Update from Olympia on priority legislation

Byron Starkey
WWU Government Relations

The legislative session has seen a wide range of policy bills that could impact university operations and the way we do business for the next couple of years. While the number of bills that have a possibility of passing has dwindled, numerous positive pieces of legislation are still under consideration by both the House and Senate. Four of Western’s priority bills still being considered fall within the category of our “regulatory relief” package – a set of legislative modifications collectively identified by all six public baccalaureate institutions as necessary to improve efficiencies. Those are:

  • HB 2585, titled “Efficiencies in Higher Education,” adjusts and aligns procurement thresholds, allows for more flexibility in contracts entered into by the university by extending the sunset timeframe, and makes other common sense statutory changes (like allowing the purchase of low cost airline tickets).
  • HB 2259 eliminates the requirement for institutions to submit a time consuming state report that is duplicated on the federal level.
  • HB 2735 increases the dollar threshold for intermediate capital project construction requirements by changing fiscal regulations last updated in 1993. This change will expedite the process for many renovation projects from a six-year funding cycle to a two-year funding cycle.
  • HB 2328 will allow for universities to engage in job order contracting, which will allow for a more consistent, reliable, and efficient process for certain university upgrades.

Legislation that decreases the state regulatory burden will allow for the university to be more nimble and effective in our day to day operations during these difficult budgetary times. The regulatory relief package will be a step in the right direction by allowing for a little more operational flexibility within the university.

Aside from our regulatory relief package, legislation that impacts student financial aid processes and veterans concerns have been popular issues in Olympia along with bills that restructure or aim at refining general government operations. Those are:

  • HB 2452 establishes the guidelines for the newly created Department of Enterprise Services DES), which oversees all state procurement functions. The six baccalaureate institutions are working with DES so that standards and directives given to the new agency are in alignment with higher education’s normal procurement procedures.
  • SHB 2483 establishes the Student Achievement Council, the replacement entity for the Higher Education Coordinating Board, which will be tasked with strategic planning for Washington’s higher education system. This bill continues to be worked on and is not yet in its final form.
  • SB 6121 will require more information to be provided to students before financial aid and loans are to be accepted and received. This is an effort to increase financial and loan literacy among students who may be incurring large debt loads for attending college.

As the legislature moves beyond the deadlines for policy bills that don’t have an impact on the budget, the Operating and Capital budgets will now be the main focus of the remaining days of the legislative session. The House budget proposal was released on Feb. 21 and moved out of House Ways and Means on Feb. 25. The Senate budget is expected to be made public on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The final two weeks will be focused around the final passage of policy bills and the reconciliation of budget proposals.
The end of legislative session is March 8.