The 2018 legislative session ended on March 8 – and on-time for a change! Over the next few weeks, I will update you on what a very productive session it was.
First, I’ll say that this was not a typical short session. Democrats held a slight majority in the state Senate for the first time in several years, allowing the Legislature to finally move forward with a number of progressive, common-sense solutions to problems facing our communities and the entire state. And not all of these were partisan ideas; many good bills that had been bottled up for years by a few very conservative Senate Republican leaders passed both chambers with bipartisan majorities this time around when the full chamber was allowed to vote on them at last.
Making housing affordable, reducing homelessness
Homelessness is at crisis levels in communities across Washington. More than 40,000 K-12 students in our state experience homelessness during the course of a year. Disabled veterans and seniors are disproportionately impacted by homelessness. A third of discharged psychiatric patients become homeless within a year of leaving Western State or Eastern State hospitals. One out of three foster children in Washington will find themselves homeless within a year of aging out of the foster-care system.
That paints a bleak picture, but as someone who has spent the bulk of my adult life working on issues around affordable housing and homelessness, I’m gratified to say that in terms of progress on these issues, 2018 was the most successful session in recent memory.
Here are a few highlights:
HB 1570: I am proud to have introduced this bill, which Governor Jay Inslee called “one of the best things that came out of the Legislature this year.” The current document-recording fee of $40 has been an effective tool in the uphill fight against homelessness, but it was due to roll back to $10 in 2023. HB 1570 increases the surcharge to $62 and makes it permanent. This crucial revenue – an estimated $52 million annually – will continue to be shared among the state, counties, and cities, and HB 1570 also requires state and local homeless-housing plans to be prepared every five years rather than the current 10.
HB 2667: This new law, which I also introduced, expands eligibility for the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program to people who receive Aged, Blind, Disabled support from the state. HEN is one of the state’s most vital tools to combat homelessness, and this update to the law will ensure housing stability for many people in Washington living with long-term disabilities who are never far from the risk of homelessness.
HB 2578: Various forms of assistance are available to people struggling to afford stable housing, but landlords can and often do refuse to rent to recipients, even those who have done nothing wrong and have full-time employment, no criminal history, and good credit. Discrimination based on source of income disproportionately affects people of color, low-income people, single-parent families, veterans, people with disabilities, and other communities that have historically faced barriers in obtaining housing. Under HB 2578, a landlord is prohibited from discriminating against an otherwise eligible applicant or tenant based on source of income.
HB 2382: One of the impediments to the building of affordable housing in areas where it’s most needed is a shortage of available land. HB 2382 makes public lands accessible to increase opportunities for affordable housing, especially in areas like ours where rising property values have dramatically reduced the numbers of adequate affordable housing units.
The Legislature made some headway – but not enough – in the effort to end the gun violence crisis in Washington state. Here in the 43rd district, there is widespread and passionate support for reasonable policy approaches to reduce gun-related tragedies. Unfortunately, even after the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, which occurred at the height of the session, a majority of my colleagues were not willing to enact what most people would consider rational safeguards, including raising the minimum age for buying a semi-automatic rifle to 21. And, the bill I introduced to return local authority on firearms regulations, HB 2666, did not pass.
While this is disappointing, we did see incremental progress this session. SB 5992 bans the sale or possession of a bump stock, the hideous device that allowed the Las Vegas shooter to murder 58 people and wound nearly 500 more in a short period of time. HB 2519 will make it impossible for persons under extreme-risk, stalking, or sexual-assault protection orders to receive a concealed pistol license. SB 6298 adds domestic-violence harassment to the list of offenses that will prohibit a person from owning a firearm, period.
And SB 5553 sets up a process for persons having suicidal thoughts to temporarily waive their right to possess a gun. It also makes it a crime to provide a firearm to a person who has voluntarily waived this right. Although most gun-related headlines involve crimes against others, the fact that nearly four out of five shooting deaths are suicides gives this new law the potential to be a real life-saver.
These bills might seem like no-brainers, but astoundingly, there were lawmakers who voted against every one of them in the Senate and the House. As we know, the NRA and other pro-gun organizations lobby fiercely to defeat almost every effort to increase gun safety, and Washington is at the top of the list of states into which they pour money to do so. Voters in Washington have long been ahead of the legislature on these issues, but the tide is turning. I’m heartened by the progress we’ve made, and after attending the March for Our Lives event last weekend, I’m more hopeful than ever that we’ll continue moving in the right direction.
We live in a special district in a one-of-a-kind city. Many of us couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. But one unavoidable feature of life in Seattle is serious congestion on our streets. Combine that with an unusually high degree of environmental awareness and you wind up with a community that strongly supports, utilizes, and depends on public transit options.
My first biennium as your representative was a good one for transit, with more than $205 million invested directly into public transit and ancillary projects designed to help us get from place to place without climbing into cars. Here in the 43rd – which includes Capitol Hill, Madison Park, Montlake, Eastlake, South Lake Union, the University District, Fremont, Wallingford, Green Lake, much of Ravenna and First Hill, and a good portion of downtown Seattle – a number of transit projects will be started or continued as part of the state’s transportation spending plan.
We’ll see rider-friendly changes at the Capitol Hill, UW, U District, and Roosevelt Sound Transit Link stations. Construction of a new layover facility will allow more efficient deployment of as many as a dozen busses in our neighborhoods. There’s a pilot project to provide summer ORCA cards for eligible students. We have money set aside to assist employers in offering transit subsidies to their employees.
And importantly, we defeated efforts to strip Sound Transit 3 of millions of dollars, ensuring vital transit projects will continue on schedule. With thousands of people moving to our region each week, I am committed to realizing the vision for fast and efficient transit. I will continue to work every day to protect the promise made to voters when they approved ST 3 in 2016.
As I mentioned, I’ll be discussing different issues in subsequent e-newsletter in coming weeks. Look forward to updates on our work to expand voting access, mental healthcare, higher education, protections for workers and immigrants, police deadly use of force, and efforts to address climate change. In the meantime, I welcome your feedback, suggestions, and questions. It is an honor to serve the people of this district. Thanks for allowing me to work for you.