Government Affairs: Monthly Update

Jamie Howsley, BIA Government Affairs Director


“May You Live In Interesting Times”

by Jamie Howsley, Government Affairs Director

2017 promises not to be a boring year.  Leaving aside the drama of the other Washington we need not look beyond our Washington to find political intrigue and gamesmanship being played out in our legislature.  But much of the drama that occupied local government for the past four years seems to be quelled, at least for the time being.  So here are some items to play particular attention too in the various stages of politics and government.

President Trump issued an Executive Order on Monday, January 30th which seeks to curb new regulations and their costs by requiring that for every new regulation passed, two get shown the door. It is a suspected that regulations around the environment played a pivotal role in the development of this order.  It remains to be seen whether litigation around this order will arise.
The National Association of Home Builders expects more announcements from the President Trump’s administration that should benefit the industry.

Washington Legislature
The Washington Legislature opened up on Monday, January 8th for a 105-day session and it already has gotten interesting.  The Democrats hold the majority in the House while the Majority Caucus Coalition maintains control in the Senate.  But Senator Dansel from Republic in Ferry County announced his resignation on January 24 to take a job with President Trump’s administration.  Senator Eriksen from Ferndale also holds a position in the President’s administration, but decided not to resign.  Dansel’s resignation left the Senate in a temporary 24-24 tie.  That has since resolved itself with Representative Shelly Short being unanimously appointed to Dansel’s senate seat.  But it remains to be seen whether additional Senators will leave, putting the Senate in a tie or Democratic control.

But aside from the political intrigue in Olympia, there are several important bills being advanced that would benefit our industry.  Here is a brief discussion of them:

Housing Affordability
There are a series of bills being proposed to address affordable housing issues. Senate Bill 5407 would prohibit a landlord from refusing to lease or rent property based on the source of income. And Senate Bill 5408 would extend the length of time for notice of termination for residential rental property from 20 to 30 days.  Finally, House Bill 1514 requires a minimum of three years’ notice on the closure or conversion of mobile home parks.

Buildable Lands
Senate Bill 5254 contains a lot of moving parts.  While it contains a fee for recorded documents to continue to pay for low income and homeless housing options the main focus of the bill is for local governments to look at how they categorize their buildable lands inventory.  And, in particular, if by July 1, 2019 a jurisdiction either: 1) experiences growth higher than the last Office of Fiscal Management (OFM) numbers gave to the County for their Growth Management Act update of their Comprehensive plans; or 2) if that jurisdiction experiences less than 100 on the affordability index; or 3) if you are below four months of residential inventory for two of the previous six months then you are required to either add more land to your Urban Growth Area or identify strategies to address housing issues.  This bill has a long storied history and will be discussed at length at the next government affairs committee meeting. 

Water Rights (Hirst Fix)
Currently there are two bills floating in the Senate that directly respond to the Washington State Supreme Court’s decision in the Whatcom County v. Hirst case.  In short in this case the Court ruled that Whatcom County failed to comply with the Growth Management Act because it did not protect water availability by allowing the exempt well program for new homes in the rural areas to continue.  Since the decision some Counties in Washington have responded by placing building moratoriums in the rural area fearing litigation while others trudge forward assuming that the decision only applied to Whatcom County.  The legislature has been asked to step in by not only local government, but by the development community, farmers and even environmental groups like Futurewise (who were the litigants). 

Two competing bills exist. Senate Bill 5024, which is kindly being labeled as Futurwise’s fix, would develop rules to comply with the Hirst decision on a statewide basis. It is highly unlikely this bill would make it to the Senate floor much less survive a floor vote. 

On the other hand, Senate Bill 5239 would essentially nullify the outcome of the Hirst decision and allow local governments to rely upon the water resources management from Ecology. This would essentially say prospectively the exempt well program is back.  There is a sense that this bill might become a carrot for last minute budget negotiations.

As discussed here last month the Washington State Supreme Court also changed the rules of vesting in Washington by announcing that the state mandated regulations were not subject to state vesting law.  In response Senator Lynda Wilson drafted Senate Bill 5212 which seeks to clarify legislative intent and clearly state that legislative intent vesting is to apply to state mandated items too.

City of Vancouver
The City of Vancouver will take a vote on February 6 to decide how to fund new police officers.  This includes a surcharge of $90 per multi-family unit per year that would get implemented in two years.  The BIA held a special government affairs committee meeting to hear from Mayor Pro-Tempore McEnery-Ogle, Councilors Hansen and Stober, City Manager Eric Holmes and Lloyd Tyler from Finance.  We would like to thank the City staff and elected officials for coming to the BIA and having a productive discussion. Look to the President’s article for more in depth details.
Clark County
With the new Board of County Councilors seated they are off to a quiet, but productive start to 2017.  One of the first things this Council has done is create a Policy Stakeholder Committee (which has a lot of BIA members on it) to look at reforms to finance, legal and permitting standards.  This committee will meet early on and try to propose solutions by the end of summer. 

GMA Appeal
Due to the record snow storm last month, the hearing on the GMA appeal got delayed due until February 8 at 9 am at the County Public Service Center.  A decision is now expected in March.

We look forward to seeing you at the next government affairs committee meeting on February, January 13 at 3:30 in the BIA office.  If you have any questions feel free to email me at