OLYMPIA -- Spin Control took a three-day weekend to celebrate President's Day (our favorite is Millard Fillmore). The Legislature did not.
In fact, they've been busy moving bills through the two houses in advance of today's cutoff, so a fair amount if action took place on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Fortunately, the Associated Press was on duty at the Capitol, so inside the blog is a roundup of weekend action, courtesy of the AP. Click here to see it.
Monday: Senate lets universities hike tuition
(AP) — The state Senate wants to hand tuition-setting authority over to the leaders of the three largest state universities. In a 29-19 vote late Monday night, it allowed University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University to raise tuition each year by no more than 14 percent, or 9 percent based on the previous 15 years.
As a tradeoff, the universities must agree to yearly performance agreements and continue to fund financial aid grants at the current rate. If it becomes law, the new policy would begin in the 2011-12 school year and last until 2017-18. It now heads to the state House for further debate.
Monday: Mandatory breaks for nurses
(AP) — The House wants mandatory meal and rest breaks for hospital nurses, passing a bill to require uninterrupted half-hour meal breaks and 10-minute rest breaks for every four hours worked. On a 63-34 vote, it approved exceptions in emergencies, and in times when nurses with specific skills are needed to prevent harm to patients.
Supporters say the change is needed to make sure that overworked nurses are giving patients the best care possible. Opponents argue that nurses and hospitals should bargain for rest breaks, rather than have the state impose a mandate.
Monday: Paid petition seekers would be registered
(AP) — Businesses and paid workers who circulate initiative petitions would have to register with the state and get a mug shot taken, under a measure approved by the state Senate late Monday. They also would have to prove to the state Public Disclosure Commission that they understand state law and have not been convicted of fraud or election offenses in the past five years.
Volunteer signature gatherers would not need to register. The bill was approved 30-18 and now heads to the House.
Monday: Gregoire signs early savings bills.
(AP) — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed three bills into law, the first of the 2010 legislative session, an “early savings” package from the Legislature’s Democratic majority. They don’t save very much money, compared with the state’s $2.8 billion budget deficit, but try to send a message that the government is making spending cuts.
The largest savings of about $45 million comes from a bill that continued bans on hiring, service contracting, out-of-state travel and larger equipment purchases — with some exceptions. A second bill bans bonuses for many state workers, although some higher-paid employees are exempt. A third extends a wage freeze for many nonunion state employees.
Monday: Lege to Pierce Co. -- mail your ballots
(AP) — The state House says Pierce County should switch to all-mail voting like the state's other 38 counties. On a vote of 57-41, it approved a measure Monday mandating vote-by-mail elections across the state. Pierce County is the only county that still maintains polling places.
Supporters say the switch would save money and increase voter turnout: opponents say the state shouldn’t force counties to make the switch. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Monday: OK to pay surrogate moms
(AP) — Women could get paid for being surrogate mothers under a bill approved by the state House. With a 59-39 vote, lawmakers endorsed a bill that lets women be paid to carry a child to term for another person, which is now illegal.
The bill limits contracts to “gestational surrogates,” which means that the woman is not the child’s biological mother. Surrogates would have to be at least 21, and have previously given birth to one child.
Saturday: Beer, wine tastings at stores OK'd in House
(AP) — The state House passed a measure that allows grocery stores to offer beer and wine tasting events On a 72-22 vote, it approved a bill that allows grocery stores to continue a pilot project that ended in September, at which wineries and breweries can conduct pouring, bottle signing, and other similar activities in conjunction with a tasting.
Saturday: House lifts levy lid for schools
(AP) — The Washington state House approved a measure letting cash-strapped school districts ask voters for additional money. On a 55-41 vote, it passed the measure lifting the levy lid that currently limits how much school districts can seek, and how often, from 2011 to 2017. The measure now heads to the Senate.
The bill would allow school districts to ask for more money and let them go back to the voters for more money in the middle of a levy cycle.
The levy lid law took effect in 1979 and sought to limit levy revenue to 10 percent of a school district’s state basic education allocation. It had a grandfather clause, however, and allowed some districts to exceed the 10 percent limit.
Under current law, most districts may bring up 24 percent of their budget through levies, although some are grandfathered at as much as 33.9 percent of their budget. The bill passed Saturday would raise the levy lid by 4 percentage points, from 24 to 28 percent, plus districts grandfathered in at higher rates can also raise their levies by 4 percent. The bill also would increase the levy equalization rate from 12 percent to 14 percent.
Saturday: House committee moves I-960 bill
(AP) Lawmakers moved closer to suspending tax-limiting Initiative 960, something that majority Democrats need to do as they prepare to release their budget proposals.After a more than three-hour hearing Saturday, the House Finance Committee voted 6-3 to approve the measure that removes the requirement that two-thirds of the Legislature approve any tax increase. It could be on the House floor in the next few days.Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland and a member of the committee, saidthat the temporary suspension “gives us some tools right now to address the most severe economic downturn this state has ever faced.”