Council gets an update on the state legislative session

Yesterday the Office of Intergovernmental Relations (OIR) gave the Council its first update on how things are going in Olympia, as the state legislative session ramps up.

OIR will be writing and posting a weekly bulletin to accompany their verbal reports; the first one, which was the basis for yesterday’s discussion, is here, and contains a long list of bills that the team is tracking.

The state legislative session just kicked off last week, so right now they are in the phase where legislators are introducing new bills and committees are wrestling with which ones to schedule for hearings.

The center of attention right now is, of course, the Education task force that is trying to negotiate a way to fund the state’s public education system that will satisfy the Supreme Court. According to OIR staff, the level of emotion between task force members is high. The Governor and the Democrats have released a proposal; the Republicans have not yet, but their stated approach is very different. The sides are far apart, and since the recent elections left neither side with a clear majority, no one has political leverage to break the ongoing stalemate. In the meantime, the Seattle Public School District, and other school districts around the state, want it resolved by the end of February in order to avoid having to send out notices about the need to lay off teachers for lack of funding. If a month from now there has been no progress, this is going to get ugly.

Among the bills that the OIR team is tracking:

HB 1000/SB 5000: updates the conditions when police officers’ use of deadly force is justified. Also, it changes the rule for when a police officer can be held criminally liable, from the previous standard of acting “without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable” (which has been broadly criticized as an almost insurmountable barrier to prosecuting an officer) to “if a reasonable officer would have believed the use of deadly force was necessary in light of all the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time.”

HB 1059/SB 5023: extending the school “levy lid,” which had been raised a number of years back but will expire next year if not extended. Given the current school funding crisis, this is a critical short-term measure to keep districts afloat.

HB 1122: preventing “dangerous access to guns,” which creates a criminal liability for a gun owner if their weapon is accessed by an unsupervised/unauthorized child or anyone prohibited from possessing firearms and the gun is discharged — with greater penalties if it’s used to hurt someone.

HB 1134/SB 5050: banning the sale of assault-style rifles. The bill was introduced by Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

HB 1065: aligns marijuana laws with those for alcohol, and other reforms to marijuana-related penalties. OIR has been working hard on this bill.

HB 1114: exempting the Seattle Center and Tacoma Dome from the leasehold excise tax.

HB 1048: modifying and extending the existing solar production tax incentive. Seattle City Light testified in Olympia in support of this.

SB 5127: establishes a carbon pollution tax and investment program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

SB 5182: a property tax exemption for the preservation of affordable housing. This was a HALA recommendation.

Two competing bills on family and medical leave:

  • HB 1116/SB 5032, introduced by the Democrats, allows up to 26 weeks of family leave and 12 weeks of disability leave.
  • SB 5149, introduced by the Republicans, provides 8 weeks of leave in 2020 and increasing to 12 weeks in 2023. There are other restrictions in the fine print.

Given this is Council member Gonzalez’s signature item for this year, expect this feud to get a lot of local attention.

HB 1041/ SB 5008: which would make Washington compliant with the REAL ID act, modifying drivers’ licenses and ID cards before TSA stops accepting Washington state drivers licenses at airports next year.

SB 5223: banning safe consumption sites. Obviously the City Council would like this bill to die a quick death.

HB 1047: creates a system for safe and secure collection of unused medications. This was a key recommendation of the Heroin and Opiate Task Force last year.

The OIR’s weekly bulletin has a longer list of bills they are tracking. If you want to track any of these bills closely, click through on the links above and from the web page for each bill you can request updates through email or RSS feeds (shout-out to the Legislature’s IT team for an awesome feature).


Finally: there’s HB 1082, which would ban commercial rent control in the state.  Council member Sawant has been saying publicly for quite some time that she intended to put forth an ordinance enacting commercial rent control in Seattle, so this bill really set her off. She has also been agitating for the state to repeal its ban on residential rent control, which they have shown no interest in doing. HB 1028 has Sawant so worked up that she pulled a PR stunt yesterday morning: she sent a letter to House Speaker Frank Chopp and several other members of the state legislature voicing her opposition to the bill — and rewriting it for them so that it not only doesn’t ban commercial rent control but also repeals residential rent control.

For the record: there is little research — theoretical or empirical — on commercial rent control, and what does exist is mostly from the 1980’s.  There is, however, a large body of both theoretical and empirical research on residential rent control, and the vast majority of it concludes that it’s a bad idea for several reasons. Here’s a really good survey paper from 2009 that summarizes the various issues, including arguments both for and against residential rent control, and what the research says on both “first generation” and “second generation” rent control schemes. In short: “economic research quite consistently and predominantly frowns on rent control.” Despite her background in economics, Sawant stands nearly alone in her field as a vocal proponent of rent control.