On Watch

Freeing Willy?

Peter Schrappen On Watch

For some boaters, the negotiation process is a game. For others, even the word negotiation can trigger fear and dread whether it’s the purchase of a boat, car, or house. Certainly, negotiating does not stop at the water’s edge. If it’s weighing the pros and cons of a destination or whether to upgrade a system, the constant push and pull never ends.

It is no different at the heart of the legislative and political process. Outside of the legislative session, political action committees negotiate internally about how to spend their budgeted amount. Do they make an unlimited donation to a state party or House or Senate party super PAC? Do they reward champions at the maximum limit of $2,000? Or do these committees “peanut butter” their donations, excuse me—investments—by spreading them around at lower amounts? Do four $500 donations “buy” you more goodwill than one $2,000 contribution to one champion? (I would say no.)

As for negotiating in Olympia, Washington, what some interest groups would deem perfect bills are shaved down over time to make them more palatable to a larger group of stakeholders. Considering that 2,121 bills were introduced this year and there are 105 days to: hear bills in committee; vote bills out of committee; schedule a floor vote; debate on the floor; pass the bill in the respective chamber and then repeat in the opposite chamber; the process is fraught with negotiations.

The bill to change the buffer and speed limits around Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) serves as a nice case study. You may remember that the SRKW Task Force put forward a list of recommendations (keep in mind that recommendations equal priorities and priorities are one of two magic ingredients that catalyze legislative success), which included a moratorium on SRKW whale watching and altering the distance between boats and these whales. From the list of priorities (too long of a list?), legislators drafted their legislative “team” of bills. From there the consensus building (the other magic ingredient) started.

If you are not up on the current law, here’s a quick refresher. Vessels are not allowed to approach within 200 yards of a southern resident orca whale. We are supposed to position our vessels to avoid an orca’s path at any point by 400 yards. If it’s impossible to stay clear, boaters must turn off their transmission within 200 yards of a southern resident orca whale.

Enter state House Bill 1580. Out of the gate, the first iteration was aggressive. That bold leap is normal at the outset, staking out a theoretical spot on the negotiation spectrum. As kids, we are taught to dream big and as Dale Carnegie would say “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Bill 1580, at the outset, was no different. The distance within which a vessel or other object may not approach a southern resident orca was increased from within 200 yards to within 400 yards. Plus, it would be unlawful to engage the transmission of a vessel within 400 yards, instead of 200 yards, of a southern resident orca.

A speed limit of 7 knots at any point located within one-half of a nautical mile of a southern resident orca was staked out. To me, that bill language sure beats an exclusionary “no-go zone” for boaters that was thwarted by task force members like Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) President George Harris.

Just like with any other important piece of legislation, as time goes along, interest groups get organized (this time, it was the Pacific Whale Watch Association). They brought on a lobbyist to articulate their position and lawmakers started to see that getting some good passed is better than not getting anything passed. As they say in Olympia, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” House Bill 1580 is no different. As the respectful, yet vocal, opposition grew, the bill changed form.

This original bill morphed. As 1580 wound its way through the committee structure, the temporary 650-yard commercial whale watching approach limit was removed, and the standard approach limit was adjusted to 300 yards instead of 400 yards. An approach limit of 400 yards behind a southern resident orca whale was added. Think of a dog bone with 300 yards on the sides and 400 yards up front and in back with whales in the middle.

The substitute bill provides that the commercial whale watching license is not a limited-entry license. An annual license fee was added, the per-vessel license fees were decreased. This lobbyist was busy.

The bill continues its journey to the governor’s desk. It passed the House before a recent cutoff date with vote of 78 in support to 20 opposed. Remember that Democrats control the state House and Senate. Since this issue is so high-profile and lawmakers are always looking for that glitzy headline that shows they are doing the people’s work (like saving the whales), expect this bill to become law before the 2019 legislative session ends in late April.

Peter Schrappen

Written by

Peter Schrappen currently works for the Northwest Marine Trade Association as their Government Affairs Director and the Clean Boating Foundation as their Executive Director. Additionally, he serves on boards of the Boating Safety Advisory Council, the Washington Boating Alliance and the U.S. Superyacht Association.

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