Published on Sep 11, 2020

Fall brings focus on cities’ 2021 legislative priorities

Contact: Candice Bock

With fall right around the corner, AWC’s focus has shifted to city legislative priorities for the 2021 session. Yet questions remain about how the Legislature will conduct the legislative session starting on January 11. They continue to explore various options, including a fully virtual model and a hybrid model that would include online and in-person meetings. We likely won’t know their decision until the end of the year, given that it will depend on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic at that time and what stage we find ourselves in the state’s Safe Start plan.

AWC 2021 City Legislative Priorities

AWC’s Legislative Priorities Committee met over the summer and recently wrapped up their work with a set of 2021 legislative priority recommendations for the AWC Board. We are grateful for the time and commitment of the city officials who served on the committee. The Board will consider the committee’s recommendations at the October 2 Board meeting and take final action to adopt 2021 priorities.

The Legislative Priorities Committee considered more than two dozen issues. It recommended five as 2021 priorities, a host of issues as significant (one step down from priority), and several others as endorse/support issues. The prioritization process is always challenging, as there are many revolving legislative issues that are important to cities.

The five recommended priorities ask the Legislature to:

  • State-shared revenues – Maintain existing shared revenues and oppose any further cuts. Cities support a corresponding increase in distributions to cities if the Legislature increases marijuana or liquor taxes. Cities also seek flexibility in spending Municipal Criminal Justice Assistance Account funds to best support local public safety efforts, including programs that use alternatives to traditional policing.
  • Transportation revenue package – Support a new transportation revenue package (with an emphasis on maintenance/preservation funding) that provides an equitable level of local funding while seeking additional revenue options for cities.
  • Fiscal flexibility – Provide greater flexibility to use funds from existing revenue sources to help cities manage the impacts of the economic crisis.
  • Housing instability assistance – Work in a coalition to develop additional resources to address housing instability created by the economic impacts of the COVID‐19 pandemic, including rent assistance and foreclosure-prevention assistance.
  • Statewide policing reforms – Support the need to retain local control over city law enforcement policy decisions to ensure they meet community needs and expectations and appropriately contain costs. Cities are cognizant of the need to address race equity in all aspects of policing in both state requirements and local policies. Support the following statewide reforms:
    • Develop a statewide standard for use of force so long as local jurisdictions are not prohibited from enacting a more robust standard.
    • Create a database to track officers who have been fired from their employment for misconduct.
    • Expand grounds for decertification to include use of force violations.
    • Require an investigation of an officer to be completed, regardless of whether the officer resigns prior to the investigation being completed.
    • Establish a duty for all law enforcement officers to immediately intervene and report misconduct or illegal activity on the part of another officer.
    • Require that all officers receive a psychological evaluation on a regular schedule and after a fatal use of force incident, prior to the officer returning to duty.

The issues recommended as significant include:

  • Property tax – Revise the property tax cap to tie it to inflation and population growth factors so that local elected officials can adjust the local property tax rate to better serve their communities.
  • Broadband internet – Support policies and funding that provide greater access and equity for broadband services, including the potential expansion of authority to cities and other public entities.
  • Public Works Trust Fund (PWTF) – Continue to pursue full funding for the PWTF and defend against the redirection of PWTF program funds.
  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF) – Authorize property tax‐based tax increment financing, with a constitutional amendment if necessary.

We will share the final list of priorities and significant issues, as adopted by the AWC Board of Directors, in the October edition of the Legislative Bulletin.

More federal CARES Act funds for cities

AWC was excited to see the Governor announce additional Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) for cities earlier this month. AWC has been advocating for the release of additional funds as well as a delay in the spending deadline. We are grateful to Governor Inslee and legislative fiscal leaders for their recognition that cities need more funds to cover their own COVID-related costs and to help their communities with efforts like small business grants and food, housing, and childcare assistance programs.

In May, the Governor allocated $297 million for cities and counties. The new allocation is an additional $126 million for cities and counties. The allocation for cities is now up to $45 per capita, with a minimum of $30,000 for eligible expenses on a reimbursement basis. The new deadline for spending these funds is November 30. For more information check out this article.

Your city’s 2021 legislative agenda

Given the shift in focus on the upcoming legislative session, now is the time to start developing your city’s own legislative agenda, one that includes policy positions that are important for your community. A legislative agenda gives you a strong communication tool for working with your legislators. Below are few tips on developing a legislative agenda from the AWC Strong Cities Advocacy Guide.

Tell your legislators what you want from them. Sharing your city’s legislative agenda is a simple and effective way to get your legislator’s attention. It’s best to adopt your legislative agenda in the fall and share it before session starts each January.

  • Keep it short and simple – one page only.
  • Include capital needs along with policy priorities.
  • Incorporate AWC’s Legislative Priorities into your agenda.
  • Make it public. Post it on your city’s website, put it in your newsletters, and insert it into utility bills.
  • Work with your local media for coverage.
  • View from the Hill
  • Advocacy
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