How a Bill Becomes a Law

Posted By: Jim Wiard Advocacy News ,

Those of us who are old enough remember the famous Schoolhouse Rock animation of “I’m Just A Bill”. That video certainly motivated young children to ask their parents or teachers questions about how a bill becomes law.

That civics lesson would be an important and timely lesson to revisit for anyone in the rental housing industry today.

The 2019 Washington State Legislative session has been a complicated and contentious session for rental housing providers. Many legislators, including newly elected members, have made housing affordability one of their priority issues.

It is well known that in Washington state, we are simply not building enough new housing to meet the increased demand. Higher costs to build and local regulatory barriers to housing construction have left an imbalance, forcing housing costs to rise faster than wages.

Such a shortage has a significant impact on quality of life for millions of Americans, across nearly all socioeconomic strata. Families are forced to pay more in rent or mortgages, and often live much farther away from job opportunities. Long commutes lead to less time spent with children and loved ones. More and more working-class families experience increased housing uncertainty. 

On the Ground in Washington State

Unfortunately, the solutions advocates and tenant activists are pushing to lawmakers do nothing to help increase housing supply.  They are focused on “tenant protections”, which supposes that landlords have all the power and tenants need more favorable landlord-tenant laws.  

Eviction prevention legislation has also been more prevalent as housing affordability has become more acute. We see an increased focus on the causes of eviction and assuredly, landlords are made the scapegoat in that discussion.   

Our state legislature is a citizen legislature, which convenes in regular session annually.  In odd years, the session is a “long session”, or 105 days long.  In even years, the “short session” is just 60 days in length.

The bicameral body is made up of the state Senate, with 49 members, and the state House of Representatives, with 98 members.  Currently, Democrats enjoy a large voting majority control of both chambers of the legislative branch, as well as control of the executive branch (Governor’s office). 

The Bill Process and WMFHA

A bill is a written proposal to enact a law or that proposes a change to the law in the Revised Code of Washington, known as RCW. Any citizen or group can propose an idea to a lawmaker and ask that they create a bill for consideration in the state legislative branch. Thousands of bills are introduced each session, with limited time for consideration.

Bills are referred to a Senate or House committee for consideration. That committee holds public hearings before the bill is considered by the committee. Public comments and testimony are heard in those public committee hearings. If the committee elects to pass the bill out of that committee, it is referred “on the floor” of that chamber.

Legislative hearings are informal. Anyone can speak for or against a proposed bill. WMFHA staff and members regularly testify in these committee hearings as subject matter experts in housing and to give opinions and advice on the merits or pitfalls of proposed laws. Our role is to educate lawmakers on the effects of these proposals.  

If the bill is passed in the first house of origin, it then goes to the opposite chamber for review and debate.  If amendments are proposed in the second chamber, the first chamber must concur in the amendments. If passed by both chambers, the bill goes to the Office of the Governor for signature or veto.

We Work for You

Washington Multi-Family Housing Association advocates for legislation equitable to our industry and the broader community. Our advocacy efforts are focused primarily on the state and local level. 

As the leader in multifamily housing in our state, we speak with the collective voice of thousands of members owning and managing over 225,000 apartment homes in our state.  Our obligation is to provide quality rental housing that meets the needs of renters.

To fulfill that obligation, our industry watches proposed legislation with keen interest – will this regulation negatively impact our ability to serve residents of our homes? Will the legislation impede our ability to maintain affordable housing?  Will this policy increase costs or risk of providing quality housing?  If so, we may speak out against that proposed legislation and/or recommend more constructive proposals.

More and more, as elected officials try to show that they are “doing something” to address our housing issues, we find that they take a limited, short term view of the issues, and often we see the likely result to be ineffective at addressing the very concern they are attempting to impact. 

Neighboring and Nationwide Impact

As we have seen recently in Oregon, partisan politics and pandering to special interest groups can result in disastrous policies like Oregon’s new rent control law. The trend toward a more adversarial posture against housing providers is a disturbing reality. We expect to see more adverse policy recommendations that will harm residents we serve and housing providers, with little positive effect on renters.

The following is a statement from Robert Pinnegar, CAE, President and CEO of the National Apartment Association:
 
“The regrettable action by the Oregon State House of Representatives on SB 608 will lead to unintended, but pre-eminently predictable negative consequences for housing affordability in the state. Rather than focusing on the onerous regulatory environment that constricts the diversity of housing needed to meet the surging demand for rental housing, Oregon’s public officials chose to slide backward by enacting a failed policy that has historically proven to hurt residents and housing supply alike.”
 
Doug Bibby, President of the National Multifamily Housing Council, a Washington, D.C.-based association representing the apartment industry, wrote:
 
“While the intent of rent control laws is to assist lower-income populations, history has shown that rent control exacerbates shortages, makes it harder for apartment owners to make upgrades and disproportionally benefits higher-income households. Oregon lawmakers should focus on a holistic solution that encourages more housing supply, facilitates public-private partnerships to tackle many of the existing barriers, and increases direct assistance to renters.”

We need to fight for an appropriate environment that promotes balance between renters and rental housing providers.  We ask that our members be informed, be engaged, follow the issues and evaluate candidates for office, and VOTE!

These are trying times for our industry, and our voices need to be heard loud and clear. We cannot allow ill-advised legislation and adversaries to push policies that hurt the residential property management industry that supports tremendous economic growth and job creation for local cities and communities.