (HOT) lanes took aim at a Committee Chair.

Following are several links, in this order: An editorial in The Olympian on the Pam Roach matter; both Tacoma News Tribune and Crosscut articles on the K-12 education funding measure; a Seattle Times piece on the legislation by Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane/6th Dist.) to pre-empt local authority over wages and leave; and two articles on the 405 HOT Lanes – one by a hard-core radio host dubbing House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.) the “woman who will kill the I-405 express toll lane fix” and one documenting travel-time savings being provided by those same 405 HOT lanes.

This coming week is an important policy committee cutoff on the legislative calendar.  For well over 1,000 bills, the end of the day Friday, Feb. 5 marks a deadline for policy bills to either clear their committee or “die” for the Session (though of course provisions of ‘dead’ bills can be amended onto live ones).

For WRPA it was a rewarding week in many ways, but a disappointing Week 3 for one of our priority issues.

Following is an overview of where we stand on 2016 priority items, and then a bullet-style rundown of other issues that impact us.  

WRPA Top Priorities

Support Updates & Refinements to WWRP While Preserving Structure, Integrity of Program

Good news!  SB 6227 passed unanimously out of the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee last Thursday with a few minor amendments.  Amendments to the bill would define what it means for state natural agencies to “confer” with local governments on their projects; would clarify the definition of “multiple benefits” on habitat conservation projects; and would add an emergency clause to ensure that the Recreation and Conservation Office can begin to implement WWRP changes quickly.  The underlying 6227/2509 would simplify the funding-allocation formula for WWRP and move slightly more Local Parks category projects to development (vs. acquisitions).  Just as 6227 cleared its Senate Committee, so too do we expect HB 2509 to clear the House Capital Budget Committee, with a few amendments, on Tuesday.

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.  President-Elect Cheryl Fraser made a point of thanking the Governor during the reception for including this in his budget proposal.

Clarifying and Reinforcing Recreational Liability Immunity for Multi-Purpose Trails

The decision last week by our prime sponsor to shelve SB 6384 for the Session, and kick the issue into interim discussions, was a disappointment.  Still, we knew there were strong forces opposing this legislation.  We thank Senate Transportation Committee Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima/15th Dist.) for his prime-sponsorship of SB 6384, designed to clarify the “recreational immunity” statute (RCW 4.24.210) in state law.  The bill clarified 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.  We will now endeavor to work with bicycling groups and others over the interim.

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) of the budget.  Nothing new beyond that to report on this one as the Legislature’s take on the 2016 Supplemental Operating Budget is still a few weeks away.

WRPA Support/Oppose Items

Support funding and policy initiatives to address growing mental health, human services, and homelessness issues in local communities – several affordable housing bills:  The new kid on the block among a series of affordable housing bills in play is HB 2843, due for a hearing on Monday in the House Community Development, Housing, and Tribal Affairs Committee.  This legislation would achieve funding for affordable housing with a local option property tax exemption, and a payment in lieu of taxes.  HB 2544/SB 6239 are both due to move out of their policy committees this coming week.  The Seattle-promoted bill offers a local property tax exemption to owners of multi-family housing who will agree to preserve and upgrade existing affordable housing.  There will likely be an amendment to these bills that will allow county legislative authorities to opt into this program for the county portion of the property tax.  Week 4 Executive Session action is also possible for HB 2395 and HB 2397.  HB 2395 would assess a fee on developers who convert affordable housing into condominiums.  HB 2397 would assess a fee on developers who are demolishing or “taking down” affordable housing units.

Provide Flexibility for Counties to Use Some Conservation Futures Proceeds Toward M&O

Nothing new to report. SB 5614 remains one step away from being placed on the Senate Floor Calendar.  We support 5614.

Protect funding for dedicated accounts within the Capital Budget

Nothing new to report.

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

We are conveying our preference that HB 2547 by Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-Seattle/46th Dist.) not move out of the House Environment Committee as we believe the bill is very premature.  2547 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.  A substitute version of 2547 is narrower but still problematic.  Sen. Maralyn Chase (D-Shoreline/32nd Dist.) has introduced SB 6540, a bill similar to 2547.

”Big Tent” Outdoor Recreation Coalition – 4th Annual Rally Day, Wednesday, Feb. 3

Here it comes!  The fourth version of the Big Tent’s Rally Day will be held for the first time 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 portion of the day is set for 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  Speakers will include Governor Inslee; mountain climbing legend Jim Whittaker; former Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann; Senators Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island/40th Dist.) and Andy Hill (R-Redmond/45th Dist.); Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.); and the Governor’s outdoor recreation adviser Jon Snyder.  My thanks to Paul Simmons of Olympia, who I believe will be manning the WRPA-sponsored booth at this event.

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