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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist: 02/22/2016

The universe of bills narrowed in Week 6 as legislators passed a key cutoff deadline on the Floor, and supplemental budgets moved closer to being released amid news that the state’s revenue outlook took another hit (albeit a mild one).

There are now only three weeks left in this short 60-day Session, and final “opposite house” Committee cutoffs will arrive quickly:  This coming Friday (Feb. 26) for policy committees; and the Monday after that (Feb. 29) for fiscal committees.  Meanwhile, the budget debates will take up more of the spotlight as we see Monday rollouts of both House Operating and Transportation budgets; Wednesday and Thursday unveilings of the House and Senate Capital budgets, respectively; and Wednesday introductions of the Senate Operating and Transportation budgets.

Here’s a quick preview regarding what we know about these budgets and some of the key issues yet to be wrestled over (NOTE:  Look below for what I know about specific Operating and Capital items pertaining to WRPA):

Operating Budget:  Last Wednesday’s revenue forecast, showing another $67 million downturn in available revenue for the remainder of the 2015-17 biennium, puts even more of a squeeze on an Operating Budget that was expected to be extremely ‘minimalist’ in terms of new funding.  We will see if proposals by the Governor to close selected tax exemptions to bump up teacher salaries will have any traction with the House; we certainly don’t expect they will with the Senate.

Capital Budget:  With Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) revenues in freefall, look for both chambers to recommend pausing and delaying appropriations for cleanups and stormwater projects.  The Governor had recommended using $26 million in bonds to help reduce the shortfall, but I’ve confirmed neither the House nor the Senate is going that route.

Transportation Budget:  We believe that both the House and Senate will direct the State Transportation Commission to use emergency rule-making procedures to effect changes in the operation of the Interstate 405 toll lanes (for example, new ingress/egress points near Bothell, and making the lanes free on evenings, weekends, and holidays).  The Senate and House are likely to have differences in whether and how to advance a “road user charge” initiative, and a disagreement over the source of funding they recommend to address below-market salaries for the Washington State Patrol (Senate will propose multi-modal funds, we’re told; House will suggest vehicle fee monies).

Descending from the 20,000-foot level to WRPA-specific priorities, we can consider Week 6 a good one, chiefly due to more forward progress for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) reform bill.  Following is an overview of where we stand on 2016 WRPA priority and support issues, and then a bullet-style rundown of other issues impacting us.  A list of some Week 7 hearings is at the end of this report (Pg. 4-5).

WRPA Top Priorities

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

SSB 6227 had a very short, but very good hearing last Friday morning in the House Capital Budget Committee.  I joined Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition Interim Director Andrea McNamara Doyle and Recreation Conservation Office Director Kaleen Cottingham in testifying in strong support of the legislation.  We expect some minor amendments to 6227 by the House, including a more limited “emergency clause” than the Senate bill.  For local parks and recreation staff, 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, and a change to the acquisition vs. development formula for Local Parks that steers a bit more funding toward development projects (“no less than 40 percent” and “no more than 50 percent” for acquisition). Other key pieces:  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 ‘confer’ with local communities; and language that calls upon the Recreation and Conservation Office to determine methods of providing “under-served” communities with potential match reductions or waivers.  One late amendment to 6227 involves the riparian account part of the bill.  It had been simply repealed in the initial bill, but because it has some leftover 2015-17 funds, that must be changed in a technical amendment.

Boating Facilities Program -- Appropriation in 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget

All signals appear to be very, very good on this one.  We’re looking for the Legislature to mimic the Governor’s proposed $4.85 million allocation in the 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. 

Clarifying and Reinforcing Recreational Liability Immunity for Multi-Purpose Trails

Nothing new to report – this one will become an interim project.  SB 6384 has ‘died’ for the 2016 Session.

Governor’s “Healthiest Next Generation” Initiative

We will learn on Monday if this one makes its way into the House’s version of the Supplemental Operating Budget.  The Governor’s proposed 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

Emerging Issue -- $200,000 Operating Budget proviso to study ways to better integrate state and recreational passes – and possibly to look to achieve single-pass systems:  We sent information on this budget proviso around to the WRPA Executive Board and Legislative Committee.  My best guess is that we will see something in the House and Senate Operating Budgets, largely because this study can be done without new money.  Rather, the funding would come out of existing Discover Pass revenues collected by State Parks, WDFW, and the Department of Natural Resources.

Support funding and policy initiatives to address growing mental health, human services, and homelessness issues in local communities – 2SSB 6239:  As I shared with you, virtually all other affordable housing bills other than 2SSB 6239 have ‘died’ for the 2016 Session.  However, 6239 passed out of the Senate last Tuesday on a 36-13 vote. It now heads to the House Community Development, Housing, and Tribal Affairs, where it is scheduled for a hearing on Monday afternoon. 6239 is the Seattle-promoted bill offering a 10-year local property tax exemption to owners of multi-family housing who will agree to preserve and improve existing housing stock and keep rents constant.  The AWC and numerous cities support this legislation.

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

As we foreshadowed in last week’s report, SB 5614 did indeed remain in Senate Rules and did not come up for a Floor vote before Wednesday’s cutoff deadline.  It means this WRPA-supported legislation has ‘died’ for the 2016 Session.  Clark County and Spokane County had taken the lead role on 5614.

Protect funding for dedicated accounts within the Capital Budget

I had reported last week that both Sens. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside/15th Dist.) and Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines/33rd Dist.), the respective Capital Budget leads for their Caucuses, had interest in finding $500,000 in the 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget for 10 washing or “de-contamination” stations where the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife would spray boats to prevent the carrying of invasive species.  One area evaluated for the funds was the re-directing of $500,000 from Boating Facilities Program funds.  We believe that idea has now been abandoned, since it has been determined that such de-contamination stations could technically qualify for BFP funds.  We’ll see what happens when the Senate Capital Budget emerges next week.

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

As we reported, PSHB 2547 and SB 6540 have ‘died’ for the 2016 Session.  We will have more to discuss on this topic in the interim.

”Big Tent” Outdoor Recreation Coalition

Nothing new to report.

Quick Snapshot on Other Issues of interest/impact to WRPA

  • Speaking out on the chipping away of Discover Pass revenues – SSB 6297, SB 5137, etc.:  Senator Kevin Ranker (D-San Juan Islands/40th Dist.) has asked lobbyists representing outdoor recreation to speak out on this one.  His point is that legislation which exempts certain people from Discover Pass fee obligations, or chips away at Discover Pass revenue, may look “OK” in singular form but becomes dangerous in the aggregate.  6297 which allows small counties to potentially keep more Discover Pass infraction revenue, and 6137 which gives 100 percent disability returning veterans a free Discover Pass, are two examples.  A letter on this issue went out last Friday.
  • Tourism promotion legislation – ESB 5916, HB 2552:  Neither of these bills is going to pass, and the Washington Tourism Alliance asked our help on supporting a proposed $400,000 “bridge funding” budget proviso to help with WTA website and printing costs.  My thanks to President Brad Case for sending an e-mail on this one to House Appropriatons Chair Hans Dunshee.
  • Restore liquor revenues – HB 2438, removing the cap on liquor revolving account funds and gradually restoring the 50/50 percentage split between the state and local governments: Cities are working with HB 2438 bill sponsor Terry Nealey (R-Dayton/16th Dist.) and ‘Local Government Champions Caucus’ convener Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.) to get critical face time with House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen (R-Arlington/39th Dist.) and House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle/43rd Dist.), respectively.  Assuming these meetings are set up, the idea is to have representatives of cities, law enforcement officers, and firefighters in the room along with Reps. Nealey and Senn.  Representatives of organized labor met with Speaker Chopp last week and plugged 2438.
  • Bills to extend the life of the Invasive Species Council (SB 6162/HB 2331) and the Habitat Lands Coordinating Group (SB 6296/HB 2493):  With these bills, it is less a question of whether they will pass than which bills will pass.  6162 passed the Senate unanimously and will be heard this coming Friday at 8 a.m. in the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.  Companion 2331 has already passed the House and been heard in the Senate Natural Resources & Parks Committee.  Meanwhile, 6296 is due to pass out of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee this Tuesday, while companion 2493 is up for a hearing this Wednesday in the Senate Natural Resources & Parks Committee.  6162/2331 extends the sunset date for the Invasive Species Council from 2017 to 2022, while 6296/2493 adds 10 years of statutory life to the Habitat Lands Coordinating Group.
  • 2SHB 2667/SSB 6377 – Allowing the State Parks & Recreation Commission to use majority (rather than unanimous) votes to approve long-term leases beyond 20 years:  These bills as initially envisioned are likely ‘dead’ for the 2016 Session.  There appears to be some chance that 2667 can be declared Necessary to Implement the Budget (NTIB) and trimmed down to a pilot project just for a pending Saint Edward State Park proposal.  We in WRPA have testified in support of these companion bills by Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Lake Forest Park/46th Dist.) and Sen. Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe/39th Dist.). 
  • SHB 2334, regarding the sales taxation of martial arts:  This bill has passed the House and now awaits a hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.  2334 exempts from sales tax any yoga, chi gong, and martial arts activities not held in a gym or fitness center. This bill is a follow-up to the 2015 bill that we (WRPA) worked on around taxation of recreation and amusement activities.  The fact that 2334 has only a $157,000 fiscal impact for the remainder of the 2015-17 biennium gives it a chance.
  • Public Records Act reform – 2SHB 2576:  This bill also has been declared “NTIB” and may be brought to a vote Monday on the House Floor.  As amended, 2SHB 2576 includes:  1) more-abbreviated language allowing local agencies the opportunity to set “reasonable” time and hours limits on the resources they use to respond to public records requests; 2) language noting that requests for “all or substantially all” records does not constitute a legitimate request and thus may be denied; 3) a provision noting that strictly-computer-generated or ‘bots’ requests are not legitimate and thus may be denied; 4) establishment of an interim Task Force that will look at a new Commission to resolve public records disputes, and possible approaches for dealing with cost recovery of “commercial purpose” requests. 
  • HB 2427, local government modernization:  2427 passed out of the House 95-2 last Tuesday. It is now headed to Senate Government Operations, where it is up for a hearing this Thursday. We are supportive of the provision in the legislation to explicitly authorize local governments to use electronic signatures for formal document recording. 
  • SSB 6363, ensuring public access considerations when a bridge across a river or waterway is constructed, rebuilt, or replaced:  Recreational boating groups are promoting this piece of legislation, which passed unanimously off the Senate Floor last Wednesday and is due for a hearing this coming Monday in House Transportation.  Because this bill only requires the Washington State Department of Transportation to “consider” recreational access, and leaving intact public access, it is not binding in nature.  But for recreational boating groups, it is a start.
  • EHB 2971 – reporting use of REET: This bill is designed to clarify and narrow some the reporting requirements from a REET flexibility bill (EHB 2122) passed during the 2015 Special Session.  2971 passed out of the House last Tuesday on a 96-2 vote, and is dues for a hearing this coming Tuesday in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

EHB 1918, modifying provisions applicable to off-road, non-highway, and wheeled all-terrain vehicles and their drivers:  This bill passed the House on a 92-5 vote and is up for a hearing on Monday afternoon in Senate Transportation.  The bill focuses mostly on liability, titling, and safety-inspection issues, but does have provisions enabling out-of-state-licensed ATVs to be exempted from registration requirements in Washington if the other state has a similar reciprocal exemption.    

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