The state is looking to protect money for inspecting escalators and elevators following regulators’ failures to meet inspection schedules.
The News Tribune and The Olympian reported last year that many escalators in Washington went uninspected in 2013. About two-thirds of escalators under the state’s purview didn’t receive their required annual safety inspections in 2013, and some escalators hadn’t been visited by a state inspector since 2010.
Those lapses were revealed following a Bellevue escalator collapse that injured seven people in December 2012 and the strangling of a man on a Seattle escalator in April 2013.
A proposal in the Legislature would create a dedicated account for all inspection fees paid by escalator and elevator owners to the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), with the goal of ensuring the money doesn’t get swept up into the rest of the state budget.
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Supporters of House Bill 1465 and Senate Bill 5598 say putting elevator inspection and permitting fees into a dedicated account would help ensure the money remains available for the purpose it was intended – completing inspections of escalators and elevators throughout the state.
“These inspection fees are paid, and sometimes those inspections aren’t taking place for a year or later,” said Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union and the sponsor of the legislation in the House. “This allows that money to still be there for L&I to perform its job.”
The proposed account for escalator and elevator inspection fees would also hold fees the state charges for permitting and inspection of structures like manufactured homes, as well as registration of construction contractors.
L&I legislative director Tammy Fellin said moving the program fees into a separate account would ensure they aren’t subject to the same pressures to cut spending as other programs that vie for state general fund money.
Particularly when it comes to the state’s elevator and escalator inspection division, “We can’t afford any cuts to that program due to safety issues,” Fellin said.
Making the dedicated account shouldn’t cost the state any additional money, Fellin said; it would only require a transfer of funds roughly equal to the amount of fees the L&I programs have collected in past budget cycles, or about $18.5 million every two years.
L&I spokesman Tim Church said the agency’s proposal wasn’t prompted by media coverage of missed escalator inspections, though he said L&I is concerned about making sure it maintains enough funding to complete inspection work.
“It costs money to go out and visit escalators and elevators and make sure this work is being done,” Church said. “...It can become a problem if you don’t have it.”
Versions of the legislation have already passed out of both House and Senate committees. No one testified against the proposals during public hearings.