A proposal to let local governments sell surplus property at a discount for affordable housing projects turned into an emotional debate about humanity and the human soul on the floor of the state House Wednesday night.
Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, caused outrage among Republicans when he said that lawmakers should vote for the proposal if they had any humanity in their soul.
He later apologized, but not before bringing Rep. Linda Kochmar, R-Federal Way, to tears and prompting a sardonic response from House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt about needlessly extending a floor debate that had already continued past 9:30 p.m.
Dunshee said the language of House Bill 1563 was “permissive” and wouldn’t require local governments to sell their surplus property below market price for low-income housing projects — it would only make it an option.
But he said that cities and counties would do it if they were compassionate, and that lawmakers with any sense of humanity should vote for the proposal.
“If you have compassion, this is an option. If, you have humanity in your soul, this is an option,” Dunshee said, prompting cries of outrage from several House members. “This mandates nothing.”
“For those who vote against it, the question is, is there humanity in your soul?” he continued.
Dunshee’s comments prompted Democratic Rep. Jim Moeller, the acting House speaker, to tell him he was out of order.
Republicans had trouble getting past Dunshee’s comments, however. Rep. Linda Kochmar, R-Federal Way, got choked up several times during her response on the House floor.
“While I understand that both sides want to do what they believe is right, while I understand that both sides want to help the homeless, while I understand that both sides of this aisle believe in their hearts that what they are doing is right, I personally find it offensive that any member of this caucus would think that any other member of this caucus was not as compassionate,” Kochmar said.
Kochmar’s point was that local governments are required to seek fair market value for any land they sell because that land belongs to the taxpayers, not the government.
“We have no right to have a gift of public funds, even though we have good intentions,” Kochmar said. “A council member, a government, has the duty … to find the best price for that land, for the betterment of all their people.”
She added in a trembling voice: “And I am one of the most compassionate people you will ever meet.”
Rep. Jay Rodne, R-North Bend, then repeatedly got gaveled down for saying that the Legislature, if it was truly compassionate, would repeal the state’s anti-sprawl Growth Management Act, which he said is the cause of high housing prices.
Moeller, acting as speaker, told Rodne that his points weren’t “germane” to the bill at hand, and gaveled him down when he persisted.
Finally, Minority Leader DeBolt rose to personally object to Dunshee’s commentary.
“I’d like to thank the gentleman from the 44th (district) for making this evening a lot longer, as we get into the debate tonight about humanity, and our soul,” DeBolt said.
Moeller then called a recess that lasted more than 30 minutes. When House members returned to the floor, Dunshee was ready with an apology.
“I apologize for my comments about humanity and compassion in my last speech. Thank you,” Dunshee said.
The House then passed House Bill 1563 on a 51-46 vote.