Legislative session paves way for county to address priorities

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The 2023 regular session for the State Legislature ended April 23. The Legislature acted on many bills and budgetary items during the session that will benefit Pierce County residents and all of Washington. Many of these actions support priorities in areas of housing affordability, infrastructure, and public safety that are aligned with priorities of the County Council established prior to the session.

Some of the many items of interest include:

Housing affordability

House Bill 1474, which requires the creation of one or more Special Purpose Credit Program(s) to provide down payment assistance and closing cost assistance to economically disadvantaged individuals.

Senate Bill 5045, which incentivizes the rental of accessory dwelling units to low-income households.

House Bill 1337, which requires the county to adopt or amend development regulations, zoning regulations, and other official controls to make it easier for people to develop Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) for rental purposes.

House Bill 1046, which expands the housing supply by supporting the ability of public housing authorities to finance affordable housing developments by re-benchmarking area median income limits to 80 percent.

The Legislature also provided $14 million in funding to preserve and create affordable housing opportunities, with the Pierce County Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity helping to promote the availability of affordable housing in the County.

Infrastructure and capital investments

Appropriated more than $5.5 billion to Pierce County transportation projects through at least 2029, including more than $2.5 billion for the State Route 167 Puget Sound Gateway project. This project completes critical missing links in the highway network in the Puget Sound and will connect the Port of Tacoma with Highway 167, providing a vital highway link between Tacoma and Puyallup.

Funded capital projects that will invest in parks, including $1.38 million of investments to Frontier Park, $ .5 million of investments in both Half-Dollar and Orangegate parks and $1.5 million of investments in the Pipeline Trail.

Funded $1 million in investments at Pierce County’s Thun Field Airport. These investments will enhance emergency response capabilities in the region and provide much needed public meeting space in the community.

Provided $10.29 million for the continued implementation of the successful Floodplains by Design program in the Puyallup watershed to improve floodplain management.

Appropriated more than $3 million for crossing and signal improvements to Pacific Avenue/State Route 7. These improvements will help to improve safety in this heavily travelled corridor.

Appropriated more than $10.7 million for Bus Rapid Transit projects in the Pacific Avenue/State Route 7 corridor. This funding will help to ensure Pierce County’s first Bus Rapid Transit system will be ready to meet the needs of our residents.

Made significant investments in future broadband improvements throughout the state and took action to support partnerships with service providers. Pierce County and its partners will pursue these dollars to address unserved and underserved areas with broadband connections.

The Legislature also provided funding to the Pierce County Ferry System that moves people between Anderson Island and Steilacoom to provide free ferry rides to kids. This will have an important financial impact for families who rely on the ferry for transportation between the island and the mainland.

Public safety

Senate Bill 5532, which allows a law enforcement officer to conduct a vehicular pursuit if the officer has reasonable suspicion that a person in the vehicle has committed, or is committing, a violent offense, a sex offense, a vehicular assault offense, an escape offense, a driving under the influence offense, or a domestic violence assault.

Senate Bill 5604, which allows the County to use its behavioral Health sales and use tax to make improvements to existing facilities to address health and safety needs necessary for chemical dependency or mental health treatment programs.

One other major item of interest to many county residents was the potential siting of a new commercial airport in Pierce County. The Legislature addressed this issue by adopting Engrossed House Senate Bill 1791, which, for now, eliminates two proposed greenfield airport sites in Pierce County from consideration and establishes other requirements related to future airport siting.

While this was a productive session, council members are concerned that the Legislature failed to pass a permanent statewide solution to Washington’s drug possession laws after Senate Bill 5536 didn’t pass. Senate Bill 5536 was intended to address the state’s drug possession laws after the state Supreme Court ruled the previous law unconstitutional in its 2021 State v. Blake decision.

Shortly after that 2021 ruling, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5476 that reduced the penalty for possessing drugs to a misdemeanor. That is set to expire on July 1, leaving some jurisdictions exploring local ordinances to address drug possession.

Council Chair Ryan Mello is encouraging Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature to come together to pass a bill that is focused on supporting getting individuals into drug treatment, while limiting racial disparities in the enforcement of drug treatment laws and bringing appropriate and evidence-based accountability to bear.

“I’m confident the Legislature understands the chaos and confusion caused by not passing a Blake fix bill and how essential a uniform, statewide policy is for controlled substances,” Mello said. “I’m equally confident a majority of the Legislature believes that any fix must be centered in supporting individuals to enter drug treatment and recover, and to fully finance resourcing those efforts. Drug addiction is a disease, and it must be treated as such to effectively get at this crisis.”

The County Council agrees a statewide solution is the best path forward, but Mello added that, out of an abundance of caution, several members of the Pierce County Council will be working together on a local bill.

“My goal will be to work with our other cities and towns in Pierce County cooperatively. In the meantime, I urge the Legislature to act,” he added.


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