Good morning. Today is Tuesday, Feb. 2, the 23rd day of the 60-day legislative session.
A bill declaring a 35-foot height limit on buildings on the downtown Olympia isthmus sailed through a House committee Monday on an 8-2 vote, a sharp contrast to last year.
Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, offered an amendment to House Bill 2082 that makes clear the bill would not take away any vesting right developers might have obtained in the area. The bill was spurred by a controversial rezoning that the Olympia City Council approved for the land separating Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake, allowing structures up to 65 and 90 feet.
After last November’s election put new members on the City Council, the council is taking a different view, and has asked the Legislature to support a height limits bill. HB 2082 mirrors Senate Bill 5800, which Democratic Sen. Karen Fraser of Thurston County had moved through the Senate last year, only to see it stall in the House Local Government Committee.
Rep. Geoff Simpson, the Covington Democrat who is chairman of the committee, had objected that it would have overruled local control, and he questioned the new bill’s value as a “local control” proposal.
In the end, Simpson voted for the bill Monday, saying he still opposed it personally. But, he said, absent Republican Rep. Richard DeBolt of Chehalis favored the height limit, and he wanted to cast the vote on DeBolt’s behalf.
“I am elated at the action. We need to get this bill passed and move forward,” said Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia.
A bill setting up a task force to study changes to the state workers’ compensation system got a hearing Monday, and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, plans a committee vote on it Thursday.
The Building Industry Association of Washington last month grew weary of legislative action on workers’ compensation, which pays the medical bills of injured workers. BIAW filed a citizen initiative that would allow private insurers into the state-run system.
In contrast, Senate Bill 6775 calls for a study of the overall subject before making changes.
“I think we need to keep the conversation going. It’s clear the business community wants huge changes in the system; labor does not agree with all the business community has brought forth. … I think the subject is very serious and needs addressing,’’ Kohl-Welles said after the hearing. She acknowledged the measure “doesn’t get universal accolades,” but said a task force or governor’s work group must take up the issue after session — “or we’ll be right back here in the 2011 session.’’
A measure from Democratic Rep. Jeff Morris would have allowed smaller changes to the system, but the House Commerce and Labor Committee chairman, Rep. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, refused to give it a hearing.
Labor-backed Democrats and business-backed Republicans are miles apart over whether the system is excessively expensive compared with other states.
In one of the session’s most unexpected political alliances, Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams is backing a bill letting builders delay payment of impact fees on new homes until they are occupied.
The move has won praise from the Building Industry Association of Washington, which usually is at loggerheads with the Olympia Democrat on issues such as home warranties for buyers.
Williams’ proposal, House Bill 3067, won passage Monday in the House Local Government Committee but only after it was amended in ways Williams hoped to avoid. The measure is limited to King and Snohomish counties and is optional for local governments, but the goal is to give homebuilders more cash-flow flexibility in a down real estate market.
BIAW attorney Timothy Harris said the builders were “reviewing” the amended bill version, having hoped to see Williams’ original proposal to give all local governments the option of deferring the fee payments. Two Republicans, Rep. Jan Angel and Susan Fagan, voted against the bill in its amended form.
Williams said Olympia has a deferred payment plan for builders, but he wanted to make the option open statewide to help builders. “I’ve always tried to look out for the state’s best interest,” Williams said after the action. “When it comes to the housing industry, it’s a driver of our economy.’’
Williams said he still has concerns about using covenants to require payment of the fees at the time of a home’s occupation, whether through purchase or lease. The fees can be thousands of dollars on a single home to defray costs
The Association of Washington Cities and others testified last week against making it a statewide option. The bill grew out of work by the city of Sammamish to give builders respite against high costs.
HEALTH CARE FORUM
The fourth in a series of seven health care forums continues at 6:30 p.m. today at First Christian Church in Olympia.
Organizer and moderator Don Carlson said the 90-minute program includes a panel of health-care professionals talking about the implications of health reform. The event is sponsored by almost a dozen faith groups.
The church is at Seventh and Franklin in downtown Olympia. For details, call 360-456-8331.
Tonight’s panelists include Dr. Don Mitchell, a retired physician; Steve Brennen, administrator for Providence St. Peter Hospital; Len McComb, lobbyist for the Washington State Hospital Association; Nancy Alleman, president-elect for the Washington State Dental Hygienist Association; and possibly a dentist.
Advocates for adult-day health spending are headed to the Capitol today, pushing for $3 million in state funds that can be leveraged to keep the program going. The day health centers provide medical care for seniors who receive other help at home, saving the state money it might otherwise spend for nursing home care.
The Washington Adult Day Services Association is sponsoring the event, which includes contacts with more than 70 lawmakers, according to Jerry Reilly of the Eldercare Alliance. Reilly says lawmakers could generate $4.2 million in federal funds if they spend $2.8 million in state money.
Reilly contends that Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget cut assumes 600 people leave the program, and he says 65 percent of people in adult-family homes who lost day-health services in last year’s cuts had “significant deterioration in health and functioning’’ as a result.
• The Washington State Arts Alliance holds “arts day” in the Columbia Room from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
• United Food and Commercial Workers hold a lobby day at Tivoli Fountain’s west side from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Refugee Women’s Alliance holds “refugee and immigrant legislative day” at the Tivoli Fountain’s north side and on the Capitol steps from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Compiled by Brad Shannon, staff writer