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Spin Control

Archive for April 2011

In passing: Ron Jackson

Ron Jackson, long-time Valley sports coach and sometime Valley political activist, passed away last week at age 83. With wife Sally, Ron was a mainstay of Democratic politics in the Spokane Valley, something that wasn’t rare when they got started many  decades ago but required a certain amount of fortitude or stubbornness lately.
As colleague Mike Vlahovich reported in Saturday’s paper, Ron was a standout baseball player and coach. After retiring, he and Sally taught generations of kids to swim and to hit a curve ball. They taught generations of young politicians to work hard and shoot straight. They owned the Jackson Hole Tavern for more than a dozen years, the kind of neighborhood establishment which sponsored sports teams and carried more than a few patrons on a tab when times were tough.
Slowed by Parkinson’s Disease over the last decade, Ron still made it to many political gatherings and always had a smile or a wink for old friends. The fabric of the Valley community lost a colorful thread, and Ron will be sorely missed.

Medical marijuana bill mostly vetoed

OLYMPIA — State workers will not be licensing medical marijuana growers or dispensaries, and patients will not be able to sign onto a registry that could save them from arrest.
Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of a bill this afternoon that would have established a state structure for the production and sale of medical marijuana, saying she feared state involved in the system would face federal prosecution….
(To read the full report, click here to go inside the blog.)

State workers: Veto medical marijuana bill

OLYMPIA — The state employees union joined the fray over the medical marijuana bill, urging Gov. Chris Gregoire in a letter today to veto it.

The letter from Greg Devereaux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said the law would put them in a “precarious position of enforcing a state law which could potentially lead to their prosecution under federal law.”

That missive comes on the heels of Thursday's letter from University of Washington Law Professor Hugh Spitzer, one of the state's top constitutional law experts, that  contends those types of prosecutions are highly unlikely, despite a letter from federal prosecutors to Gregoire. Spitzer accused U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby of Spokanke and Jenny Durkan of Seattle of “federal bullying” and argued such prosecutions haven't occured over other conflicts between federal and state laws for decades — maybe not since the Civil War.

Gregoire is scheduled to take action on the bill at 2:30 p.m., and said earlier in the week she'd like to salvage the state registry for medical marijuana patients if she can find a way to separate that from provisions that call for state agencies to license growing, processing and dispensary operations. 

Just can the whole thing, Devereaux said in the letter.

If that happens, the Legislature could take up the issue again in the special session if there's an agreement by the leaders of both parties in both chambers and Gregoire. That kind of OK would be needed because a medical marijuana isn't directly connected to the budget, which is supposed to be the focus of the special session.

Special Session Day 4: We got nothing

OLYMPIA — There is nothing to preview for today's activity in the special session. That's because there's nothing happening. Nothing, as in zero, nil, null, nada, zilch, zip, zippo, goose egg, bupkis…we could go on, but you probably get the point.

The Senate recessed Thursday afternoon until Tuesday. The House has been in recess since Wednesday. Their loss, because it's actually a nice day here in the capital, with a strange round yellow thing that seems to be moving slowly through the sky, although it hurts your eyes when you look at it for more than a half second.

The days on the 30-day calendar continue to drop off whether they are here or not, so pretty soon people may start asking whether they'll be able to get everything done in the time left. Wouldn't want to be the legislator who first broaches the subject of another special session to the governor.

Speaking of Gov. Chris Gregoire, she'll either sign or veto the medical marijuana legislation around 2:30 this afternoon. (For more on medical marijuana, click here.) She's down in Centralia in the morning, signing a bill that eases a power plant off of coal over the next decade.

Special Session Day 3: Early release a bad idea, prison officials say

OLYMPIA – A legislative proposal to release some inmates a few months early as a budget-saving measure is a bad idea, prison officials warned Thursday.
The state already ordered early release for many non-violent, low-risk inmates in previous years as a way to help balance other budgets. Those still behind bars are some of the highest risk prisoners who were convicted of violent or sexual crimes, suffer from mental illness or have a high possibility of committing new crimes, Corrections Director Eldon Vail said.
To read the rest of this post, click here to go inside the blog.

Law prof: Feds bullying state on medical marijuana

OLYMPIA — Federal agents are unlikely to arrest state workers for regulating medical marijuana, despite warnings from two federal prosecutors, a constitutional law expert told Gov. Chris Gregoire Thursday.

Hugh Spitzer, a University of Washington law professor and one of the state's top constitutional scholars, said a warning to the state from U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby of Spokane and Jenny Durkan of Seattle over the proposed medical marijuana law amounts to “inappopriate federal 'bulllying' of our state  in connection with a controversial policy issue where this Washington is undertaking an approach that is not preferred by that Washington.”

Gregoire said Wednesday she may veto the bill, which passed the Legislature late last week because of the warning from Ormsby and Durkan that state employees involved in overseeing or licensing growers, processors or dispensaries could face prosectution.

“I won’t intentionally put state employees at risk,” she said Wednesday. “I don't even know if I can implement the law.” (Read the rest of that post here.)

But Spitzer argues the state needn't worry. State workers haven't been prosecuted for carrying out a law that conflicts with federal law since the Civil War, he said. Even during the Civil Rights struggles, when state and local offiicals were enforcing local laws that conflicted with federal laws, they weren't prosecuted. 

It is possible the conflict could end up in federal court, and a federal judge could issue a cease and desist order against the state statutes. In that case, the state would readily comply, Spitzer said.

“Washington's governor should not stand in for the federal government to frustrate the will of Washington's voters and a legislative policy decision favoring the type of regulatory control encompassed by (the bill),” Spitzer said. “I respectfully urge you to sign E2SSB 5073.”

Special Session Day 3: Corrections, tax deferrals

OLYMPIA — The seemingly leisurely pace continues here, with some floor action expected in the Senate but bupkis on tap for the House.

Senate Ways and Means Committee has a hearing this morning on changes to the Department of Corrections that allows for some early release of prisoners to ease the budget, but puts restrictions on early outs for violent offenders and those likely to commit more crimes. It's also scheduled to vote on several bills, including a proposal to eliminate a property tax break for low-income residents.

UPDATE: The committee deferred a vote on the tax deferral in its Executive Session. It passed to the floor a bill that would assess some fees for Running Start classes to high school students who aren't classified as low-income.

Gregoire may veto medical marijuana bill

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire threatened Wednesday to veto most, and possibly all, of a bill that would set up state oversight of medical marijuana operations.

The bill received final approval from the Senate last week, but federal prosecutors in Spokane and Seattle had earlier warned that state workers involved in overseeing or licensing medical marijuana growers, processors or dispensaries could face federal charges.

“I won’t intentionally put state employees at risk,” she said Wednesday. “I don't even know if I can implement the law.”

Gregoire said she does support the bill’s call for a registry of medical marijuana patients, but it may be too intermixed with other provisions of the proposed law. The question now is what, if anything, can be saved in the bill.

“I'd love to save the registry. I believe in the initiative. I believe we have a problem we  need to correct,” she said.

Vetoing the bill could mean solving that problem would wait until next year. The Legislature began a 30-day special session this week, but it's supposed to be devoted to state budgets and any bills needed to implement them.

The medical marijuana law might not fit that description. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said it might be possible to get the four corners — Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and the Senate — to agree to consider a revised version of the law because the current bill had bipartisan support.

“I do believe this dispensary issue is a real problem we need to get a handle on. We need some kind of clear description of what is a legal dispensary,” Brown said.


Is the ‘birther’ issue laid to rest?

It was with some regret that I heard Wednesday morning that President Obama has released his birth certificate. There is no issue that is better for generating comments for this website than whether Obama was born in the USA, and I am sad to see it go.

The “birther” controversy, as  it is often called, even has a special connection to the Inland Northwest vortex, that inescapable force of nature that connects national and international news events to our area. It was in Moscow, Idaho, after all, that Orly Taitz confronted Chief Justice John Roberts about her legal challenge to Obama's eligibililty to be president…

(To read the rest of this post, click here to go inside the blog.)

Special Session Day 2: Senate passes electric car fees (again)

OLYMPIA — The Senate approved a $100 per year fee on electric cars, a move supporters say will help those vehicles share the cost of road repairs covered by gasoline taxes.

SB 5251 didn't pass both chambers in the same version during the regular session, so it went back to the Senate during the special session “reset”. Senators tinkered with it again, passing an amendment that takes out the $100 fee when the car is purchased, and only required the money be paid when the license tabs are renewed.

It passed 26-15, and heads to the House.

Special Session Day 2: Floor votes later today

OLYMPIA — The Senate had a quick startup this morning then went into caucus, where the honorables are expected to spend some time before returning for floor votes “later in the day”, folks from the Senate Democratic offices said.

No committee hearings until tomorrow, when Ways and Means has a session.

If you think that's not much activity, compared to the House, which has nothing on the schedule for this week yet, it' could be described as the legislative equivalent of Bloomsday.

Confident candidate says he’ll win Spokane council seat

Chris Bowen, who ran a strange and unsuccessful campaign for state representative in 2008, is confident he'll win his next race.

Bowen, 33, has filed to run for Bob Apple's seat on the Spokane City Council.

“At the end of the day, this is my seat,” Bowen said in and interview late last month.

Soon after being contacted by a reporter about his new candidacy, Bowen paid a $300 fine levied against him in 2008 by the state Public Disclosure Commission for failing to file campaign paperwork. The fine had been sent to a collections agency. The PDC will get $243 of the fine, said Lori Anderson, PDC spokeswoman.

Bowen ran as a Republican in 2008, but the county GOP refused to endorse his candidacy.

Bowen is the activity coordinator for Helping Hands, a nonprofit residential treatment center for at-risk youths in Spokane. Jason Gregory, director of Helping Hands, said Bowen has worked for him for about six months.

In 2008, during his campaign to unseat state Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane, Bowen repeatedly refused to provide details about what he did for a living. Eventually, he said he owned a moving company, but refused to name it. Asked if he is now willing to name his former business, he declined, though he said the company was not based in Spokane.

He said his former business is not relevant to the City Council campaign and is in the past: “That's three years of thinking about these sweet lies,” he said, without revealing further details about lies he believes were made about him or his former company.

Attempts made to find business records for Bowen's moving company were unsuccessful. However, it does appear Bowen owned a mowing company in Spokane. That's mowing — with a W, not a V.

State records indicate that Bowen operated Bowen Lawn Care & More in Spokane from 2007 until 2009.

Bowen said he's willing to spend $25,000 of his own money on the City Council race, and some of his signs have been displayed in northeast Spokane for weeks.

As a city councilman, Bowen said he would work to improve the economy, the roads and public safety. But he hadn't formulated specifics for paying for improvements.

For instance, he said the city should hire more police officers, but he didn't offer a plan to finance new hires.

“I would have to review my notes,” he said, when asked how he would support boosting the number of police officers.

In August 2002, Bowen was charged with third-degree theft in a case that originated with Eastern Washington University police. Most of the records from the case have been destroyed, but a court docket indicates that a Cheney Municipal Court judge deferred a ruling on the charge for six months and Bowen, who pleaded not guilty, was placed on probation. The case was dismissed in March 2003.

Similar to statements he made in 2008, Bowen said last month that he doesn't remember details about the theft case, except that it was “so minor” and that it was dismissed. 

NOTE: This is an edited version of a post from March 31 that was not intended to be made live on Spin Control until additional reporting was completed. An incomplete version was briefly viewable on the site earlier indicating that Bowen's PDC fine was unpaid, which was accurate at the time it was written.

Special Session Day 1: Saving money with more contraception?

OLYMPIA — Washington state could save about $4.5 million over the next two years by supplying more women with better birth control, a Senate panel was told Tuesday. But a critic of the proposal to spend more state money on a family planning program suggested it will actually lead to more unplanned pregnancies, not fewer.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee is considering a proposal to spend an extra $900,000 on the Take Charge Program, and receive nearly $9 in federal money for each dollar of state money, it could cover women up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. The state currently covers only women below 200 percent of the poverty level for a program that includes exams, PAP smears and birth control. Under federal law, the money can't be used for abortions.

By expanding the program, the state could expect to avoid paying for about 712 unplanned pregnancies in uninsured families,which cost the state about $17,000 each, officials with the Department of Social and Health Services said. About half of all births in Washington are paid for by the state, DSHS officials said.

When some senators questioned whether women in that group couldn't afford their own contraceptions, health officials said they could, but are likely to use less expensive and less effective birth control. “You get what you pay for,” Dr. Laurie Cawthon, an epidemiologist for DSHS, said.

But Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute contended more birth control will create problems, not solve them. It will lead to more risky sex, more pregnancies and more sexually transmitted disease, he said.

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, said it sounded as if Backholm was saying there'd be less risky behavior if the state didn't provide contraception, and when he said that wasn't correct, she asked what he thought the state should do.

“Ultimately, to my mind, it's a character issue,” Backholm replied.

Special Session Day 1: A day worth $253 million

OLYMPIA — The state may wait a day to pay public schools about $253 million this summer, and the schools would either have to do the same to their creditors or borrow money, as a way to make the budget balance at the end of the fiscal year.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee Thursday heard testimony Tuesday on what some regard as a budget gimmick, the shifting from June 30 to July 1 hundreds of millions of dollars for basic education, special ed, bilingual ed, transportation and other public school programs. Marty Brown, the Office of Financial Management director, called it “a wise thing to do at this point” and none of the members of the committee disagreed. The state would make cuts during the next two years to offset the payment.

Marie Sullivan, a lobbyist for school directors, said the state should allow the schools with cash flow problems to borrow from their own special funds to make necessary payments, so they don't have to borrow from counties and pay interest.

Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, was skeptical: “A one-day float and you need to borrow money? Can't you just not pay bills for one day?'

When Sullivan said some of the schools' make payments through automated accounts, Zarelli suggested the districts merely freeze accounts for one day. “I just don't see the problem here. It helps us get through to the next biennium without making painful cuts.”

Special Session Day 1: Here we go again

OLYMPIA — After a three-day Easter break, the Legislature gets back to work today for the start of the Special Session.

The Senate got started at 1 p.m., taking up a handful of bills that got kicked back to them when time ran out last Friday. The Senate Ways and Means Committee begins hearings at 2 p.m., with several bills, including one that would expand state funding for family planning services and another that deals with what some consider a budgeting “gimmick” — delaying a state payment to schools from June 30, the last day of the current biennium, to July 1, the first day of the next biennium, to make it easier to balance the current budget.

The latter one of those things that few people will say they like, but members of both parties seem likely to approve.

Sometimes legislators say the darnedest things

Legislators talk a lot. Sometimes, they come up with things that make one wonder if there should be a new television reality series, “$#@! Our Lawmakers Say.”

They make interesting analogies, like Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, did last week while waxing effusive over the Senate’s version of the 2011-’13 general operating budget. It was so bipartisan as to be historic, he proclaimed.

“This is a really big deal. When the first man landed on the moon … that was a big deal and the press reports it all over the place,” Hargrove said, apparently worried about a lack of coverage.

Sorry, but I watched the first moon landing, and trust me – the crafting of this budget wasn’t quite as amazing. …

Special session to start Tuesday

OLYMPIA — The Legislature will quit sometime today and return for a special session on the budget at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, standing with the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, said this afternoon they had reached agreement on when the special session will start. How long it will take, however, was less definite. Asked if the Legislature will take the full 30 days available under the state Constitution, she replied: “I hope not, but never say never.”

The session will be narrowly focused on the three major state budgets — general operating, capital projects and transportation — and changes to state law needed to make those budgets work. Those changes may need as many as 60 separate pieces of legislation to pass, and some of them involve “tough policy decisions.”

The proclamation calling the special session describes its limited scope, and bills not related to the budget won't come up unless Gregoire and the four legislative leaders agree. It is broad enough, however, to include proposed changes to the workers compensation system that would allow voluntary settlements for injured workers, because that has an effect on the budget. There may also be hearings on bills for “revenue enhancements” — tax increases or changes to tax exemptions — although leaders of both parties agree there's not a two-thirds majority to pass such changes. 

When asked what legislators should tell state residents who wonder why the Legislature couldn't get its work done in the 105 days alloted — they actually worked 103 days and ended early to spend Easter weekend with families — Gregoire suggested they were at least doing better than the U.S. Congress.

WA Lege Day 103: Transportation budget passes

OLYMPIA — The House passed and sent to the governor a $9 billion transportation bill that includes money for roads, bridges and ferry projects for the next two years.

Included in 47-page summary of projects on the bill will cover  are $72 million to continue work on the North-South freeway and $15.7 million for Interstate 90 corridor improvements in the Spokane Valley. It sets aside $12 million to replace the 67-year-old ferry at Keller, although much of that comes from sources other than the state.

The the list of projects, which total about $5.6 billion, also calls for the state to spend $32 million to finish construction of a 64-car ferry in the Puget Sound, and spend another $124 million to begin work on a new 144-car ferry. Ferry riders will face a 2.5 percent increase in rates in each of the next two years.

It sets aside money to shore up slopes, resurface state highways, renovate rest stops, improve rail lines and ferry terminals and rechannel runoff. Supporters called it a jobs bill that will create about 30,000 jobs.

The final House vote on the bill was was 87-9. Among Spokane-area legislators, Democrats Andy Billig and Timm Ormsby, and Republicans John Ahern, Susan Fagan, Joel Kretz, Kevin Parker, Joe Schmick, Shelly and Short voted yes. Republican Matt Shea voted no. Republican Larry Crouse was excused.


WA Lege Day 103: Last day of regular session

OLYMPIA — This is scheduled to be the last day of the 105-day regular session, and the announcement of the first day of the special session of undetermined length.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's office expects to announce the start date for a special session sometime today, after resolving a basic conflict between the House and Senate.

That is, the Senate Democrats and Republicans want to start back up as soon as possible. House Democrats and Republicans want the budget writers to work on the primary reason for the special session — the unfinished budget work — before bringing everyone back.

While that decision is being pondered, the chambers will be running through bills on which they basically agree, trying to give final approval to as many as possible and getting them off to the governor for a signature.

Why does a 105-day session end on Day 103 with unfinished work? Once everyone acknowledged they weren't going to get the budget done, leadership decided to give folks Easter weekend off.

It's Good Friday. It's also Earth Day, which features a “Procession of the Species” in Olympia, a parade in which people dress up as their favorite animal or vegetable.

Today is also a furlough day for many state employees. They are taking the day off, without pay, to get some budget savings. That means some state offices like the Department of Licensing are closed, so don't get all dressed up and try to renew your drivers license today.

But don't think you can put pedal to the metal on I-90 if you're heading to grandma's house today for a weekend egg hunt. The Washington State Patrol is not on furlough today.

WA Lege Day 102: Medical marijuana bill passes Senate

OLYMPIA — The Senate gave final passage this morning to a bill that attempts to regulate medical marijuana production and sales, setting up a possible showdown with the governor, who opposes provisions for state employees regulating different aspects of the system.

On a 27-21 vote, with members of both parties coming down hard on both sides, the Senate approved amendments to the system adopted by the House earlier this month. That agreement, known as concurrence, sends Senate Bill 5073 to Gregoire.

“This is an important step forward compared to the status quo,” Sen. Lisa Brown, D- Spokane said. The current system, set up by a 1998 initiative that allows medical marijuana but sets up no system for patients to obtain it, is unfair to patients, neighborhoods where dispensaries are springing up and legitimate businesses that could provide the product, she said.

The rules in the bill, such as one that allows a patient to grow 15 plants, and three patients to form a co-op and grow 45, are too lax, argued Sen. Jeff Baxter, R-Spokane Valley. “It is a gateway drug,” he said.

SB 5073 requires the state Department of Agriculture to license control the production and processing of medical marijuana, and the Department of Health to license dispensaries. A letter from U.S. attorneys in Seattle and Spokane warned Gregoire that federal law still lists marijuana as an illegal drug, and state employees could be arrested for any activities that involved marijuana.

Because of that, Gregoire has said she would not sign a bill that puts state employees at risk, even though she believes the state's medical marijuana law needs clarity. (For more on the controversy over the U.S. attorneys letter to Gregoire, click here.)

Update: An hour after the bill passed, Gregoire indicated she would veto at least part of it: “I asked the Legislature to work with me on a bill that does not subject state workers to risk of criminal liability. I am disappointed that the bill as passed does not address those concerns while also meeting the needs of medical marijuana patients,” she said in a prepared statement. “I will review the bill to determine any parts that can assist patients in need without putting state employees at risk.”

Today's action by the Senate was no compromise. It approved the same language that passed the House before U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby and Jenny Durkan responded to a request for guidance from Gregoire.

The warnings from Ormsby and Durkan were dimissed by some supporters of the bill. “You could look at this as a state's right,” Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland said. “Tell D.C. to butt out.”

Opponents said the group that lobbies for local police and sheriffs oppose the bill, too.

But far more time was spent debating a basic conflict over medical marijuana that predates the voters' approval of an initiative in 1998. Supporters said it's a humane product for cancer patients and some other medical conditions, and people who want to use it should have a system of legal access to a reliable product. “Are they supposed to just find a dealer on the streets?” Rep. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said. With the bill “patients weill be certain that the product they're using is safe.”

Opponents said it's a precursor to other drugs and a stepping stone to complete legalization of marijuana. Some agreed marijuana may be appropriate for a small, and possibly shrinking, number of patients as other treatments become available. But doctors' recomendations are too easy to come by, they said, and overall use becomes more prevalent and acceptable because of the growth of medical marijuana.

“You are voting for something that is on the cusp of legalizing marijuana for everyone,” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said.

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, said the current system of unregulated medical marijuana is the bigger problem, because it's too hard to tell what's legal and what's illegal. “This is a vote between maintaining the status quo and trying to establish a bright-line, enforceable framework…Law enforcement is not cracking down on the dispensaries. Now is the time when illegal users are hiding behind the law.”

Here's how Spokane-area senators voted on final passage of SB 5073: Republican Mike Baumgartner and Democrat Lisa Brown voted yes; Republicans Jeff Baxter, Bob Morton and Mark Schoesler voted no.

WA Lege Day 102: Medical marijuana, workers comp

OLYMPIA — The Legislature is moving toward its temporary adjournment today, trying to pass as many bills as possible on which both chambers agree.

And the House may have a bit of fireworks over a bill on which there isn't universal agreement, SB 5566, which would allow for voluntary settlements on workers compensation claims, a process known as compromise and release. The bill has passed the Senate and has Gov. Chris Gregoire's support, but House Democratic leadership does not support the system and has not allowed a vote on it. House Republicans and some moderate Democrats may try to push it to the floor this afternoon.

Among bills on the Senate's plate is the latest version of the medical marijuana bill which passed the House in an amended version earlier this month.

In other back-and-forth action, the House refused to agree to Senate amendments to HB 1267, a bill on domestic partner parent laws and surrogacy, and asked for a conference committee. The Senate voted this morning to strip out the provisions on surrogacy, and send it back to the House on a 27-21 vote.

“I have a problem with the Legislature changing the meaning of mother and father,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who voted no.

That wasn't what the bill did, replied Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley. “The law needs to recognize we have non-traditional families.”

WA Lege Day 101: Cop killer at bill signing?

OLYMPIA – One of the people gathered around the table as Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill outlawing “motorcycle profiling” last week may have been a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang who once killed a Portland police officer.
The above photo of the event above, first published in The Spokesman-Review, has law enforcement officials studying the faces and patches on some motorcyclists who applauded as the bill was signed and posed with Gregoire and several legislators.
KIRO News radio in Seattle reported Wednesday that its law enforcement sources identified one of the bikers as Robert Christopher, who was convicted of killing a Portland police officer during a raid on the Outsiders’ motorcycle club’s headquarters in 1979. Christopher is the third in from the left, KIRO law enforcement sources said.(For more on Christopher, check out Austin Jenkin's piece from Northwest Public Radio.)

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 101: Out Friday. Back…sometime

OLYMPIA – The Legislature is expected to adjourn its regular session Friday afternoon without passing final general operating, transportation or capital projects budgets.
It will return, but when and for how long, state officials couldn’t predict Wednesday.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she’s reluctant to call legislators back for a special session unless they are close to agreement on the budgets – particularly the $32 billion general operating budget that covers most agencies and programs for the 2011-13 – and the changes to existing laws needed to make an eventual compromise work.
“They agree on probably about 95 percent” of the operating budget, she said Wednesday. “But the 5 percent is not insignificant.”
To read the rest of this post, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 101: More than just a survey course

OLYMPIA — As the Legislature moves toward temporary adjournment today, the Senate is likely to take up the 2011-13 Transportation Budget now that a key question has been resolved.

The Senate began debate on the budget bill Tuesday afternoon, but quickly stopped when Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, proposed an amendment to require anyone seeking a new drivers license to present proof that they were a legal resident of the state. (For previous post, click here.)

Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, objected, saying essentially that's a policy change that should be made separately, not tacked onto a budget bill, and that it's outside the scope of the bill that is written as a plan for spending money on road and bridge projects. Her point of order had to be reviewed by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who decides such points as president of the Senate.

This morning Owen ruled Brown was correct and Benton's amendment was out of order. Previous rulings have declared that budget bills “are not an appropriate place to develop substantive law”. Requiring new license applicants to show proof of legal residence was the subject of a separate bill that didn't pass the Senate previously, he added: “Out of order.”

The Senate quickly adjourned and the parties went into caucus. When they return, expect some votes.

WA Lege Day 100: Axe falls on 2012 presidential primary

OLYMPIA — The House turned thumbs down to the state's presidential primary next year in an effort to save some $10 million for Washington's general operating budget.

In a 69-28 vote, they voted Tuesday to suspend the 2012 primary. The Senate already voted to suspend the presidential primary, so the bill now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who's almost certain to sign it, considering she asked the Legislature to do this in the first place.

Although voters like the presidential primary enough to force the state into one through an initiative, the two major political parties have never been wild about it and continued to hold precinct caucuses, sometimes on the same day, sometimes not. Democrats have never used the primary results to award delegates, and Republicans have varied but never awarded more than half their delegates through the primary vote.

The state's Top Two primary, which narrows the field for the November 2012 general election, will still be held in August 2012. The state would hold a presidential primary in 2016 unless the Legislature passes a similar law in some future session.

The suspension of the presidential primary now creates a problem for the parties. They need a partisan primary to elect precinct committee officers, and this was the only partisan election scheduled for the next five years.

WA Lege Day 100: Transportation budget on hold over illegal immigration

OLYMPIA — The Senate began discussion of the 2011-13 Transportation Bill shortly afternoon — and stopped fairly quickly.

A ruling is needed to determine whether Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, can get a vote on an amendment that would require applicants for a drivers license to present a valid Social Security number or some other form of identification that proves they are citizens.

Washington is the only state that does not require citizenship before issuing a drivers license, Benton said. That makes it a “magnet” for illegal immigrants seeking some form of state-issued ID.

Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, argued that the amendment is out of order because it's outside the subject and scope of the transportation bill, which she said is about spending money on transportation projects over the next two years. Benton's proposed change would essentially create a new state law on drivers licenses that would extend beyond the life of the spending plan.

Benton argued it fits in the transportation bill, which has money for a pilot program for a new federal licensing program that mentions Social Security numbers as part of its qualifications.

The budget debate was put on hold, pending a ruling on whether Benton's amendment is out of order. A few minutes later, the Senate adjourned until Wednesday morning because its Ways and Means Committee has a hearing at 2:30 p.m. that will require much of the members to attend.

Today’s fun videos: With friends like this, does Trump need foes?


For all those political junkies who just can't wait for the 2012 election: Gary Busey endorses Donald Trump for president, and even suggests a campaign slogan.

WA Lege Day 100: Hitting the century mark

OLYMPIA — Both chambers are in a concurring mood this morning, moving relatively quickly through bills they have both passed previously, albeit in slightly different forms.

Heavier lifting may await the afternoon. The House may debate its Capital Budget sometime after lunch, while the Senate Ways and Means Committee has a hearing on a pair of changes to state agencies and a vote on terminating a property tax deferral program.

Among bills on the Senate concurrence calendar likelly to be approved are a proposal for cameras in school buses, a ban on “shark finning” and one to change the way personnel contracts are negotiated at the University of Washington.

WA Lege Day 99: Senate passes 2011-13 operating budget

OLYMPIA — The Senate gave overwhelming bipartisan support to a $32.1 billion general operating budget for 2011-13, setting the stage for negotiations with the House, which approved a significantly different spending plan.

The bill containing the budget, with cuts to most state programs, passed on a 34-13 vote after leaders of both parties said it wasn't the spending plan they would have written if they were working alone. Instead it represented ideas from liberals and conservatives, and amounted to what one senator likened to the first man landing on the moon.

“This is the first bipartisan budget, ever,” Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, proclaimed.

Debate occured after Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, the Senate's president, ruled the budget did not contain a tax increase by moving money from the Liquor Control Board's account into the general fund. Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach, contended it did, and that the budget would thus need a two-thirds majority to pass.

Even though Owen said that fund transfer was not a tax increase, and the budget needed only a simple majority to pass, it received more than the 33 votes necessary for the supermajority.

For the print edition of the Senate budget vote, clikc here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 99: Is there a new tax in Senate bill?

OLYMPIA — The Senate was about to begin debate on its version of the 2011-13 general operating budget when Sen. Tim Sheldon brought things to a halt with a “point of order.”

Sec. 949, which requires the Liquor Control Board to provide a total of $85 million to the general fund over the two year period, is actually a tax increase, Sheldon argued. The board doesn't have that money sitting in reserve, and will have to raise taxes to come up with it.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, argued that it's not a tax, because the board is free to come up with the money any way it chooses, including reducing expenses. The budget “makes no assumptions” about how the money is generate, and is therefore not a tax increase.

The Senate went into general milling about while Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who determines who's right on a point of order, studies the question.

WA Lege Day 99: Arghh. IT piracy bill be signed, matey

OLYMPIA — A bill aimed at cutting into information technology piracy in Asia and other foreign countries was signed into law today.

HB 1495,  backed heavily by Microsoft as it worked its way through the process, is designed to protect the state's software developers but has protection for stores that buy products without knowing they contain pirated IT. To read more about the bill, check this previous report.

To mark the occasion, some of the bill's sponsors and other supporters donned pirate eyepatches after Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill. The governor declined the offer of an eyepatch.

WA Lege Day 99: Senate begins budget debate

OLYMPIA — The Senate is beginning its debate on the 2011-13 general operating budget, taking up a series of amendments. First up is an amendment designed to spare several state mental health institutions from closure and consolidation.

WA Lege Day 99: Another day, another budget protest

OLYMPIA —A group of about 80 people marched from the north side of the Capitol to the space between the House and Senate office buildings at lunchtime, calling for a “moral budget” that raises taxes rather than cutting programs.

Among them were a group clad in orange road-worker vests who had walked some 50 miles to Olympia over the weekend to emphasize they were serious in their efforts. As protests go this legislative session, it was one of the smaller ones. But the orange vests added a splash of color.

In other tax-raising news, Sen. Paull Shin, D-Seattle, sent an “open letter” to Washington residents explaining that he introduced a bill to increase the sales tax because it was the only way, absent a full-scale tax system overhaul, to raise money that would save programs.

The Senate is scheduled to begin voting on its version of an “all-cuts” budget this afternoon. Leaders of both parties were predicting bipartisan support in the end, although there may be a stack of amendments first.

WA Lege Day 99: Senate to debate budget

OLYMPIA — The Senate is expected to take up its version of the general fund operating budget today, the last day of the session that can be counted without three digits.

Legislators and Gov. Chris Gregoire conceded  late last week that a special session is going to be needed to get general fund, capital and transportation budgets passed out of both chambers and the differences negotiated. The real question now is how much will get done before the Legislature takes a break for Easter, sometime late this week.

Secondary question: How long will it take them in a special session to finish the job?

WA Lege: Is medical marijuana bill dead?

It could be. The Legislature is running out of time and a compromise that can overcome the warnings of federal prosecutors may be hard to find. Read more about it in this story that first appeared in Sunday's print edition.

What would the Wild One say?

A biker wearing a Bandidos patch and a 1 percenter patch poses for a picture behind Gov. Chris Gregoire at last week's signing of the motorcycle profiling law.

My image of the outlaw biker, that iconic badboy of the latter half of the last century, lost a bit of its tarnish last week in an unusual setting. The governor’s office.
Some folks who at least harbor desires to be outlaw bikers joined other motorcyclists and state legislators while Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill forbidding cops from “profiling” them when they get their motors running and head out on the highway. Under the law, being on a motorcycle is not a reason for being pulled over…not that police would ever do that, mind you.
The governor’s conference room hosts all manner of characters when bills that work their way through the Legislature get signed, so there’s no way to say this was the motliest crew ever to gather round the conference table and smile for the cameras after Gregoire signed on the solid line.
But they may have been the most ostentatious in their display of professed disregard for law – an odd bit of irony, considering they were attending the christening of a new law. Along with club colors for the Bandidos, which was once a target of major law enforcement actions in Washington, several of the signature observers sported the diamond shaped, red and yellow 1%-er patch…

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 96: Brown says special session “close to inevitable”

OLYMPIA — The Legislature is unlikely to finish work in nine days, making a special session all but inevitable, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.

At her weekly press briefing, the Spokane Democrat said the Senate was likely to debate the 2011-13 general operating budget next Monday, and will likely pass some version of it that day.

But the Senate's budget is different from the budget the House passed last week, and the two different versions will have to be reconciled in a compromise plan that both will pass and Gov. Chris Gregoire will sign. The two chambers must also pass the same transportation budget and capital projects budget, and all the legislation needed to make the general operating budget work.

“Many of the cuts need to have bills associated with them spelling out how you do things,” Brown said. “It's getting pretty close to inevitable” that can't be done in the remaining nine days.

Asked what went wrong in the legislative process that resulted in time running out before a budget was passed, she replied: “The economy went wrong. The economy went really down in the biggest recession since the Great Depression”

The Senate and House also pursued different paths for writing a budget. The Senate's budget was a bipartisan compromise that may get votes from members of both parties. Republicans proposed an alternative to the House Democratic budget, and the final House spending plan passed with no GOP votes.

There are differences between the two plans on the amount spent on Basic Health, Childrens Health and the Disability Lifeline. The House budget also assumes the state will collect $300 million that it can spend on services and salaries by selling or leasing its wholesale liquor distribution system. The Senate budget does not call for that change, but it does call for 3 percent salary cuts for teachers and other public school employees, a $250 million reduction not in the House proposal.

The Legislature will likely work through late next week, possibly through Good Friday, Brown said. If it has not finished the budgets and other needed bills, the Legislature will likely adjourn for Easter weekend with a decision on when to return for a special session. That could start up as soon as Monday, she said.

WA Lege Day 96: A morning of concurrence

OLYMPIA — Both chambers decide whether they'll agree with changes the other made to bills that have bounced back and forth this session. Known as concurrence, it's usually a smooth process for passing legislation that's been honed to an acceptable edge.

Senate Ways and Means Committee has the 2011-13 budget on its calendar for its 1:30 p.m. meeting, giving the panel a chance to debate and possibly pass the spending plan on to the Senate floor. But the Senate won't be taking the budget up before next week; a message from staff says the Senate is not working this weekend…and the prospects for a special session seem to be growing day by day.

In the House, the Capital Committee had a morning session on the combined version of its capital projects and bonding legislation, and passed it out of committee. House Ways and Means has a 3:30 p.m. hearing on a proposal for a 144-vehicle ferry, and votes on a slew of bills needed to make the House general operating budget work.

There are two “Tax Day” rallies planned for the Capitol Campus, even though technically today is not tax day. The deadline for filing your 1040 is Monday, April 18, this year, so slackards have the whole weekend to procrastinate.

WA Lege Day 95: Senate Democrats offer tax plans

OLYMPIA — More than a dozen Senate Democrats want voters to reconsider their decision last November that makes it difficult for them to take state tax exemptions off the books.

On Thursday they unveiled a a new bill that would remove the requirement that both houses of the Legislature give a two-thirds majority to any plan to reduce or end a tax exemption. If it passes — a big “if” considering there are only 10 days left in the regular session and the bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing — it would be put before voters this November for their approval.

While the days are running out for the regular session “there may be an opportunity in the special session,” Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, said. 

The Legislature is still struggling with the general operating budget for 2011-13…

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 95: Gregoire signs lawn fertilizer bill

Gov. Chris Gregoire congratulates Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, after signing his bill to restrict lawn fertilizers with phosphorus.

OLYMPIA — Finding fertilizer with phosphorus to spread on lawns in Washington will become difficult by 2013 under law signed Thursday.

As part of the state's ongoing restrictions on phosphorus in commercial household products, the new law discourages homeowners from putting fertilizers with that chemical on healthy lawns. Stores that sell turf fertilizers with phosphorus will be required to have them labeled for use on new or damaged lawns.

It was one of more than a dozen bills signed Thursday by Gov. Chris Gregoire on a wide range of topics.

House Bill 1489, was sponsored by Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and supported by city officials. It restricts the sale and use of lawn fertilizers with phosphorus in an effort to reduce the amount of that chemical in the state's lakes, streams and rivers, where it contributes to algae growth. Supporters said that phosphorus isn't necessary for healthy lawns and is less likely to be trapped in the soil in those uses, making it more likely to run off with excessive watering or heavy rains, although opponents said phosphorus rarely runs off if applied properly..

The bill doesn't restrict phosphorus in fertilizers for agricultural uses, vegetables or flowers. It's primarily directed at home lawn use, but also covers the use of fertilizers on golf courses.

In the past, the state has restricted phosphorus in laundry detergent and dishwashing detergent. Those actions were usually greeted by complaints from some consumers who said they would drive to Idaho to buy the products they believe do a better job.

In signing the bill, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed a section that she said would prevent the Department of Agriculture from issuing civil penalties to enforce the law. She also said she was disappointed the bill does not exempt fertilizer with organic materials such as manure. Although they contain phosphorus, using them as fertilizer is a good way to manage waste, she said.

But because the bill doesn't take effect until 2013, she urged Billig and other legislators present for the signing to take that issue up in next year's session. 

Among other bills signed included laws to provide help for homeowners facing foreclosure, to allow wine and beer tasting at farmers markets on a trial basis, to waive the corkage fees at restaurants and to give more flexibilities to local governments to set the terms for planning commissioners.

Baxter to run for Senate seat

OLYMPIA — RepublicanJeff Baxter will run in this year's special election in an effort to keep the state Senate seat he now holds by appointment.

Baxter announced today that he will seek election to the Spokane Valley's 4th Legislative District seat. He was appointed to the post earlier this year by Spokane County commissioners after Sen. Bob McCaslin announced his resignation after 30 years because of health problems.

Immediately after taking office, Baxter said he was uncertain whether he would run for the post later in the year: “I just got here. Give me a couple days or weeks.” Tuesday he said  he was “committed to continuing to represent Spokan County residents during this challenging time.

Baxter, 50, is a Spokane Valley businessman who owns three companies connected to bank cards.

Already in the race is Mike Padden, a former state representative and former Spokane County district judge.

WA Lege Day 95: Tax plans cometh

OLYMPIA — Some Senate Democrats are going to unveil tax plans at lunchtime. They've filed a series of new bills that call for everything from a temporary increase in the sales tax to changing excise taxes to repealing some tax exemptions “to provide funding for essential government services.”

All  have been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which is a bit busy right now trying to move the general operating fund budget to the floor. It also has a hearing on the capital projects budget this afternoon.

But maybe when that's done, and before the session runs out in 10 days, the committee can take up those tax bills.

In other action, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill that bans phosphorus in lawn fertilizer for most uses. Don't worry about rushing down to Home Depot to stock up, though. The ban doesn't take effect until January 2013.

Among other legislation also signed this morning were a bill to try to cut down on home foreclosures, another to allow wine and beer sampling at public markets and another that allows state employees to attend meetings with legislators in state facilities as long as they are informational rather than political in nature.

WA Lege Day 94: Gregoire cites problems in Senate budget

OLYMPIA — School districts around the state might have to “eat” a cut in teacher salaries proposed by Senate budget writers rather than lower pay, Gov. Chris Gregoire warned Wednesday afternoon.

She said some aspects of the Senate general operating budget proposal are improvements over the House spending plan released last week, but the Senate's plan to cut $251 million by cutting public school employee salaries by 3 percent won't work.

“Many of the school districts have already negotiated their contracts, so their salaries are already set,” Gregoire said. “The districts will simply have to eat” the reductions by cutting their budgets in other places.

The Senate also estimates almost $100 million can be saved by keeping better track of truancy in schools. It's a creative approach, but “if it doesn't work, they're going to eat another $100 million,” Gregoire said.

But the latest spending plan is free of gimmicks, the governor said. She's been skeptical of a House plan  to sell or lease the state's wholesale liquor distribution system as a way to raise some $300 million in revenue.

She wouldn't say that either the Senate public school provisions or the House liquor warehouse provisions were deal breakers.

“We're now in the negotiating stage. We're not in the vetoing stage,” she said.

WA Lege Day 94: Gregoire signs m/c profiling bill

Gov. Chris Gregoire offers the signing pen to Sen. Jim Hargrove after putting her signature on a bill to ban “motorcycle profiling.

OLYMPIA — Law enforcement in Washington state won't be able to stop motorcyclists simply because they are motorcyclists under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Law enforcement insists they don't do that, anyway, but motorcycle groups such as ABATE — for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments — have contended for years that it happens all the time.

After several tries, the Legislature passed a bill to make clear that profiling is not permissable and to require some training to make sure it doesn't happen. A few members of biker groups, most in full road regalia, attended the bill signing in Gregoire's conference room, along with sponsor Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who appeared in something slightly different than the standard coat-and-tie dress code enforced on the Senate floor.

WSU, UI students to protest lax immigration

Conservative student groups from Washington State University and University of Idaho say they plan to put up a chain-link fence on Terrell Mall today to protest illegal immigration.

The groups include College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty and Youth for Western Civilization. (The last sounds like a group that's a big fan of the college survey course that studies history, art and literature from Ancient Greece and Rome up through modern European and and American history…what a previous generation rather cavalierly used to call “dead white guys studies”. Probably not what they mean, though.)

Their press release says they expect a counter-demonstration from liberal student groups, although liberal groups have yet to announce any such activity with a press release of their own.

WA Lege Day 94: Senate budget hearings

OLYMPIA — The Senate will hold a hearing in its Ways and Means Committee this afternoon for the general operating budget released Tuesday evening.

The budget is 462 pages long, but folks who stayed up all night to peruse it should be well versed in it by the time the panel starts at 2:30 p.m. There is a bit of a hurry, after all, because there are only 11 days left in the 105-day session…one of which is Easter Sunday. (Another is April 22, Good Friday and April 19, the start of Passover , but what are we, a calendar company?)

House Ways and Means Committee also has a hearing, starting at 3:30 p.m., on several bills needed to implement its budget, which passed Saturday. Among them is the consolidation of many arts and heritage programs into a single state agency which would have control of — and money for — the Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane. The Senate budget doesn't call for that consolidation, but one never knows which spending plan will hold sway on the varioius points of difference.

In the meantime, both chambers have work to do on “concurrences” — bills that both houses have passed in some form or another, but now have to be reconciled into a form acceptable to both.

And if anyone asks “Where's the beef?” today, there could be multiple answers. Budget writers are likely to point to their spending plans. But the more literal answer would be on the west campus, where the Washington Cattleman's Association is serving up lunch in its annual barbecue.

And no, those aren't the Blues Brothers in the picture above. Democratic Sens. Craig Pridemore of Vancouver and Steven Hobbs of Lake Stevens donned shades during floor debate Tuesday on changing laws for embalmers.

Don't ask.

WA Lege Day 93: Senate budgets out

Sens. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, (left) and Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, announce the proposed Senate operating budget.

OLYMPIA — The Senate released proposed operating and capital budgets this evening. Good news and bad news time.

Bad news for schools, colleges, people who rely on the state for social services, particularly health care programs.

Good news for folks in Spokane who want a new medical school at Riverpoint campus, and for those who enjoy going to the Museum of Arts and Culture.

To read more about it, click here to go inside the blog and get a look at Wednesday's newspaper story.

WA Lege Day 93: Domestic partner surrogacy bill passes Senate

Sen. Lisa Brown discusses an amendment with Sen. Mark Schoesler during debate on the domestic partnership surrogacy bill.

OLYMPIA – A proposal to make clear who has legal custody for a children in a domestic partnership cleared a sharply divided Senate Tuesday, but a provision to allow parents to pay a surrogate mother did not.
Supporters said state law needs to recognize a greater variety of family structures exist now than a generation ago.
“Ozzie and Harriet don’t live here any more,” Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said. “That’s a make-believe world.”
Opponents said domestic partners could go to court and use existing laws to adopt children if they aren’t the biological parent. “If there is a relationship involved, let those persons solve it in a legal way,” Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said.

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog

WA Lege Day 93: A place by any other name…

OLYMPIA — The Senate voted to reinstated a state board that decides what to call places in Washington — the same board it eliminated last year in a cost-saving measure.

Republicans argued that in tough budget times, the state Board of Geographic Names is something the state could continue to do without.

“It certainly isn't a priority to fund a naming board,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville said.

Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said he thought it was unnecessary: “When I look at a map, I don't know of a single feature that isn't named.”

But the board costs onlyl $36,000 a year to maintain, and eliminating the Board of Geographic Names made Washington as the only state in the nation that doesn't have its own committee to decide such nomenclature, Democrats said. “It means the federal government decides names,” Sen Kevin Ranker, D- San Juan, said.

Republicans managed to add an amendment that says if there's no money in the budget specifically for the board, the board doesn't get reconstituted. But the bill passed 32-16, and headed back to the House, which previously approved it 58-40.

Today’s fun video: OR Lege not taking itself too seriously

The Oregon House of Representatives managed to slip the words to a song into floor speeches, then cut and splice them together for a video that's going viral on YouTube.

Which brings up an interesting question: If the Washington Legislature were to do this, what song should they pick? Feel free to suggest one by clicking on the comment link.

WA Lege Day 93: Senate looks back 150 years

OLYMPIA — The State Senate marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War with a resolution today that honors President Lincoln, notes that many veterans headed west and wound up in Washington after the war and recalls that a few former generals served inside the territory.

Lincoln “reasserted our American creed with eloquence and persistence, reminded us of the values upon which this country was founded, and led us through that time of great crisis.” U.S. Grant and George McLellan both served in the state and Isaac Ingalls Stevens, the territory's first governor, was also a general for the Union. (Of note to Spokane, although not mentioned in the resolution, was another Union general, George Wright.)

The Secretary of State's office has a special exhibit on Stevens, who was killed at the Battle of Chantilly in Virginia in 1862, to mark the sesquicentennial.

Of note in the resolution: No mention of the right of states to nullify federal laws. No quibble over the name of the conflict. It sticks with Civil War throughout, none of this War Between the States, Second American Revolution or War of Northern Agression stuff.

During discussion (no debate, really, because no one spoke against the resolution) Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, donned a stove pipe hat and said that along with being the anniversary of the Civil War which freed slaves, today is also Tax Freedom Day, so people are now freed from working for the government. Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, responded “You're no Abraham Lincoln.”  

No Shuttle for Museum of Flight

OLYMPIA — The Museum of Flight in Seattle was not chosen by NASA to be the home for one of the retired Space Shuttles.

It will however get a training module the astronauts used.

The Museum of Flight was among facilities scrambling for a Shuttle as an exhibit when NASA openned up the bidding for the spacecraft. It is announced the locations for the four Shuttles today, the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flights.

Atlantis stays at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Enterprise goes to the Californial Science Center in L.A. Intrepid goes to the Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York. Discovery was already promised to the Smithsonian.

Gov. Chris Gregoire issued a press release saying she was disappointed the Seattle museum didn't get a Shuttle and congratulating them on their effort.  The trainer is a “true win” because visitors can get in the trainer and they won't be allowed inside the Shuttles, she added.

WA Lege Day 93: Senate budgets after day of votes

OLYMPIA — The Senate releases its 2011-13 general operating and capital budgets this evening, sometime after 5 p.m.

Why so late? Because today is one of those make-it-or-break-it days for legislation. A non-budget bill that started in one chamber has to pass the other chamber by 5 p.m. (give or take) or be dead.

In honor of the long list of bills it faces, the Senate is cutting back on debate and taking a shorter lunch

The give or take involves when the discussion starts. As long as debate starts before 5 p.m., the vote can take place afterwards, so the gavel doesn't come down exactly at 5:00:00 p.m. But it means neither chamber is likely to go into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, because legislators eventually get hungry for dinner.

The budgets will be released shortly after the Senate recesses for the day.

The big question will be how different they are from House versions. The House passed its 2011-13 operating budget Saturday on a largely party-line vote, but Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said there will be some changes in the Senate plan. It will try to keep Basic Health, Disability Lifeline and Children's Health programs, but not necessarily at the same levels as the House, she said. The governor's plan eliminated those programs entirely.

The Senate is also not likely to propose selling or leasing the state's alcohol distribution center and using the money to pay for programs.

WA Lege day 92: Medical marijuana bill passes House

OLYMPIA – Rules for the growing, processing and selling medical marijuana passed the House of Representatives Monday after heated debate on whether the proposed law has enough safeguards to prevent sales to children.

Supporters said SB 5073 was an effort to be compassionate to the chronically ill and dying who have a doctor’s recommendation for, but no access to, a substance that will give them relief.

Opponents said it will lead to more drug abuse, particularly among children.

With only 12 days left in the regular legislative session, House members sent back to the Senate a proposal that requires the state Agriculture Department to regulate production and processing operations and the Health Department to regulate dispensaries of cannabis for medical use. Sales to anyone under 18 would not be allowed.

To read the rest of this story, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 92: Medical marijuana bill in House

OLYMPIA — A bill to set up rules for the growing, processing and sale of medical marijuana is moving to the House floor.

It has about 20 amendments, so this could be a long, strange trip to the vote. More to come.

WA Lege Day 92: Clock is ticking, bills will be moving

OLYMPIA — Both chambers are likely to be busy today trying to pass bills sent them by the other house. The bell tolls for all non-budget bills Tuesday at 5 p.m., and there's a boat load in the queue.

Meanwhile, freshman Democrats in the House are introducing a bill to close two state tax exemptions — one that affects banks and another that allows non-Washington shoppers to avoid the state's sales tax when buying items here. The money would be dedicated to reducing class sizes in kindergarten through Grade 3, said Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, a co-sponsor.

These were among the “loopholes” that protesters targeted last week during the demonstrations. Prospects for passage with less than two weeks remaining in the regular session? Not good, considering they'd need a two-thirds vote.

Prospects for getting at least a floor vote that could used in campaigns next year? Somewhat better, because both sides might like to score  political points with this

Let’s trade phrases to eliminate

Ping-ponging between the sobering budget hearings and the raucus budget protests of the past week has left me with a desire to get the legislators and demonstrators to the negotiating table to broker a deal.

Not on the budget. I’m not smart enough to do that, and the session has yet to prove that anyone is. No, I’d like to broker a deal that each side would give up a phrase that got particularly tiresome as the week went on….

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 89: Labor rallies while budget moves forward

OLYMPIA – Some 7,000 protesters chanting, singing and marching through the Capitol to the strains of bagpipes were unable to convince the Legislature to veer from the path from an “all-cuts” budget Friday.

A proposal to close most of the projected $5.1 billion gap in the state’s 2011-13 operating budget with cuts to programs moved to the floor of the House of Representatives in the mid-afternoon while some demonstrators were still packing up from one of the biggest rallies at the Capitol in years.

And that proposal comes from House Democrats, a group that is normally the most closely aligned with organized labor. House Republicans, who have an alternative budget with about $500 million more in cuts, did not try to swap their spending plan for the Democrats’ proposal when amendments were adopted.
The House can’t vote on the budget until Saturday because of rules that require it to be available to the public – “lay on the bar” in legislative terms – for 24 hours.

But neither proposal has the thing protesters demanded during the rally and throughout the week: An end to some of the state’s many tax exemptions for various businesses or industries. The protesters prefer the term loopholes.

The crowd, estimated by the Washington State Patrol as about 7,000, filled the steps of the Capitol, the Temple of Justice to the north, and the green spaces in between…

See photos below

To read the rest of the story, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.


WA Lege Day 89: Scenes from the rally (3)

OLYMPIA — Members of the Pierce County Fire Fighters Pipe and Drum Association prepare to lead protesters through the Capitol hallways.

WA Lege Day 89: Scenes from the rally (2)

OLYMPIA — Sean Dannon, a union organizer from Tacoma, dresses in a costume he thinks represents most legislators on the issue of eliminating tax breaks on businesses.

WA Lege Day 89: Scenes from the Rally (1)

OLYMPIA — Sen. Lisa Brown discusses the difficulty of passing any tax exemptions this year with protester Debbie Sills of Yakima.

WA Lege Day 89: House budget discussion begins and ends for a day

OLYMPIA — Floor action began this afternoon on the proposed House Democratic budget with a handful of amendments being approved by voice votes.

Republicans did not offer to substitute their alternative budget, which would cuts about $500 million more. “It wasn't submitted,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ross Hunter said a few minutes before floor action started.

The amendments were mainly non-controversial house-keeping measures, corrections to things inadvertantly left in or out of the 450-page bill in the process of drafting and redrafting.

Now the budget must sit — lay on the bar, in legislative language — for 24 hours after the amendments are printed and added to the bill, so the members and the public have a chance to read it.

Debate and voting happens tomorrow afternoon.

WA Lege Day 89: Rally brings 7,000 to Capitol

OLYMPIA — Unions representing trades, crafts, law enforcement, firefighters and other government workers brought some 7,000 protesters to the Capitol Friday for more than an hour of speeches and exhortations.

Hundreds of them then marched into the rotunda and through the halls outside the legislative chambers, led by the bagpipes and drums of the Pierce County Firefighters Pipes and Drums unit playing “Greenhills” and “Amazing Grace.” They shouted, they chanted, they cheered.

But the thing they want most — a state budget for 2011-13 that gets some extra money from closed tax exemptions rather than relying strictly on cuts — will likely elude them.

The House of Representatives is set to begin debate on a $32 billion budget proposal from Democrats that closes no tax exemptions, and relies solely on cuts. A Republican alternative, which cuts some programs like Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline even more severely, is not expected to be introduced on the floor.

Gary Swartz, a union machinist from Spokane who works at the Triumph factory on the West Plains, said the trip was worth it none the less. A political director for his local, Swartz said he would still meet with Democratic legislators from the 3rd District after the rally, even though he suspected they'll tell them there aren't the votes to pass any tax increases.

The chanting, sign-carrying crowd fill the steps of the Capitol and the Temple of Justice to the north, and the green space in between, serves as a message and “We've got to keep the pressure on.”

Mike Fleming, another Triumph machinist who was attending his first such rally, agreed it was worth the day off work without pay: “I'd do it again.”

WA Lege Day 89: Senate wasn’t told of Thursday’s ‘lockdown’

OLYMPIA — State senators who left the Capitol for their offices or to grab a bite to eat during a break in floor action Thursday returned to find the building on a lockdown and closed to the public more than an hour after protesters were arrested outside the governor's office.

No one without a magnetic stripe key card that operates the automatic locks was immediately allowed in. That meant lobbyists, any legislator or staff member who'd left an ID card on a desk, and, of course the general public

That didn't sit well with Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane, who said she'd been at a meeting with the governor, General Administration and the State Patrol after the arrests and no one mentioned a lock down.Senate Democrats refused to resume floor action until the doors were unlocked.

Just because some people were disruptive doesn't mean everyone else interested in peacefully exercising their free speech rights should be locked out, Brown said.

The Legislature is heading into the final weeks of the session and Democrats would not be “conducting public business while the proceedings were closed to the public,” she said.

Friday morning Brown said she thinks the lines of communication between the Legislature and the governor's office were improved for anything that might be considered in response to today's protests.

WA Lege Day 89: Union rally and budget debate

Protesters gather near the World War I memorial on the state Capitol Campus Friday.

OLYMPIA — The last of four days of protests in and around the Capitol over a proposed “all-cut” budget will feature thousands of labor union members joining other demonstrators on the north steps at noon.

How many thousands isn't clear, but the steps were already filling up at 11 a.m., as buses dropped off more demonstrators on the Capitol campus. The unions brought their own “marshalls” to keep some semblance of order, and a healthy complement of state troopers is visible inside and outside the building.

Sometime this afternoon the House is expected to begin debate of the 2011-13 budget that demonstrators don't like. There are actually two budgets, the House Democrats' version that was reported out of the Ways and Means Committee, and the House Republicans' alternative, which the GOP will likely try to swap out through a striking amendment.

If there aren't other amendments as well, it would be a very rare budget indeed. All this is a way of saying that although the debate is scheduled to start today, it's not possible to predict whether it will finish today, too. The House is scheduled to be in session on Saturday as well.

Meanwhile, the Senate is running through a long list of appointments and bills that are not part of the budget.

WA Lege Day 88: Protesters arrested outside governor’s office

State troopers arrest Karen Washington, left, outside the governor's office Thursday.

OLYMPIA — Sixteen protesters were arrested outside the governor's office today in the third day of demonstrations against proposed budget cuts. Fifteen were cited for disorderly conduct and released, while one was also cited for assaulting two state troopers, and jailed.

Protesters swarmed into the Capitol Building around lunchtime, marched around the hallways outside the Senate and House chambers chanting slogans lilke “This is what democracy looks like” and “Who's house? Our house.”

Around 15 were ejected from the House gallery when they stood to speak to the legislators on the floor below. After escorting them out, however, Washington State Patrol officers released them without arrest.

About an hour later protesters gathered outside the governor's office on the floor below the legislative chambers. While some confronted a phalanx of troopers in front of the office doors, others pushed in from behind. Patrol officials warned them that they would be arrested if they did not step back; the ones who remained were arrested, mostly without incident.

They were taken to a room on the lower level of the Capitol, where a patrol spokesman said they would be cited and released unless they have other problems, such as outstanding warrants.

Karen Washington, a home health care worker from Spokane, was among protesters in the House gallery, and was later among those group arrested outside the governor's office.

She said she came from Spokane on a busload of protesters to try to convince legislators to close tax exemptions for some businesses instead of adopting an all-cuts budget. The group went into the gallery because “we knew they wouldn't be able to hear us” inside the House chambers. The chanting is significantly muffled inside the chamber because the doors to the chamber are thick, and walls are lined with marble on both sides.

Protesters have talked to some legislators, but don't feel like they're making much headway, Washington said. “When the legislators say 'Yes we know, but —' There is no 'But.”

More photos below.

WA Lege Day 88: Outside the gov’s office

OLYMPIA — A few minutes after 13 demonstrators were arrested and taken to another part of the Capitol, state troopers formed a line outside the governor's office.

WA Lege Day 88: Protester arrested

OLYMPIA —  One of 13 protesters arrested outside the governor's office is led away.

WA Lege Day 88: Chanting in the hallways

OLYMPIA — Protesters march down the Capitol hallways past the bust of George Washington

WA Lege Day 88: Protesters stream into the Capitol

OLYMPIA — Protesters massed on the steps, then enterred the rotunda.

WA Lege Day 88: More protests this afternoon

OLYMPIA — About 70 protesters spent the night in the Capitol, and more demonstrations are scheduled for this afternoon, with some civil disobedience threatened.

Service employees, including some health care workers, are scheduled to join the protest today, and if more demonstrators decide to camp out on the marbled floors, they'll have company for a while. The Senate is scheduled for an evening session, which means the honorables, the staffs and the lobbyists will be there, too.

Meanwhile, the Legislature continues work on a long backlog of bills that are awaiting votes before time runs out in 17 days. Both chambers are scheduled for floor action, on bills to be announced…when they get out of caucus.

WA Lege Day 87: Protesters settle in for night

OLYMPIA — About 100 protesters chanted into the evening in the Capitol Rotunda, ignoring a request to clear the building when it officially closed at 7 p.m.

There's no threat of arrest. The Washington State Patrol is prepared to stay the night if the protesters do. And some clearly plan to, because they've unrolled sleeping bags on the rotunda floor, right up to the seal of George Washington. Could be a long and noisy night.

WA Lege Day 87: Protesters don’t like either budget

OLYMPIA – As several hundred protesters chanted about corporate greed and demanded tax increases, House budget writers gathered to decide which of two plans to cut billions from state programs they would endorse.

The state’s budgeting process, which is facing serious time constraints as the Legislature slogged through Day 87 of its 105-day session, featured competing spending plans in the House. Republicans unveiled their alternative budget Wednesday afternoon, proposing more cuts from health insurance and disability programs but spends more on public schools.

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 87: House GOP counters with its own budget plan

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt makes a point during the unveiling of the GOP budget plan.

OLYMPIA — House Republicans unveiled a leaner spending plan for 2011-13 than their Democratic counterparts, one that eliminates some social programs but spends more on education.

Like the Democratic proposal, it has no tax increases.

Republican leaders released the budget at an 11:30 p.m. press conference, and plan to offer it as a substitute for HB 1087, the House Democratic spending plan when the Ways and Means Committee meets this afternoon.

For details on the House Republicans' plan, or to comment, click to go inside the blog.

Today’s fun video: Who’s that in the background?


The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
For a Few Dollars More
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

One of the perks and/or consequences of being in congressional leadership is your face shows up in some of the darnedest places. So it was for a certain Eastern Washington congresswoman Tuesday night on the Daily Show, for a significant part of Jon Stewart's bit on budget negotiations.

House Panel: Use Heritage money for MAC

OLYMPIA — A House panel voted narrowly this morning to combine several arts and heritage programs into one “mega-agency” and provide money for the Museum of Arts and Culture from a fund set up for a planned Heritage Center in Olympia.

On a 6-5 vote, the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee approved HB 2033, a bill that creates a Department of Heritage, Arts and Culture from an array of existing programs. It would place two state historical societies in the new department, as well as the MAC and the State History Museum in Tacoma, as well as the Heritage Center and a fund created from a special fee on documents filed with county auditors.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget proposes cutting funding for those two museums so significantly that the two facilities will be closed to the public and only have enough staff to maintain their collections. The House Democrats' budget proposal keeps the museums open by tapping the Heritage Center fund.

Rep. Jeannie Darnielle, D-Tacoma, said the bill represented one of the tough choices facing the Legislature: “We have to choose between our existing agencies and museums or look to something new.” It would change the Heritage Center fund to a heritage fund that maintains existing museums and arts programs across the state.

Republicans on the panel objected. “We're creating a new agency when reforms should be going the  other direction,” Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia said. When the House GOP introduces its alternative budget later today, it will propose a way to keep the Spokane and Tacoma museums open without tapping the Heritage Center money, he added.

One Democrat objected, too. Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal, said the bill merely rearranges the agencies rather than focusing on processes and people. “Setting up a new department just doesn't send the right message to the public,” he said.

Employees of the new department would remain members of their current collective bargaining units and keep their contracts. Republicans lost on an amendment that would have cancelled the current agreements and required what Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, called “a clean look at those contracts.”

For more on the committee action on bills involving the 2012 presidential primary, the Public Disclosure Commission and the state printer services, go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 87: Museums in a.m., budget in p.m.

OLYMPIA — The plan to consolidate arts and heritage programs into a single “mega-agency” gets another chance to get out of a House committee this morning, and the general operating budget gets a chance to get out of its House committee this afternoon.

The House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee is scheduled to take action on the bill that would provide money to keep Spokane's Museum of Arts and Culture open, as well as the State History Museum in Tacoma. It does that by tapping money being set aside for the Heritage Center in Olympia. The plan stalled in committee last week when Democrats didn't have enough votes to pass it out, they'll try again on that, plus a plan to add some responsibilities to the Public Disclosure Commission and streamline the Sentencing Guidelines Commission and save some money at the State Printer.

UPDATE: Apparently,  there's still some dissension among the committee's Democrats. Chairman Samn Hunt, D-Olympia, walked into the hearing room at 9 a.m., (about 15 minutes after the scheduled start time)  announced that the meeting was coming to order and immediately going into recess because they were still in caucus. “Be patient” he said as he walked off the daiis.

But for real money talk, it will be hard to beat the House Ways and Means Committee hearing this afternoon. The Democrats $32.4 billion budget proposal is up for a committee vote, and Republicans are threatening to propose an amendment that consists of a completely new budget.

Meanwhile, more demonstrators, some of them from Spokane, are expected at the Capitol to protest an “all-cuts” budget, which is, so far, the only kind of budget that has been proposed. Tuesday's demonstration was underwhelming (see below), but organizers say they plan to bring more protesters each day, leading up to a big “Working Families Day” rally on Friday. General Administration is bracing for about 5,000 people.

One organizer said people wouldn't be leaving until they get a response from legislators to their appeal for some tax hikes to balance out the cuts.

And if that response is “No”? the organizer was asked. “Then they won't leave.”

Wa Lege Day 86: Rain dampens protests

Protesters gather on the north steps of the Capitol Tuesday at noon.

OLYMPIA — Tuesday is the start of several days of protests over proposed cuts in the state budget. Organizers had promised to bring a couple hundred to the Capital from around Olympia, but it seemed that the protesters at the noon rally could be counted in the dozens.

One problem may have been the weather, which was sometimes rainy, sometimes windy, and often times both.

Weather may not get much better the rest of the week. Unclear what that means for future demonstrations.

Gregoire doesn’t like the way House would pay for med school

Gov. Chris Gregoire congratulates Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, for sponsoring a bill extending domestic partnership rights to couples with domestic partnerships or same-sex marriages in other states.

OLYMPIA — A House spending plan that includes $35 million to start a medical school in Spokane is “a problem” because it adds more debt to the state than her budget, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday.

The House Capital Budget, released Monday, has millions more for construction projects than the budget she proposed in December but gets extra money from bond sales through what she considers a gimmick, Gregoire said. Instead of selling bonds only in the first year of the biennium, they sell them in both years.

“They have split up the capital budget over two years. That grows debt,” Gregoire said at a press conference. “That is a problem for me.”

If there had been room in the capital budget to spend money on the med school without increasing debt, she would have included it in her proposal, the governor added. If the Senate, which will produce it's own capital budget in the next week or so, finds a way to pay for it without extra debt “I'm all for it.”

Gregoire was also skeptical of a plan in the House general operating budget to sell the state's liquor distribution center for $300 million and add that money to general expenses.

“I've asked (the Office of Financial Management) to thoroughly review it,” she said. “It did not work in Maine. But I don't know why it didn't work.”

The sale would be subject to a bid process, she added. If the money isn't available, the state would be without the projected $300 million put in the budget, and would have to eliminate programs the House budget tries to save, she added.

“I don't want to start with criticism of the House budget. I think they stepped up,” she said. “But it's not and end (the session) budget. Some of it doesn't work.”

Gregoire spoke to reporters after signing several bills, including one that allows same-sex couples who have a domestic partnership or marriage in another state to be in a domestic partnership if they move to Washington, and another that requires all counties in the state to use all-mail voting. Of the state's 39 counties, only Pierce County still has poll site voting.

WA Lege Day 86: Capital budget hearing in a.m., protests in p.m.

OLYMPIA — The House Capital Budget, a $3.3 billion spending plan for major state construction projects, has a hearing first thing this morning where folks left out get a chance to ask for reconsideration and those who are in are scrupulous about saying “thanks.”

When one university lobbyist didn't show up to the mcrophone when his name was called, Dunshee quipped: “Guess he doesn't care that we found some money for him.” One of the other universiy's lobbyist ducked out into the hall and called the errant spokesman in.

Chris Mulick of Washington State University said the institution was particularly appreciative of the money — $35 million in the second year of the biennium — for the Biomedical and Health Sciences facility, aka the Spokane med school, in the House capital spending plan. (It's not in the governor's plan.) It would be “a facility of statewide significance as we go about training a new wave of health care professionals,” Mulick said.

Those who want reconsideration for a particular construction project are apt to stress the number of jobs said project will generate and the stimulating effects to the economy as well as the beneficial civic impacts before closing with some version of  “On to the Senate.” The other chamber is expected to release its capital and general fund budgets early next week.

Those curious about what's in the House Capital Budget proposal can get the details by clicking here.

Otherwise, the hearing schedule is light and both the House and Senate are scheduled for floor sessions most of the day.

Groups protesting budget cuts to state programs and salaries begin four days of protests today with the Olympia Coalition for a Fair Budget set to bring a few hundred local activists to the Capitol steps around noon and the rotunda later in the afternoon.

House spending plan: Sell liquor warehouse, cut programs, no new taxes

OLYMPIA — A $32.4 billion spending plan, which would cut colleges, public schools, social services and employee salaries, not raise taxes and try to sell the state's liquor distribution center was released today by House Democrats.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, called it “thoughtful, responsible and sustainable,” but still full of bad news for people involved in state programs.

“I wish the budget we're about to present to you had more good news. It does not,” Hunter said as the 450-page budget, and several summaries were released.

It proposed cuts including:

$482 million in higher education institutions, which the colleges will be able to offset in part through higher tuition.
$362 less for increases to retired state employees on the state's oldest pension plans.
$216 million from programs to have smaller class sizes in Kindergarten through Grade 4
$177 million less for wages for state employees.
$108 million less for the state's Basic Health plan by shrinking the income a family can have to qualify for the plan.
$100 million less for the Disability Lifeline program, getting rid of cash grants but substituting some of the loss money with vouchers for housing.

It has no money for cost-of-living increases for teachers, which are mandated by a statewide initiative in 2000, and does not reduce class sizes in public schools, also required by voters in an separate initiative that same year.

It proposes the state sell its liquor distribution center for $300 million, if it can get an offer from private industry to do that. Hunter said that's been proposed, and the state has had some inquiries that suggest it's possible. If not, the state would have to cut another $300 million in spending.

What the budget does not have is any proposal to levy a new tax, raise an existing tax or close a tax exemption already on the books. House Democrats said they don't believe it's possible to get the required two-thirds majority for any tax increase.

“We're making the most responsible decisions we can in difficult times,” House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said.

Programs the state can no longer afford remain on life support, and the footprint of government continues to be larger than our taxpayers and economy can support,”  Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the ranking Republican on Ways and Means said. “I've seen go-home budgets before and this is not one of them.”

Adam Glickman of the Service Employees International Union which represents some healt care workers said the budget comes down hardest on some of the state's lowest paid workers. Michael Itti of the League of Education Voters, which tracks school issues said the budget means students will continue to struggle  or and a generation of college students will be facing “crippling amounts of debt.”

WA Lege Day 85: Budget time

OLYMPIA — After going 84 session days without either a general operating or a capital budget in the House, we will have both by about 1:01 p.m. today.

Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and other House leaders are scheduled to release the 2011-13 general fund operating budget at 12:15 p.m. It'll be posted here about that time. Read fast, because there's a committee hearing at 3:30 p.m.

Capital Budget Chairman Hans Dunshee will release the 2011-13 capital budget at 1 p.m. It can be found here after that. You can take a little more time studying that. The hearing isn't until 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Why the rush? Well, for one thing there's only 20 days left in the session. Where has the time gone…

Meanwhile, teachers from around the state are coming to Olympia with their own paper, a “Resolution to Stop Crowding Our Kids' Classrooms.” They plan to be here around noon in the Senate office building, but that's not very far from the House office building where the budget releases are scheduled.

More budget hearings, votes and demonstrations planned for the rest of the week. If you don't care about budgets, this would be a good week to be on a beach somewhere warm and sunny. If you do, Olympia's the place to be, but don't expect it to be warm and sunny.

Budget protests coming to Olympia

OLYMPIA – When the party that’s in becomes the party that’s out, one can expect an increase of unhappy people coalescing and demonstrating against the new order.
But if one is aligned with the party that’s in, and those leaders aren’t doing what one thinks are the right things, is it still possible to raise the call, assemble the troops and storm the barricades?(All together now: “Aux armes, citoyens/Formez vos battalions, marchon, marchon…” *)
Groups generally allied with the Democratic Party may discover that this week in Olympia. Labor unions, progressive community action groups, social service organizations and others plan four days of escalating protests in the Capitol, starting Tuesday. They’ll demand something that legislators have repeatedly said they won’t do:

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 82: Budget to be released Monday

OLYMPIA — The House 2011-13 general fund operating budget will be released at lunchtime Monday, House Democrats said this afternoon.

Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter has scheduled a “roll-out” press conference for 12:15 p.m. Monday, to be followed by a public hearing at 3:30 p.m.

That has prompted government watchdogs like Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center to question whether this complies with state laws on adequate notice for legislation. On Friday afternoon, the schedule for Monday was changed to note the hearing was coming on a bill that is being amended, but not yet available. “Notice will be sent as soon as the document is available.”

So apparently it will be available about three hours before the hearing on what is currently a 183 page bill.

WA Lege Day 82: Budget Monday?

OLYMPIA — Stop me if you've heard this one: The House general operating fund budget for the 2011-13 biennium will be released Monday.

That's the rumor, which is pretty much the same rumor floating around last Friday afternoon, except that last Friday afternoon when that was said, folks meant Monday of this week, as in four days ago.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, was purposefully vague today when asked about the timing.

“We have to have the votes and I'm still working it very hard,” he said when queried by reporters in the wings of the House chamber. “I'm not saying when it will come out because I don't know. Typically it comes out on a Monday…I do not know when when I'm releasing it.”

Releasing the budget on Monday would likely mean hearings later in the week, on days when labor unions, social workers, and faith-based groups plan to stage a series of protests in the Capitol demanding something that the spending plan almost certainly will not have:

Closing some tax exemptions as a way of increasing state revenue rather than cutting programs to close the budget gap.

WA Lege Day 82: Ban on phosphorus in lawn fertilizer passes

OLYMPIA — The Legislature has approved a ban in lawn fertilizer that contains phosphorus. On a 56-37 vote, it sent to the governor a bill that bans the sale of that type of fertilizer — in most instances — starting in 2013.

The bill, HB 1489, went through several versions. This last one allows the use of phosphorus laced fertilizers to start a new lawn or to repair a damaged one, but bans it on healthy lawns. It doesn't restrict phosphorus in fertilizers for farming, in flower or vegetable gardens or house plants.

The theory behind it — in dispute during hearings and debate — is that phosphorus is less likely to bind with the soil when applied to healthy lawns, and with rain or overwatering more likely to run off the lawn, down the storm drain and into the nearby streams, rivers and lakes. Once there, it tends to help algae grow.

The bill was supported by the City of Spokane as a way to cut down on phosphorus loading in the Spokane River and Lake Spokane. It now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Today’s video: Why we don’t have a budget yet


OLYMPIA — For those wondering why the state Legislature has yet to produce a 2011-13 budget (arguably the most important thing they will do this spring) State Rep. Marko Liias attempts to explain.

If there was an Oscar for the most tortured analogy, this one would at least rate a nomination.

WA Lege Day 82=April Fool’s Day

OLYMPIA — First day of April rolls around and reporters tend to hold their breath, wondering what sort of silliness might they be sent by fax, e-mail, voicemail, Twitter, Facebook…So many delivery systems, so little time.

First such missive came early this morning from Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, saying he plans to seek appointment to the House of Representatives seat that came open recently with the resignation of fellow Democrat Jim Jacks. But keep his Senate seat, so he'd be serving in both chambers.

“The truth is, it's been difficult for me to make ends meet on just one legislative salary. With two of them I think I can live well and both the Senate and House will benefit from having somebody around who can truly understand both institutions. The offices aren't that far apart and God knows I can use the exercise running back and forth between the two chambers.”

Pridemore points out correctly that while state law forbids a person from appearing on the same ballot for two different offices, which would ordinarily preclude achieving such double duty, it does not expressly ban the same person from holding both offices. But that's about the only serious part of the press release. A Pridemore aide said the key detail on the statement is the date of the release, April 1.

Mark it down as a possible opening salvo of April Fools jokes for 2011 for geeky government types.

WA Lege Day 82: Museum bill on hold

OLYMPIA — A plan to rearrange state cultural agencies and find money for the Museum of Arts and Culture is on hold today after a House committee couldn't be sure it had the votes to pass amendments for it.

Rep. Sam Hunt, chairman of the State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, banged his gavel and adjourned the early morning meeting as soon as legislators returned from a caucus on the bill and others on the panel's agenda. Among the Democratic members who make up the committee's majority, there weren't enough votes to pass the bills.

One of the panel members, Rep. Chris Hurst, was absent because of a death in the family, and another member whom he refused to name was opposed to any bill involving consolidation of state agencies. That left Hunt without the votes needed to pass the bills out of committee if Republican members all voted no.

“We'll wait until Chris Hurst gets back and see what happens,” Hunt said. “We'll just come back next week and see what  happens.”

The original version of the bill would have consolidated a series of state programs on arts, archeology, historic preservation, archives and the state library into a single “mega-agency”, the Department of Heritage, Arts and Culture. Among them would be the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, which operates the MAC in Browne's Addition, and the Washington State Historical Society, which operates the State History Museum in Tacoma. As part of the reorganization, money being collected on documents filed with county auditors and set asided for a new Heritage Center in Olympia could be tapped to pay for the two museums, which face substantial cutbacks of state money in the governor's proposed budget.

The bill, HB 2033,  faced significant criticism at a hearing Thursday. (To read about that hearing, click here.) This morning, a proposal to trim back the bill, and keep many of the programs in their current agencies or departments was introduced, but funding for the two museums remained.

The panel went into caucuses, separate meetings by each party to take the temperature of members on the bills. About 20 minutes later, Hunt came back and announced “Meeting's adjourned.”

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said later she supports the consolidation as a way to save money and address the public's demand to cut costs. Although Friday is a deadline for most bills to get out of committee, this one is exempt because it would be necessary to implement the budget if it is part of the House spending plan expected to be released earlyl next week.

WA Lege Day 82: More on museum bill, floor action in morning

OLYMPIA — A House committee is expected to slice many parts out of a bill that would have consolidated several arts and culture offices into one mega-agency, but still offer new funding for Spokane's Northwest Museulm of Arts and Culture.

The House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee is meeting in executive session this morning to amend the bill, which Thursday drew sharp criticism from a range of people unhappy about the prospects of a large new state Department of Arts and Culture.

Most of that consolidation would be gone under an amendment being proposed this morning, but the MAC and the State History Museum in Tacoma would still be receive money from a special fund set up to build the Heritage Center in Olympia.

The committee met briefly and went into caucus so that each party could take the temperature of its members on the new proposal. Update to come.

Both the House and the Senate are scheduled to vote on bills this morning, and the respective Ways and Means Committees, which have a big backlog of money-related bills, have afternoon meetings.

A House budget proposal is now rumored to be coming Monday. Of course, this time last week, the rumor was that the House budget would be released this Monday and it wasn't. .So why should we believe it this time? No reason other than the legislators are running out of time — only 23 days left in this regular session.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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