Thoughtful, long overdue legislation that would establish a school seismic safety grant program has completed its journey through the Legislature and will soon be heading to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk to be signed into law.
Senate Bill 5933, one of NPI’s top legislative priorities for 2022, received a unanimous vote of support in the House of Representatives a few minutes ago, a few weeks after getting a unanimous vote in the Washington State Senate.
Sponsored by Senator David Frockt (D‑46th District: Seattle), SSB 5933 creates a state-level fund through which schools (particularly those in rural areas) can obtain money to upgrade and replace seismically vulnerable school buildings.
All grants would cover at least two-thirds of total project costs.
Enthusiastically backed by the Northwest Progressive Institute, the Washington State PTA, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, the bill ultimately attracted zero opposition after being amended by the Senate Ways & Means Committee. Thankfully, no one testified against it, spoke against it, or voted against it at any point. It’s nice to see there are still some things that Democrats and Republicans can agree on, and taking a modest step to ensure our children have safe facilities to learn in should be uncontroversial.
“I am very grateful for the bipartisan effort to promote the physical safety of our students and staff,” Superintendent Reykdal said in a statement. “Communities across Washington will benefit from seismic and tsunami safety enhancements.”
The House roll call was unanimous, as mentioned:
School seismic safety grants
3rd Reading & Final Passage
Voting Yea: Representatives Abbarno, Barkis, Bateman, Berg, Bergquist, Berry, Boehnke, Bronoske, Caldier, Callan, Chambers, Chandler, Chapman, Chase, Chopp, Cody, Corry, Davis, Dent, Dolan, Donaghy, Duerr, Dufault, Dye, Entenman, Eslick, Fey, Fitzgibbon, Frame, Gilday, Goehner, Goodman, Graham, Gregerson, Griffey, Hackney, Hansen, Harris, Harris-Talley, Hoff, Jacobsen, Johnson, J., Kirby, Klicker, Klippert, Kloba, Kraft, Kretz, Leavitt, Lekanoff, MacEwen, Macri, Maycumber, McCaslin, McEntire, Morgan, Mosbrucker, Orcutt, Ormsby, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Paul, Peterson, Pollet, Ramel, Ramos, Riccelli, Robertson, Rude, Rule, Ryu, Santos, Schmick, Sells, Senn, Shewmake, Simmons, Slatter, Springer, Steele, Stokesbary, Stonier, Sullivan, Sutherland, Taylor, Thai, Tharinger, Valdez, Vick, Volz, Walen, Walsh, Wicks, Wilcox, Wylie, Ybarra, Young, Jinkins
No representatives missed the vote or were excused.
The original version of SB 5933 contained a bond-based funding mechanism, but this was scrapped in favor of simply authorizing a school seismic safety grant program. The Legislature still has to provide funding for the program in the capital budget. The Senate proposed $115 million in the supplemental budget for school seismic safety, but the House proposed less than half of that sum.
NPI is urging the House and Senate to agree on at least the full amount proposed by the Senate as part of their capital budget conference negotiations.
“We believe a more appropriate figure for this supplemental would be about $250 million but we ask that you at least match what the Senate has proposed,” I told the House Capital Budget Committee in testimony last week. “Please do not ‘split the difference’ with the Senate. We have schoolchildren learning in dilapidated, unsafe buildings as we speak — buildings that are vulnerable to an earthquake or tsunami that could strike at any time, with little to no warning.”
“Representatives, we are not prepared,” I observed.
“We have known about this threat for decades, and we have done very little to prepare. Time and again, inaction has prevailed. We are far behind our neighbors Oregon and British Columbia in getting our schools ready and resilient for whatever geologic hazard strikes next.”
“This situation cannot continue. A few weeks ago, we asked voters in one of our seasonal statewide polls whether they think upgrading seismically vulnerable school buildings is primarily a state or local responsibility. A majority of voters said it’s the state who bears the responsibility.”
“This finding shows that voters understand that it is the state’s paramount duty is to make ample provision for the education of all youth within its borders. Not local school districts, but the state. The Legislature must recognize its responsibility, and fulfill the state’s obligations as the Constitution requires.”
“$45 million simply isn’t anywhere near enough money for school seismic safety in this supplemental budget. We need to act like the next earthquake could hit tomorrow, because it just might. We have a lot of revenue flowing into state coffers right now — let’s put a good chunk of that money into securing safe buildings for our kids to learn in. Thank you for considering this request.”
Our work to secure ample funding for our schools continues, but today, we can celebrate the Legislature’s passage of a very good bill that will give underfunded districts around the state a new strategy for tackling the problem of vulnerable buildings. Thank you, legislators, for getting SSB 5933 out the door!