Saturday, January 31, 2009

This Past Week in Olympia

It's been a busy week in Olympia. Here's a smattering of what went on.

Hearing Held on Climate Change Bill
A hearing was held on HB 1490, sponsored by Representative Sharon Nelson (D-Seattle). HB 1490 seeks to address climate change by “strengthening” land use restrictions. The bill amends the environment goal of the Growth Management Act (GMA) to include transit-oriented development, adds multi-model transportation to concurrency requirements, and requires countywide planning policies address emissions reduction rules.

HB 1490 will be an unmitigated disaster if passed, adding thousands of dollars to the cost of a home, and
it will undoubtedly lead to more litigation from environmental groups like Futurewise, that regularly sue local jurisdictions over Comprehensive Plans, as well as our local groups, such as Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Planning (KCRP), and of course, those ever-vigilant stewards of our environment, the tribes.

etired Thurston County Commissioner Diane Oberquell (Democrat) testified against the bill. A few years ago environmentalists sued Thurston County over adoption of the county’s comprehensive plan. Thurston County taxpayers spent $1.6 million in defending the case. Just this past week or so, KCRP and the Suquamish Tribe lost a Superior Court case against Kitsap County, when they sued over the county's Comp Plan. No word yet on just how much it has cost us taxpayers to "win" what amounted to a frivolous lawsuit.

Local governments simply can't afford for this
bill to become law — especially in this economic climate.

“Green” Bills on the Move
Despite the all the public relations hullabaloo pushing for “green jobs” to save the state's economy, the Gregoire administration is actually pushing a set of job-killing bills that are being considered in both the House and Senate.

First, HB 1718, a bill that implements Gregoire’s Climate Action Team recommendations, was introduced this week by Representative Dave Upthegrove (D-King County). Numerous groups testified in opposition to the bill’s sweeping provisions, which include drastic energy code changes, energy performance monitoring, new land use restrictions and Growth Management Act amendments.

Second, Gregoire’s Cap-and-Trade program appeared this week in the form of two companion bills — HB 1819 by Upthegrove and SB 5735 by Kitsap's own Senator Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island). Gregoire’s
proposal would cap air emissions and charge those exceeding the caps, adding a complicated and expensive new regulatory scheme on businesses in Washington — not to mention adding more state employees to the payroll which will expand the existing deficit, which is quickly approaching $7 billion.

The Cap-and-Trade proposals will
be heard on Tuesday, Feb. 3, at 10 a.m. in the House and 11 a.m. in the Senate.

Underground Economy Bill Has Hearing
Wednesday, the House Commerce & Labor Committee held a hearing on HB 1555, sponsored by Representative Steve Conway (D-Tacoma). HB 1555 implements a number of recommendations from the Underground Economy Task Force, such as increasing penalties for unregistered contractors and for failing to keep adequate records, requiring cities and counties to verify registration before issuing business licenses, requiring photo ID for all contractors at registration, and mandating contractors maintain a list of all subcontractors available for inspection by the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).

L&I needs to do a
better job of enforcing the existing laws against illegal contractors rather than passing new laws it may never enforce. While there are some positive provisions in the bill, the business community's frustration with L&I over the issue of enforcement is certainly valid.

What’s Happening Next Week

Bad Warranty Bills to Have Hearing
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on HB 1045, sponsored by Representative Brendan Williams (D-Olympia), and HB 1393, sponsored by Representative Larry Springer (D-Kirkland). Williams' bill will make it much easier to sue builders for almost anything for years to come.

Williams has taken up the "hate all builders and sue their asses off" cause of former Senator Brian Wienstien. Williams once said if Weinstien's so-called warranty bill didn't pass, he would resign from the House. Of course he didn't keep his word. Go figure...

Among the more onerous provisions in HB 1045 is a mandated four year warranty with water penetration problems covered up to ten years. The bill creates untenable uncertainty by extending the statute of limitations. If a house is not perfect (free from defective materials and in compliance with all laws), there’s a breach of the warranty and invitation for a lawsuit. If this becomes law, obtaining liability insurance will become all but impossible for builders, and ones that build without it will be left with the necks hanging out a mile, just waiting for some unscruplous lawyer to sue them.

The other bill dealing with consumer protection and warranties is Representative Springer’s HB 1393, whcih creates a consumer ombudsman in the Attorney General’s Office, an idea which has merit, but unfortunately also mandates warranties on all new homes and directs the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) to create a licensing/certification program for construction workers (read: more state employees and increased cost of government, larger deficit, and questionable return for the consumer).

There are more
balanced options for better protecting consumers. 2007 BIAW President, and poster here, Daimon Doyle will testify in opposition to both HB 1045 and HB 1393.

There is a misconception by some that existing builder warranties or third party warranties, such as 2–10, would meet the requirements as currently spelled out in the warranty bills. That is incorrect. Here’s a snap shot of HB 1393.

The warranty dramatically expands liability by creating a cause of action for anything less than a perfect house or remodel. ANY defect is a breach of warranty and creates an opportunity for a lawsuit. The damages are the cost to fix or the loss in market value — whichever is less.
There is no reasonableness standard to determine if the warranty has been breached. ANY “defect,” no matter how trivial or unreasonable, triggers the warranty and a lawsuit.
The warranty also: (1) cannot be waived, and (2) extends to subsequent purchasers, taking away the ability to negotiate and bargain a contract with the initial purchaser.
The warranty applies to not only builders, but also to architects, engineers, vendors, subcontractors and designers.
In short, the legislatively mandated warranties will go far beyond the warranties builders currently voluntarily offer homeowners. If passed, these warranties will ultimately become a cash cow for trial attorneys.

Association Health Plan Bills to Be Considered
Thursday, the House Health Care Committee will hear HB 1712 and HB 1714, bills which propose to regulate Association Health Plans. The bills, introduced by Representative Eileen Cody (D-Seattle), would eliminate the advantage of AHPs by requiring more community rating, instead of allowing rates to be set based on the actual risk. The business community strongly opposes these bills, which would inhibit any given association's ability to provide affordable health insurance to members.

New Energy Code Mandates — Hold on to Your Wallets
Monday, the House Technology & Energy Committee will hold a hearing on HB 1747, sponsored by our own Representative Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island). HB 1747 is part of the environmentalists’ plan to “reduce” climate pollution. The Legislature and the Governor this year are focusing on major changes to the Washington State Energy Code as a means to addressing climate change. HB 1747 sets aggressive new energy efficiency standards that will require a 40 percent energy use reduction in all new buildings by 2013. The ultimate goal is “building zero fossil-fuel greenhouse gas emission homes and buildings by the year 2031.” The bill also contemplates the development of an “energy performance score for all residential buildings.” In addition, all of this is on top of the Governor’s push to increase the existing 2006 energy code by 30 percent.

Energy conservation requirements that are economically justifiable and do not adversely compromise the health of the occupants, are easy to support. However, these provisions are way over the top and will drastically increase the cost of a new home or commercial building.


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