WA State Legislature: The need for more research-based policy

BY Reed Kelly

Recap of a visit with Washington State Representative Gerry Pollet.

 

I recently met with Gerry Pollet, a Washington State Representative for the 46th District. Representative Pollet is the Vice-Chair of the Higher Education committee and also sits on the Education and Finance committees. I set up a time to meet with Rep. Pollet to discuss a bill he had recently signed onto that would require all firearm owners to purchase firearm liability insurance (HB 2836). We talked about this bill for a few minutes (he’s hoping a liability insurance mandate would result in more secure firearm storage), and a how it related to a different firearm safety bill sponsored by rural legislators (HB 2325). I grew up in a rural part of the state and now live in Seattle; I was interested in using this issue as a window to discuss urban/rural politics in Washington State. This conversation was interesting  and was the original reason I was there, but what came next was even more interesting.

As we were talking, I told Rep. Pollet I was a graduate architecture student at UW (he told me he teaches at the UW School of Public Health). When he found out I was an architecture student, he told me about a bill he had just discussed in the Finance Committee that would support cross laminated timber (HB 2857). When he mentioned CLT I got excited and my enthusiasm was obvious. He hadn’t really heard of CLT before and asked if we knew much about it. I’m certainly not an expert on CLT, but we do talk about it frequently in architecture school (and I may have once made a trip to Canada to meet CLT superstar architect Michael Green 🙂 ). As I talked to Representative Pollet I knew he was interested in CLT, but it was also clear that of the two of use, I knew more than him about the use, opportunities, and limitations of CLT. At this point I realized that this is what lobbying is: an ‘expert’ or stakeholder trying to influence the decision maker.

Representative Pollet and I talked about the need for more research-based legislation. He and his peers are not experts on CLT, but they are the decision makers determining how much support this new industry will get. He said most legislative decisions are based on what the legislators or their staff  know, their personal experiences, or by industry representatives (concrete and steel manufacturers). Legislators are not experts in every area. Lobbying can help fill that knowledge gap, but only if we actually go and have those conversations with the legislators. In some cases lobbyists are involved in the writing of policy drafts. Pollet expressed his desire for fewer lobbyist-driven policies and more research-based decision making. We talked about the research on CLT being done at universities in Washington, but that research findings are not always the basis for policy decisions. In the UW School of Public Health where Pollet teaches, he is trying to connect professors’ and grad student research to related policies. This could and should be happening in the College of Built Environments.

Meeting with Representative Pollet was my first time lobbying. It was an interesting experience that showed me how accessible my legislators and decision makers are. It also made me realize the specialized knowledge we have as students, professors, and researchers and how we need to work more to connect this knowledge with our decision-makers.

If you want to reach out to Representative Pollet and show your support for CLT, contact him here:

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