The end of the 2018 legislative session marks one of the most productive years in recent history, with progress on issues ranging from voter rights, homelessness, justice and legal reform, protecting reproductive rights, and stabilizing community behavioral health.
King County’s legislative agenda was focused on five priorities: reforming the state’s tax system, protecting Public Health – Seattle & King County’s ability to respond to communicable disease outbreaks, reforming juvenile justice, stabilizing the community behavioral health system, and addressing local roads and bridges. The Legislature took meaningful action on most of these fronts.
“In a short session, the Legislature made much progress on issues that have long languished in Olympia,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “For the residents of King County, that means more property tax relief, and more access to drug treatment and mental health services for our neighbors in need. Thanks to these timely investments and other reforms, we are better able to build a stronger, more equitable community.”
“The Legislature should be congratulated for making good progress on property tax fairness for seniors, investments in the health of King County, and encouraging a more diverse population of first responders and safety professionals,” said King County Council Chair Joe McDermott. “King County’s priorities are priorities that promote equity, safety and fairness for all Washington State residents, I’m encouraged by and appreciate legislators’ work to make this a successful session for everyone and look forward to continuing our collaboration next year.”
The Legislature passed two bills to provide relief to taxpayers across the state, benefiting King County residents who pay a disproportionate share of the state’s property taxes. Sponsored by Sen. Mark Mullet, Senate Bill 6614 reduced the state’s education-related property taxes by $0.30 per $1000 of assessed value. House Bill 2597, sponsored by Rep. Pat Sullivan and championed by Sen. Manka Dhingra, allows cities and counties to apply the existing exemptions for seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities to local levies. While this measure can only be applied to future levies, there is an important exemption: because King County anticipated legislative action and included this provision in the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy approved by voters in 2017, eligible King County taxpayers will see a local tax cut in 2019.
Tackling homelessness, increasing access to mental health and addiction treatment
The Legislature invested $70 million in the community behavioral health system, bringing an estimated $20 million to King County. These new resources will help increase access to care, potentially by reducing caseloads or increasing pay to improve staffing and retention in mental health and substance use disorder treatment programs. By improving community treatment, this investment will also help King County partner with the state to address demand at state and local hospitals.
The Legislature took bipartisan action to help communities across the state address the housing affordability and homelessness crisis. Nearly 800 people can now be housed each year as a result of King County’s share of increased homelessness and housing funding made available by House Bill 1570, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Macri, and House Bill 2015, authored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew. In addition, lawmakers passed bills to ensure more people could be housed by banning discrimination based on income, (House Bill 2578, Rep. Marcus Riccelli). By using data to guide decisions about programs and investments, communities can better prevent youth homelessness (House Bill 1630, Rep. Vandana Slatter).
With more than 1,000 new residents calling King County home each week, Public Health’s communicable disease response program is being pushed to its limits. Thanks to support by Sen. Sharon Nelson and Rep. Eileen Cody, the Legislature provided a new $3 million investment to boost Public Health – Seattle & King County’s ability to address killers such as hepatitis C while also increasing the capacity to prevent and track diseases such as Zika and Ebola.
The Legislature took significant steps to better align the outdated juvenile justice system with accepted brain science and trauma informed care models. By passing Senate Bill 6550, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Darneille, and Senate Bill 6160, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, King County will be able to keep more youth out of the criminal justice system by limiting the cases where a youth must be tried as an adult, and by further encouraging prosecutors to factor criminal history and previous traumas in sentencing. Unfortunately, time ran out for House Bill 1280, the County’s bill to expedite access to diversion funding. This proposal, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Kagi and Sen. Patty Kuderer, would have enabled judges to take additional steps towards a more proactive and prevention-based model.
Roads and Bridges
Funding for local roads and bridges remains inadequate. The King County roads budget is only able to meet the most urgent needs with current revenue streams. The long term impacts of deferred maintenance will bring a heavy price tag. King County looks forward to working with the Legislature next year as conversations continue with cities and regional stakeholders to identify an equitable and stable way to ensure local roads and bridges can be safely maintained.
Expanding opportunities to serve
The Legislature passed a bill brought forward by King County – Senate Bill 6145 sponsored by Senator Rebecca Saldaña and championed in the House by Representative Drew Stokesbary – that allowed lawful permanent residents to apply for jobs in local law enforcement and firefighting. King County pursued this legislation for three years in a row. This bill was signed into law by Gov. Inlsee today.