Housing Action, Assault Weapons Ban and the State’s Largest Biennial Budget Among Highlights
After 105 days, the 2023 Washington State legislative session came to a close Sunday night. With Democrats controlling the majority in both houses, there were sweeping new restrictions placed on firearm purchases and the new $70 billion biennial budget (SB 5187) reflected increases to education and health spending as well as increases to public worker pay.
Both parties came together to address the state’s housing crisis – an issue that is playing out across the nation – by putting an end to some exclusionary zoning practices, mandating growth for middle housing options, like Accessory Dwelling Units and duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes, and streamlined permitting processes at the state and local level to speed up housing project development.
Here’s a look at what passed – and what didn’t – that have implications to life and business on Bainbridge Island and a few others that have far reaching implications for Washingtonians as a whole.
- Prohibition on Single Family Home Zoning (HB1110) – The bill removes local jurisdiction over some zoning laws and is aimed at addressing the state’s housing crisis by allowing for development of duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes based on city size and access to mass transit options. Bainbridge is about to be subject to island-wide duplex development under this law as a city with more than 25,000 inhabitants and up to four units within a quarter mile of mass transit stations (think: ferry terminal/bus depot), or if one of the four units is income-restricted Affordable Housing. However, neighborhoods with pre-existing home owner or Home Owner’s Association contracts, will not be subject to this bill.
- Accessory Dwelling Units (HB 1337) – Easing barriers to construction and use of ADUs to help with housing crisis.
- Covenant Homeownership Program (HB 1474) – Addressing housing discrimination due to racially restrictive real estate covenants by creating a homeownership account accessible for down payment and closing cost assistance to economically disadvantaged classes of persons.
- Reducing Local Government Land Use Permitting (SB 5412) – Reduces local governments’ land use permitting workloads by ensuring objective and timely design review for housing and other land use proposals.
Ban on Assault Weapons (HB 1240) – Bans and blocks the sale, distribution, manufacture, and importation of more than 50 models of guns, including the AR-15s and AK-47s, often used in mass shootings. Exemptions noted are sales to law enforcement agencies and the military in Washington. The ban does not bar possession of these weapons by people who already have them. Washington is the 10th state to ban them.
Police Pursuits (SB 5352) – Loosens restrictions on law enforcement vehicle pursuits that were put into place in 2021. Police will be allowed to pursue a person if there’s reasonable suspicion that they are committing or have committed a violent offense, including sexual crimes, vehicular assault, domestic violence, an escape, or driving under the influence.
Orca Buffer Zone (SB 5371) – Requires recreational boats on Puget Sound to stay farther away from the area’s southern resident killer whales (increasing the distance from 400 to 1,000 yards).
Reproductive Rights & Health Care
- Abortion and Gender Affirming Care Shield Law (HB 1469) – Protects people who seek, provide or facilitate abortion in Washington from out-of-state investigations and prosecutions and would apply gender-affirming care providers as well as abortion clinics.
- Prevention of Clinician Retaliation (HB 1340) – Prevents medical licensing boards from retaliating against clinicians for providing reproductive health-services and gender affirming care.
- Ban on Retail Sexual Assault Kits (HB 1564) – Bans the sale of over-the-counter sexual assault kits in Washington. Advocates say it misleads survivors of sexual assault about their options. Washington will be among the first states in the country to ban the product.
Mental Health (HB 1134) – Funds mobile units and training for crisis teams as well as help increase exposure for the crisis line, which was launched, and the 10-digit suicide prevention hotline. It also created a connected pathway for coordination between 911 and 988.
- Battery Lifecycle Requirements (SB 5144) – Requires that battery manufacturers be responsible for the lifecycle of their products, creating incentives for them to make batteries last longer or that are easier to recycle.
- Plastic Pollution Reduction (HB 1085) – Reducing plastic pollution by requiring all refill stations in drinking fountains in all new construction, phasing out mini-toiletries plastic packaging at hospitality and lodging facilities, and banning foam-filled dock floats in fresh and marine environments.
Ban on Capital Punishment (SB 5087) – It is now against state law to use the death penalty in Washington. The state has not invoked the death penalty since 2010 and the Supreme Court of Washington also invalidated this option in 2018.
State’s Official Dinosaur (HB 1020) – Welcome Suciasaurus Rex! A fourth-grade class at Pierce County’s Elmhurst Elementary made this request of lawmakers back in 2019 based on the first dinosaur fossil ever found in Washington state. And while it took a few years, this dino is ready to represent Washington.
What Didn’t Pass?
Real Estate Excise Tax Modifications (HB 1628) – Would have modified the state and local real estate excise tax to increase the supply of affordable housing by adding a 4% tax to the portion of a property’s sales price if it was $5 million or more (timberland and agriculture were excluded). The state’s ceiling of a 3% tax on properties more than $3 million stands.
Lot Splitting (HB 1245) – Required cities planning under the Growth Management Act to incorporate further subdivision of parcels to increase housing density.
Transit Oriented Development (SB 5466) – Would have prohibited cities from developing or enforcing new regulations that do not allow for growth in housing density near transit stations or hubs.
Cap on Annual Rent Increases (HB 1389) – Would have capped rent increases by a landlord in a given year.
Drug Possession (SB 5536) – Would have affirmed into a law a provision that will sunset in July, making unlawful possession of a drug a misdemeanor crime on the third occurrence, with law enforcement officers giving treatment options the first two times.
DUI restrictions (SB 5002) – Would have reduced Driving Under the Influence thresholds from 0.08% Blood Alcohol Content to 0.05% BAC.
What Happens Now?
In the case of SB 5536, as its failure threatens to cause public safety issues in July, there is a strong possibility that the legislature may be called back to Olympia for a Special Session.
Historically, 85% of all bills do not pass the legislative process, but it doesn’t mean they’re completely dead. In fact, many bills are taken up again in the next session and substantial work on those bills to reshape them, address policy issues, provide more research, and gain public, party or cross-aisle support happens during the legislative recess.
For bills that did pass out of this legislature and are signed by the governor, there are still face big hurdles to face in implementation at the county and local levels and also by way of legal challenges – as can be expected in the case of the assault weapons ban.
Practical procedural issues and/or adjusting local governance process can often delay implementation of new state laws, which is why many come with implementation timelines to help local officials prepare for their enforcement.
In the case of legal challenges pertaining to matters within the state, like new state taxes, injured parties can file suit at the local level and the case is tracked through appeal until it is heard by and ruled on by the State Supreme Court. If the suit challenges a state law that is deemed to come into direct conflict with federal law or federally protected rights – as could potentially happen with the assault weapons ban – the suit is filled in U.S. District Court in Washington and could be appealed to the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals in San Francisco. In either instance, the verdicts of those suits could make final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for review, but that court does not have to accept the case.
How Can You Get Involved?
Communicate with your Legislator (see the Learn More section below to get specific contact details):
- Attend a local meeting
- Make an appointment to meet in Olympia
- Send an email
- Make a phone call
Participate in a Committee Hearing:
- Register your interest with your representative
- Have your position on a Bill Publicly Noted for the Legislative Record via online sign in
- Submit Written Testimony
- Testify in person at the legislature
Create a citizen Initiative or Referendum:
For more on Citizen-led legislative change, as well as look inside the process that creates all other state laws through Washington’s legislative process, head on over to our next article in the Local Government 101 series: A User Guide To Passing Laws in Washington State
- Local Government 101 – The Washington State Legislature – Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce
- Local Government 101 – A User Guide to Passing Laws in Washington State – Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce
- “Washington Legislature unveils $69.2B two-year state budget” – Crosscut (04/22/2023)
- “Semi-automatic rifle ban passes Washington state Legislature” – Associated Press (04/19/2022)