Monthly Archives: July 2019

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    2019 Session Review: Making sure everyone has an affordable home

2019 Session Review: Making sure everyone has an affordable home

July 29th, 2019|

The lack of affordable housing has created serious and growing problems across our state, and nowhere more than in the central Puget Sound region. People live under bridges, in tents, and in cars. Families move to distant suburbs to find houses they can afford and spend long hours each day commuting on congested freeways. Jobs go unfilled because workers cannot find affordable housing near their workplace. The Legislature took action in 2019 to increase the supply of housing and prevent people from becoming homeless.

Investing in the Housing Trust Fund

Our state’s Housing Trust Fund dollars support a wide range of projects serving a diverse array of low-income populations. This year’s capital budget includes a $175 million investment in the fund to help alleviate our state’s housing crisis. The package of funding includes special investments for people with chronic mental illness, along with housing for veterans and farmworkers.

Eviction reform

Overly permissive eviction laws have been a major cause of housing instability. The Legislature passed several measures to help keep people in their homes and prevent the cycle of homelessness. The legislation represented a compromise among a broad coalition of parties — tenants and advocates, housing authorities, landlord associations, property managers, and the courts — to achieve practical solutions.

  • SB 5600 reforms eviction laws to extend the pay-or-evict notice period from three days to 14 and requires landlords to notify tenants 60 days before raising rent. The legislation also provides judicial discretion in eviction cases. If a tenant in an eviction case fails to pay, landlords can apply to the Landlord Mitigation Fund to recover lost rent.
  • HB 1462 requires landlords to provide tenants 120 days notice before they plan to evict in order to tear down a building.
  • HB 1440 increases the notice to 60 days for a rent increase, and prohibits a rent increase before the end of a lease term.

Increasing condominium construction

Condos play a critical role in the housing market, providing an opportunity for first-time homebuyers to start building equity and an option for empty-nesters who no longer need a single-family home but are not ready for assisted living. Very few condos have been built in the last decade, though, and many builders and developers say that the cause is liability statutes that have created too much risk and uncertainty. SB 5334 updates the condo warranty statute to provide a better balance between builders and buyers. I hope this legislation will coax builders and developers back into the market by protecting them against meritless claims while maintaining consumer protections for buyers of new condos. Boosting construction of new condos is another tool in a comprehensive strategy to help increase the supply of affordable housing options for our growing city and state.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on important issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety, civil rights, climate change, orca recovery, or behavioral health, you can read those here.

Best wishes,
Jamie

2019 Session Review: Improving our behavioral health system

July 22nd, 2019|

For decades, Washington state has struggled to meet the needs of people with mental health or substance use disorders, now commonly referred to as “behavioral health.” We have relied on 19th-century models of care and have failed to invest in building community-based treatment facilities and training enough professionals to help our neighbors facing such challenges. The results – from people in crisis strapped to gurneys at Harborview Medical Center to chronically homeless people living under freeways – are a source of shame for us all.

The 2019 Legislature worked on several bipartisan efforts to expand the capacity of behavioral health treatment facilities, improve funding and staffing levels at our state hospitals, and to push government at all levels to take a clinical approach rather than a criminal justice approach to addressing these challenges.

New UW teaching hospital

A significant behavioral health workforce shortage has created a two- to three-month wait for treatment in most areas of the state. Our rapidly growing population will only increase the demand for services. In response to this challenge, the Legislature passed HB 1593 to create a behavioral health innovation and integration campus within the University of Washington School of Medicine. The bill, championed by House Speaker Frank Chopp, will allow us not only to teach an integrated behavioral health curriculum to the next generation of behavioral health care providers, but also to expand the number of inpatient beds. This will include a 150-bed psychiatric unit to replace capacity at the outdated Western State Hospital.

Other behavioral health investments in the 2019 budget include:

  • $70 million toward meeting a court-mandated timeline to improve access to mental-health treatment for people waiting in jail for competency evaluations.
  • $58 million for patient safety enhancements, preservation and ward renovations at Eastern State Hospital and Western State Hospital.
  • $28.7 million for construction of two new forensic wards, providing 60 additional forensic beds at Western State Hospital.
  • $8 million for a new Treatment and Recovery Center at Western State Hospital.
  • $25 million for predesign, design, siting and site work of two state-constructed community civil bed facilities — one providing 16 state-operated civil beds and one providing 48 mixed-use beds.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on important issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety, civil rights, climate change, or orca recovery, you can read those here.

2019 Session Review: Protecting Puget Sound Orcas

July 15th, 2019|

Orcas and salmon are integral to our region’s cultural identity, economy and tourism industry. Both southern resident orcas and Chinook salmon populations are declining due to the last century of development and human activity along the Puget Sound and Columbia River, along with the effects of climate change. The historically healthy population of around 200 resident orcas has dwindled to 76. Last summer, the story of Tahlequah carrying her dead calf for days in the Puget Sound touched people here at home and across the globe. With great grassroots public support, the Legislature took several important steps to protect these iconic creatures.

Orca recovery

Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • SB 5577 increases the distance vessels must keep from southern resident orcas and sets vessel speed limits within a half mile of orcas. Though it does not impose a two-year moratorium on southern resident orca commercial whale watching, as Gov. Inslee’s task force proposed, it requires state fish and wildlife officials to establish a commercial license for whale watching activities and to limit vessel times and locations.
  • HB 1579 undertakes habitat protection measures for orcas and the salmon on which they feed by providing additional compliance and enforcement measures, including catch limits for fish orcas feed on.
  • SB 5918 requires state parks to include whale watching guidelines and other informational material in the Boating Safety Education Program.
  • SB 5135 will help eliminate toxic chemicals that harm orcas and other marine species. The bill directs the state Department of Ecology to identify high-priority chemicals of concern, particularly in consumer products, explore safer alternatives, and adopt restrictions on the manufacture, sale or use of those dangerous chemicals.
  • HB 1578 will reduce the risk of an oil spill by requiring tug escorts for oil tankers, towed oil barges, and articulated tug-barges in Rosario Strait. It also directs the Board of Pilotage Commissions to adopt tug escort rules by 2025 for other waterways in Puget Sound.

There is no one, easy solution to saving Washington’s resident orcas. The environmental conditions that threaten their survival took generations to create and will require a grand, coordinated effort to reverse. I look forward to working on further action to ensure the survival of these beloved creatures.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on important issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety, civil rights, or climate change, you can read those here.

2019 Session Review: Fighting climate change

July 8th, 2019|

The growing threat of climate change is among the top policy, business and moral issues of our time. Human activities have caused current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases to exceed all levels measured for at least the past 800,000 years – and we are witnessing the effects here in Washington.

Last summer, Seattle experienced the worst air quality in the world.

Dangerous air quality from worse and more frequent wildfires, depleted snowpacks in the Cascades, alarming reports of species and habitat loss, threats to critical infrastructure and vulnerable communities – these warning signs require us to act quickly. Experts believe it may not be too late to avoid catastrophe, but our time is running out. This year the Legislature passed several landmark pieces of legislation, making our state one of the leaders in the fight against climate change.

100% Clean Energy

Electricity comprises about 20% of Washington’s carbon footprint, and almost a third of our electricity comes from coal and natural gas. SB 5116 will require electric utilities to drop coal-fired power from their supply to customers by 2025. Utilities must become “carbon neutral” by 2030, meaning 80% of power must come from non-carbon-emitting sources; the remainder can be offset by emission reduction measures. By 2045, utilities must supply Washington customers entirely with power from carbon-free sources. Investing resources into clean energy will spur the growth of renewable energy, supporting local industry and creating sustainable jobs, businesses and infrastructure.

Increasing energy efficiency

  • Buildings are the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, accounting for about 20% of total emissions. They are also assets that last for a very long time, so it is essential to construct new buildings to be as efficient as possible and to make old buildings more efficient. HB 1257 will require the state Commerce Department to establish an energy performance standard for existing large commercial buildings, beginning with the largest buildings in 2026.
  • Increased efficiency in the appliances we use every day to cook or wash our clothes has the potential to reduce emissions and save consumers money. HB 1444 is part of a multi-state effort – organized by Washington under the umbrella of the U.S. Climate Alliance – to help move the market to modern, lower-energy technologies. As new products required by the bill come to market, Washington will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consumers will save $2 billion in energy and water costs over the next 15 years.

Eliminating superpollutants

Super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), heavily used in appliances and autos as a substitute for ozone-depleting substances banned in the late 1980s, are a class of chemicals thousands of times more damaging than carbon dioxide as atmospheric warming agents. In Washington, they are responsible for more carbon pollution than all marine vessels combined. HB 1112 will phase out HFCs in new products from 2020-24, with the Department of Ecology authorized to delay or modify standards to ensure the new products meet safety requirements.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on important issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety, civil rights, or consumer debt, you can read those here.

Best wishes,
Jamie

Senator Jamie Pedersen
43rd Legislative District
Jamie.Pedersen@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7628

2019 Session Review: Ending the cycle of debt

July 1st, 2019|

Many people struggle with debt. Whether the debts are incurred intentionally (such as student loans) or unexpectedly (such as emergency medical bills), they can become overwhelming for consumers. Unfortunately, Washington state’s laws have helped contribute to an endless cycle of increasing debt for too many people. The Legislature created several new consumer protections to address unfair debt collection practices in 2019.

New consumer protections

  • HB 1730 ends an unethical debt collection practice in which consumers were tricked into making small payments on old and expired debts. Under a law that had not been amended since 1881, these old debts would then be revived and the clock would start again on the statute of limitations, which is why they were referred to as “zombie debt”. Under the new law, when a creditor fails to pursue collection and the statute of limitations runs, the debt is canceled.
  • HB 1066 increases fairness and transparency for consumers by ending a debt collection practice called “pocket service”. Under that practice, consumers are served with a summons and complaint, but the debt collector does not file a case in court. Diligent consumers will call the court to make sure that the case is not fraudulent, only to be told that no such case exists.  But if the consumer fails to respond, the collector can obtain a default judgment, which will mar the consumer’s credit report. Under the new law, collectors will be required to file their cases before serving the consumer with the summons.
  • HB 1531 will help prevent patients from drowning in debts arising from medical bills. The bill lowers the interest rate on medical debt, prohibits health care providers from selling medical debt to collection agencies for at least 120 days after the first billing notice, and requires patients be informed of opportunities to apply for charity care. 
  • HB 1602 protects workers against losing their homes or ability to care for their families because of wage garnishment. The new law reduces the interest rate on consumer debt and lets people retain more of their wages so they can pay for basic living expenses, such as food and rent.

These changes are both complex and hugely consequential for millions of Washington residents.  I was therefore proud to help shepherd each of these bills through the Senate Law & Justice Committee and across the Senate floor. Together, the bills will help many Washington consumers get their books back in order.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on important issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety or civil rights, you can read those here.