Tag Archives: Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Light pollution measure expected to win governor’s approval

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign a supplemental state transportation budget tomorrow that includes what may well be the first ever mention of light pollution to make it into state code. The transportation budget may seem an odd place for such policy matters to be considered, but state Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) found an opportunity there.

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

“The Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over a lot of facilities with a lot of light across the state, has some federal dollars to do a study on the impacts of light to night driving and vision,” Farrell told Seattle Astronomy. “I thought as long as they’re looking at the impacts of light on vision, why don’t we also look at the impacts on light pollution?”

Farrell had that directive inserted into the budget as a proviso—see our story from Tuesday for the exact language—and the governor has told her he will sign it.

(UPDATE: Gov. Inslee did, in fact, sign the bill, including the light-pollution language, on March 25, 2016.)

“A huge thank-you to Gov. Inslee,” Farrell said. “He is, as we all know, a great environmentalist. He cares a lot about the night sky and said that specifically when we spoke about this proviso. I’m very pleased that he’s going to sign the supplemental budget with this proviso in it.”

“I care about a visible night sky, so this is important,” she said.

As a proviso in the supplemental budget, it will only be in effect for about a year. Farrell said she plans to work next year on getting the department to make an on-going commitment to considering light pollution in its planning and operations. She said it might not even take legislation, but that the department could be convinced to make such considerations of its own accord.

Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee

“It seems like a straight-forward thing, and I’m surprised they don’t already have policies around light pollution,” she said, “but my hope is that ultimately this will allow them to start making different decisions around how they light their road facilities across the state.”

Farrell sponsored a bill this year to have the state Department of Ecology do a comprehensive study of the effects of light pollution and to make policy recommendations for reducing it. While the bill received a hearing, it did not win approval from the House Environment Committee. Farrell said cost was the main hangup. The legislature has been ruled in contempt of court over education funding, and is still in special session trying to wrap up the operating budget, which is under a great deal of strain.

“There was a great concern in doing anything that was perceived as extra in the general operating budget this session,” she said. She saw the DOT funding as a way to make some progress without making it a budget issue.

Farrell said she has long been interested in the night sky, and remembers not having to go very far to see things like the Perseid meteor shower.

“It is really a lot harder to see even really visible events like that, and I think that what’s interesting about light pollution is that its really something that we can address,” she said. She credited the amateur astronomy community for stepping up, noting that it was a constituent, David Dorais, who raised the issue at a community forum and spurred her to action.

“A lot of people care about this issue, so to be present at community forums and raise it and help educate the public that there are things that can be done, I think that’s really important,” Farrell said. “As we work through the various political processes at the different levels of government, having you present really matters.”

“This is only a first step,” she said. “There’s so much work that we can continue to do and I look forward to working with you.”

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State House committee considers curb of light pollution

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

When a bill aimed at curbing light pollution in the State of Washington received a hearing before the House Environment Committee yesterday in Olympia it was the first formal discussion of the topic at the state level in seven years. House Bill 2057 would direct the state Department of Ecology to assess the environmental, economic, and public health effects of light pollution, and to submit the study and policy recommendations for reducing light pollution to the Legislature by next January.

Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, is the prime sponsor of the legislation.

“This is a really important issue,” Farrell said. “There are lots of studies that do show that there is an impact on human health, the natural environment, property values” from light pollution. “The goal here is to study this and see what the current state of that research is.”

Amateur astronomers testify

Farrell said the issue was brought to her by a constituent, David Dorais, who in testimony before the committee described himself as, “a former traffic engineer who knows something about outdoor lighting, especially for street use and safety. As a lifelong amateur astronomer I also know something about how we can do a much better job of illuminating those places throughout the state that need the banishment of the dark.”

Testimony

L-R: David Dorais, Qiu Min Ji, and David Ingram testified in favor of HB 2057 at a hearing of the state House Environment Committee on Jan. 12, 2016. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

David Ingram, a volunteer who heads up Dark Skies Northwest, the local chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association, called the night sky a natural resource and a wonderment.

“It has inspired architecture, religion, philosophy, science and technology,” Ingram testified. “I don’t know how our young people are going to be similarly inspired if more than half of them don’t even have a contact with the night sky.”

“It’s of vital importance that we look at the question of what happens to the soul of men and women when they’re removed from contact with the night sky,” Ingram said. He added that he doesn’t want to go back to the dark ages, but believes we have the technology to use light to enhance safety, wayfinding, and commerce efficiently and effectively, without blotting out all of the stars in the process.

Amendments likely

There will probably be some changes to the bill before the committee votes on it. Jessica Archer, who is with the scientific arm of the Department of Ecology, suggested that the departments of Health, Fish and Wildlife, and Commerce be brought in on the study, as Ecology lacks the expertise to weigh in on light pollution’s impact on animals, human health, or property values. Archer also suggested that the scope of the study be more clearly spelled out, which will also help them determine the cost of the effort. Farrell said that she might seek to add potential cost savings to the scope of the study. It’s also possible that the deadline for the study will be pushed out; the due date of January 1, 2017 was set when the bill was first drafted last year.

Farrell noted that HB 2057 takes a far more cautious approach than did fairly comprehensive and directive light pollution legislation that was considered in 2008 and 2009. Mark Johnson, representing the Washington Retail Association, testified that his organization wanted to make sure that any consideration of light pollution didn’t have an adverse impact on safety or business. That’s a reason why Farrell went with a deliberate approach.

“I think we should study this and see if there’s further action that we should take,” she said.

Next steps

The bill must gain the approval of the committee by Feb. 5 if it is to come up for a vote in by the entire House. Our hunch is that the supporters have a good chance to accomplish that. The committee chair, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Another member of the committee, Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, was involved in improving lighting ordinances when she was mayor of that city.

Interested people who were unable to attend Tuesday’s hearing can testify about the bill online. This makes a difference. Write today!

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Light pollution study measure to receive hearing before WA legislature

A bill that would direct the Washington State Department of Ecology to recommend ways to reduce light pollution in the state is scheduled to receive a hearing tomorrow before the House Environment Committee. The measure, HB 2057, directs the department to complete a study of the environmental, economic, and public health effects of light pollution, and to submit the study and policy recommendations for reducing light pollution to the Legislature by next January. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 12 in House Hearing Room B in the John L. O’Brien building on the state capitol campus in Olympia.

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Rep. Jessyn Farrell of Seattle is the prime sponsor of a bill calling for a study of light pollution in Washington.

State Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) is the prime sponsor of the bill. It was introduced in February of last year but never received a hearing. Farrell told us at that time that she feels light pollution is an “important issue,” but that “it’s going to take some time and education to get movement.” She vowed to bring the bill back this session and has made good on that promise.

It’s a good sign that the measure is being heard on the second day of the 60-day session of the Legislature. The timeline is short; the bill will have to be approved by the committee by Feb. 5 to be eligible for further consideration by the full House of Representatives.

It’s also a good sign that the chair of the committee, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Seattle), is a  co-sponsor of the bill.

Those unable to attend the hearing in person can comment online using a form on the Legislature’s website. Seattle Astronomy plans to attend the hearing and will keep you posted about the progress of this important legislation.

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Sponsor will try again next year on light pollution study

We reported yesterday that a proposal to do a study of light pollution in the state of Washington was dead for this year’s session of the state Legislature. The prime sponsor of the measure says she plans to try again next year.

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Rep. Jessyn Farrell of Seattle is the prime sponsor of a bill calling for a study of light pollution in Washington. Though the proposal is tabled for this year, she plans to try again in 2016.

“I think this is an important issue,” wrote state Rep. Jessyn Farrell in an email to Seattle Astronomy, “but it’s going to take some time and education to get movement.”

Farrell’s bill is HB 2057, which was formally introduced Feb. 10 but did not receive a hearing or vote in the House Environment Committee. Last Friday was the deadline by which bills had to earn committee approval in order to remain eligible for further consideration this year.

The bill is just over one page in length, and simply would have directed the state Department of Ecology to “analyze the current extent of light pollution that adversely affects the quality of the environment, the value of property, and the health and well-being of the public,” and to recommend solutions to the problem. Though it didn’t get much consideration this year, we believe it is the first time the subject of light pollution has been raised in six years. Our post about the introduction of the measure includes a bit of history of the debate in Olympia.

The International Dark-sky Association and its local chapter Dark Skies Northwest are aware of the measure, and with lead time may be able to help provide some of the education Rep. Farrell believes is needed. In the meantime the astronomy community can help raise awareness by contacting legislators to support the bill in particular and curbs on light pollution in general.

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Proposal to study light pollution switched off

Less than two weeks after it was formally introduced in the Washington State House of Representatives, a bill that would have directed the state Department of Ecology to study light pollution and recommend possible remedies appears to be off the table for this year’s session.

Fitzgibbon

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, chair of the state House Environment Committee, did not schedule a hearing on the light-pollution study bill.

The measure, HB 2057 sponsored by Rep. Jessyn Farrell of north Seattle, was referred to the House Environment Committee, but did not receive a hearing. Last Friday, February 20, was the Legislature’s self-imposed deadline for having bills out of committee if they are to be eligible for further consideration.

While the bill may be dead the idea is not necessarily so. Occasionally, bills can be revived through parliamentary procedures, or they can be amended onto other measures, though neither of those possibilities seem likely in this case. The directive could be attached as a proviso to the Department of Ecology budget. Were that to happen, we would not likely know about it until the budget proposals start coming out in a month or so.

If nothing happens for the rest of this year’s session, the bill will be automatically re-introduced again for the 2016 legislative session, though the timeline for the study would likely be pushed back a year as well if the measure is considered at that time.

It is difficult to gauge how serious the effort is to take a close look at light pollution in the state. Neither the prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Farrell, nor the Environment Committee chair, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of West Seattle, have responded to Seattle Astronomy’s requests for information.

We will keep you posted if we learn more.

Further reading
Our earlier story about the bill’s introduction

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Washington Legislature considering study of light pollution

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Rep. Jessyn Farrell of Seattle is the prime sponsor of a bill calling for a study of light pollution in Washington.

A bill has been introduced in the Washington State House of Representatives that would direct the state Department of Ecology to conduct a study of light pollution in the state and to make recommendations for reducing it.

The measure, HB 2057, is sponsored by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, a Democrat from Seattle. It has been referred to the House Environment committee, the chair of which, Democratic Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of West Seattle, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

The bill is a simple one, just over a page long. It directs the department to “analyze the current extent of light pollution that adversely affects the quality of the environment, the value of property, and the health and well-being of the public.” It specifies that the study must evaluate, at a minimum:

  • The risks to public health, well-being, and the environment posed by light pollution
  • The locations in the state with the greatest prevalence of light pollution and the greatest impacts of light pollution on environmental quality, ecosystem function, and public well-being
  • Policy options for addressing light pollution that have been adopted by other jurisdictions

The department would be required to report the results of the study back to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2017, and include recommendations for policy changes to address light pollution.

This is the first legislative look at light pollution in the state in six years. Rep. Pat Lantz, a Gig Harbor Democrat who has since retired from the Legislature, introduced a far-reaching light pollution statute in 2008, and Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, proposed a similar measure the following year. The latter earned committee approval in 2009 but never came to a vote in the House of Representatives. The earlier measures would have required that all new lighting be fully shielded, and would have banned the sale and use of mercury vapor lights, among other considerations. It had strong support within the astronomy and environmental communities, but drew opposition from a variety of developers, sports teams, billboard operators, and gas stations. The state Department of Transportation warned that the cost of bringing highway lighting up to the new code would have been prohibitive.

The Legislature’s website includes the text of HB 2057 as well as the capability to comment online. Seattle Astronomy will continue to follow the measure, which must gain committee approval by Feb. 20 if it is to be eligible for continued consideration this year.

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