We have seen numerous proposals to speed up the permit review process for the last several legislative sessions. Time is money, and reducing the time needed to acquire a permit is an opportunity to address one part of the housing availability and affordability problem facing our state.

Unfortunately, most of the ideas have been unworkable or unwise. Some have threatened public safety by placing strict time limits on permit review and requiring automatic approvals if the time limits are exceeded. Others have suggested that if an architect or engineer signs a permit application, plans examiners couldn’t review them for building code compliance.

But SB 5964 takes a different approach by offering local governments incentives.

You might even say it’s offering a carrot rather than using a stick.

Proposed by Senator Mark Mullet, the bill requires that interior remodel projects are exempt from site plan review if they meet specific, strict criteria like not adding bedrooms, not violating FEMA substantial improvement thresholds, etc. But it also adds some incentives for local permitting agencies to issue final decisions on residential permit applications within 45 business days or 90 calendar days. The current time limit for permit review is 120 days.

If a local government commits to meeting those time frames, it must provide a consolidated permit review process. That means all departments interested in the application must review it simultaneously rather than sequentially. The idea is to provide any corrections needed together, instead of one at a time, as they become available over the 120 days.

Counties are authorized to contract with a third party to assist in the permit review and construction inspection process and can qualify for grant funding to help pay the costs. As part of the overall grant program, counties must also develop a specific fee structure to continue the permit review process to achieve the 45 to 90-day issuance in perpetuity.

Local governments who participate in the program must achieve the timeline goals or risk eligibility for the grant funding.

However, failure does not trigger repayment of any grants received. There is no risk for trying.

The bill also includes establishing a grant program to provide funding for local governments to implement and update their technology tools to allow digital filing and review, virtual inspections, and capacity for video storage. The Department of Commerce is instructed to convene a workgroup to consider whether a statewide project permitting software system would be valuable. A uniform system could potentially harness the state’s buying power, reduce costs, and create a consistent and predictable method for predictability and efficient data collection.

This bill was developed with the assistance of WSAC and its members. It will need funding support in the State Supplemental Operating Budget to be successful.

SB 5964 was voted out of the Senate and is in the House. It will be heard in the House Committee on Local Government on February 22nd and 10 AM. WSAC will testify in support.