School seismic safety map (DNR)
School seismic safety map (DNR)

One of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute’s top leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties for 2022 is on the move in the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate. Today, the pow­er­ful Ways & Means Com­mit­tee amend­ed and advanced a school seis­mic safe­ty grant bill pro­posed by Sen­a­tor David Frockt (D‑46th Dis­trict: Seat­tle) that would pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing to upgrade Wash­ing­ton’s seis­mi­cal­ly vul­ner­a­ble school buildings.

Sen­ate Bill 5933 now heads to the Rules Com­mit­tee. From there, it will like­ly be pulled to the Sen­ate floor for con­sid­er­a­tion by the whole cham­ber. The Sen­ate has until Feb­ru­ary 15th at 5 PM to bring the bill up for floor debate and a vote.

The pur­pose of the leg­is­la­tion is to pro­tect school­child­ren, fac­ul­ty, vol­un­teers, and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers from geo­log­ic haz­ards by mod­ern­iz­ing decrepit, dan­ger­ous old school build­ings that are vul­ner­a­ble to earth­quakes, tsunamis, and lahars.

The orig­i­nal ver­sion of the leg­is­la­tion pro­posed using bonds as the fund­ing mech­a­nism for the projects. $500 mil­lion in gen­er­al oblig­a­tion bonds would have been sold by the state, sub­ject to a statewide vote of the peo­ple this November.

Dur­ing a marathon sev­en hour elec­tron­ic com­mit­tee meet­ing, the mem­bers of Ways & Means vot­ed to adopt a new ver­sion of the bill offered by Frockt that:

  • Clar­i­fies that ver­ti­cal evac­u­a­tion tow­ers are an eli­gi­ble reme­di­a­tion solu­tion for schools in tsuna­mi haz­ard areas
  • Clar­i­fies that “total project cost” means both direct and asso­ci­at­ed indi­rect costs for the reme­di­a­tion solution
  • Fix­es tech­ni­cal error ref­er­enc­ing the oper­at­ing bud­get rather than the cap­i­tal budget
  • Allows OSPI (the Office of the Super­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic Instruc­tion) to stream­line admin­is­tra­tive and pro­ce­dur­al process­es for the Small School Dis­trict Mod­ern­iza­tion grant pro­gram in addi­tion to the SCAP pro­gram for pur­pos­es of coor­di­nat­ing the seis­mic safe­ty program.
  • Removes all bond­ing pro­vi­sions includ­ing referendum

With the gen­er­al oblig­a­tion bond­ing pro­vi­sions and ref­er­en­dum gone, the bill no longer sets up a statewide vote of the peo­ple this autumn, but it does still cre­ate a school seis­mic safe­ty grant pro­gram account in the state trea­sury which is “intend­ed to fund projects using tax exempt bonds.”

The roll call on the bill was as follows:

Vot­ing for a “do pass” rec­om­men­da­tion: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Chris­tine Rolfes, David Frockt, June Robin­son, Andy Bil­lig, Reuven Car­lyle, Steve Con­way, Man­ka Dhin­gra, Bob Hasegawa, Sam Hunt, Karen Keis­er, Mark Mul­let, Jamie Ped­er­sen, Kevin Van De Wege, Lisa Well­man; Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Sharon Brown, Jim Hon­ey­ford, Lyn­da Wil­son, Mark Schoesler, John Braun, Chris Gildon, Ron Muz­za­ll, Ann Rivers, Kei­th Wagoner

Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Lyn­da Wil­son and Sharon Brown orig­i­nal­ly vot­ed against the bill, but changed their votes at the end of the roll call. And Sen­a­tor Jim Hon­ey­ford orig­i­nal­ly vot­ed not to make a rec­om­men­da­tion, but also changed his vote to sup­port the bill, result­ing in a unan­i­mous roll call vote for a “do pass.”

Our team was very glad to see those three Repub­li­can sen­a­tors have a change of heart at the end of the vote and join their col­leagues in vot­ing yea. This is a cause that every­body ought to be able to get behind, regard­less of whether they use a pro­gres­sive or right wing val­ues sys­tem to guide their polit­i­cal thinking.

Sen­a­tor Frock­t’s adopt­ed sub­sti­tute is below if you’d like to read it. At this Draftable link, you can com­pare the orig­i­nal and revised ver­sions.

Adopt­ed sub­sti­tute of school seis­mic safe­ty bill

52% of vot­ers sur­veyed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute back in Novem­ber said that they thought upgrad­ing Wash­ing­ton’s seis­mi­cal­ly vul­ner­a­ble schools was a state respon­si­bil­i­ty, while only 29% said they thought it was pri­mar­i­ly a local respon­si­bil­i­ty. NPI unveiled this polling on Mon­day at SB 5399’s pub­lic hear­ing in the Sen­ate Ways & Means Com­mit­tee.

Assum­ing the full Sen­ate adopts this bill, it would land in the House by mid-Feb­ru­ary, and would then need to be act­ed upon by the Leg­is­la­ture’s larg­er cham­ber before it could go to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee to be signed into law.

The 2022 leg­isla­tive ses­sion runs through March 10th.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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