We sat down recently with Jason Callahan, WFPA’s new Director of Governmental Relations. Before joining WFPA, Jason spent nearly 16 years as Senior Counsel for the Washington House of Representatives Office of Program Research. There he served as the House’s nonpartisan senior legal counsel, providing legal analysis and advice; conducting legal and programmatic research; drafting bills, amendments, correspondences and other legislative documents; mediating stakeholder discussions; educating elected representatives on topics within his area of expertise; and presenting material at public hearings. His areas of focus were natural resources, environmental and agricultural issues.
Below are highlights of the conversation.
What has been your experience so far in the new job as WFPA's Director of Governmental Relations?
I’ve really enjoyed myself this session. It's been a natural progression of my career to use the skills I learned on the legislative staff in a new way and yet still be familiar with everything I'm doing. I feel like I've been well received on the State Capitol campus. People are open to WFPA. I also get an opportunity to put my spin on the job, which is fun.
What is the general vibe right now in the Legislature?
I would say that things aren't necessarily any more difficult then they usually are here, in terms of political cooperation. The situation with the Republicans controlling the Senate and the Democrats controlling the House is now normalizing. Everyone seems to be getting along as well as could be expected and everything is on its expected timeline. I think we're seeing a little bit more bipartisan cooperation. I feel like it's a fairly optimistic place right now.
A bill recently passed in the House and in the Senate that would streamline the regulatory process for Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans (RMAP) for landowners. As the WFPA Blog has written about before, forest landowners have been the state leader in clearing fish passage barriers in Washington over the past two decades. What kind of impact would the legislation have on them?
The legislation will allow more fish passage barriers to be removed quicker with less expense and no reduction in environmental protection, and that's something that everyone wants.
The bill would allow landowners, when they want to clear a fish passage barrier, to be able to keep that projected permitted by the Department of Natural Resources, but allow the permit to go through the streamlined process that the Department of Fish and Wildlife manages. So when landowners have to upgrade a road or upgrade a fish passage on the road they can get one permit at DNR and have that function as their local permit as well.
The WFPA Blog has also written at length about the exciting developments in cross-laminated timber (CLT) in the Northwest. What is the latest in the Legislature on CLT?
There are CLT bills in the Legislature right now, and it’s a credit to the industry and those who have been working on CLT that the benefits of the product are well known enough that the lawmakers themselves are really driving the discussion. It’s important to keep awareness of CLT high while changes to the national and local building codes move their way through the system.
We are also working on capital budget language to try to do more CLT pilot projects in the state and do a design-build competition, in which architects would compete to design tall wood buildings with CLT. And we'd see some tall buildings go up in the state of Washington.
There are already schools being built in Washington right now with CLT, including in Wapato and Mount Vernon. But there's a lot of hope in the world that the CLT promise is much larger. If the school construction is where we start, that is fine but that's not where anyone wants to end.