NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, January 26th, 2022

Big news! Meaningful school seismic safety bills have been introduced in the Legislature

This week, we got very encour­ag­ing and hope­ful news that sug­gests momen­tum is build­ing in the Leg­is­la­ture for one of NPI’s top 2022 leg­isla­tive ses­sion priorities.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ger­ry Pol­let and Sen­a­tor David Frockt led bipar­ti­san groups of state law­mak­ers in intro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion that would final­ly pro­vide mean­ing­ful fund­ing to upgrade many of Wash­ing­ton State’s seis­mi­cal­ly vul­ner­a­ble schools.

The bills (HB 2095 and SB 5933) would cre­ate a school seis­mic safe­ty grant pro­gram, backed by gen­er­al oblig­a­tion bonds that would need to be vot­er-approved in a spe­cial statewide vote to be held this November.

As the bil­l’s intent sec­tion explains:

The leg­is­la­ture finds that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Wash­ing­ton stu­dents in pub­lic school dis­tricts and state trib­al edu­ca­tion com­pact schools attend school in old­er facil­i­ties locat­ed in geo­log­i­cal­ly active areas. Accord­ing­ly, the leg­is­la­ture intends to cre­ate a grant pro­gram to help school dis­tricts and state trib­al edu­ca­tion com­pact schools cov­er the cost of retro­fitting or relo­cat­ing school facil­i­ties locat­ed in high seis­mic areas or tsuna­mi zones.

This per­fect­ly aligns with one of our ten adopt­ed pri­or­i­ties for 2022: Pro­tect youth, teach­ers, and school staff from geo­log­ic haz­ards by pro­vid­ing state fund­ing to replace or repair seis­mi­cal­ly vul­ner­a­ble build­ings.

Wash­ing­ton has wait­ed far too long to take action to address this prob­lem. As Seat­tle Times reporter San­di Doughton explained last fall, our neigh­bors Ore­gon and British Colum­bia are ahead of us in upgrad­ing school build­ings and mak­ing them super resilient so they can be used for com­mu­ni­ty dis­as­ter recovery.

This leg­is­la­tion autho­rizes the sale of gen­er­al oblig­a­tion bonds in the amount of $500 mil­lion “to finance all or a part of the cost” of school seis­mic safe­ty projects “and all costs inci­den­tal there­to.” As men­tioned, the bonds would need to be autho­rized by vot­ers in a statewide elec­tion; that’s due to the Con­sti­tu­tion’s lim­i­ta­tions on state, coun­ty, and munic­i­pal indebtedness.

Funds would be dis­trib­uted in phas­es of $100,000,000 per bien­ni­um over five bien­nia, begin­ning with the 2023–2025 bien­ni­um, accord­ing to Sec­tion 5 of the bill. Build­ings con­struct­ed before 1998 that have not received a seis­mic retro­fit to 2005 stan­dards would be eli­gi­ble for grant fund­ing is they are locat­ed in a high seis­mic haz­ard area. The leg­is­la­tion pro­vides tech­ni­cal def­i­n­i­tions for what con­sti­tutes a high risk area, one earth­quake-spe­cif­ic and one tsunami-specific.

Grant appli­ca­tions would be eval­u­at­ed by an advi­so­ry com­mit­tee appoint­ed by the Super­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic Instruc­tion (cur­rent­ly Chris Reyk­dal). The super­in­ten­dent would then pro­pose a list of projects to the gov­er­nor, and they would make appro­pri­a­tions requests to the Leg­is­la­ture after select­ing projects.

Impor­tant­ly, grant amounts would have to be “equal to at least two-thirds of the esti­mat­ed total project cost” (Sec­tion 2, Sub­sec­tion 5ii).

This key pro­vi­sion will ensure that school dis­tricts will get mean­ing­ful finan­cial sup­port from the state, with the state shoul­der­ing most of the cost, as opposed to a token con­tri­bu­tion that would­n’t be enough to actu­al­ly pro­ceed with new build­ings or retro­fits of exist­ing build­ings due to insuf­fi­cient local funding.

The full bill text is below, and avail­able on leg.wa.gov.

Text of Sen­ate Bill 5933 (school seis­mic safety)

Four years ago, NPI asked the Leg­is­la­ture to appro­pri­ate funds to enable the Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources to study the seis­mic risk of the state’s school build­ings. Although the Leg­is­la­ture did not pro­vide all of the fund­ing we asked for, enough was bud­get­ed to enable an ini­tial inven­to­ry to be conducted.

DNR’s Wash­ing­ton Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey com­plet­ed the work that the Leg­is­la­ture fund­ed last June and deliv­ered a very sober­ing report, which you can read below.

School seis­mic safe­ty leg­isla­tive report from DNR

We took notice of the report, as did for­mer Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Buck, KING5, and The Seat­tle Times, but it did­n’t get the kind of atten­tion that it should have.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Pol­let, Sen­a­tor Frockt, and Super­in­ten­dent Reyk­dal, who all care deeply about tak­ing action to fix this prob­lem, have been try­ing to fig­ure out a path for­ward since then, and this leg­is­la­tion is what they’ve come up with. As men­tioned, it has Repub­li­can cospon­sors, which is real­ly encouraging.

The Sen­ate ver­sion will have a hear­ing this com­ing Mon­day in Ways & Means, at 4 PM. I will be speak­ing in sup­port of the bill on NPI’s behalf.

If the leg­is­la­tion is suc­cess­ful, NPI will make pas­sage of the statewide bal­lot mea­sure to autho­rize the bonds its top elec­toral pri­or­i­ty in the 2022 midterms.

We encour­age read­ers to sign in PRO on the bill; you can do that right here.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks, Andrew. Good job.

    # by Jim Buck :: January 27th, 2022 at 5:49 PM

One Ping

  1. […] 5933, prime spon­sored by Sen­a­tor David Frockt (D‑46th Dis­trict: Seat­tle) would cre­ate a school seis­mic safe­ty grant pro­gram to facil­i­tate the retro­fitting or r…. The pro­gram would be backed by $500 mil­lion of gen­er­al oblig­a­tion bonds issued by the […]

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