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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist 02/08/2016

In any other week, what we saw in the first few days of Week 4 would qualify as blockbuster news.  Longtime Sen. Don Benton (R-Vancouver/17th Dist.) announced he would not be running for re-election.  A couple of days later, Rep. Graham Hunt (R-Orting/2nd Dist.) resigned from his seat after the Seattle Times published information about Hunt exaggerating several parts of his military record.  A “Gender Pay Equity” bill passed off the House Floor.  And Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson announced a proposal to seek over $300 million – much of it from the state’s “Rainy Day” fund – to address homelessness.

But all that paled in comparison to the whoppers we saw Friday on the Senate Floor and Saturday via a resignation e-mail. 

First, on Friday afternoon, without much lead time given to the minority party, Senate Majority Coalition Members brought the confirmation of Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Lynn Peterson to the Senate Floor.  As clarification, an Agency Director or gubernatorial nominee can serve without formal Senate confirmation (and many do), but if the Senate takes a formal vote not to confirm, the nominee’s service is officially ended.  Such was the case with a hyper-emotional debate and party-line 25-21 vote to de-confirm Peterson and essentially force her ouster.  Depending on one’s perspective, it was either the culmination of a series of WSDOT missteps over the Alaskan Way Viaduct, State Route 520 bridge-replacement pontoons, and 405 toll lanes; or it was a blatantly political move to oust a Secretary who had performed well in the wake of a Skagit River Bridge collapse and a massive landslide in Oso.  I’ve learned that Deputy Secretary Roger Millar, himself a fairly recent Peterson hire with a “Smart Growth” background, will now be Acting Secretary.

As if Friday’s fireworks were not enough, Department of Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke set off another round on Saturday.  In the aftermath of the stunning news that DOC had made some 13 years of computer errors which led to the inappropriate early release of some violent felons, Pacholke made his resignation known to Senate Law & Justice Committee Chair Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley/4th Dist.).  “I notify you now of my resignation. I hope it helps meet your need for blood,” Pacholke wrote in an e-mail to Sen. Padden.

The Peterson ouster of Friday, combined with the Pacholke resignation of Saturday, casts a major pall over the inter-party relationships in Olympia and whether lawmakers will find the common ground to achieve much of substance in the remaining weeks of the 2016 Session.  With speculation that an ouster of the Health Care Authority Director could be in the offing (HCA budget overruns have Senate Ways & Means Committee members seeing red), the tinder-box relationships in the Capital could get worse before they get any better.

We shared with you Friday a Seattle Times article on the Secretary Peterson firing, as well as Governor Inslee’s statement on the matter.  Here are links to Everett Herald coverage and a statement by House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.), with a link on the Pacholke resignation:

Underneath all that, Week 4 was a pretty good one for WRPA.  The legislation to update the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program is progressing extremely well, a “crumb rubber” bill we thought was very premature has ‘died,’ and we participated in a Big Tent Outdoor Recreation Coalition Rally Day that was a rousing success.

Following is an overview of where we stand on 2016 WRPA priority and support issues, and then a bullet-style rundown of other issues that impact us.  A list of a few Week 5 hearings is at the end of this report (Page 5).

WRPA Top Priorities

Support Updates/Refinements to WWRP While Preserving Structure, Integrity of Program (SSB 6227/SHB 2509)

Holy Cow!  SSB 6227 passed unanimously off the Senate Floor last Wednesday – during Big Tent Rally Day, no less. with a few minor amendments.  Meanwhile, the House companion, SHB 2509, passed out of the Capital Budget Committee last Tuesday. One of the main differences in the amendments to 2509 vs. 6227 is a narrower emergency clause in the House bill.  For WRPA purposes, key pieces of the underlying bills involve a much-simplified allocation formula (“45/45/10”) that would put slightly more WWRP money into the local parks and trails categories; a working assumption of 60 percent development in the Local Parks category (“no less than 40 percent” for acquisition, and “no more than 50 percent”); direction that state agencies must show some of the same due diligence and consistency in their projects that we have to show in ours; and language that calls upon the Recreation and Conservation Office to determine methods of providing “under-served” communities with potential match reductions or waivers.  Amendments to both bills define what it means for state natural agencies to “confer” with local governments on their projects; and clarify the definition of “multiple benefits” on habitat conservation projects. In the meantime, here is a very nice editorial on the WWRP and the bills to refine it:

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.  I had very positive meetings on this budget item last week with Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside/15th Dist.), the Senate’s Capital Budget lead, and Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines/33rd Dist.), the Ranking Democrat for Capital Budget on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Clarifying and Reinforcing Recreational Liability Immunity for Multi-Purpose Trails

Nothing new to report.  SB 6384 will ‘die’ for the Session and we are being asked to convene interim discussions, principally with bicycling groups.

Governor’s “Healthiest Next Generation” Initiative

Nothing new to report.  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.

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:  With the cutoff deadline, we now have a dwindling list of local-option and toolbox bills to help local governments finance additional affordable housing units.  One of those still ‘alive’ is SHB 2843, which allows local governments to offer a limited local property tax exemption  to those in their community who would, in return, contribute a “payment in lieu of taxes” to an affordable housing fund.  Pending in the House Finance and Senate Ways & Means Committees, respectively, is SHB 2544/SSB 6239.  These City of Seattle-promoted billsoffer a 10-year local property tax exemption to owners of multi-family housing who will agree to preserve and upgrade existing affordable housing.  Other affordable housing bills have ‘died.’

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

SB 5614 remains one step away from being placed on the Senate Floor Calendar.  With the Senate Rules Committee meeting today (Feb. 8), it is very possible 5614 will advance to the Floor Calendar.  We support 5614.

Protect funding for dedicated accounts within the Capital Budget

I learned late last week that both Sens. Honeyford and Keiser are very interested in finding $500,000 in the 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget for a noble cause:  establishing 10 washing stations where the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife would spray boats coming into state waters to prevent the carrying of invasive species.  However, one area where staff is looking to get the funds is by re-directing $500,000 from Boating Facilities Program funds.  That is problematic, because the BFP is a dedicated infrastructure account, created by a voter initiative.  We thank Sens. Honeyford and Keiser for giving us some time and room to work on other funding ideas to achieve the aforementioned $500,000 allocation.

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

The House Environment Committee did not have the necessary votes to pass SHB 2547 last Thursday, so it is “dead” for the Session.  A similar Senate bill, SB 6540, never received a hearing.  Both of these bills would have allowed the Department of Ecology to veto the installation of crumb rubber in turf fields if a series of environmental conditions were not met.  While we remain open to further study of the impacts of crumb rubber – which our Department of Health and the State of California are doing -- we opposed these bills as premature, since no current studies have shown an elevated health risk from crumb-rubber fields.  FYI, here is a video that was e-mailed to us on the subject.  It brings its own perspective, of course, but is pretty well done:

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

The fourth version of the Big Tent’s Rally Day will easily go down as the biggest and best one in the organization’s brief history!  Hundreds of participants, vendors, and elected officials came to the heated Big Tent on the Capital grounds, with several luminaries participating in a program from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  Our sincere thanks to a series of very powerful and compelling speakers on the value and benefits of outdoor recreation and the outdoor recreation economy:  Governor Jay Inslee; Outdoor Research, Inc. CEO Dan Nordstrom; the Governor’s new Outdoor Recreation advisor Jon Snyder; legendary mountain climber Jim Whittaker; former Sounders FC goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann; Senators Andy Hill (R-Redmond/45th Dist.) and Kevin Ranker (D-San Juan Islands/40th Dist.); and Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.).

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