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Originally published February 10, 2010 at 11:34 PM | Page modified February 11, 2010 at 9:25 AM

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Wash. Senate OKs suspension of Initiative 960

The state Senate voted late Wednesday to temporarily suspend tax-limiting Initiative 960 in its entirety, including a requirement for a public advisory vote on tax increases that are deemed an emergency by lawmakers.

Associated Press Writer

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

The state Senate voted late Wednesday to temporarily suspend tax-limiting Initiative 960 in its entirety, including a requirement for a public advisory vote on tax increases that are deemed an emergency by lawmakers.

The 26-22 vote was the second attempt by majority Democrats to amend the voter-approved initiative, and came a day after majority Democrats said they accidentally voted on the wrong version of the bill. The measure now heads to the House, where a public hearing has been scheduled Saturday morning before the House Finance Committee.

I-960 requires that two-thirds of the Legislature approve any tax increase, a significant hurdle compared to the simple majority approval needed for other bills.

The Senate endorsed suspension of that rule until July 2011, when the next two-year budget cycle begins. It's a move majority Democrats said they needed to make as they deal with patching a $2.6 billion budget deficit.

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said that he doesn't take tax increases lightly, but "this is a crisis."

"This is a very, very difficult session," he said. "We need a little flexibility to get it done."

Democrats had to scramble to fix their Tuesday vote, which only removed the two-thirds vote requirement, but left in several other provisions, including the advisory vote and extensive public notices about legislative bills.

Hargrove, who was a sponsor of the bill, said there was a miscommunication between staff and senators over what a recent draft of the bill did.

"Sometimes with the way things are moving as quickly as they are moving, we don't check as closely as we can," he said.

Republicans weren't happy with the bill when it just removed the two-thirds requirement, and debated why removal of the other provisions, including the nonbinding public advisory vote, was necessary.

"I believe this is just simply that you fear what the people might say about the actions you will be taking, not only tonight, but in the future as you contemplate raising taxes on the people of the state," said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood.

Democratic lawmakers plan to increase taxes and cut spending to balance the state's budget deficit, but they don't have enough members to get a two-thirds vote in either the Senate or House.

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Lawmakers can amend initiatives with a simple majority vote after they've been on the books for two years, making this the first legislative session that Democrats can suspend I-960.

The changes to I-960 must clear both chambers and be signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire before lawmakers can move ahead with tax-raising votes. Gregoire is expected to approve the Legislature's plan.

Four Republican amendments were rejected Wednesday, including one that would have restored the requirement for e-mail notifications to be sent to the public on tax measures, and another to restore the advisory vote requirement.

"If we don't allow this voter-approved method of forced transparency to go on, then we will not only be thwarting the will of the people, we will be putting a dimmer on public activism," said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.

Hargrove said that he was certain that voters were well aware of all that was taking place in Olympia, and if not, "I'm quite sure that every single one of your campaign pieces will tell them what we've done." Half of the Senate is up for re-election in November.

Tim Eyman, the conservative activist who sponsored I-960, said that the goal of the initiative is to make sure lawmakers are following the law and keeping people informed of what they are doing, and that the notification provisions were important to keep the spotlight on lawmakers.

"With transparency, you get less sneaky stuff being done," he said.

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The I-960 suspension is Senate Bill 6130.

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On the Net:

Washington state Legislature: http://www.leg.wa.gov

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