Shared Senate committee leadership turns contentious over homelessness money

Staff writerFebruary 28, 2014 

Jan Angel

AARON BARNA

UPDATED 2:15 p.m.

A new shared leadership arrangement in a state Senate committee turned contentious Thursday as co-chairwoman Jan Angel adjourned the panel abruptly, slamming the door on a push to maintain funding for preventing homelessness.

At issue is a $40 fee on home sales that funds housing for the poor through public-housing programs and vouchers for private landlords. The fee is scheduled to drop to $30 next year if nothing happens and then to $10 two years later.

The renewal could re-emerge in last-minute deal making before the session ends March 13. The program has been a priority of Speaker Frank Chopp, and Gov. Jay Inslee's Department of Commerce was asking for the renewal.

But it couldn't get past the Senate Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee in its last meeting before a Friday deadline for bills to advance. Angel, R-Port Orchard, who was named mid-session to lead the committee along with former sole chairman Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, gaveled the committee to a close.

That's when the TVW video feed cut off, but advocates for the bill sent out the audio, available here. You can hear Angel arguing with Benton, Hobbs and Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson about whether all interest groups had agreed to a deal.

"To abruptly adjourn this meeting without protecting the homeless really, really bothers me," Nelson said, "and it will affect those who need a voucher just for housing over their head on a cold day."

The two chairs disagree about whether there was a directive from the top of the Senate to kill the bill.

"(Senate Majority Leader) Rodney Tom told me he felt the bill needed work or wasn’t good," Hobbs said. "Which is also to me kind of stunning because I thought committee chairs had control in the committee."

Angel said there was no request from leadership. "Even if leadership ever asked me and said I've got to do this, I work for the people of my district," she said.

Her opposition was not exactly a surprise, despite the expressions of shock afterward. Angel and Hobbs had been at odds about whether House Bill 2368 would even be on the committee's schedule.

Hobbs says interest groups had dropped their opposition to the bill after Tacoma Democratic Rep. David Sawyer and Vancouver Republican Sen. Don Benton worked out a bipartisan deal that would renew the fee temporarily and make some other changes.

But Sawyer said he and Benton agreed to advance a permanent extension -- something Realtors have not supported. And a lobbyist for landlords, John Woodring, said they didn't agree to a deal. He said they want to make sure the money designated for landlords in the form of private housing vouchers is actually going there.

Angel said the proposal had problems but they can be worked out next year and she vowed to help.

"I have a real passion to help these folks," Angel said of the homeless, "because I tell you what, I was a half an inch away from being there myself."

Minority Senate Democrats tried a procedural move Friday to bring the bill to the Senate floor, but it was rejected.

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