Comments on Washington State Senate Bill ESB 5111: The “Community Prosperity and Revitalization Act”

Have you ever walked into a situation with great intentions, wanting to be helpful, but end up accomplishing the opposite – while simultaneously changing your own opinion about the entire situation? Well, let me tell you the story of my trip to Olympia and Washington’s State Capitol.

I admittedly have little experience with politics at the local, regional, state, or national level, particularly at the legislative process level. So this was a great learning experience – and boy I did a lot of learning in a day. I now understand (more so anyway) the process by which a bill is proposed, sponsored, and reviewed through the House of Representatives and Senate. Walking into this situation, I thought I had a decent handle on government procedure, but reality is often different than one expects. I had found my district (41) and identified my legislators. I reviewed the bills in discussion and found ESB 5111. I dug deep into related legislation and comments on the current Act – but likely failed to understand the full process and steps a bill must go through to be ratified into law. First lesson, do a lot of research, then talk to people, then do more research, then realize you are still not fully prepared.

First, The Bill-

ESB 5111 is a significant amendment to a 1997 act which expedites completion of ‘projects of statewide significance.’ The amendment lowers required job production, and expands the definition of qualified projects. It also includes some additional language in regard to coordination with local municipalities.

My Objective-

As a private sector real estate professional, I love the idea of expediting processes and/or lowering costs for projects, particularly if they help the economy, community, or other concern. In researching this bill, I had two major takeaways

  • Only 3 projects had successfully utilized the 1997 legislation, so clearly this isn’t working. We should amend that bill if we still believe in the intent.
  • There are numerous ways this amendment could be improved to achieve the desired results – getting projects built.

I have been involved with the entitlement process of multiple projects the past, so I have some strong thoughts for improvement. The Bill does make some good suggestions, but it can do better. Many people think of streamlining and only think of schedule and cost, but in reality a Real Estate deal hinges equality, if not more, on the evaluation of risk. Uncertainty equals risk. And this bill is fraught with uncertainty – which is likely the reason only 3 projects have taken advantage of the previous legislation in 18 years.

I felt this was something I actually know about, and my goal was to suggest edits which would result in more certainty for a project owner at the beginning of the process. Making their adoption of the expediting process more likely and actually meeting the goals of job creation and economic development.

Public Hearing-

I arrived early to the Technology & Economic Development Full Committee Public Hearing on Thursday March 12, 2015. Second lesson, everyone shows up exactly at the time scheduled – not early and not late.

I signed up to testify as Pro, because I generally support the Bill, but think it needs a lot of improvement to be effective. After hearing introductions and the first set of speakers I realized this bill is close to coming to a vote. Would legislators be able to amend the bill in time to incorporate my suggestions? Almost certainly not. So I was now in a pickle – my comments are actually in opposition of passing this bill. I don’t think it will be very effective as is, but I’m not sure it should be voted down either.

I decided to testify with my original suggestions and let the cards fall where they may – these guys are paid the big bucks to hear all sides of a story and make the right decision right? Third lesson, understand the exact purpose and scope of the meeting and tailor your comments accordingly.

Proposed Language-

I proposed two specific edits to the language in this bill

  • Clearly define the cost of utilizing this expediting process. Provide either a formula for calculating costs or a pre-submission mechanism for a project sponsor to determine the expected financial liability.
  • Clearly define the process for coordination with local jurisdiction reviewers.

The committee then heard from other lobbyists and concerned parties before moving on to the next scheduled bill. They would not rule on the bill today, but would vote in the near future.

Senator’s Quarters-

At this point, I thought it prudent to talk directly with my District 41 Senator about the Senate Bill. I went to visit Senator Steve Litzow in the Legislative Building. Mr. Litzow was not available, but I was able to meet his Legislative Assistant Kyle Burleigh and his aid John Mehoues took time to sit with me and discuss the bill. Fourth lesson, these guys are very accessible, helpful, and nice.

He took notes as I explained my support for the Bill’s intent, but that it fell short in many ways. We discussed specific passages that could be adjusted and I quickly realized that it would take some serious political clout and wide-reaching influence in order to get my suggestions integrated and all involved parties on board. He summed up my thoughts best with one final line “Expediting is good, but not without certainty.”

As I was leaving, we got to talking about other issues the Senator is working on. He’s currently primary sponsor on a number of extremely interesting issues, which I will need to look into further.

SENATE BILL 5452 – Improving quality in the early care and education system

SENATE BILL 5688 – providing students with skills that promote mental health and well-being and increase academic performance

SENATE BILL 5988 – additive transportation funding and appropriations

Lesson five, politics is it’s own world with it’s own jargon – learn the basics if you want to be conversant. Learn the advanced level if you want to be influential.

Aftermath-

After returning home and performing some additional research I’ve since realized how to read a bit more of the online documentation. It is remarkable how open and accessible our government is once you understand the process, jargon, and information systems.

I realized that this bill had passed Senate approval on March 3, and in fact the Technology & Economic Development Committee was within the House of Representatives. So while my testimony at the Public Hearing may have had some influence – Committee Chair Jeff Morris asked the Bill’s sponsor “It seems many aspects of this bill lack definition, can we do better?” and I received multiple head nods during my testimony – I likely should have visited my District 41 House Representatives Tana Senn and Judy Clibborn instead of Senator Litzow.

In the end, my opinions were most certainly heard by influential State legislators – which is a great feeling – and I learned a lot about how things get done and how to influence issues I care about. All in all this was a successful trip to our state’s capital.

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