Support Public Service Journalism

Q&A: Sen. Shelly Short’s legislative agenda for rural Washington

Sen. Shelly Short (R – Addy) serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Local Government Committee and sits on the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks, Environment, Energy & Technology and Rules Committees. 

Amid the legislative urgency surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Short told me in an interview this week that she is crafting an agenda that ensures rural communities have a seat at the table. I asked her about a few of the bills she’s focused on.

Michael Goldberg: You’ve been working on several bills related to the Growth Management Act (GMA). What will these bills accomplish?

Sen. Shelly Short: I had the opportunity to chair the Local Government Committee in 2017 and I’ve been ranking member or in leadership capacity on local government issues and the GMA is a big one. The bills I’m working on have more of a rural flavor.

The one that I think has the greatest chance of getting through is SB 5275. There are areas that aren’t considered urban growth areas but they allow limited intense development. The current GMA just doesn’t work very well in these particular areas. My bill would add some agreed to language and allow for boundaries to be expanded to mirror utility service areas. If you think about local areas of more intense development, the boundaries aren’t consistent with water and sewer utility boundaries.

The environmental community usually says that we can’t keep allowing growth outside of urban growth areas. To me it makes sense in these instances to at least allow growth within those utility service areas because you’re not growing the utilities, the utilities are already there.”

MG: On the subject of bills with a rural flavor, there is a bipartisan bill in the House that would expand broadband retail authority to Public Utility Districts (PUD). Do you support that proposal?

SS: I have not been supportive of PUD retail authority in the past, but I think there are certain instances where it would be good to have that. I would probably not support that as a wholesale change.

Our private providers have spent a lot of time and money investing in their communities and investing in the infrastructure, of coursing using the fiber backbone of PUDs on the wholesale end. I’m a little nervous about any kind of a government entity that has deeper pockets and the ability to outcompete our private providers.

But there are areas, even in my district, where private providers don’t seem to be hitting the mark. So I think that’s where I would be open to having a better definition around providers of last resort or something of that nature so people are still served.

If there aren’t any private providers that have any interest in the short term, the PUDs ought to be able to go in. I’ll watch the bill as it progresses. Covid and all the shutdowns really highlighted that we need this infrastructure in our communities.

MG: You also introduced a bill this session which would require the Department of Commerce and the Utilities and Transportation Commission to comply with elements of the Administrative Procedures Act that deal with rulemaking. Can you tell me more about that?

SS: In the interim, I learned that these two agencies are not under this particular part of the Administrative Procedures Act. If you think about Ecology or Fish & Wildlife, for instance, they have to do greater work in their rulemaking to comply with legislative rules.

If you think about the impacts of the clean energy transformation on the economy or to families, the two agencies that are mandated to do the most amount of work in the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) are not under this particular piece of the Administrative Procedures Act.

If you think about the kinds of rules that are going to come forward for utilities under CETA, it’s not complete regulatory authority but it’s more than Commerce’s normal role. I think they should be under that piece of the Administrative Procedures Act. Those are going to be significant rules and significant investments by utilities in complying with CETA.

When it comes to the significance of what’s going to be expected under CETA, I feel like we need to have protections in place for people who are going to ultimately pay for that.

MG: You’ve worked on issues related to workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance in the past. What do you make of ESD Director Suzi LeVine accepting a job in the Biden-Harris administration and what do you hope Gov. Inslee will look for in her successor?

SS: I was not at all surprised that she moved into the Biden administration. I think she has done quite a bit for people high up in the Democratic Party over the years, whether it’s fundraising or other things, so it’s no surprise to me that she would have be tapped.

I just hope the person that Gov. Inslee considers is somebody who really keeps transparency at the forefront and protects the trust fund. Certainly what happened last year really put the trust fund front and center. I hope there is a person with more experience that can really guide a large agency in a way that protects that trust fund.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Your support matters.

Public service journalism is important today as ever. If you get something from our coverage, please consider making a donation to support our work. Thanks for reading our stuff.