Olympia Report: Housing, Hospital Execs, Climate and Dead Bills


By Paul Queary and Tim Gruver

Going big on housing this year may mean going smaller on middle housing as progressives and moderates duke it out over where denser developments get built. 

If passed, House Bill 1110 from Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, would permit denser housing—we’re talking duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, and sixplexes—in areas currently limited to single-family homes. The bill began life as a statewide proposal, but unrelenting pressure from local governments turned it into a bid to upzone the state’s largest metro areas. 

An amendment from Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, would all but rewrite HB 1110 into a duplex bill for most single-family zones in cities home to 75,000 people or fewer, regardless of their proximity to the biggest city in their county. It would exempt major shopping centers and business areas from middle housing projects within a half-mile radius. 

Not exactly the density low-income housing advocates are looking for…

Earlier tweaks from the Senate Housing Committee would expand the bill’s allowances for local governments to halt middle housing permits if it meant straining water and sewer systems. The Department of Commerce would be the go-to agency to talk to about that issue.

So what cities are we talking about? Right off the bat, the bill most likely applies to the same 16 large cities as before— including Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Bellevue, and Everett. The gist of the bill is that it still applies to the same cities, but would potentially build fewer homes.

The bill is emblematic of the debate this session over whether market-rate housing is affordable so long as it’s abundant. That supply-side argument tends to irk low-income housing advocates who want below-market housing for the hardest pressed.

HB 1110 cleared Senate Ways and Means Committee on Monday just ahead of the fiscal cutoff. The bill’s proponents—urbanists, Realtors, and builders—are sticking by it on the basis that its core mission of creating more housing is unchanged, even if that means less housing than once envisioned. (Gruver)

More Bills die in Ways & Means

Senate Ways & Means has been a killing field for House bills in recent years because a moderate block of Democrats holds enough votes to kill measures if minority Republicans are unified in opposition. That played out for a handful of measures at Tuesday’s fiscal cutoff deadline. Some interesting casualties:

  • House Bill 1320 by Rep. Julia Reed, D-Seattle, would have clarified employees’ right to request their personnel files and installed legal penalties for employers who refuse or delay. This was a straight-up labor vs. business fight, with all the usual players arrayed for and against.
  • House Bill 1618 by Rep. Darya Farivar, D-Seattle, would have removed the statute of limitations — currently three years (1). — for filing lawsuits for childhood sexual abuse. The main concern about this bill is that it would expose school districts to a flood of claims they couldn’t afford to pay.
  • House Bill 1405 by Rep. Emily Alvarado, D-Seattle, would have eliminated the state’s practice of using federal disability, survivor, or veterans’ benefits paid to foster children to offset the cost of their foster care. The change would have cost less than $8 million per year when fully implemented.
  • House Bill 1579 by Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, would have given the attorney general power to independently investigate police use-of-force cases. Such investigations are currently the purview of county prosecutors, who frequently work closely with law enforcement. Not surprisingly, both law enforcement and the prosecutors pushed back. (Queary)

A Hospital Executives Tax as Warning Shot

Here’s one of the privileges of holding elected office: Should you have a bone to pick with someone, you can sometimes arrange to pick it in a highly public setting. Expect that down the road when Senate Bill 5767, which would impose a tax on highly paid C-level executives at hospitals in Washington, comes up for a hearing.

Its sponsor, Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, has several bones to pick. There was the merger of Virginia Mason into CHI Franciscan Health, which put the hospitals in her Kitsap Peninsula district under the umbrella of a Catholic hospital system, something pro-abortion-rights progressives like Randall view with deep suspicion (2).

Then there was Randall’s proposal to rein in such mergers (3) in the future, which died under intense lobbying from hospitals and their allies at the house-origin cutoff. And there’s that whole hospitals-vs-nurses thing. All of that involved a fair amount of poor-mouthing from the hospitals, which isn’t a fantastic look when the CEO gets a seven-figure check (4).

So expect some political theater when the bill comes up (5) in Senate Ways and Means, where Chair Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, is a co-sponsor of Randall’s bill. Grilling hospital lobbyists over the boss’s salary was an entertaining staple when former Rep. Eileen Cody ran House Health Care & Wellness. We’re told she might testify on this one.

Tax-averse conservatives, meanwhile, view the bill, which describes the tax as an “excise tax,” as the first shot in a new battle to expand taxes on the wealthy under the Supremes’ recent ruling in favor of the capital gains tax. It’s unlikely that majority Democrats in the Legislature would go to the time and trouble to actually pass a tax that only applies to a relative handful of hospital execs because there isn’t enough money there. But something that sweeps up every fat-cat exec might grow legs in a hurry. (Queary)

A Battle Over Climate-minded Housing Renews

The third time could be the charm for a bid to update the state’s handbook for population growth and urban development in light of looming climate concerns.

We’re talking about the Growth Management Act and the latest attempt from Rep. Davina Duerr, D-Bothell, to update its provisions addressing both climate change and land use. We won’t even try going into the weeds of House Bill 1181. The short version is that it would encourage land developers to build high-density housing along transit corridors, limit single-family development, and ease the kind of traffic congestion that creates more CO2. 

This is the third year in a row that Duerr has tried to get the idea to Gov. Inslee’s desk. House Bill 1099, which died a mysterious death in the final hours of the last session, came awfully close—far closer than builders and the Realtors preferred. The GMA generally irks them by burying them in more paperwork and restricting new development. Republicans, who often throw their hat in with the builders and the Realtors, hate it for similar reasons.

HB 1181 passed the House by 57-41 along mostly partisan lines. The Building Industry Association of Washington testified against the bill again this session, but that couldn’t stop it from clearing Senate Ways & Means on Monday. This session may prove whether or not you can kill a bill the same way twice.


  1. In some cases, it’s three years from the time the victim discovered that the act caused the injury, which covers repressed trauma that emerges later in life.
  2. Said progressives argue Catholic influence endangers access to abortion and aid-in-dying. Hospitals argue nearly all of those procedures happen elsewhere in the healthcare system.
  3. That Seattle Times piece from Nina Shapiro is an absolutely archetypical example of the horrific-anecdote school of reporting on healthcare policy.
  4. To be fair, the hospitals are hurting, and they’re somewhat at the mercy of the market on the CEO pay thing. Folks with the skills and experience to run something that big, complicated, and high-stakes don’t grow on trees.
  5. This late in the session, the bill might be heard next year, but the Legislature is actually a two-year thing.

This article first appeared in the authors’ political website, The Washington Observer.

Paul Queary
Paul Queary
Paul Queary, a veteran AP reporter and editor, is founder of The Washington Observer, an independent newsletter on politics, government and the influence thereof in Washington State.


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