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Bill's roots grow in new direction
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
So much for being declared Washington's top vegetable. The Walla Walla sweet onion may have to settle for being the state's official "edible bulb."
And the russet potato could end up as the state's official "edible tuber."
For Toni Miller and her Kirkland Junior High students, this week's latest twist has been a lesson in how a bill really moves through the Legislature. Miller and her students initiated the bill, found legislators to sponsor it and have written, e-mailed and lobbied state lawmakers for three years to make it happen.
"They changed our whole motive," said Kelsey Phillips, 14, who testified Monday along with five other students and Miller at the committee hearing. "I didn't think they could actually do something like that."
The "onion bill" becomes the "bulb and tuber bill" after the state Senate Committee on Government Operations on Monday passed an amendment to split the difference between the two rival vegetables: Both would be declared state symbols for their respective botanical subcategories.
"That's kind of like telling your only child, 'You were always my favorite.' ... It's almost mocking," said Miller, the teacher who, along with her students, proposed the Walla Walla sweet onion be named the state's official vegetable as part of a hands-on lesson plan to help students understand how the Legislature works.
"There's always stumbling blocks along the way," said Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, who sponsored the bill in the House where it passed 95-1 before it was sent to the Senate. "Even bills like this one can spiral out of control."
Tubers and bulbs
The stumbling block this time was the Washington State Potato Commission, which argued that the potato is the largest vegetable industry in the state, and should get priority for the state title.
Walsh, who along with her husband has a business making Walla Walla sweet-onion sausages, said she has nothing against the potato.
"I'm a good Irish girl; I practically have them in my genes," she said. "But Idaho has the handle on the potato."
Hurdles for the onion bill continue. A majority of the committee's members must sign the amended bill in order for it to be moved forward, but so far only four of the 10 committee members have signed it. If the amended bill doesn't get at least six signatures by Friday, it will die.
If it does move forward, it will first go to the Rules Committee, where Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, is a member. Finkbeiner said he plans to shepherd the bill out of the committee and onto the Senate floor. Once on the floor, there are several ways for the original language to be returned, he said.
The lieutenant governor, acting as president of the Senate, could rule that the striking amendment (an amendment that replaces part of the bill with new language) is outside of the scope and object of the original bill. Or, if the Senate were to pass the amended bill, it would go to a conference between the House and the Senate for more haggling.
Ultimately, if both the House and Senate approve the bill, then it moves to the governor's desk.
"This has been an incredible experience for me," Miller said. "I'm completely invested in it."
Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company