Legislative session opens Monday; in-person access limited

Police reform regulations that had North Olympic Peninsula law enforcement officials up in arms will likely be reviewed and refined in the off-year, mostly virtual legislative session that began Jan. 10, the 24th District’s three lawmakers said last week.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege and Reps. Steve Tharinger and Mike Chapman expect changes may be in store for the measures, as did North Olympic Legislative Alliance (NOLA) lobbyist Josh Weiss, who spoke Wednesday at a Clallam County Economic Development Council (EDC) program about what’s on tap in Olympia for the next 60 days.

The three 24th District Democrats, who represent Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern half of Grays Harbor County, said in later separate interviews that they expect many concerns addressed at the meeting will be a focus during the off-year capitol proceedings.

Chapman, of Port Angeles, said he expects to focus much of his attention on chairing the Rural Development, Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee and ensure Elwha River bridge replacement, a $32 million project, stays on track. Chapman said bids will go out by summer and construction will begin by spring 2023.

Tharinger, of Port Townsend, said he will concentrate on chairing the Capital Budget Committee.

He is cosponsoring HB 1333, which would delay until Dec. 31, 2054, the expiration of the 0.09 percent local sales and use tax, credited against the state rate, for public facilities in rural counties. It will help maintain a 30-year window for bond-financed projects, he said.

Van De Wege, of Sequim, saying he hopes the Senate can get back to in-person legislating by the end of January if COVID-19 pressures ease up, vowed to concentrate on fixing what lawmakers approved over the last few years.

“We need to make sure that the legislation is working, which I don’t think it all is, and refine it,” he said.

EDC meeting participants were concerned over when slide-prone state Highway 112 will be reopened where it has been blocked near Clallam Bay since mid-November storms and wanted a long-range plan to keep it open.

Housing

Addressing the housing shortage was a top priority, one Gov. Jay Inslee is tackling in a recent proposal.

Based on bills in the House and Senate that will be introduced by Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, and Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, Inslee’s efforts would mainly affect cities of over 25,000 population, according to an Inslee spokesperson.Legislation would require zoning for multifamily housing within a half-mile of major transit stops, with duplexes allowed on most other lots throughout those cities (governor.wa.gov).

It is intended to address the shortage of “middle housing,” described as including duplexes, triplexes, quads, sixplexes, stacked flats, townhouses and courtyard apartments.

Cities of over 10,000 population, such as Port Angeles, would be required to allow duplexes on similar lots. In 2019, Port Angeles had 19,832 residents, Port Townsend 9,551, Sequim 2,248 and Forks 3,828.

Port Angeles already allows duplexes and accessory dwelling units on single-family-residential lots.

The Legislative Alliance advances “economic development, business prosperity, and quality of life for the people of North Olympic Peninsula region,” including Clallam and Jefferson counties, according to its page at the EDC’s clallam.org website.

Team Jefferson and the EDC administer Weiss’s contract of $3,000 a month, split at $2,000 from EDC and $1,000 from Team Jefferson, EDC Executive Director Colleen McAleer said.

Weiss said Inslee’s proposal has raised concerns among many in local government by removing the authority that cities have to zone for single-family use by imposing density requirements on those parcels, making the plan a likely hot topic among lawmakers over the next two months.

“We have a bottom-up land use system in the state, so it’s pretty unusual for the state to come with a top-down type of land use mandate like this, so that will be a pretty significant discussion,” Weiss said.

Legislators this year will not be as aggressive with legislation as they were in 2021, he predicted.

Police reform

They will likely focus on adjusting police reform legislation that included restricting police pursuits, Involuntary Treatment Act interactions and other law enforcement procedures, Weiss said.

“There’s been some pretty obvious problems with what they passed last year.”

Weiss cautioned the results may not “go as far as was some in the law enforcement community may have been hearing about (are) needed changes.”

Concerns also have been raised about the long-term-care tax. Workers will pay 0.58 percent earned into the Washington Cares Fund, or 58 cents for every $100 they earn.

Inslee delayed its implementation after the tax was scheduled to go into effect this month, mandating that premiums not be collected from employers before April.

Weiss said proposed legislation has been “pre-filed” by the Democratic majority that would postpone implementation until 2023, adding even that may not go far enough for many lawmakers’ liking.

“More significantly, there’s already a Democrat bill out as well that would provide additional exemptions for veterans and military personnel,” he said.

Inslee’s supplemental budget proposal includes combating climate change, establishing incentives for electric vehicles and other electrification measures, and salmon recovery, he said.

His operating and capital budgets include more than $800 million in state and federal funds for affordable housing, homeless services and housing aid for families and individuals.

The overall budget is $61.8 billion, with a November 2021 revenue forecast of $60.2 billion.

Highway 112

McAleer, also a Port of Port Angeles commissioner, said a county public works official she spoke with fears state officials don’t appear to be prioritizing a fix for a major slide on state Highway 112.

Meeting participant Laurel Black asked about federal money being spent to find a permanent solution to the ongoing problem of those slides cutting off access to the county’s West End, leaving only U.S. Highway 101 the only thoroughfare.

“You only have two routes from one end of the county to another,” she said.

In a state Department of Transportation blog-post on Jan. 4, the agency said emergency entry permits to work along the hillside away from state right of way have been obtained for work at Milepost 15.8 near Clallam Bay. Final engineering, hydraulic design and survey work is nearing completion.

A contract should be available for competitive bids this week with bid opening next week and a contractor beginning site mobilization the week of Jan. 24.

A long-term fix to state Highway 112 problems “would be incredibly expensive,” Van De Wege said in an interview.

“It was poorly designed when it was first built.”

Chapman and Tharinger said they have high hopes for the 24th District deriving benefits from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan federal infrastructure package Congress approved in November.

“We need to align our state funding with federal guidance so we can access as much of that federal money as possible and get it working for the people of the state,” Tharinger said.

He said more clarity needs to be given to police reform regarding the Involuntary Treatment Act provision. Addressing restrictions on .50-caliber ammunition are “an easy fix,” Tharinger added.

Sequim City Council member Lowell Rathbun, an EDC meeting participant, asked about funding for the Simdars Road Interchange on U.S. Highway 101.

Chapman, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said the boost in federal infrastructure funds makes it more likely the project will be funded.

He could not say if Highway 112 will be open by summer, adding the road will have to continue being shored up and maintained as much as possible for the foreseeable future.

“They will open it when it’s safe,” he said,

“An all-new road is probably not feasible.”

In-person access limited to legislative session

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to restrictions on the legislative session that began Monday.

A limited number of lawmakers will be on site at the Capitol, and committee hearings will be fully remote. While the galleries overlooking the House and Senate chambers are closed for now, the Capitol building itself will be open to the public.

As before the pandemic, hearings and floor votes will continue to be broadcast or live streamed by TVW, the state’s government affairs channel, at tvw.org.

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