It’s been a wild couple of weeks as we’ve powered through policy and fiscal cutoffs. Now, more than halfway through session, we see a clearer picture of what our narrowed world of bills looks like. Many bills that would have negatively impacted counties have thankfully died. One such bill is SB 5867. While we remained neutral on the original version of this bill, the substitute version that was on its way to the Senate floor would have been detrimental to counties. This version would have required counties to divert funds being used for long-term goals to support housing like permanent supportive housing and transitional housing and use them instead to stand up and operate emergency shelters, which is a short-term, unstable fix. It also required counties to provide employment, mental health, and drug counseling services at these shelters and at county expense. While these are laudable goals, they are very expensive.
Rather than pushing these costs onto local government, the legislature should have provided funds for these policies. Instead, the bill died in Ways & Means.
One of our priority bills, SB 5790, has stumbled a bit. While the bill continues its way through the legislative process, it does so stripped of its main purpose. The bill originally focused on providing increased rates for supported employment and community inclusion, to be annually adjusted for inflation. However, that portion of the bill was removed purportedly because budget writers did not want ongoing, permanent cost increases. Rather, they’ve directed us to try to increase the rates by way of a budget proviso. Therefore, we drafted a proviso and provided it to legislators to request that it be included in the budget.
We’ve also experienced an interesting turn of events with the Blake bill, SB 5663. The original version of the bill would have created what they coined a “Refund Bureau” within the Department of Revenue (DOR). However, DOR adamantly opposed administering this within its agency and the legislators listened. That piece was removed from the bill. Without the creation of the Refund Bureau, counties will be left administering legal and financial obligation (LFO) refunds. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dhingra, indicated she would not be seeking to pass the bill out of the Senate in this form and would rather address Blake in the budget. We were then asked to draft a proviso to extend the use of our existing Blake funds, and create an LFO pool within the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) for AOC to administer and refund LFOs. This would remove liability for counties. We are in support of this approach.
Now we cross our fingers and work to make sure our provisos actually make it into the budget.