Deadline sinks isthmus bill

Legislature: Last-minute flurry of activity on Senate, House floors as policy proposal limit passes

February 17, 2010 

State, city represented at isthmus forum today

View of the isthmus in downtown Olympia from the Capitol Campus. (The Olympian file)

STEVEN M. HERPPICH — The Olympian

A bill slapping a 35-foot height limit on the isthmus between Budd Inlet and Capitol inlet died Tuesday in the Legislature, but a measure helping Lacey and its fire district sort out annexation-related debt remains alive.

Both bills had the support of their respective city officials, but they went opposite ways as the second major deadline fell at 5 p.m. for policy proposals in the 2010 legislative session.

The 60-day session ends March 11, and hundreds of bills now are considered dead.

House Bill 2082 and Senate Bill 5800 would have created a “height district” on portions of the isthmus, which became a battleground issue in November’s Olympia City Council races after the council approved 65- and 90-foot limits to accommodate a developer. Two City Council incumbents lost their seats.

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, said she was waiting for the House to approve its measure, but approval never came, despite Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt’s efforts.

“Last year, it passed the Senate three times. It was the House’s turn,” Fraser said, saying she had expected the House to move it first this time. Hunt could not be reached to comment on why the bill died.

But his seatmate, Olympia Rep. Brendan Williams, said recently that he thought it was up to the Senate to send the bill over one more time.

By contrast, Engrossed Senate Bill 6287 passed on a 48-0 vote Monday. The bill is needed to help Lacey and Fire District 3 sort out bond debt for fire equipment that their voter populations have approved. Fraser said it is an urgent bill because an annexation vote is planned in April. Lacey and Fire District 3 leaders had testified in favor of SB 6287, which now goes to the House, where its future is not yet clear.

IMPACT-FEE BILL

Also Tuesday, a watered-down bill that would have made it easier for residential builders statewide to delay payments of impact fees passed the House, but it only offers help in King and Snohomish counties.

Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams of Olympia sponsored House Bill 3067 as a way to help the home-construction industry with its cash-flow problems. But fellow Democrats amended the bill in committee to make it a two-county pilot, building on what communities such as Issaquah already are doing.

“I thought we should do it statewide. Olympia already has a deferral program ... and it makes sense to make it statewide. Unfortunately, the votes were not there to do it beyond King and Snohomish counties,” Williams said Tuesday as the Legislature’s deadline fell for passing bills out of the legislative chamber in which they were introduced.

“Construction workers got hit the hardest by this recession,” Williams added in a news release.

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 3067 was one piece of a package of bills aimed at giving flexibility to local governments in the economic downturn. Another, House Bill 3179, gave cities and counties more leeway in spending gambling taxes and criminal-justice taxes, but it was amended to exclude flexibility in the use of real-estate excise taxes, and it narrowly passed.

Williams’ support of the impact-fees bill surprised some. He more often has tangled with builders over home warranties, but this proposal initially won him praise from the Building Industry Association of Washington and its leader, executive vice president Tom McCabe. However, the BIAW ultimately opposed the watered-down bill, which Williams said is why the measure drew opposition from the Republican caucus.

ROUNDUP

Rep. Dawn Morrell, D-Puyallup, couldn’t drum up the votes for a bill that would have required pharmaceutical drug companies to set up a system for disposing of their customers’ unwanted medicine. She blamed intense lobbying by drug companies.

In the Senate, the voter-approved requirement for a two-thirds majority of legislators to approve taxes killed off a proposed pilot program for funding state Supreme Court races with public funds. The money, for qualifying candidates whose campaigns agreed to limit spending and met a test for viability, would have come from a $3 filing fee on court documents.

Lawmakers trying to regulate tanning beds couldn’t find traction for their proposals, despite their claims that tanning businesses are drawing young people into an activity that puts them at risk of developing cancer.

BILLS THAT REMAIN ALIVE

Among the bills that did make it out of their house of origin over the holiday weekend and Tuesday, and now move to the other chamber:

Tuition authority: The Senate voted 29-19 to give the state’s three largest four-year universities the authority to set tuition for six years, starting in 2011-12.

Governing boards at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University would be allowed to raise resident undergraduate and graduate tuition by up to 14 percent per year under Senate Bill 6562. The compound annual average increase is capped at 9 percent over the preceding 15 years; that means tuition can’t be raised by the maximum amount each year.

If the proposal becomes law, the authority to determine how much students pay would be contingent on performance requirements, such as degree production in high-demand fields, and the state maintaining its State Need Grant and Work-Study program funding in full. The universities also would be required to waive tuition fees for some eligible in-state students.

Petition signers: The Senate voted 28-20 that voter petitions should be public records.

The names and addresses of people who sign to put initiatives and referenda on the ballot would be publicly available under Senate Bill 6754. The U.S. Supreme Court is due to consider the dispute over whether signatures of Referendum 71, the challenge to the “everything but marriage” law, should be public.

Petition circulators: The Senate voted 29-19 to require paid signature gatherers and the businesses that employ them to register with the state.

Supporters said Senate Bill 6449 would make sure signatures are gathered fairly and legally. Opponents called it an unconstitutional impediment to the initiative and referendum process that would keep petitions from being left out in places of business.

Methamphetamine: The House voted 74-21 to set up an automated computer system to track people who buy cold medicines used to make meth.

Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, proposed House Bill 2961 to extend regulations that already limit how much Sudafed and other drugs a customer can buy and requires customers’ names be recorded.

Special Commitment Center: The Senate voted unanimously to limit use of computers by sexual predators housed at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.

Senate Bill 6308 would allow use of computers and the Internet only if it would be beneficial to inmates’ treatment. Inmates still could use simple word processors that cannot access the Internet. Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said 16 inmates at the commitment center have been charged in the past three years with viewing child pornography while in custody.

Shackling women: The House voted unanimously to ban shackling pregnant inmates while they’re giving birth. House Bill 2747, proposed by Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, also outlaws shackling women during postpartum recovery and restricts how they are restrained during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Race to the Top: The Senate voted 41-5 to pass Senate Bill 6696, a set of education proposals that are aimed at helping attempt to help Washington qualify for federal Race to the Top funds earmarked for targeted to states that hold teachers and schools accountable.

Zoning: The House voted unanimously to require notifying property owners before local governments modify zoning requirements. Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, proposed House Bill 2408.

Maks Goldenshteyn contributed to this report.

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