The opening week of session is always a flurry, and this year is no exception. Of course there was the opening with all the pomp and circumstance, including a House of Representatives that is as balanced as it’s been in over a decade and a half with 50 Democrats and 48 Republicans sworn in. The same narrow margin exists in the Senate with the Majority Caucus where Republicans have the majority of votes.
This session legislators have a host of issues to try to address quickly in a 60 day session so they can get out on the campaign trail for what will no doubt be a huge election season. Issues that are foremost are K-12 education funding (the McCleary issue), charter schools, and the number one issue that is lighting up phones this year is the Washington State Human Rights Commission’s decision on transgender restroom access. Of course there has been a number of bills introduced that affect our rental housing industry that are listed in the Weekly Legislative Report. Here is a brief synopsis.
The City of Seattle has introduced a bill with the help of Sen. Fain, the majority floor leader in the Senate and one of RHAWA’s good friends, that provides some tax incentives for existing rental properties. This is an incentive based program, completely voluntary, and one of the 65 recommendations from the HALA Report. Sen. Bill 6239, is being supported by RHAWA, and another similar bill (HB 2442) is also being watched closely that was introduced by Rep. Appleton and drafted by the new County Assessor for King County, John Wilson, that creates “affordable housing zones” as an option for local governments to provide tax breaks for landlords that keep rents down within those designated zones.
One bill that we are opposing is HB 1605, which changes the laws regarding Fire Protection Districts (FPD). This bill would make it easier for FPD’s to renew a levy that formerly was limited to 6 years, to 10 years with a simple majority vote, or even permanently with a 60% vote, providing there is a 40% turnout of the number of the latest general election. Let me break this down a little. In other words, you could have a permanent tax increase with less than 25% of the voters in a district voting yes. This kind of tax hits our members the worst, especially the multifamily owners.
I don’t want to forget the two bills that are being opposed by all the rental housing groups and our allied partners in the real estate and development industry. HB 2395 implements a condominium conversion fee, and HB 2397 a housing demolition fee. Both these bills are just adding cost to the price of housing and are counter-productive in helping with real solutions.
There will be much more to discuss at the end of our second week. Don’t forget to make it to the Leg. Day Feb. 3rd. See you all there.