House passes amended version of Volz legislation aimed at helping people rebuild their homes after a wildfire

The Washington State House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill from Rep. Mike Volz on Tuesday that originally would have given property owners more rebuilding options after a wildfire. In the first version of the policy, House Bill 1899 would have required local governments, through June 30, 2025, to allow property owners to choose which building and energy codes they used in the reconstruction of their properties.

Washington was devastated by multiple wildfires in 2023, which led to the governor declaring a state of emergency throughout the state on Aug. 19. Many people are finally attempting to rebuild after losing everything, but certain building and energy codes are causing issues.

“Many folks in my district are still suffering from the devastating wildfires last summer in Eastern Washington. Some of them were left with nothing, and they are still trying to recover,” said Volz, R-Spokane. “Unfortunately, people are getting caught between the new rules and the old rules and this is stalling the process. This bill intends to give those who lost their homes the opportunity to rebuild in the most efficient and cost-effective way as possible.

“I worked closely with Rep. Suzanne Schmidt and my seatmate Rep. Jenny Graham on this bill, and we really wanted to see the impact it would have on our communities. We will continue trying to improve it as it heads to the Senate.”

Under the original version of House Bill 1899, any building permit application for property damaged or destroyed by a wildfire during 2023, while an emergency proclamation from the governor was in effect, could have been permitted and built in accordance with the state building code and energy codes that were in effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

“The people affected by these wildfires should not be hit with additional burdens and red tape. We need to do everything we can to get them back into their homes and a stable living situation as quickly as possible,” said Volz. “That’s really the ultimate goal of this legislation. However, the bill as amended, falls far short of the original. It does not allow people to choose which codes they will use, and it doesn’t get the financial relief to the victims fast enough.”

The substitute version of this bill calls for making assistance available to local governments, businesses, and individuals to repair or replace damaged or destroyed buildings in more energy efficient and environmentally friendly ways.

Subject to the availability of funds, the Department of Commerce would establish and administer an assistance program to help qualifying property owners and local governments that had buildings destroyed or damaged in a wildfire after Jan. 1, 2023.

Assistance would only be awarded to property owners who had buildings damaged or destroyed during a wildfire and that meet certain criteria. For example, the new or repaired building must comply with all current state building and state energy code requirements in effect at the time the permit application for the construction or repair is submitted.

“The new version of the bill is better than nothing, but it really doesn’t get to the heart of the problem,” said Volz. “People are suffering, and they need help now. It could take more than a year, or even longer to receive assistance. That’s going to leave a lot of people hanging. If they had passed the bill in its original form, it would have made a real difference immediately.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov