What a weird way to end things.
On Wednesday night, lawmakers in the normally fractious House of Representatives were pouring on the bipartisan, obviously heartfelt praise for retiring Rep. Don Cox, R-Colfax.
In the normally collegial Senate, however, the year ended on a bitter note.
According to Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, he and Majority Leader Lisa Brown had a deal to pass two final bills. One was a pension bill, the other was House Bill 3293, Rep. Dan Roach's bill requiring protesters at funerals to stay 500 feet away from mourners.
If you're saying `Huh?' about the need for such a bill, here's the backstory: The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, an anti-gay group, has taken to protesting at the funerals of American military members killed overseas. The nation's travails in Iraq and Afghanistan, the church members maintain, are a manifestation of God's wrath against America for accepting gay and lesbian people. Among their picket signs: "God hates your tears" and "Thank God for IEDs" -- meaning insurgents' improvised explosive devices.
In response to these bizarre protests, several states have this year enacted bills like the one Roach proposed. The group, according to Roach, has recently protested at military funerals in Yakima, Kirkland and Renton.
But as the Legislature's final moments ticked down on Wednesday night, Brown skipped the funeral protest bill. It died -- with a livid Hewitt protesting loudly -- when the final gavel fell.
Roach called the move a slap in the face for troops' families.
Said Hewitt: "The bottom line is that we had a deal and she broke it."
Brown late Wednesday said that the bill died due a miscommunication between Democrats and Republicans as the clock ticked away on lawmaker's plan to adjourn a day early. She said many senators, apparently believing that all the bills were finished, had already left the Senate floor when the funeral bill's turn came. She even went into the Republican wings trying to round up enough lawmakers, she said.
“We have nothing against the bill," Brown said. "I think it's a fine bill. Hope it will be introduced next session.”
House Speaker Frank Chopp offered to make the funeral bills one of the first to pass the House next year.