Senate sends Hirst-fix legislation to House for third time

The chair of the Senate’s water-related committee, Sen. Judy Warnick, has been working to fix the fallout caused by the Hirst decision issued by the state Supreme Court in late 2016. Senate Bill 5239, which has received bipartisan support in the upper chamber but stalled in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, would provide a needed fix for rural communities. The legislation was approved again Tuesday by a vote of 28 to 20 and now goes to the House for consideration.

“During the two special sessions, my legislation has been the only solution on the table,” said Warnick, R-Moses Lake. “I have made a concerted effort to hear stakeholders out and understand their concerns, but I have been clear that we need a solution to this problem this year. Families cannot wait.”

The court’s actions turned decades of water law on its head by requiring expensive and duplicative studies before a property owner can obtain a permit for a small, household well. Warnick has been meeting with stakeholders in hopes of finding a solution for rural families.

“I am hopeful that my counterparts in the House will take our conversations seriously and provide useful input to find a fix,” Warnick added. “This is the third time we have passed this legislation because it is a priority. From my talks, I feel that the House will come up with a reasonable and workable approach based on my bill.”

The state Legislature is nearing the end of a second overtime session to reach an agreement on a new two-year operating budget. Senate leadership has been supportive of fixing the Hirst situation, bringing up Warnick’s proposal for a vote three times this year. The current special session is scheduled to conclude June 21.