2018 Legislative Session Recap

State Capitol Building

The 2018 session was a “short session” for Washington State Legislators. Because Washington adopts a two-year (biennial) budget during odd numbered years, even numbered years are shorter and reserved for tweaking the budget based on revenue forecast and casework numbers across all state departments. As a result, because it is a 60-day session, legislative cutoffs are much tighter and it is harder to pass significant legislation. Washington REALTORS® entered the session knowing clearly what our priorities were: 

  • Helping urban and rural housing inventory issues. 
  • Ensuring that more people have a chance to enjoy homeownership.
  • Working with the Legislature to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.

Housing Inventory

Housing choices for people in urban and rural areas differ dramatically, so we broke our legislative agenda into rural housing opportunities and urban housing opportunities. 

RURAL HOUSING

Washington REALTORS®, as part of a broad coalition, scored the biggest victory of the year early in session with the passage of the “Hirst Fix” bill. This bill came about because of a State Supreme Court Decision that essentially said that counties could not rely on the Department of Ecology to determine whether or not new wells would impact various ecological functions and each county would then have to certify that for themselves. While seemingly simple, this caused chaos across the State. The Department of Ecology has always been the body that makes that determination and as such, they had the resources, professionals and budgets for studies that would help them make those kinds of determinations. 

Various counties acted in different ways, some just continued to approve wells, while some put a moratorium on all future wells—bringing rural land sales in those areas to a halt. Washington REALTORS® worked with a broad array of stakeholders to pass a bill that both reaffirmed that the Legislature intended the Department of Ecology as the body to determine water availability in rural areas, and increased funding to protect instream flows. This bill addresses most of the state, and was a big win for rural land owners and the streams and rivers that many of us rely on for work and play. (We have plenty of resources about what the Hirst decision means for your area at www.warealtor.org)

URBAN HOUSING

On the urban side of the ledger, Washington REALTORS® supported several bills that would have increased inventory. The most important thing we accomplished was to secure money to help counties use better market data and get more accurate numbers as they put together the housing plan that every county governed by the Growth Management Act is required to do. This will also help those areas whether or not their housing plans are producing enough units for the influx of people moving to that area. 

This is a small step forward but is also an important piece in helping prevent future inventory shortages. As far as the current inventory shortage goes, we focused on two bills—first, a bill that would reform condo liability laws so that small and mid-sized developers would come back to the condo market. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Tana Senn (D-41), had a hearing and passed out of committee. Unfortunately, it did not get a floor vote on the house floor for various reasons, including the reluctance of the Senate Majority to hear the bill, even if it passed out of the House. 

That said, in addition to a hearing on this bill, Senator Mark Mullet (D-5) also held a work session on condominium issues, where the lead on the Washington REALTOR® Condominium Work Group, REALTOR® Michael Orbino testified about the lack of affordable ownership options in urban areas. 

Washington REALTORS® worked on another bill regarding mandating minimum densities to cities and counties governed by the Growth Management Act. That bill also died after generating some excitement. It’s always tough to run big bills during a short session, but both of these ideas gained traction and clearly, more work on both of these issues will happen by the Legislature—with a lot of input from Washington REALTORS®—in the 2019 Legislative Session.

Homeownership Opportunities For All

Nothing makes you realize how valuable the opportunity to own a home can be than by celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and looking back at one of the great successes of Federal Government. 

While the need for it in the first place is disheartening, no single federal policy has had a greater impact on shaping our neighborhoods and communities for the better than passage of the Fair Housing Act. 

Along with working with the Legislature to celebrate the 50th anniversary and working with the Governor’s office to celebrate this anniversary during Fair Housing month, Washington REALTORS® also advocated for another group who is having a hard time seeing the dream of homeownership come to reality—young adults with student debt. 

Washington REALTORS® listened to stories from many of our members telling of their experiences working with the next generation of homeowners and how student debt has become an issue—taking it’s toll emotionally while creating issues impacting debt to income ratios. We worked with the Legislature and Prime Sponsors Senator Marko Liias (D-21) and Rep. Tina Orwall (D-33) to make sure that the same consumer protections that apply to banks who make other loans to consumers also apply to companies that have recently been created to buy and maintain student debt. 

This small step forward will help protect students from practices that are not allowed with other forms of consumer debt. This bill will also help students pay off loans more quickly and will give them an advocate on each college campaus to ensure they understand the consequences of debt along with their consumer rights. We applaud this work and will continue to work with the Legislature on this important issue. 

We end the 2018 session with a number of victories, a couple of issues left to work on, and looking towards a long session where the Legislature will adopt another budget in 2019.

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