Washington lawmakers packed a whole lot into 54 days.
Capital budget? Passed it. Legislative fix to the educational crisis? Done (sort of?). Cowardly attempt to get themselves out of revealing their communications? On the governor’s desk in record time (where it was vetoed).
As advocates take their victory laps around the governor’s desk or regroup for the next session, let’s review the bills that Real Change followed over the course of the short session.
The capital budget — It passed! The state’s primary source of funding tangible projects was held up by the courts for months after a decision regarding some intricate details around water rights. Unfortunately, the legislature did not come up with a fix fast enough to spare some affordable housing projects that were forced to miss a critical deadline for tax credits to finance projects. The legislature was a single day late.
HB 1570 — A homegrown bill to protect funding for homeless services passed the legislature — a relief to advocates who worry session to session about the reticence of the legislature to adequately address the homelessness crisis. HB 1570, from Seattle’s own Nicole Macri, extended fees on certain documents associated with real estate. Document recording fees were set to sunset, depriving the state of a primary source of funding for homeless services. Like many things with local government, the stability of the source is key; it’s hard to plan when a critical funding source remains uncertain.
HB 2578 — People who benefit from government programs will no longer be denied access to the private housing market after a law passed this session requiring landlords to accept rent payments and other forms of income guaranteed by government..
The bill, signed by the governor, ensures that folks with Section 8 vouchers — rental subsidies that guarantee that the federal government will pick up the tab after a voucher holder pays 30 percent of their income in rent — and other forms of governmental subsidy are treated the same as any other prospective tenant.
Before, landlords could reject an application even though a government agency was guaranteed to back the majority of the monthly rent and utility payments or the tenant used income such as social security. Such discrimination was outlawed in Seattle in 2016 and in some outlying cities, such as Renton. Renton enacted a temporary law after families with Section 8 vouchers were threatened with eviction.
HB 1783 — It is a popular idea that people who break the law pay for their crimes. Unfortunately, in Washington state, many people continue to pay exorbitant fees called “legal financial obligations” for decades after the fact. The overwhelming debt, which only grows because of an interest rate of up to 12 percent in some cases, can weigh down their ability to move on with their lives. It may even end with them back in lock up.
That practice could be outlawed as of this legislative session. A bill waiting on the governor’s desk eliminates interest on certain parts of court-imposed fees, prohibits a court from imposing those penalties on a person who can’t afford them at sentencing and creates a system for payment plans to help people who need it, all while protecting a fund for victims of crimes.
It’s a measure that advocates have been fighting for years to enact.
Other bills of note:
● Lawmakers passed a suite of voter registration bills that will allow same-day voter registration, pre-registration for kids 16 and above and the ability for automatic voter registration after a person comes into contact with certain state agencies. In a time characterized by politicians using office to suppress the vote, Washington has stood out as a place making it easier rather than harder to participate in democracy.
● Despite the best efforts of advocates, rent control did not make it through the legislature. The policy, outlawed in the 1980s, was widely opposed by landlords who point to the wide body of economics literature on why rent control is ultimately a failed policy. But with high rents and little ability to keep long-time residents in place, some believe that rent control legislation is coming back.
● Che Taylor. Charleena Lyles. Renee Davis. Tommy Le. The list of people killed by police officers in the Puget Sound area goes on, and people are frustrated by the fact that it is next to impossible to hold law enforcement to account under current law. Initiative 940, backed by De-Escalate Washington, could change that. The measure requires training in de-escalation techniques for law enforcement and, critically, changes the legal standard under which an officer can kill a person without consequence. The measure passed the legislature, but has been challenged in court by none other than Tim Eyman, a man who has nothing better to do than mess with the initiative system.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Wait, there's more. Check out the full March 21 - 27 issue.