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.