Pair of Padden bills signed by governor

Measures would reduce barriers to condo construction and help protect free speech

In a virtual ceremony today at the state Capitol, Gov. Jay Inslee signed two of Sen. Mike Padden’s measures from the 2021 legislative session.

Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5024, which cleared both the House and Senate unanimously after years of legislative work, is aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing by removing barriers to condominium construction.

“This measure originated from a 2018 work session to address the state’s inadequate supply of new condominiums,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “Since that time, the problems of affordable housing, homelessness, and a lack of new construction have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This new law will not only reduce the cost of inspections by allowing them to be conducted by any qualified architect, but it will also make some additional financing options available for construction of these units. That is welcome news for both homebuilders and those looking for more affordable homeownership.”

Currently, condominium projects must undergo multiple inspections, performed by a very expensive forensic inspector. Under Padden’s measure, inspection requirements for condominiums will be brought more in line with other stick-frame constructions, such as single-family homes or duplexes. This crucial change will reduce the cost of condominiums by allowing any qualified architect or engineer to perform the inspections. Condominiums will still be subject to all current building codes and warranty provisions.

The new law will also allow funds deposited for the purchase of a unit to be used for construction costs, under certain conditions.

The measure received the support of numerous cities, builders, and affordable housing advocates, including the City of Spokane Valley, the Building Industry Association of Washington, Greenstone Homes, City of SeaTac, City of Spokane, and the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association.

Today, Inslee also signed the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act, Padden’s measure to help protect citizens, whistleblowers and members of the news media from frivolous lawsuits aimed at stifling freedom of speech and the discussion of legitimate public issues.

Substitute Senate Bill 5009 addresses an important free-speech concern created by the 2015 state Supreme Court ruling in Davis v Cox, which struck down the state’s anti-SLAPP law.

A SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, is a lawsuit brought primarily in order to chill lawful public debate, discussion or investigation.

SSB 5009 will reinstate the state’s anti-SLAPP law, permitting a special motion in court for expedited relief against legal claims over public expression and allowing a court to award costs, litigation expenses, and reasonable attorneys’ fees for prevailing parties.

“Our courts are meant to be used as a shield to protect our liberties and ensure justice, not as a sword to attack those exercising their fundamental First Amendment rights,” Padden said. “This measure will help end the abuse of our legal system and protect our right to free speech and freedom of the press.”

The measure received the support of both the Uniform Law Commission and the Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington.

Both of the laws created by Padden’s bills will go into effect on July 25.