Having an agenda can be a great thing. However, sometimes when you roll up your sleeves and really get into it, the agenda, so carefully lined out and prepared, gets influenced and needs some alignment to fit with new information and then even realignment after that.
Twelve bills introduced at session this year dealt with housing. One of them, HB 2607, was sponsored by both my Representatives. Morgan Irwin (R) and Drew Stokesbary (R) put forth a bill that promotes affordable multi-family development in urban centers of cities and even unincorporated areas by expanding property tax exemptions. These developments would still need to be within an Urban Growth Boundary but would be a step toward promoting transit supportive densities and efficient land use patterns.
Sumner is drafting a Town Center Plan (TCP) around our Train Station and this bill lends itself nicely toward accomplishing some of the goals of the new TCP. I planned to meet with Rep. Stokesbary to discuss this bill further, how he saw this really playing out, what questions he was getting and share a concern I have about some of the language.
While overall the bill is a great start to gaining much needed density outside the major city centers it leaves some critical definitions up to the ‘governing authority’. In Section 2a the bill states that the area for housing designation ‘must be within an urban center, as determined by the governing authority’. It goes on in Section 2b to state that ‘the area must lack, as determined by the governing authority, sufficient available, desirable, and convenient residential housing, including affordable housing’.
Well what happens if Sumner determines that they do in fact have sufficient, desirable, and convenient affordable housing options. What metrics are being used? Are we relying on planning staff to define and determine such important matters? How can we ensure jurisdictions are using the same definition for ‘desirable housing’? They couldn’t possibly, and this is what I hoped to discuss with Rep. Stokesbary. I wanted to share that the governing authority should not be the ones defining these terms for themselves that it should be defined at the state level and enacted at the local level.
Turns out meeting with legislators during a short session can be challenging. Especially if they are in a leadership position and not allowed to leave the floor which I was told by his Aide. However, if you win over the Aide you can pretty much get what you need. After being told there was no way Rep. Stokesbary had time to meet before session was out I decided to go anyway and try. It paid off.
I arrived at the Capital and went right into the viewing chamber to see some legislating in action. Disappointingly, they were caucusing, which means they’re discussing matters as a party off the floor. This was going to be for an indeterminable amount of time, so I visited his Aide, Gina, in the meantime. She was incredibly pleasant for someone with no access to daylight at a desk that’s immediately adjacent to the next Representative’s Aide.
She managed to confirm a quick meeting time with him at 12:45; I was to meet her in the hall and she would escort me to the wings where I would then finally meet my representative. For the next hour and a half, I waited in the viewing gallery to see what I could glean from the activity below and the constant parade of children on fieldtrips. During this time the Speaker of the House made an incredibly brief appearance to an almost empty chamber to declare session would start again at you guessed it; 12:45.
Thwarted as I thought I was it turned out just fine. I met Gina, was escorted, then ushered to a chair to wait for him to finish a conversation with another representative. At about 12:55 he came over and introduced himself. I shared that I would love to speak about HB 2607, which at this point hadn’t made it out of Committee, he wasn’t sure which bill I was talking about and shared that there were so many at this point it’s hard to keep track. We agreed to meet in the coming weeks to discuss affordable housing options and what could be proposed next session.
He then shared that HB 3003 was dominating their attention. This bill is an initiative brought to the legislature by a non-profit to pass immediately into law regarding police use of deadly force. The intent is to dramatically increase the culpability of a police officer should deadly force be employed. Beyond his concern about the ‘extreme nature’ of the bill was the ability for ‘anyone’ to get a bill introduced if they have enough signatures and the precedent this sets.
It was now 1:15 and the Speaker had not yet called back the legislators to the floor. Odd way to run meetings. I was anxious that he was going to be called back any moment and made my way back to the viewing gallery. I then watched them reconvene, vote on several measures including an equal pay for women bill! Then it was time for HB 3003’s vote and representatives from each side explained why they support the bill and the Republican side also shared their concerns and why we would see some no votes from their side. It passed.
My Chamber of Commerce arranged for a Lunch with your Legislator for this past Tuesday. It was held at the Governor’s Mansion where we arrived to find a gourmet lunch laid out on Washington state china emblazoned with the seal in gold. Melanie Stambaugh from an adjacent district joined us to share about this past session and take questions.
She shared many interesting things and also focused a lot of time explaining her concerns about HB 3003, ironically, and how it’s constitutionality was in question. Since the bill was an initiative it had to be passed as written by the introductory non-profit. It was too extreme in the minds of ‘R’s & D’s’. A parallel bill was introduced by the legislature and passed simultaneously that will tamper some of the language in the original bill; this goes into effect the day after the original bill becomes law. This practice is prohibited. The intent of the process as it stands it that when an initiative bill is introduced its either passed as is or goes onto the next ballot for the voters to chose between that language or a proposed modification by the legislature.
While I came to the Capital to talk about housing, density and transit I left with those items still on my list. However, I learned about a bill that is also incredibly important to me, use of lethal force, and about the way it was introduced and passed. That process was skirted, and it remains to be seen how this will unfold; stay tuned.