Catching up with Vashon’s legislators

Vashon’s legislators are tackling ferries, climate change, rent costs and more in Olympia this winter.

Editor’s note: The legislature moves fast, and there are more bills and efforts affecting Vashon Island that The Beachcomber did not have time to cover this week. We will continue our coverage next week, and in the meantime, encourage you to write in to us: What legislative news do you want to see? Do you have an opinion you want to share as a letter to the editor? Tell us at editor@vashonbeachcomber.com.

Vashon’s legislators are tackling ferries, climate change, rent costs and more in Olympia this winter.

The legislative season — which this year will last only 60 days — kicked off Monday, Jan. 8.

Feb 13 was the last day to pass a bill from the House to the Senate, or vice-versa, making it one of the biggest “do or die” moments for proposed legislation. Bills that don’t make it out of their chamber of origin by that deadline are usually dead.

March 1 is the deadline to pass most bills from their opposite chamber, and March 7 is the final day of the regular session.

Finding Foot Ferry Funding

Efforts to improve water access to the island are underway in the legislature, but this year, they’ll show up primarily in proposed amendments and supplements to the state budget.

Vashon’s state representatives say they’ve talked with King County about increasing passenger ferry service — a short-term solution that other ferry-dependent communities have used.

And Rep. Emily Alvarado successfully submitted a $3.17 million funding request onto the proposed House supplemental transportation budget. It would secure cash from the Puget Sound ferry operations account to expand King County Metro’s weekday, midday water taxi service between Vashon and Seattle.

Vashon’s representative on the King County Council, Teresa Mosqueda, voiced her support for the funding in a letter addressed to Rep. Jake Fey, chair of the House Transportation Committee.

The funding “will help provide immediate relief to the Vashon community, and help to mitigate the impacts of continued ferry service reductions,” Mosqueda wrote. “This proposal has been coordinated with King County, and we have the available boats and crew to provide the additional service at the requested funding level.”

Meanwhile, here’s what our local legislators had to say about this session and the legislation they’re advancing.

Sen. Joe Nguyen

Nguyen is the prime sponsor behind SB 6058, an effort to merge Washington’s carbon emission market with California’s and Quebec’s. It passed the Senate 29-20 on Feb. 12.

Fully linking the markets would create more stability in the market, Nguyen said.

“It’s strength in numbers,” Nguyen said. “Having other folks doing it with you makes everything a lot easier.”

His SB 6052 would have required oil industry companies to report specifics about their pricing and supply, to improve the state’s understanding of petroleum costs. Nguyen and supporters said it would shed light on Washington’s fuel prices and to what degree climate change policy influenced those prices. Critics laid the blame for fuel prices on climate policies and said the bill would pass costs onto consumers and have no effect on the price of fuel.

SB 6052 didn’t make it out of committee this year, however. A House version of the bill, HB 2232, met the same fate.

Nguyen also led SB 5832, which would prohibit campaign contributions and expenditures by “foreign-influenced corporations.”

Money in politics often clouds the ability of people to voice what they want from their democracy, Nguyen said, and the bill would serve as a “backstop” to the ability of large companies to pour cash into political campaigns. But the bill didn’t make it out of committee this year.

Neither did his SB 5965 make it out of committee — it would have required fashion sellers and manufacturers that make an annual gross income above $100 million to disclose a plan to the public around their environmental due diligence, including a map of their supply chain and plans for reducing emissions and increasing production of recycled materials.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon

As House majority leader, Rep. Fitzgibbon has legislative-specific duties that mean he sponsors less legislation than other lawmakers. But he is the prime sponsor of HB 2039, which would change the appeals process for environmental and land use matters. It passed the House on Feb. 12 in a 64-33 vote.

If passed, the bill would allow the final decision of the Pollution Control, Shoreline, and Growth Management Hearings Boards, or a land use decision, to be directly reviewed by the Court of Appeals after certification by a superior court — as long as doing so is found to not be prejudiced to one party. And it would allow appeals to be consolidated, further speeding up the process.

“It’s not intended to (have court decisions) result in a different outcome,” Fitzgibbon said. “It’s intended to just get to the decision, whether that’s a yes or no, or a modified permit, more quickly. … It doesn’t eliminate any permit requirements or change any of the standards of review. The goal is just to have fewer steps in the process.”

Fitzgibbon’s HB 2105 would have limited the diversion of water from bodies of water when doing so would be to the detriment of fish and other valuable aquatic resources. The bill didn’t make it out of committee. His HB 2325 — which would have clarified the law around employees of the state legislature who wish to form a union — also didn’t make it out of committee this session.

Rep. Emily Alvarado

Alvarado’s sponsored bills focus primarily on childcare and support for young people, and include efforts to expand access to home care certification.

Perhaps her most spotlighted effort is HB 2114, a bill that would give tenants more rights and financial protections in their relationships with landlords. Critics call it rent control, but Alvarado calls it “rent stabilization.”

The bill passed the House on Feb. 13 on a 54-43 vote buoyed by Democrat support.

In its current incarnation, the bill would limit rent and fee increases to 7 percent over any 12-month period for many tenants, and limit move-in fees and security deposits to one month’s rent or less, among other fee limitations. Landlords would be allowed to reset the cost of rent after a tenant voluntarily leaves the unit, and the bill exempts construction that is less than ten years old.

“Across Washington, people are struggling to pay the rent,” Alvarado said during a Jan. 11 hearing on the bill. “Excessive rent increases destabilize families … (and are) a driving factor behind evictions (and) the rise in homelessness. … We can provide some stability in the single greatest cost in a household’s budget: housing costs.”

Public testimony over the bill included supporters who shared painful stories of how they’d been adversely affected by punishing rent increases, and three separate self-described “mom and pop” landlords who said the cap is reasonable and fair.

Critics, including members of the real estate industry and other small-to-large landlords and their representatives, said the fundamental problem driving housing costs is a lack of housing supply, and that the effects of the bill would damage the housing market, reducing new housing construction and maintenance; and that any benefits would ultimately help middle- and upper-class people more than those in more dire economic straits.

Alvarado is also behind HB 1945, which would allow any children who qualify for basic food benefits, such as the federal SNAP program or state FAP program, to automatically be eligible for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program or the Working Connections Child Care program, both of which are programs that help families afford preschool and childcare. Essentially, the bill would open up government subsidies to childcare to more families.

“We should make programs easy to access, especially when they’re about helping to meet basic needs of families,” Alvarado said in an interview. “So really, this is about application streamlining. In the short term, it does also expand access. … I believe that families that are making minimum wage in our state should be able to access childcare. … My feeling is that these are exactly the kinds of basic needs programs and public services that the state should be supporting. And I support additional progressive revenue as a way to fund those services.”

That bill passed the House overwhelmingly in a 94-3 vote.