Washington State's 2015 Legislative Session: Update

June 17, 2015

The Washington State Legislature started their second special session on May 29, after lawmakers failed to reach agreement on the state’s $38 billion biennial budget.  As of publication, budget negotiators had agreed on the size of the overall budget and were having daily meetings in the Governor’s office, but had not reached a final deal.  If the legislature can’t agree on a budget by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, the state government faces a partial shutdown.  The “upside” is that thanks to similar brinksmanship in 2013, agencies are better prepared and have already submitted updated contingency plans to the governor’s office.

Slim majorities in both chambers (Democrats in the House, Republicans in the Senate) and a hefty legislative agenda (biennial budget, Supreme Court K-12 mandate, transportation, and pressing mental health and environmental concerns) meant that legislators did not take on many extra initiatives.  While state lawmakers look for agreement on the budget, we take a brief look at what did pass this session.  Look for an update in the next issue of NW Land Matters.


  • Oil Transportation. HB 1449, as amended, represents a compromise of competing oil safety bills that made their way through session.  The measure extends the barrel tax to include oil arriving by rail; expands jurisdiction for the UTC over private rail crossing safety; and includes advance notice and reporting requirements for oil shipments, as well as other safety and response programs.  While this bill increases resources for local government and emergency responders, it creates additional requirements for railroads, waterway operators, and facilities.  (Effective 7/1/2015)
  • Exemptions for Real Estate Appraisals.  HB 1431 exempts agency disclosures of documents where public knowledge would likely affect the property price.  These could include documents prepared to consider site selection or acquisition, offers, counter offers, restrictive covenants, etc.  The documents are exempt from public disclosure until after the purchase or sale negotiation period has ended to avoid skewing negotiations between an agency and buyers or sellers. The exemptions do not apply if disclosure is mandated by another statute.  (Effective 7/24/2015)
  • Industrial Development Levies for Public Ports. HB 1337 creates new levy provisions for port districts that have adopted comprehensive plans for harbor improvements and industrial development to impose levies beginning next year.  This bill lowers the tax burden on property owners in a given year, and allows port districts to finance projects over a longer period of time. (Effective 7/24/2015)
  • Water-Sewer District Referendums.  SB 5048 subjects resolutions or ordinances to assume a water-sewer district (adopted by local governments) to referendum, with certain exceptions.  The bill’s provisions, modeled after referendum provisions for fire district annexations, allows cities to seek more revenue while ensuring that residents (the ratepayers) can decide which entities will govern their water and sewer service. (Effective 7/24/2015)
  • Affordable Housing. HB 1223 authorizes King County to issue up to $45 million in bonds to fund affordable housing near transit stations beginning this fall, six years ahead of when the local hotel tax to fund such bonds would have been applied to workforce housing.  Now, revenue collected six years from now will be used to pay off bonds issued in the coming months, meaning about 900 additional units for the $18k to $60k per year household bracket.  This authorization allowing King County and applicable cities to issue bonds for affordable workforce housing is timely based on recent reports of record-lows in housing supply.  (Effective 7/24/2015)
  • Limited Liability Company Act . HB 5030 is a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s LLC statute and was developed by members of the WSBA.  It revises the entire LLC statute, bringing it into line with other acts and practices governing businesses, and aims to eliminate redundancies and clarify regulations for default rules, management, professional insurance, voting, mergers, etc.  Notably, it allows an LLC agreement to be “oral, implied, in a record, or in any combination.”  (Effective 1/1/2016)
  • Deferred Impact Fees. SB 5923 requires and prescribes that counties, cities, and towns that collect impact fees adopt a system for deferred collection of impact fees from applicants for residential building permits by September 2016.  One aspect of the deferral system requires municipalities to record a deferred impact fee lien against the property in favor of the local jurisdiction.    (Effective 9/1/2016)

Additional Bills that Passed

  • Marijuana (SB 5052, HB 2000, others)
  • Building codes for 4+ stories (SB 5139)
  • Housing Trust Fund projects (HB 1633)
  • Electric vehicle infrastructure (HB 1853)
  • Irrigation district administration (SB 5556)
  • Property tax exemptions for industrial/manufacturing in urban areas (SB 5761)


Several notable measures which ‘died’ during session were reintroduced in special session and remain on the table as budget negotiations continue.

  • Draft Habitat Conservation Plan – Directing the DNR to withdraw the draft habitat conservation plan for aquatic lands from further review by the federal government (SB 5959).
  • Chemical Action Plans - Allows the Department of Ecology to ban certain chemicals in consumer products, and directs Ecology to identify 20 priority chemicals for potential chemical action plans by 2018 (HB 1472).
  • Vesting Bill – preserving the common law interpretation and application of the vested rights doctrine(SB 5921).
  • SEPA Review – Requiring municipalities and other entities to adopt NEPA findings during SEPA review; SEPA/NEPA environmental reviews would be subject to 30 and 60 day limits or waive SEPA requirements (SB 5969).
  • Wolf Conservation Plan – Requiring the Department of Fish & Wildlife to update the 2011 Wolf Conservation & Management Plan (HB 2107).
  • Carbon Market – Governor Inslee’s plan to tax carbon was cut in a draft House budget early in the 2nd special session, rendering it dead for now.  However, look for ramped up activity from CarbonWA, the grassroots organization aiming to put an initiative on the 2016 ballot that will implement a $25 per ton carbon tax while reducing state sales taxes and B&O taxes for manufacturers.

Van Ness Feldman closely monitors and counsels clients on energy, land use, and other environmental regulatory developments. If you would like more information about the recent legislative session, please contact Emma Mayberry, or any member of the firm’s Policy Practice in Washington, D.C. at (202) 298-1800 or in Seattle, WA at (206) 623-9372.

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