The legislative session is slowly drawing to a close. Too bad this was the short session, which does not provide enough time for the debates that were needed.
Typically, the 60-day session does not allow enough time to accomplish all that the Washington Legislature needs to do. And you can’t blame COVID because this was the second session held largely remotely. Although, COVID did hamper compromise, which is usually the end product of debate. Not to mention the sidebar private discussions that occur outside the official meetings.
The short session favors the party in power and incumbents. But media coverage noted that for a couple of topics, there were hundreds who wanted to testify. One committee mentioned thousands. The most controversial topics that mirror the national debate have been Gov. Jay Inslee’s use of his authority during the pandemic, which was defined by whether you were in the majority or minority party. Republicans accused Inslee of trying to govern alone by banning big crowds, shutting down schools, and requiring vaccinations and face masks. Inslee’s supporters noted that Washington has one of the lowest death rates due to COVID in the nation.
The next major topic was responding to police who since last session have been complaining about the accountability measures the Legislature implemented last session because people of color tend to get shot more often than white people. Every community from Auburn to Seattle has a story that reflects why those accountability measures were needed. But everyone stayed in their lane, meaning Republicans supported police and Democrats supported the rights of people of color.
In another reflection of the national debate, free speech was cast against providing misinformation about elections. The losing candidate in the most recent race for governor replicated the spirit of Donald Trump. Those who wanted accountability for suggesting that there was election fraud sought a penalty of a gross misdemeanor that carries a $5,000 fine or 364 days in the county jail. Legislation was also introduced to provide protection for election workers.
The last of the big anticipated topics was homelessness and affordable housing. Most cities do not allow apartments in single family neighborhoods. But with home prices skyrocketing and not much affordable housing available, the Legislature has been favoring more duplexes and fourplexes as a solution. Since much of the need is in King County, many community leaders were testifying for or against expansion to denser housing into single family areas.
The new term is “middle housing,” which includes sixplexes. In a sad historical commentary, the original separation by zoning was to keep people of color out of white neighborhoods. But costs are rapidly changing so that many people can’t afford a single family home, but might be able to afford to live in a fourplex or sixplex.
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus were among those who testified against the Senate version even though studies have shown that restrictive zoning laws such as the ones in Federal Way and Auburn contribute to increased housing costs. However, several community leaders from other cities supported the legislation to help people afford the cost of a new home — be it a townhouse, duplex or sixplex.
What really goes on in Olympia will be interpreted differently as the elections unfold.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.