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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist: 03/07/2016

It’s only a matter of (four) days now.

Legislators completed their consideration of “opposite house” bills on the Floor last Friday, and the remaining Week 9 days of Session will be budget-dominated.  Negotiators still need to finish their 2016 Supplemental Operating, Capital and Transportation budgets before going home to the interim and to the campaign trail. 

The Transportation Budget work is nearly done, and Capital negotiators we spoke with on Friday and over the weekend are increasingly encouraged about the odds of concluding work on that budget.  The big wild card remains the Operating Budget, where significant differences remain over everything from whether (or how much) to tap into the Rainy-Day fund; new-revenue vs. cuts approaches to the budget; and more.  There is some conjecture around the Capital that lawmakers don’t have to have a Supplemental Operating Budget – a notion the Governor’s Office has tried very hard to quell by pointing out that a 2016 budget is pivotal for things like wildfire funding, Western State Hospital and the funding for the Health Care Authority.

Budgets aside, one action item these last days involves Senate Floor and House Floor time for the chambers to work through “Concurrence/Dispute” calendars.  These calendars are for bills that passed out of both chambers, but with differing language provisions and amendments.  House/Senate Members have to decide whether to concur on or “refuse to concur” on bills changed by their Senate/House counterparts.

Back on budgets, here are some unresolved items we have to work on down the homestretch:

Operating Budget:  While both Operating Budgets protect most “state-shared” revenues and include new mental health and homelessness assistance funds, cities and counties are in ‘damage control’ mode with regard to these Senate-proposed cuts or cost shifts:  no new funding for Basic Law Enforcement Academy training classes and a ratcheting up of the percentage of costs local governments would have to bear; July 1, 2017 elimination of funding for fire insurance tax premium distributions for LEOFF 1; July 1, 2017 elimination of funding for the Municipal Research Service Center (MRSC); a proposed merger of the LEOFF 1 and Teachers’ Retirement System 1(TRS 1); and a Medicaid waiver for the HCA that can be used for homelessness assistance support services.  I’m working to see if both House Democrat and House Republican Members of the “Local Government Champions Caucus” can weigh in with concerns about these items.

Capital Budget:  The two chambers have to agree on how to address a nearly $80 million shortfall in Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) revenues.  Additionally, the House put significantly more money ($17.1 million) into the “Local/Community Projects” category than the Senate did.  We have spent a lot of time this past 1-2 weeks trying to protect previously appropriated funding for stormwater projects that are critical to local governments.  The House has been more prone to protect stormwater funding at the expense of Remedial Action Grants for toxic-site cleanups; the Senate’s budget is more kind to RAG cleanup funds.  I’m told by negotiators that they are optimistic the chasm can be bridged.

Transportation Budget:  While the House and Senate agree on salary increases for Washington State Patrol (WSP) troopers, the remaining to-do item is to determine how much and what funding source to use.  We heard Friday that the two chambers have agreed on the Senate’s approach to bicycle/pedestrian and transit capital projects funded under the 2016 “Connecting Washington” package – which means giving all projects a 2015-17 allocation, booking revenues beyond that as “Future,” and asking the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to bring back funding and phasing recommendations for 2017-19 and beyond.

On a WRPA-specific front, Week 8 was a very good one, mostly due to the House Floor passage of the bill to update and revise the Washington Wildlife, Recreation, and Parks (WWRP) program.  Following is an overview of where we stand on 2016 WRPA priority and support issues, and then a rundown of other issues impacting us.

WRPA Top Priorities

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

Yay!  The House Capital Budget Committee unanimously passed SSB 6227 with minor amendments last Monday (including a more limited “emergency clause”).  Two days later, the bill passed off the House Floor on a strong 77-20 vote.  6227 now needs one final concurrence from the Senate – which is expected – and it will then move to the Governor’s desk.  We in WRPA should feel very, very good about the way this bill turned out and the work we did on it, in tandem with groups like the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition (WWRC).  I would especially like to call out Pete Mayer, Arvilla Ohlde, Larry Otos, and Brittany Jarnot of my office for all the work they did leading up to and helping to fashion this legislation.   To reiterate some of the key pieces of 6227, from our perspective:  

Ø  A much-simplified allocation formula (“45/45/10”) that would put slightly more WWRP money into the local parks and trails categories;

Ø  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);

Ø  Direction to state agencies to demonstrate some of the same due diligence and consistency in their projects that we have to show in ours, and to ‘confer’ with local communities;

Ø  Language that calls upon the Recreation and Conservation Office to determine methods of providing “under-served” communities with potential match reductions or waivers. 

Boating Facilities Program -- Appropriation in 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget

And now we wait.  Both the Senate Floor-passed and House Committee-passed versions of the 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget (ESSB 6201/SHB 2380) include the $4.85 million allocation for the BFP that was recommended by the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) and proposed by Governor Inslee.  As we have noted, this funding 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 that was in 2015’s “Connecting Washington” transportation package.  Once the Capital Budgets are finalized, several additional state and local agency projects will get the funding they need!

Clarifying and Reinforcing Recreational Liability Immunity for Multi-Purpose Trails

Nothing new to report.  This will be one of our interim projects.  SB 6384 has ‘died’ for the 2016 Session.

Governor’s “Healthiest Next Generation” Initiative

The Governor’s Office and Department of Health spent parts of last week working to hold an “HNG” allocation that was in the House-passed Operating Budget but not the Senate version.  In addition to $246,000 in underlying funding for HNG, ESHB 2376 approved by the House includes an additional $170,000 for Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) “healthy schools/healthy kids” efforts tied to HNG, while the Department of Early Learning receives $94,000 for comprehensive health and nutrition services for young children in early-learning settings.  The Senate’s 2016 Supplemental Operating Budget, ESSB 6246, does not include this funding.

WRPA Support/Oppose Items

Emerging Issue -- $250,000 Operating Budget proviso to study ways to better integrate state and recreational passes – and possibly to look to achieve single-pass systems:  As we reported, this proviso is in both the House-passed and Senate-passed versions of the 2016 Supplemental Operating Budget.  The proviso is in Section 303(3) of the House Operating Budget (ESHB 2376) and in Section 303(6) of the Senate Operating Budget (ESSB 6246).  Funding for the study will be drawn from existing Discover Pass revenues collected by State Parks, Fish and Wildlife, and the Department of Natural Resources.  One of the key parts of the proviso speaks to coordinating “a process to develop options and recommendations to improve consistency, equity, and simplicity in recreational access fee systems…including the potential for developing a system that allows a single pass.”  We in WRPA are supportive of this effort and appreciate work by both Sen. Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee/12th Dist.) and House Appropriations Chair Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish/44th Dist.) to include the proviso and funding.

Support funding and policy initiatives to address growing mental health, human services, and homelessness issues in local communities:  Both the House and Senate deserve credit for 2016 Supplemental Operating Budgets that provide new funds for mental health and homelessness assistance.  The House has about $49 million for mental health and $60 million for homelessness services.  One other note on the homelessness and housing assistance front concerns what is known as the “1115 waiver,” which I referenced in the Operating Budget section above.  This Medicaid waiver would, among other things, allow the state to secure $54 million in matching federal funds each year for housing support services.  There is a concern that a provision in the Senate budget, requiring legislative approval before the waiver is granted, might cause the state to miss an April notification deadline with the feds.  Efforts to fix this, and not have the state funding endangered, are underway.

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

Nothing new to report.  SB 5614, which we supported,“died” in Senate Rules.  Clark County and Spokane County had taken the lead role on this legislation.

Protect funding for dedicated accounts within the Capital Budget

As previously noted, we expect to come out pretty well in terms of protecting dedicated Capital Budget accounts for outdoor recreation.  As I had shared, Senators ultimately abandoned an idea of diverting $500,000 in Boating Facilities Program funds for 10 “de-contamination” stations where the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife would spray boats to prevent the carrying of invasive species.  Rather, after learning that the de-contamination stations could be an eligible grant recipient of BFP funding, the Senate Capital Budget includes language that “encourages” the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board to fund this type of project in the 2017-19 round.

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 need to tackle this issue head-on in the interim.

”Big Tent” Outdoor Recreation Coalition

Nothing new to report.

Quick Snapshot on Other Issues of interest/impact to WRPA

  • Discover Pass bills – SSB 6297, SB 5137, SB 5205, etc.:  All of these bills, in one form or another, chip away at Discover Pass revenues.  Two of the three are almost surely “dead” for the 2016 Session:  6297 which allows small counties to potentially keep more Discover Pass infraction revenue, did not get past a hearing in House Appropriations; and 6137, which gives 100 percent disability returning veterans a free Discover Pass, never got out of Senate Rules.  The lone bill that could emerge from this Session is SB 5205, which provides a complimentary Discover Pass to spouses volunteering sufficient hours at State Parks.  This bill passed the Senate and stalled in a House policy committee, but is referenced in the Senate Budget which keeps it “alive.”
  • Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) - $400,000 in bridge funding:  We at WRPA supported a $400,000 “bridge funding” proposal to help with WTA website and printing costs.  The House Operating Budget provides $198,000 of this funding; the Senate Operating Budget does not include any of the funds.
  • Restore liquor revenues – HB 2438/SB 6425, removing the cap on liquor revolving account funds and gradually restoring the 50/50 percentage split between the state and local governments: This one now goes into the ‘Wait ‘Til Next Year’ column.  A ‘thanks’ to our prime sponsors and champions, specifically outgoing Sen. Mike Hewitt (R-Pasco/16th Dist.), and Reps. Terry Nealey (R-Dayton/16th Dist.), Chris Reykdal (D-Olympia/22nd Dist.), and Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island/41st Dist.).
  • Bills to extend the life of the Invasive Species Council (SB 6162/HB 2331) and the Habitat Lands Coordinating Group (SB 6296/HB 2493):  In Week 8, legislators picked the Senate versions of these bills to advance – and both are headed to the Governor’s desk.  6162 advanced to the House Floor Calendar Monday and passed last Tuesday on a 96-1 vote.  6296 advanced to the House Floor Calendar on Wednesday and passed a day later on a 96-1 vote.  6162 extends the sunset date for the Invasive Species Council from 2017 to 2022; 6296 adds 10 years of statutory life to the Habitat Lands Coordinating Group.
  • 2SHB 2667 – Allowing the State Parks & Recreation Commission to use majority (rather than unanimous) votes to approve long-term leases beyond 20 years:  This bill is very much alive, albeit with a narrowed-down, piloted version of what started out as a statewide policy bill.  Under a House Floor Amendment put together on 2667, Washington State Parks will be able to enter into a lease of up to 62 years with a private developer looking to restore the historic Seminary Building at Saint Edward State Park.  Approval for a lease of this length, under the bill, would require a 5-vote super-majority of the 7-member Washington State Parks Commission.  It appears there is a House-Senate deal on this bill and that it will run concurrently with the 2016 Capital Budget bills.
  • SHB 2334, regarding the sales taxation of martial arts:  This bill passed the House and received a hearing last Monday in Senate Ways & Means.  While the legislation did not pass out of Ways & Means, it remains ‘alive’ since it is referenced in the House-passed Operating Budget.  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.  2334 still has a chance to be a rare tax-incentive bill that passes the 2016 Legislature, due to a fiscal note of only $157,000 for the remainder of the 2015-17 biennium.
  • Public Records Act reform – 2SHB 2576:  The 2576 legislation has ‘died’ for the 2016 Session, replaced by a $250,000 study, to be conducted by the William Ruckelshaus Center.  That is in the House Operating Budget via a Floor Amendment by Rep. Joan McBride (D-Kirkland/48th Dist.).  While cities and counties appreciate the McBride Amendment, there is a concern that the study goes through 2017 and local agencies might be better off with just working off a State Auditor’s Office study due out later this year.
  • SHB 2427, local government modernization:  This bill passed off the Senate Floor last Friday on a 45-3 vote and now goes to the House for final concurrence.  We have supported 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:  The passage of this legislation marks a nice win for recreational boating groups.  6363 advanced to the House Floor Calendar on Wednesday and passed off the House Floor the next day on a 58-39 vote.  The legislation now heads to the Governor’s desk.  While the “consider public and waterway access” provisions of this bill are not binding, they are a good start in helping to ensure that bridge rehab projects don’t omit public access considerations.
  • EHB 2971 – reporting use of REET: This bill clarifies and narrows the reporting requirements under a REET (Real Estate Excise Tax) funding and M&O flexibility bill passed by the 2015 Legislature.  2971 passed unanimously out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee last Monday and unanimously off the Senate Floor last Wednesday.  It needs to go back to the House for final concurrence.

EHB 1918, modifying provisions applicable to off-road, non-highway, and wheeled all-terrain vehicles and their drivers:  This bill advanced to the Senate Floor Calendar last Tuesday and then passed out of the Senate last Thursday on a 39-10 vote.  The bill is primarily targeted at 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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