10th District legislators vow to continue working on a state construction budget and Hirst fix

The Legislature’s record 193-day session ended Thursday evening when the body failed to pass both a remedy to the recent rural water rights case known as the Hirst decision and the $4.1 billion capital budget.

Since the close of the regular session in April, lawmakers agreed, in good faith, to negotiate both bills simultaneously. Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, says passing one bill without the other would have been “fundamentally unfair.”

“Like many, I too am frustrated the Legislature adjourned this summer without passing a strong capital budget that would have funded critical projects throughout our state,” he said. “However, I believe it would have been unfair for us to deploy billions of dollars for government to build projects when thousands of individuals and families throughout our state — hardworking taxpayers who ultimately provide funds for those government-funded construction projects —  are unable to build on their own land. It’s doubly unfair that Seattle can continue to build condos and other high-rises with thousands of housing units without regard for water supply, even though they’re siphoning water from the very same rural Washington basins that rural landowners cannot develop near. It’s because of this very injustice that the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus decided to tie the capital budget and a Hirst solution together.”

“The Hirst decision has had devastating impacts across rural Washington and will, no doubt, adversely affect future generations if we don’t enact a lasting and equitable solution.”

Last October, the high court determined in what is known as the Hirst decision that Whatcom County had failed to adequately protect and preserve water resources in accordance with the Growth Management Act. As a result, landowners may never have the ability to obtain a permit to drill a well on their undeveloped property. Prior to the court’s ruling, counties had relied on a Department of Ecology (Ecology) rule that allows the drilling of small, domestic wells so long as fewer than 5,000 gallons are drawn per day.

In a dissenting opinion, Washington State Supreme Court Justice Debra Stephens said: “The majority’s decision hinges on an interpretation of RCW 19.27.097 that is unsupported by the plain language of the statute, precedent, or common sense.”

Although the case originated in Whatcom County, Rep. Norma Smith says it has far-reaching implications for communities throughout the state.

“It’s important all Washingtonians understand how consequential the Hirst decision is,” said Smith, R-Clinton. “Families throughout rural Washington have seen, and will continue to see, their dreams of building a home potentially shattered and their property values dramatically decline without water. This results in shifting the tax burden to others in our communities. This decision and, consequently, the Legislature’s inaction thus far, will impact folks in all 39 counties.”

On June 30, a negotiated Hirst fix as well as a completed capital budget were placed on the House floor calendar, which meant they could have been brought to the floor for a vote at any time.

“We believed we had an agreed-upon, bipartisan Hirst fix and a capital budget ready to go June 30.” said Smith, one of the lead negotiators on the capital budget for House Republicans. “Our Hirst solution would have allowed cities and counties to rely on Ecology’s already-established rules, permitted landowners to drill permit-exempt wells without the need for a costly hydrogeological study, and would have protected fish habitats and guaranteed future water supply. Most importantly, it would have restored hope and certainty for thousands of families throughout rural Washington. Unfortunately, the House majority caved to the pressure from a handful of Seattle Democrats and did not allow the Hirst fix to come up for a vote.”

The House eventually passed the capital-budget bill off the floor in the early morning of July 1, but the Senate majority held consideration of the bill until a compromise Hirst solution also passed.

Ongoing negotiations took place in July on both a Hirst-fix bill and to complete final changes on the capital budget. House Democrats introduced a Hirst-related bill — House Bill 2248 — late Wednesday evening that would delay the Hirst ruling by 24 months. Hayes says the bill is not a legitimate solution and created even more uncertainty.

“Property owners want and need a long-term fix. Not to mention it’s unlikely counties would issue permits and banks would issue loans under the uncertain circumstances created by House Bill 2248,” he said.

Although the Legislature adjourned for the year, the 10th District lawmakers vowed to continue work on both a Hirst fix and a capital budget throughout the interim.

“We have to do the right thing,” said Smith. “I’ve spent seven months working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to craft a strong capital budget that prioritizes mental health and our schools. I am committed to continuing that work and doing whatever I can to get a capital budget and a meaningful, long-term Hirst solution passed in the coming weeks.”

The Legislature is currently not scheduled to return to Olympia until the start of the 2018 legislative session in January. However, that could change if lawmakers reach an agreement.


Washington State House Republican Communications