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Legislative Update from WRPA Lobbyist: 04/05/2016

Last Tuesday, culminating a 20-day-long Special Session with a full afternoon and evening of Floor activity, lawmakers passed Supplemental Operating and Capital Budgets and finished their 2016 legislative action for the year.

“Action” might be a bit ambitious, as it was a set of Sessions where – aside from the budgets and a significant bill to restore the legality of charter schools – a lot of major issues were punted into 2017.

The Operating and Capital budgets passed last Tuesday do some important work in combating homelessness, housing, and mental health issues; reach into the state’s Rainy Day Fund (“Budget Stabilization Account”) to pay the bill for a historic summer season of wildfires; and leave the state with overall reserves of more than $1 billion.  But, K-12 education funding and McCleary decisions are pushed off to next year, and lawmakers unfortunately continued a trend of diverting and transferring existing funds to balance the budget rather than look for new revenues or revenue tools.  Of course, several of those diversions and transfers hit local government, as you can see in the attached comprehensive memo on the final budgets.

Operating Budget:  While local governments preserved funding for most traditional “state-shared” revenues, staved off an elimination of Municipal Research Service Center funds, fought off a proposal to shift more law enforcement academy training costs onto the backs of cities and counties, and garnered some new funding for “Basic Law Enforcement Academy” (BLEA) classes, legislators approved another huge transfer of Public Works Assistance Account funds that leaves the low-interest infrastructure loan program in shambles.  Additionally, for 44 cities that receive Fire Insurance Premium Tax distributions to help with LEOFF 1 obligations, the final Operating Budget ends up being a de facto cut of those funds for many jurisdictions – to the point where a veto request is being pursued.

Capital Budget:  The Legislature gets credit for a pretty thoughtful approach to addressing a significant shortfall in toxics funding under the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA).  And, legislators managed to put some new funding into housing and homelessness and ‘Local/Community Projects.’  But, this was not a Capital Budget with adequate capacity to do much on the investment front.

Transportation Budget:  The Governor signed the 2016 Supplemental Transportation Budget (ESHB 2524) into law on March 25.  The Governor did veto a few provisions of the budget bill, but none of them impact us in any way.

On the local government front, cities and counties can at least be thankful that the Operating Budget hits were not more severe.  Locals did get a few wins, including the passage of a policy ‘body cameras’ bill (EHB 2362) which the Governor signed into law last Friday.  Additionally, in the category of ‘do no harm,’ there were no truly problematic policy bills passed by the Legislature in 2016.

On a WRPA-specific front, the end of the Special Session brought a couple of jolts of good news.  First, the Capital Budget expedites some gas tax revenue for the Boating Facilities and “NOVA” (Non-Highway Off-Road Vehicle Account) programs.  

Then, last Thursday, the Governor signed into law the bill to update and revise the Washington Wildlife, Recreation, and Parks (WWRP) program (SSB 6227).  Following is an overview of where we ended up 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)

Yahoo! The Governor signed SSB 6227 into law last Thursday, in a signing ceremony that featured a couple dozen representatives of both WRPA and the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition (WWRC).  My sincere thanks to Pete Mayer, Arvilla Ohlde, and Larry Otos for joining me at the signing ceremony. It was fitting to have that trio on hand, as the three of them did yeoman’s work during the 2015-16 interim when a stakeholder process was used to develop the bill that became 6227.  We at WRPA should be extremely pleased with how this bill turned out.  To reiterate some highlights:

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 & NOVA -- Appropriation in 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget

The final 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget (SHB 2380) include a $4.85 million allocation for the BFP and a $2.5 million allocation for NOVA.  Both were recommended by the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) and proposed by Governor Inslee.  This 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.  The additional BFP money will be used to fund state-agency and local-agency projects that were ‘below’ the line in the 2015-17 Capital Budget. Brittany has previously sent out the list of additional projects that would be funded – if you would like to see that again, just let us know.  In the meantime, the extra NOVA funds, by legislative proviso, are to be used on categories other than education and enforcement.

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 final Operating Budget (E2SHB 2376) did not include new funding for HNG.  In addition to $246,000 in underlying funding, the House-approved budget had included an additional $170,000 for Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) “healthy schools/healthy kids” efforts tied to HNG, and $94,000 for Department of Early Learning comprehensive health and nutrition services for young children.  The Senate’s 2016 Supplemental Operating Budget, did not include this funding. Nor, of course, did the final budget.

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:  This proviso and funding is in Sec. 303(3) of the final Operating Budget, with the study directed through the State Parks Commission.  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.  We in WRPA supported 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:  The final Operating and Capital Budgets approved by the Legislature include over $40 million in new funds for mental health and homelessness.  Additionally, the Operating Budget preserves the state’s ability to access several million dollars in federal pass-through funds for supportive housing services under an “1115” Medicaid waiver. 

Provide Flexibility for Counties to Use Some Conservation Futures Proceeds Toward M&O:  Nothing new to report.  The WRPA-supported bill, SB 5614, “died” in Senate Rules.

Protect funding for dedicated accounts within the Capital Budget:  The final Capital Budget did indeed protect virtually all of the dedicated outdoor recreation accounts.  Senators abandoned an initial idea of diverting $500,000 in Boating Facilities Program funds for 10 “de-contamination” Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) spray stations for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.  After learning from us that the de-contamination stations could be an eligible grant recipient of BFP funding, the Senate included in their Floor-passed Capital Budget 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, and I’m pleased to see the crumb-rubber issue as a session topic at our upcoming WRPA conference.

“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, would have chipped away at Discover Pass revenues.  Two of the three are almost surely “dead” for the 2016 Session:  6297 would have allowed small counties to potentially keep more Discover Pass infraction revenue.  It never got a hearing in House Appropriations, but the final Operating Budget did include a $20,000 offset for Skamania County; 6137 would have given free Discover Pass allowances to returning veterans with a 100 percent disability.  It never got out of Senate Rules; SB 5205 would have provided complimentary Discover Passes to spouses volunteering sufficient hours at State Parks.  The bill was called out in Senate Operating budgets, but not the final one.
  • Tourism funding:  The state’s commitment to tourism marketing and promotion continues to be rather lukewarm at best.  No bill passed in 2016, and even a $198,000 “bridge” funding allocation for the Washington Tourism Alliance did not stay in the final Operating Budget (it had been in the House-passed version).  We at WRPA supported both tourism legislation and the ‘bridge’ funding.
  • 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: Nothing new to report – this one will have to be taken up again in 2017.  Fixing and removing the cap first put in statute in 2012 gets progressively tougher with each passing year.
  • Bills to extend the life of the Invasive Species Council (SB 6162) and the Habitat Lands Coordinating Group (SB 6296):  Both of these bills are now law – though 6162 had a far more dramatic journey.  The bill to extend the sunset date of the Invasive Species Council by five years had been flying along.  But on March 10, it was one of 27 bills Governor Inslee vetoed in an attempt to light a fire under House and Senate negotiators who had not finished up their Operating Budget.  Once the budget was agreed to, the Senate spent a few hours on March 28 overriding all the gubernatorial vetoes of the 27 bills.  A day later, the House did the same thing.  The successful overrides mean 6162 and 26 other previously-vetoed bills are automatically filed with the Secretary of State and become law.  6296, meanwhile, had a more traditional and mundane journey to becoming law.  The Governor signed it last Thursday.  This bill adds 10 years of statutory life to the Habitat Lands Coordinating Group. 
  • E2SHB 2667 – Allowing the State Parks & Recreation Commission to use majority (rather than unanimous) votes to approve long-term leases beyond 20 years:  The Governor signed this bill into law last Thursday.  As amended, this bill takes what had been a hoped-for statewide policy and turns into a pilot authority covering one area of Saint Edward State Park. Through 2667, 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 the 62-year lease, under 2667, would require a 5-vote super-majority of the 7-member Washington State Parks Commission.  There is also a requirement that the Department of Commerce study other potential public uses at Saint Edward; approval to go forward on the public/private partnership comes if the public-use feasibility does not pan out.
  • SHB 2334, regarding the sales taxation of martial arts:  This bill was not acted upon during the Special Session and ended up ‘dying.’  2334 would have exempted from sales tax any 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 had a fiscal note of only $157,000 for the remainder of the 2015-17 biennium, so proponents had hoped it could be one of the few enacted tax incentives bills.  That was not to be.
  • Public Records Act reform – 2SHB 2576:  No major PRA bills passed in 2016 and we will fall back on an existing State Auditor’s Office study of PRA cost impacts.  One “open government” bill approved by the Legislature is SB 6171.  This bill increases – from $100 to $500 – the penalty for an elected official who knowingly attends a closed meeting in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).  The penalty amounts had not been adjusted in 40 years.
  • SHB 2427, local government modernization:  This bill was signed into law last Thursday.  We 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 Governor signed this bill into law on March 25.  The “consider public and waterway access” provisions of 6363 are not binding, but they’re a good start in helping to ensure that bridge rehab projects don’t omit public access considerations.
  • EHB 2971 – reporting use of Real Estate Excise Tax (REET): The Governor signed this bill into law last Thursday.  It fixes an unintended consequence of a 2015-passed REET flexibility bill.  Specifically, it narrows what information cities and counties must report to the MRSC on ordinances they have in place regarding landlords and sellers.

EHB 1918, modifying provisions applicable to off-road, non-highway, and wheeled all-terrain vehicles and their drivers:  The Governor also signed this bill into law last Thursday.  As I’ve previously reported, 1918 primarily focuses on liability, titling, and safety-inspection issues.  However, of interest to us, it 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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