The Greater Seattle Business Association capped off 2017 with an annual meeting where Business & Humanitarian Awards recipients were announced and local lawmakers gave an optimistic preview of the 2018 legislative session.
GSBA president Louise Chernin shared highlights from the past year, including how the state’s largest LGBTQ chamber of commerce in 2017 raised $950,000 in student scholarship funding. This year marked $3 million in total awards to LGBTQ and allied students to pursue their leadership potential over four years.
“There is no one doing that,” Chernin said, “so I just have to say that is really remarkable to stay with a student for four years.”
This was also the first year the GSBA led a leadership academy with students from around the country.
Antioch University provost Benjamin Pryor said the school’s partnership with GSBA has allowed the university to identify challenges for its LGBTQIA students and improve on its environmental education and mental health counseling. Antioch is also developing a post-graduate certificate for LGBTQIA counseling.
The chamber took a leadership position in the fight to oppose Initiative 1552, said GSBA chair Drew Ness, which failed to get enough signatures to make the November ballot this year. It would have restricted people to use the bathroom, locker room and other facilities that correspond with their biological gender.
Ness said GSBA also led the creation of LGBT Business Enterprise certification and an economic summit that included 17 cities and five states.
Chernin spoke about GSBA’s involvement in the first LGBT cultural mission to Asia, which was organized with help from the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce. She lauded the coming together of the GSBA and Seattle’s ethnic chambers of commerce.
Moderating a conversation with 43rd Legislative District lawmakers during Wednesday’s GSBA luncheon was former state senator and current Seattle City Light chief of staff Calvin Goings, who noted the start of 2017 wasn’t great.
“I think 2017 is closing strong,” he said, citing progressive election victories that included Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Manka Dhingra, who took the 45th Legislative District. “And, surprise of all surprises, Alabama,” Goings referring to Doug Jones’ victory in the Alabama Senate race against Roy Moore on Tuesday.
The 2018 legislative session convenes in Olympia on Jan. 8 for a short 60-day session.
“We are going to pass a capital budget, and we are going to do it quickly,” said Sen. Jamie Pedersen.
Washington Democrats blame a stalled capital budget on Republicans refusing to vote on the matter until a Hirst water-rights agreement is reached.
Pedersen said the preferred solution is a compromise on water rights, and then passage of the capital budget. He said it’s embarrassing that Washington currently doesn’t have an approved capital budget, which is preventing projects from moving forward and people from getting jobs.
The Seattle senator also sees a bill banning conversion therapy sailing through the House and Senate this upcoming session. Seattle outlawed the practice last year.
One benefit to same-sex couples Pedersen believes will pass in the 2018 session are changes to the Uniform Parentage Act, where adoptions would be guaranteed legal in all states, and paying a surrogate mother would no longer be a class C felony; new regulations would be put in place to protect both parties, he said.
House Speaker Frank Chopp said he sees the Washington Legislature responding to a number of national issues, such as the “corrupt scandal” of Congress not funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). In Washington state, that CHIP funding amounted to nearly $250 million in 2017. A portion of that is directed to the state’s own Apple Health/Medicaid coverage, Chopp said.
Rep. Nicole Macri said she’s excited to see the roll out of paid family leave in Washington in 2019, with benefits taking effect in 2020.
One challenge she sees this upcoming session is stabilizing the market for individual health insurance for single contractors and small businesses.
Addressing gun violence through regulation has been impossible, Pedersen said, because Senate Republicans refused to pass anything not supported by the NRA. He is sponsoring a bill that would allow people experiencing a mental health crisis to put themselves on a do-not-sell list for firearms. He is also hopeful a bipartisan bill addressing bump stocks, which were used by Stephen Paddock in October to kill 58 people and injure 546 more at a Las Vegas concert, will pass next session. Bump fire stocks allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like automatics.
Being a chamber meeting, the topic of taxes did come up, with legislators optimistic new revenue options could be put on the table while others, such as the business and occupation tax and real estate excise tax, could be made more progressive.
Pedersen said a new capital gains tax would be one way to offset a property tax increase that takes effect in 2018 — up to $2.60 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The burden from local levies will go down, he added, but not until 2019.
Macri said the House last session did look at B&O reform, making REET more progressive, capital gains and rolling back tax exemptions. What did get passed, she said, was a bill that requires online retailers, such as Amazon, to collect and remit sales or use tax.
The representative will also be focused with Chopp on addressing housing affordability and supply in Washington, Macri saying rental costs have increased 22 percent in the state and 57 percent in Seattle in the past six years.
Chopp said the Legislature is now looking at acquiring properties in danger of being torn down and preserving them. He referred to the Highland Village property in Bellevue, which houses mostly new immigrants. That property was saved, he said, and is now owned by the King County Housing Authority.
The House Speaker has also been brokering a deal to acquire Seattle Central College’s surplus South Annex property for a homeless youth opportunity center with housing. Chernin, who sits on the Seattle Colleges board, said she’s excited about this future development in Capitol Hill.