Hope dwindling on measures as Legislature nears session’s end
The state Legislature devolved into finger pointing Wednesday as lawmakers struggled to wrap up loose ends — including a state operating budget — before the session ends at midnight Thursday.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — The state Legislature devolved into finger-pointing Wednesday as lawmakers struggled to wrap up loose ends — including a state operating budget — before the session ends at midnight Thursday.
Several key bills remain hanging, including measures to reconcile the state’s medical-marijuana system and new recreational-pot industry, provide funding for homeless programs and give in-state tuition to military personnel based here, as well as to out-of-state veterans.
And still more ideas appear on life support, including bills to address oil-transportation safety, tie state test scores to teacher evaluations and expand involuntary commitments for mental-health treatment.
One of the biggest items on the Legislature’s agenda, a multibillion-dollar transportation-tax package, already appears dead.
Negotiations over the package fizzled early in the session and never gained traction.
Both sides blamed each other Wednesday.
“It’s obvious to me that over the last month the leadership in the House and the leadership in the Democratic side of the Senate were not interested in getting a revenue package out of this session,” said GOP Sen. Curtis King, co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
The chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, Democrat Judy Clibborn, countered, “It makes me angry that we couldn’t get any movement in the Senate.”
That’s not the only legislation that looks like it’s going nowhere.
House Capital Budget Chairman Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said he doesn’t expect the Legislature to approve a supplemental capital budget, the first time he can remember that happening.
But considering it was a short session and an election year with a Legislature split with a GOP-led majority controlling the Senate and Democrats running the House, “We did OK,” Dunshee said.
“It’s just not a situation where you have high expectations,” he said.
Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, agreed: “It’s a short year. Everybody wants to go home.”
That’s not to say the Legislature has accomplished nothing.
Earlier in the session, lawmakers approved a bill allowing financial aid for students who were illegally brought to the United States as children.
It also has passed dozens of other bills, including measures to regulate the use of drones and make some subjects of restraining orders temporarily give up their guns while the order is in effect.
Still, much work remains, with just a day left in the regular session.
Topping the list is a state operating budget.
Lawmakers worked on the budget through the night on Tuesday and by late Wednesday indicated they were close to announcing a deal.
House Finance Chairman Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said negotiators were hammering out “final details.”
No information about the emerging agreement was available.
The momentum for the operating budget seemed to suck the energy out of other measures, however, leaving several up in the air.
Lawmakers from both parties and both chambers agreed they would find a way to pass the homelessness bill, which would at least temporarily maintain a document recording fee to fund programs, and the veterans bill, which had become caught in a squabble over which party would get credit.
Both sides were also hopeful they could find agreement on at least minor fixes in marijuana laws.
The teacher-evaluation measure, despite strong support from Gov. Jay Inslee and Republicans, did not seem to have as clear a path to passage.
Supporters say the bill is necessary to obtain a waiver from the federal government to the No Child Left Behind law, and that such a waiver would allow the state to keep control of some $40 million in federal funding.
But opponents, including the state teachers union, say state test scores should not be used to evaluate teachers.
House Education Chairwoman Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, said most of her fellow majority Democrats probably oppose the idea.
Caucus leadership will have to choose whether to bring up the bill anyway, Tomiko Santos said.
As of late Wednesday, no vote had been scheduled.
It was Republicans who were blocking the mental-health bill, which would give family members the right to appeal if officials chose not to involuntarily commit a loved one.
Doug and Nancy Reuter, parents of a mentally ill Capitol Hill man who was fatally shot after firing at police officers last July, had moved from Texas to Olympia to lobby for the bill.
But on Wednesday, after hearing it would likely not pass because Senate Republicans had deemed it too expensive, they left town.
“We’re on the road now,” Nancy Reuter said by phone. “We’re headed home. We just decided, we’ve waited long enough.”
The oil-transportation bill was also caught in a partisan standoff Wednesday.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, the prime sponsor of that chamber’s version of the measure, said Democrats were causing problems by demanding amendments to add more regulation of maritime oil transportation.
Ericksen said he was trying to get Democrats to agree to a slimmed-down version that studied the issue of oil-train transport.
But he was not optimistic.
“It ain’t looking good,” Ericksen said.
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