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

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:

Roll Call
SB 5933
School seis­mic safe­ty grants
3rd Read­ing & Final Passage

Yeas: 98

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!

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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