Short Legislative Session – Long Challenges

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by Doug Mah, Doug Mah & Associates, Thurston Chamber Public Policy Director

In January 2022, the Washington State Legislature will convene for a 60-day session. This “short” or mid-biennium session is intended to address emerging needs that can’t wait for the next full session in 2023.

The Thurston Chamber is confident that Interstate-5 and chronic homelessness will be at the top of priorities for legislators to address in 2022.

Interstate-5 and chronic homelessness have been on the list of significant challenges facing the State and region for years. But new studies, support and resources at the State level mean that 2022 could be the year for significant improvements.

I-5 and the Nisqually Delta
A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) funded by the Nisqually Indian Tribe and the Washington State Department of Transportation finds that the “Coastal Squeeze” is impacting the I-5 corridor. Coastal Squeeze refers to the changing rain and snow events in the upland areas of the Nisqually watershed as a result of climate change interacting with the measurable and anticipated increase in sea level in Puget Sound. 

The USGS study reveals three critical problems:

  • Flooding in the Nisqually will increase in magnitude and frequency.
  • Overtopping of I-5 will become more regular.
  • The risk of a significant avulsion event is not a matter of if but when, which appears to be as soon as 17 years in the future.

Not addressing I-5 at the Nisqually puts salmon recovery, commerce and national defense at great risk.

Chronic Homelessness

According to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an individual is experiencing chronic homelessness if they have been homeless for one year or longer or experienced at least four episodes totaling 12 months of homelessness in the last three years and have a qualifying disability.

Those experiencing chronic homelessness are the most visible and most vulnerable in our communities. Point in time counts reveal that the chronically homeless population is the fastest-growing portion of the homeless population around the State. Chronic homelessness is a snowballing problem that worsens the longer it is unaddressed. As a region, we are at risk of falling irreversibly behind.

Paying to address improvements to I-5 and helping those experiencing chronic homelessness is a huge challenge. But the Thurston Chamber sees billions of dollars in new Federal infrastructure funding and unallocated American Rescue Plan Act funds as resources that are now ready to help significantly address these problems. On top of the Federal resources, State revenue collections are strong and exceed projections. This creates even more opportunity to invest in these two problems.

Challenge Seattle, an alliance of CEOs from 21 of the region’s largest private-sector employers, found that “most voters (62 percent) say homelessness is a statewide problem and our state lawmakers should be responsible for addressing it, rather than a community-specific issue needing only local resources.” Combined with the State’s overarching responsibility for the State’s lifeline of commerce and transportation known as Interstate-5, the Public Policy Division at the Thurston Chamber anticipates the next “short” legislative session will be “long” on efforts to address some of our most pressing problems. In the upcoming legislative session, we will join others in the call for investments in I-5 and chronic homelessness.

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