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Eye On Olympia

Posts tagged: Washington Legislature

Special session: details being ironed out…

From this morning’s paper:

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday she intends to call Washington lawmakers back into a special session to finish budget-related bills left undone when midnight struck Sunday night, ending the 105-day legislative session.

But the governor said she first wants wrung-out lawmakers to get a break to decompress. She met with legislative leaders shortly after midnight Sunday to gauge their mood.

“What I saw last night was ‘Go home, relax, reconnect with your family,’ ” she said. “They need to be thoughtful about how we do this.”

Some Democrats were frustrated Sunday night that several bills didn’t pass. One – opposed by Republicans and some rural Democrats – would cut school levy equalization dollars, which help poor districts that cannot raise much in tax money. It would also allow dozens of districts to collect voter-approved dollars that a state limit now places out of reach. Another unfinished bill involves sentencing reforms, including more deportation of noncitizen criminals.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said Sunday night that she wants to hold a special session. “We believe these are important bills that fit within the budget,” she said.

Brown said a session could be short and might give lawmakers time to revive a couple of other key bills. Among them: a cap-and-trade bill involving greenhouse gases and a revamp of voter-approved renewable-energy requirements for utility companies.

House Democrats were more lukewarm on a special session, saying that nothing critical had been left on the cutting-room floor.

“Usually when you have a special session, there’s something you can’t live without,” said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. “That isn’t the case here.”

Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said Monday that he’d be open to a special session. But he suggested it might be better held later this year, if at all. The amount of money involved in the unfinished bills, he said, is “tiny” compared with the multibillion-dollar budget. And many of the levies, he said, wouldn’t be affected until next year.

One potential wrinkle, however, is that the levy bill also affects how many levy dollars school districts can ask voters for. With the state spending hundreds of millions of dollars less than expected on schools and teacher pay, districts will see their levy limits lower unless lawmakers change the limit. That, Chopp said, might make a special session necessary.

“I’m sure it will all work out,” he said.

Minority Republicans – many of whom would be happy to see the cut to levy equalization die – called a special session a terrible idea.

“I am dumbfounded at the mismanagement that brought us to this point,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, who said reconvening the Legislature would cost $20,000 a day. “They wasted time, then tried to jam everything through in the final two days and failed.”

Chopp dismissed that criticism, saying that Hewitt “likes to complain.” Chopp pointed to the three major budgets that lawmakers passed, as well as a long list of reform bills.

“We effectively got the job done on time,” he said.

Gregoire also defended lawmakers, saying they did “an unbelievably good job” in the highest-pressure session in decades. Lawmakers had to grapple with billions of dollars in cuts, the effects of which will play out in the coming months.

“They did not make decisions they liked or wanted to make,” Gregoire said. “They did not want to vote for that budget. At all.”

A closer look at the budget moving swiftly through the statehouse…

It’s clear from reviewing the proposed budget documents that in addition to major changes for schools, colleges, social services and health care, budget writers also did some work with the fiscal equivalent of a scalpel, trimming spending on things like the governor’s bodyguards, classes on robots, and the flower plantings around the state capitol.

“No one was spared the pain,” said House budget writer Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. The bodyguard budget was reduced by $190,000. The flowers were cut $42,000. And the robot class will be ended, saving $300,000.

Gone also is a “teak surfing” awareness program to tell people that it’s foolish to hang onto the back of a speeding motorboat. It will be replaced by a sticker warning would-be teak surfers about carbon monoxide.

Some things were added. Lawmakers set aside $642,000, for example, to open the Eastern Washington Veterans’ Cemetery on Memorial Day 2010.

Here’s a look at where some of the chips fell. Except where noted, the numbers are compared to the previous state budget.

Lawmakers and governor approve bill to make breastfeeding in public a civil right….

Gov. Chris Gregoire today signed into law House Bill 1596, which declares that the right of a mother to breastfeed her child in public places is a civil right protected by Washington’s anti-discrimination law.

“This new law will eliminate one more obstacle that women are faced with day in and day out,” said Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood. It takes effect in 90 days.

Washington is already one of at least 25 states that have passed laws explicitly declaring that breastfeeding or expressing breast milk does not constitute indecent exposure. In a move intended to prod businesses into making more accomodations for breastfeeding moms, the state also has a law allowing employers to say they’re “infant-friendly” if they allow flexible work schedules and clean facilities for moms.

The new law protects against discrimination by declaring that women can breastfeed a child “in any place of public resort, accomodation, assemblage or amusement.” That includes restaurants, hotels, motels, stores, malls, theaters, concert halls, parks, fairs, libraries, schools, hospitals and government offices.

Complaints would be investigated by the state Human Rights Commission. Based on results involving similar laws in Vermont and Hawaii, the commission estimates that it will field 4-5 complaints a year. It says that Washington has a high percentage of breastfeeding moms, particularly among immigrants and low-income women.

In House and Senate hearings, no one testified against the bill. But proponents said that women continue to be asked to leave public places while breastfeeding. Such hassles, they said, may contribute to a sharp dropoff in breastfeeding at 6 weeks and 6 months.

 

Strange but true: barista-flashing by a deputy leads to bill on the governor’s desk…

My colleague Jim Camden has a good story today about the backstory on one of the dullest-sounding bills of the session: Senate Bill 5322, “Creating a five-member option for civil service commissions for sheriffs’ offices.”

The genesis of the bill is anything but dull. Writes Camden:

An encounter that involved a sheriff’s detective flashing a barista at a drive-up coffee stand has led to a new state law that Spokane County will use to expand the volunteer panel that overturned the detective’s firing.

(snip)

Sheriff’s Detective Joseph Mastel was fired in June 2006 after exposing himself to a barista at the On Alert coffee stand in Airway Heights. He was off duty at the time and said he had a “flirtatious relationship” with the woman, who was about 30 years younger. The woman said she was taken by surprise and felt violated by his actions.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich fired Mastel. But after Mastel received a deferred sentence for an indecent exposure charge from a municipal judge in Airway Heights, he appealed to the three-member Civil Service Commission to get his job back. He told the board he took some responsibility, but not full responsibility, for the incident and was under “extreme stress” on the job and at home when it happened.

To make a long story short, the commission decided to change Mastel’s dismissal to a one-year unpaid suspension. That allowed him to collect some unused sick time and retire.

And here’s a gem from low in the story:

The flashing incident was never specifically mentioned when county officials lobbied for the change, (State Rep. Timm) Ormsby said. Instead, they stressed the need for a more diverse commission.

Basic education bill: the details…

In a bill closely watched by schools advocates, the state Senate plans to vote on — and presumably pass — an amended version of HB 2261 this afternoon.

“We’re working with the governor and members of the House to agree on a bill to responsibly reform and retool our educational system,” Senate education committee chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe said in a statement about the proposal. “It’s critical that these reforms are meaningful and phased in over time to actually achieve and maintain progress. But we cannot disregard our current economic climate, particularly as we make drastic cuts to our schools, colleges and universities and eliminate health care coverage for tens of thousands of people.”

I wrote about some of the political tension around this bill in this morning’s paper. The short version: the state PTA and others are pushing to redefine basic education (which the state must pay for), while the state teacher’s union says the real battle should be trying to stave off a billion in cuts right now.

Here are some highlights from the Senate version of the plan:

-Redefines basic education: increases instructional hours from 1000 to 1080 a year, phased in over years. “Opportunity to complete 24 credits” for high school graduation. New transportation funding formula phased in, beginning in 2013.

-More: definition will include all-day kindergarten, phased in at highest-poverty schools first. Also, money for gifted students. It also starts down the path toward expanding early learning for at-risk kids.

-Prototype school: The amended bill will create a standard “core allocation” to base school funding on, including enhancements for gifted students, advanced placement and spelling out staffing levels in law. It would take effect in 2011.

-Timeline: The new definition of basic ed would be fully in efffect by 2018.

-Accountability: the state board of education would have to set up “a system to identify schools for recognition and additional support.”

-Teacher certification: the state Professional Educator Standards Board would have to “adopt performance standards for effective teaching and recommend other modifications for educator certification.”

And here’s the key part, especially in the eyes of the Washington Education Association:

-“Revenue: Not addressed.”

 

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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