Rent Control Fails in the 2018 Washington State Legislature
Today, Friday February 2nd is the official cutoff for most bills in the legislature. Any bill that does not have effect the state’s budget must be voted out of committee by today, or they are classified as “dead” and are no longer available to be voted on for the year. Both the house bill HB (2583) and the Senate bill (SB 6400) did not get voted out of their policy committees, and are now “dead” bills.
While both the House and the Senate had public hearings on the bills, it was clear that some Seattle centered lawmakers in the House of Representatives have drawn battle lines for the years to come. While RHAWA members, and many other groups traveled to Olympia to participate in the public hearing, no small landlords were allowed to testify publicly. Instead, many tenant and social justice advocates, along with some labor organizations, dominated the conversation in front of the committee, filibustering the short amount of time the Judiciary Committee chose to give to such a critical issue.
While it was unfortunate for the folks who came from far away to not have their voices heard, RHAWA was effective in organizing a campaign of letters and written testimony on both the policy problems with rent control and the unfairness of not being able to speak in the hearing. Those concerns were heard by the Senate committee, whose public hearing was a much more fair and balanced approach, allowing property owners, and tenants to testify alongside advocates for both sides. Most importantly, the Senate hearing featured the testimony of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. The Councilmember was strident in her views as a socialist, and chastised the state senators on their inaction in allowing Seattle to enact a rent control policy. While her style may be effective in Seattle, the aggressiveness of her message was quite surprising to the more deliberative State Senate.
Although the bills are no longer alive this year, there is going to be significant building momentum throughout the interim. Democrats believe they are poised to have a very successful midterm election with the goal of pushing their slim majorities into more substantial numbers. Those gains could outnumber moderate lawmakers and produce enough votes to pass rent control. It is critical that RHAWA and it’s membership take a continued active role during the upcoming election cycle and organize resistance through the legislative process. While we have another year without rent control, the policy has never been more menacingly close to our door as it is now in these shifting political times.