The 2020 Washington legislative session kicked off earlier this month in Olympia and it promises to be a whirlwind two-month session as hefty Democratic majorities in both chambers look to pass a suite of bills ranging from comprehensive sexual health education to a ban on high capacity gun magazines.
For the three Democrats representing the 43rd District, which covers Seattle neighborhoods including Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Madison Park, affordable housing and homelessness are near the top of mind as Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed tapping over $300 million from the state’s rainy day fund to pay for homeless services.
This housing focus is unsurprising for the 43rd District’s House members given their personal crusades on the issue in their varying times in the Legislature — Rep. Nicole Macri arrived in Olympia in 2017 while Rep. Frank Chopp is spending his first year in decades as a regular House member after being the longest serving speaker in Washington history.
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Macri sees the governor’s proposal to use the state’s emergency fund as “politically challenging” but has proposed a number of other plans aimed to help ease the housing burden. The deputy director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center is pushing a just-cause eviction bill based in part on a Seattle ordinance, hoping to push the policy to the rest of the state to protect tenants. That legislation had a hearing in a House committee Friday and is slated to be voted out of committee at the end of the month.
Macri is also sponsoring legislation to open the door for duplexes and triplexes in traditionally single-family housing zones.
“To add just more diversity of housing on a smaller, lower density level to open up options,” she said. Chopp agreed that the state needs a mix of housing for a variety of income levels and pointed to duplexes and triplexes as a local solution.
Chopp, meanwhile, has a personal connection to the housing issue, which he argues is the biggest in the district. He grew up in a small Navy surplus house in Bremerton that his dad bought for $300. The family fixed up the house so he could come of age there.
“I figured if it was good enough for me, the benefit from that, then I should help other people to be able to have a decent home to be at,” Chopp said. “It’s very personal from that experience.”
Chopp says that no longer sitting in the speaker’s chair is opening up his time to work on projects, like one that allows public properties to be repurposed into housing and early learning. The sites include one on Madison and Boylston that is being developed into a 17-story tower with 370 units of workforce housing.
Macri, meanwhile, also mentioned priorities such as a bill of hers to enhance reproductive health care coverage regardless of immigration status. Others would better regulate hospitals and look to make their billing more transparent.
Macri also mentioned several climate bills that could move through the legislature this year, including cutting transportation emissions and a zero emission vehicle program. One last bill would look to keep intersections clear and transit lanes open by stopping cars from “blocking the box.”
On the senate side, Law and Justice Committee chair Sen. Jamie Pedersen says that one of the biggest issues the legislature faces this year is making budget fixes in the face of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976.
“There will be a lot of tugging and pulling on the transportation budget to make sure that we protect the funding,” Pedersen said, noting that one can’t assume they’ll be able to block the initiative in court.
His committee is also looking at several gun control bills, including one to ban high capacity, 10-round magazines, which passed out of his committee last week. A similar bill stalled in Olympia last year, but he is more confident that this might be the year for high capacity magazines. The committee also passed bills to put more requirements on those looking to get a concealed pistol license and creating a state office of firearm violence prevention.
As Seattle Public Schools is moving ahead with a plan to phase out its standard gifted student program at the Central District’s Washington Middle School serving many children from across the 43rd District, Pedersen has introduced legislation that would extend legal protections to the state’s gifted students if their districts opt to make changes like the planned phase-out at Washington.
Pedersen also mentioned that, with a concentration of higher education institutions in the 43rd, a priority of his is making a funding fix to the ambitious funding passed last year to give free and discounted tuition to thousands of Washington college students since the tax structure meant to fund this program isn’t raising as much as expected.
Pedersen’s bill to fix this shortfall would tax more high-grossing businesses and raise about an additional $230 million by 2023, according to the Department of Revenue.
Lastly, Pedersen has new legislation this session to push publicly traded companies in the state to have gender-diverse boards by 2022. That bill has already passed out of the state senate with a few Republican votes
Each of the three Democrats seemed confident that the Legislature would get its ducks in a row by March 12, when the session is set to wrap.
“We just focus on the work that has to be done and hopefully we’ll be done on time,” Chopp said.
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