It normally takes weeks, not minutes for a bill to blast out of its home chamber, but that’s exactly what happened on Monday when the curtain rose in Olympia.
Before we even had the chance to put together our bingo cards for this session, a holdover from 2023 dashed through the House mere moments after the opening day pomp wound down. Yes, that lot-splitting bill from Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Lacey, is back and about as popular as ever. House Bill 1245 cleared the House (again) on Monday by a vote of 94-4, virtually the same score as before.
Land is something we’re not making any more of in Washington, so lot-splitting is a favored strategy of market-rate housing advocates for creating developable land while curbing sprawl. But it’s also something that raises hackles in some leafy enclaves where folks like their yards big and their neighbors comfortably distant.
It’s not necessarily clear sailing in the Senate. The “no” votes in the House all came from majority Democrats: Rep. Jake Fey of Tacoma, Rep. Tana Senn of Mercer Island, and Reps. Lisa Callan and Bill Ramos of Issaquah.
Senn, who represents perhaps the leafiest of these enclaves, tells us she believes the clock’s run out on this lot-splitting bid, which she gave a thumbs-up in 2023. Many King County cities, including hers, are updating their comprehensive plans right now. Because HB 1245 would kick in this year, and Senn feels that’s too narrow of a window for cities like hers to understand how lot-splitting interacts with middle housing and other land-use minutia. Callan told us something to that effect as well.
We should note that HB 1245’s risk of triggering “lotmaggedon” as critics label it is an interesting proposition for Mercer Island, which boasts some of the biggest minimum lot sizes in the state. The bill would allow the divided lots to be as small as 2,000 square feet, which isn’t exactly Stuart Little territory, but game-changing for Mercer Islanders.
Last year, HB 1245, a darling of the builders, Realtors, and other market-rate housing types, died in the Senate Committee on Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs. It’ll be interesting how it fares in the killing ground of the Senate’s committee process this year.
A proposed expansion of co-housing
While we’re on the subject of housing policy, that co-living bill from Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, got some attention in Monday’s housing action. House Bill 1998 is being marketed as a means to increase the availability of shared living spaces for folks who don’t have a duplex or even a one-bedroom apartment in their budget.
It’s touted as a way for the building industry to provide cheaper housing without the controversial affordable housing mandates that helped sink a transit-oriented development bill last year. Folks in building circles say loosening rules for co-living spaces, or “adult dorms,” could help convert the unused office space that’s currently in ample supply around downtown areas.
There was a lot of agreement at the House Committee on Housing on Monday that co-living is a bona fide way to build more housing, but Carl Schroeder with the Association of Washington Cities reminded everyone that your typical Washingtonian—even in transit-plentiful Seattle— owns a car and wants a place to park it. Hence, AWC’s lukewarm stance on HB 1998’s virtual ban on off-street parking mandates.
Rep. Julia Reed, D-Seattle, posed the question of why cities from Anchorage to Austin are nixing parking mandates without provoking “carmaggedon.” Schroeder replied that hypothesis is largely untested.
If last year’s middle housing fight was any indication, expect a serious case of déjà vu as the co-living war percolates. HB 1998 is slated for possible action in House Housing soon.
Unemployment for striking workers?
Democrats are wading into yet another union fight with a proposal that would let striking workers collect unemployment while they walk the picket line. We found out this week just how not thrilled businesses are about that idea.
Senate Bill 5777 from Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, would guarantee that said workers could collect unemployment checks in their second week of pounding pavements. The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee got an earful on Tuesday from employers, chambers of commerce, and the Association of Washington Business who were a hard nope on that.
The core debate here is whether the unemployment system — which employers pay for via insurance premiums to cushion the blow when workers get laid off — should be available for strikers. This is part of a broader push to expand the conditions under which workers can claim unemployment.
Critics of the idea predicted SB 5777 would inevitably drain the state’s unemployment insurance fund. A fiscal note on that issue is forthcoming, but it’s likely employers would end up paying higher premiums to make up the difference.
Unions argued that inflation and cost-of-living increases have wreaked havoc on strike funds, so jobless benefits could be the only thing keeping families fed in the event of a strike. Moreover, strikes aren’t inevitable and employers could avoid them if they just did right by their workers in the first place. Given the union-friendly makeup of the Legislature, expect SB 5777 to show some life this year.
This article also appeared in The Washington Observer, where the author is a reporter.