Yesterday, I wrote about how Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom's disciples cock-blocked a bill that would indefinitely secure funding for homeless services across Washington State and turn it into a pro-landlord "compromise" that actively took funding away from the aforementioned services. Last night, the new version of the bill was heard again, and it passed through the Senate Ways & Means Committee in all its imperfection.
Both bills—the original, homeless-aiding ESHB 2368 and its sad, gutted specter, SB 5875—concern a fee on filing real estate documents, which is considered to be necessary to implement the budget. It's also set to sunset, or be phased out, over the span of a few years.
However, whereas ESHB 2368 would remove the sunset and extend that fee indefinitely, SB 5875 extends it for just a year, leaving the future of the fee unsure. Additionally, SB 5875 adds a new stipulation which kicks nearly half of the funding that would usually go to homeless services over to private renters.
The latter made it through the last Senate Ways & Means Committee of the 2014 Regular Session.
Senate Republicans testified the fee for now was fine, but making it permanent was "a step too far," and that it would make it too easy to never actually address the causes of homelessness.
"This takes away nothing from where we are now," said Sen. Barbara Bailey, (R-Oak Harbor), "but it will keep us focused on readdressing this on a continual basis to try to find solutions."
Of course, it does actually take away money from homeless programs.
Both Sen. David Frockt (D-Kenmore), and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) proposed amendments to 5875, including some which were definitely more like compromises than anything else that has been discussed, and one that explicitly protected tenants from discrimination, but none were passed.
Despite its imperfection, both Frockt and Kohl-Welles voted for the bill anyway, because getting it through now is better than letting it completely die on the vine.
This kind of quibbling and use of the state's neediest populations as political pawns (which, you'll recall, is how this all started) is kind of exactly what everyone was worried about when Tom flipped sides and took over as Senate Majority Leader. Because while he isn't the sponsor on 5875—Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond), one of Tom's constituents, is—it's his personal beefs that are functionally behind cutting funding for homeless services.
The bill will now move to Rules Committee, where it can can still be improved upon. It's likely that Frockt, Kohl-Welles, and other Senate Democrats will be working to amend the bill so that it actually provides long-term, salient funding to homeless services.
UPDATE 3:49 PM: In a last-ditch effort, Sen. Andy Billg (D-Spokane) tried to force the bill by going to the Ninth Order, but unfortunately, support came up just short, with a vote of 23-26. Senate Democrats expressed their disappointment, calling the issue "a manufactured problem."
"It’s disappointing,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, (D-Bainbridge Island), "We offered a solution and it was rejected."