Fire chiefs, fire commissioners and front-line firefighters don’t always speak with one voice. But they were united in calling for swift passage of a bill by state Rep. Larry Springer to streamline the levy system for reauthorizing emergency medical services.
Today, the House agreed, voting 70-25 to pass Springer’s measure (House Bill 2474) to allow a simple majority of voters to reauthorize six- and 10-year emergency medical services (EMS) levies. The bill preserves the supermajority requirement for passing original EMS levies.
“This is a very important bill for ensuring the continuity of crucial EMS services, but it is also very limited in scope,” said Springer (D-Kirkland). “It only applies to continuing the same levies that the same voters previously approved with supermajorities.”
Opponents argued that supermajority requirements help to protect taxpayers. But Springer emphasized that all of the taxpayer protections of Initiative 747 would still apply to EMS levies if his bill passes, including the one-percent growth cap.
Ryan Spiller, speaking on behalf of the Washington Fire Commissioners Association, told a public hearing on Springer’s bill that it is ironic to require supermajorities to reauthorize life-saving EMS levies when many kinds of original levies only need majority support to pass.
Levies for airport districts, metropolitan parks, port dredging, and affordable housing are examples of levies that only require simple majorities to pass in Washington State.
Chief Mike Brown, the executive director for the Washington State Association of Fire Chiefs, said it is frustrating when EMS reauthorization levies fail when they have the support of 55 percent or more of the voting public.
These levies almost always pass when they are resubmitted, Brown said, but the extra election costs $50,000 to $100,000 that would be better spent on direct services that save lives.
Craig Soucy, a spokesperson for the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, said that when reauthorization levies fail there is a window of risk that can include increased response times in emergency situations.
“The bottom line is that passing this bill will help our fire departments maintain what is arguably to most important function of government—public health and safety,” said Springer.
The bill now moves to the Senate.