Council drafts state legislative agenda for 2018

Monday afternoon the Council will vote to approve the city’s State Legislative Agenda for next year: its wish list for the State Legislature in its upcoming session.

The Office of Intergovernmental Relations, the department that manages the city’s relationship with Olympia, has the dubious honor of trying to herd the nine Council members and the Mayor in the same direction to put together a single document that covers the city’s priorities for state legislation, so that it knows what to go lobby for. The OIR revises it at the start of legislative session.

As with prior versions, this one covers a lot of territory in its seven pages. Much of it is motherhood and apple pie, with shout-outs to major progressive principles. But tucked in through the document are specific proposals for laws the city would like to see passed (or not passed, in a few cases where the city wants to ensure it isn’t preempted from doing its own thing).  Those items include:

  • Ensuring that local governments have the ability to regulate firearms;
  • De-linking drivers license suspensions from non-payment of traffic fines, as losing one’s driver’s license makes it even less likely that someone can earn enough money to pay the fines;
  • Vacating convictions of individuals victimized by prostitution and sex trafficking;
  • “Legislation that would eliminate or at least significantly reduce the involvement of county and city law enforcement officials in immigration law enforcement.” This is of course tied to the larger principle of “sanctuary” or “welcoming” cities, that they are safer when immigrants (documented or otherwise) feel comfortable interacting with local law enforcement;
  • Allowing local law enforcement to hire legally permanent residents, which would make the police department more representative of the community at large;
  • Amending state law regarding the use of deadly force by police officers. This is reference to the high standard that must be reached before a police officer can be charged for improper use of deadly force; the standard is so high right now as to be practically unreachable;
  • Allowing marijuana delivery services;
  • Legislation “facilitating the establishment of community health engagement locations,” i.e. safe consumption sites that offer additional public health services;
  • “Legislation to define what an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone is, and to regulate their use by law enforcement or other state agencies, commercial businesses, and the general public;”
  • “Compliance with the Supreme Court’s McCleary Order through an equitable, ample and sustainable funding solution.”  This is code for “don’t send a disproportionate share of Seattle’s taxes to pay for schools in other parts of the state,” as the system enacted last year does;
  • Additional funding to move closer to “preschool for all;”
  • Expansion of the leasehold excise tax exemption to include facilities/venues that are publicly operated;
  • “Comprehensive tax reform that least to a more equitable and progressive tax structure and decreases reliance on flat tax sources like sale and property taxes.” That’s code for “an income tax;”
  • Allowing public utilities such as Seattle City Light to take a more proactive role in moving transportation systems from fossil-fuels to electric. Currently SCL is precluded under state law from incentivizing such transitions;
  • Granting local authority for development-related impact fees to pay for the growth in essential public services that is driven by development growth;
  • Providing local options to raise revenues for transportation infrastructure, including “regional tolling.”
  • Modifying Seattle’ parking tax authority “to allow for more equitable application;”
  • “Protecting citizens from the hazards posed by oil and coal shipments through our rail corridor and waterways;”
  • “Local control over regulations concerning the shared economy.” There are ongoing whispers that the state Legislature is looking to regulate Uber, AirBnB, and other “gig economy” companies; or at least preempt cities from doing so on their own as Seattle has already done with Uber and is in the process of doing for AirBnB;
  • Expansion of the Real Estate Excise Tax. Currently the state does not allow REET revenues to be spent on affordable housing;
  • Additional mental health funding. It’s widely recognized that the state significantly underfunds mental health services.
  • Repeal or modification of the state law which prohibits residential rent control;
  • Expanding state law protections for tenants based on their source of income.

That’s a huge list — and there are many items I didn’t include that are also in the Legislative Agenda. It’s clearly the union of ten agendas, rather than the consensus view across the parties, and it’s impossible to get any sense of priority or urgency from the document. And particularly since this is a “short session” for the Legislature and much of their time will be tied up in writing the capital budget (which they failed to do last year), few of these items have a chance of getting addressed. To that end, Council President Bruce Harrell is pushing his colleagues to work with the OIR on a short list of three achievable items that they can focus their energies on, instead of diluting their efforts across the entire list. There is no suggestion yet as to what might end up on Harrell’s short list.

That said, now both houses of the Legislature are controlled by the Democrats, as is the Governor’s Office. That means there is a better chance that the state government will overcome gridlock and move some items forward. Their state priorities are:

  • the capital budget;
  • the education funding plan;
  • mental/behavioral health programs.

The state legislative session begins on January 8.