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Spin Control

Archive for April 2013

Cost of a special session? It depends

OLYMPIA – Before a special session was called Sunday for the Legislature to finish such important tasks as setting the state’s two-year operating budget, legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee seemed to agree on one thing: it would cost taxpayers $11,000 a day.

If history is any guide, that estimate could be high. Last year’s special session didn’t cost that much, even though pay and per diem schedules suggested it might.

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Two forms of ID, please

WASHINGTON — A change in Pentagon security procedures almost derailed Spokane's most recent formal pitch for new refueling tankers to land at Fairchild Air Force Base.

A group of city business and political leaders were in Washington, D.C. last week to meet with lawmakers and bureaucratic bigwigs to lobby for several pet projects. Chief among those was ensuring the new KC-46A tanker aircraft, rolling off Boeing production lines in Everett, would wind up in Fairchild's hangars.

But several members of the group, including Mayor David Condon and Greater Spokane Incorporated CEO Rich Hadley, found themselves on the curb looking in when Pentagon security required two forms of identification to enter the building…  

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Lege adjourns, but they’ll be back

OLYMPIA – For the fourth time in as many years, the Legislature will go into overtime to figure out how to spend the money it collects, and how much it should collect.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he wants budget negotiators to stay in Olympia to continue working on the state’s two year spending plan. The remainder of the legislators will return for a special session that begins on May 13. It can go up to 30 days, and cover issues beyond the budget.

Inslee said all sides need to be flexible on budget negotiations and other issues that may come up, but he seemed to be drawing a line in the sand that would require fewer cuts and at least some extra revenue from closing or shrinking some tax preferences.

“We will not balance that (budget) on the backs of seniors, homeless kids and the disabled,” he said.

Senate Republicans said they would have preferred to start the special session today Monday, without any break. Their members all want to be involved in discussions about programs and policies, Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said, and have different expertise on the intricacies of the budget. And they continue to oppose tax increases, he added.

Inslee wants legislators to also handle issues involving abortion, gun control and immigration, which have been blocked in the Senate. Republicans may have some issues that Inslee opposes that they will introduce, although “we haven’t had that discussion yet,” Schoesler said.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Sunday Spin: Winning the rhetoric, losing the vote

OLYMPIA – There is an axiom in legislating, that when you have the votes to pass something, you shut up and cast them. When you don’t have the votes, you talk.

A corollary to that in this year’s legislative session seems to be that when you don’t have the votes, you offer up comments as quotable as possible. When you have the votes, you don’t need to be pithy or clever; you speak as little as possible, and cast them.

Thus it was on the floor of the House last week as legislators did battle over House Bill 2038, better know by Democrats as the close the tax loopholes to pay for education bill and by Republicans as the raise taxes and throw people out of work bill.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Senate OKs change to I-502

With remarkable speed, the Legislature approved a technical change in the state’s new legalized marijuana law that takes the plant’s chemistry into account.

The biggest obstacle may have been the reading of the bill title in the Senate, where official reader Ken Edmonds stumbled over tetrahydracannibanol, the chemical in question.

Legislation does not come with a pronunciation guide, and Edmonds is not of an age where familiarity with that substance makes the word roll trippingly off the tongue. It’s possible that some of the senators who chuckled at his struggle were more familiar.

The only discouraging word on the quick fix for the law came from Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who said he didn’t favor Initiative 502 in the first place, and the problem was an example of what can go wrong with a ballot measure, which isn’t subjected to the scrutiny and debate of a legislative bill.

“You never know what you’re going to get when you vote for an initiative,” Hargrove warned. “This was a flawed initiative, and now we’re having to use an extraordinary step here to fix it.”

But Hargrove voted yes for the change, as did everyone else in the Senate.

House passes quick fix to pot law

OLYMPIA — Working with uncharacteristic speed, both chambers cleared the way for a special vote to change in the state's marijuana, and the House gave the bill near-unanimous approval.

The problem with the state's legal definition of marijuana was discovered in the last week, as the state crime laboratory reported its test equipment doesn't differentiate between two different chemicals that can be present in the plant. Only one, delta-9 tetrahydracannibanol, is mentioned in the law voters approved last year that allows recreational use of marijuana  by adults, and the percentage of that chemical present in any material determines whether it is marijuana.

That definition in Initiative 502 also governs the legal growing, processing and selling of marijuana, which is to be regulated by the state. But the equipment the lab uses turns another a non-psychoactive precursor chemical, tetrahydracannibanol acid which is also present in the plant into delta-9 THC, and THC-A isn't mentioned in the law. A lab analyst testifying in a drug growing or trafficking case can't say how much of the delta-9 THC in their findings was the legal THC-A  when the substance was seized.

“They can no longer legally test the substance,” said Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, the chairman of the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, which handles the legal issues surrounding the state's changing marijuana laws.

The solution was relatively easy: Change the law to so that any amount of delta-9 THC and THC-A above the set limit makes the substance marijuana. Getting there was not so easy, because the problem was reported to the Legislature in its last week of regular session, when normal deadlines for introducing new bills and voting on them had long passed.

A bill introduced Wednesday was passed by Hurst's committee Thursday and sent to the House, which voted to let both chambers suspend the normal rules and vote on the billl Friday morning. The Senate agreed, which allowed the bill to get a vote in the House Friday afternoon. Because it changes a new initiative, it needed at least a two-thirds majority to approve it; it got that easily, passing 95-1.

“There's no way we can wait 11 months to fix this,” Hurst said after the vote. The Senate is expected to take up the bill over the weekend before the regular session closes. 

House votes to take up pot definitions

OLYMPIA — Time is running out in the session, but the House voted overwhelmingly today to consider a new bill to fix a problem with the state's new marijuana law.

As explained in a previous post, the definition from Initiativee 502 of what makes a substance illegal marijuana is creating problems for winning convictions in drug trafficking and growing cases. House Bill 2056 was drafted Wednesday, and had a hearing in a House committee Thursday, to rewrite the definition, but it's so late in the session that it needs special dispensation even to get a vote.

That comes through a concurrent resolution, that must be approved by both chambers by a two-thirds majority. The resolution sailed through the House on a 94-1 vote, and was sent to the Senate.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, couldn't resist a little nudge before the vote: “It is good to see there is a two-thirds vote required on this floor that is constitutional.”

For those not keeping close watch at home, that's a reference to the issue of requiring two-thirds majorities on tax increases. The state Supreme Court court ruled in January that must be done with a constitutional amendment, not through initiative as voters had done several times. Republicans also tried unsuccessfully to put the two-thirds majority requirement for taxes into legislative rules.

WA Lege Day 103… and counting

OLYMPIA — With a special session all but a foregone conclusion, some legislators might be wishing they were anywhere but here. 

Partially granting that wish, it is Hawaiian music day in the Capitol, with guitars and ukeleles strumming, hula dancers in the Rotunda, and leis on each desk in the Senate before the 11 a.m. start.

The real question of the day is when will the special session start — on Monday, the day after the regular session skids to a stop, a few days later, or a couple weeks later? No answer yet, but the speculation changes almost by the hour.

On Thursday, a group from the Majority Coalition Caucus essentially demanded the governor call them back right away to keep legislators who have to run for their appointed slot or some other electoral post from raising money in the interim. State law doesn't allow legislators to raise money during a session, and they made a point of all but calling out Sen. Ed Murray, the Senate Democratic Leader who is considering a run for Seattle Mayor.  

Which took a bit of chutzpah on their part, because as the Washington State Wire reports, the Senate Republican Caucus, which makes up 23/25ths of the Majority Caucus, has a fund-raiser scheduled for Monday morning, fitting neatly between what would be the narrowest window of money grubbing possibilities that would exist between the latest close of the regular session on midnight Sunday and the likely earliest start of a special session on noon Monday.

Still some folks steaming Friday over that press conference, but whether it is the determining factor on when the special session will start remains to be seen.

Wolf control rules expected Friday

OLYMPIA – New rules for dealing with wolf attacks on livestock and domestic animals, which seemed stalled in the Legislature, may be announced as early as today a result of action by key legislators and a state commission.

Today, the House gave final approval to a bill that adds $10 to the cost of certain specialty license plates to provide money for non-lethal methods to control the growing gray wolf populations in Eastern Washington. After being pulled out of committee by a special parliamentary maneuver, it passed unanimously.

Friday, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider rules that would allow residents to kill a wolf that is attacking livestock or pets. The rules are expected to be similar to the provisions of a separate bill that generated hot debate between rural Republican legislators from Eastern Washington and their urban Democratic counterparts. It narrowly passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

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Some pot prosecutions in doubt

OLYMPIA — Prosecutions in some marijuana cases are grinding to a halt in Washington, a result of a glitch in a new law, a lack of equipment at the state crime lab and the basic chemistry of the oft-discussed weed.

The Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory can't say for sure that material seized in growing operations, drug buys or major possession cases meets the new definition of illegal marijuana, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee Thursday.

“We can't enforce the law,” he said.

Prosecutions for people who smoke marijuana or eat it in baked goods, then get arrested for driving under the influence, aren't affected because the lab tests are different.

In an attempt to correct the problem, the committee approved a bill to change the definition of marijuana approved by voters last year in Initiative 502. It added an emergency clause, which would mean the law went into effect immediately if passed and signed by the governor.

“Obviously, this is something we need to act on now,” Chairman Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said.

But House Bill 2056, which was just introduced Wednesday, would have to pass both houses with a two-thirds majority before the session ends on Sunday, or be part of the likely special session.

Hurst said he couldn't speculate on the bill's chances. The committee did its job by sending it to the House for further consideration, he said. But if legislators don't pass the law before going home for good, marijuana possession cases might not be prosecuted for the rest of the year.  

To understand the problem, the committee got a science lesson in the chemistry of marijuana from an array of laboratory analysts, attorneys and medical marijuana experts. . .

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Eyman, Fagans try new route to 2/3 tax votes


Mike Fagan, Tim Eyman and Jack Fagan, left to right,  to file an electronic copy of their new initiative at the Secretary of State's office Wednesday. After several attempts, they wound up submitting a paper copy and paying the $5 filing fee.

OLYMPIA – Unable to ask voters again to approve an initiative requiring supermajority approval of tax increases, a trio of self-described tax fighters will try to prod the Legislature into putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Perennial initiative sponsors Tim Eyman of Mukilteo and Mike Fagan and Jack Fagan of Spokane filed an initiative Wednesday that would require a public vote on any tax increase, a one-year limit on any new tax, and an advisory vote on whether voters should get to vote on a constitutional amendment that requires the Legislature pass any tax increase with a two-thirds majority.

The initiative comes with an “escape clause” which says if the Legislature puts that constitutional amendment up to a public vote, other provisions go away. . . 

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

House passes tax bill

OLYMPIA — Democrats in the House pushed through a $900 million package of tax changes they say is designed to improve public schools, but Republicans insisted were job-killers.

On a 50-47 vote, it passed and sent to the Senate a bill that repeals or narrows nine tax preferences and extends a business tax increase on some professional services. The Senate has already passed a general operating budget with no new taxes, so this sets the stage for full-blown budget negotiations over the next four days, and possibly longer.

The 105-day legislative session ends Sunday. If a budget compromise is not reached and passed in both houses by then, a special session will be needed.

Under orders from the state Supreme Court to improve the public schools, House Democrats said they should expand education programs in part by closing or shrinking some tax preferences, credits or exemptions.

“I don't like the business and occupation tax, but what I like even less is is an uneducated work force,” Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said.

But the state expects to collect some $2 billion more in revenue from existing taxes in 2013-15 than it did over the last two years, Republicans said. It doesn't need new taxes to spend more on schools. But some businesses that rely on those tax breaks are existing on thin margins and may close. 

“The best thing we can do for children who are at risk… is make sure their parents have jobs that support them,” Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, said.

The money raised by the changes in tax exemptions and an extension of what was instituted in 2010 as a temporary tax would go into a trust fund for education programs. The Legislature should have the courage to vote yes for the state's children, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said.

“We could have solved this entire thing if we had funded education first… or if we live within our means,” Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley said.

House takes up tax bill

OLYMPIA — The House is debating a package of tax changes that would raise about $900 million over the next two years by closing or reducing some tax exemptions, credits and preferences.

There are only a few amendments. The first, by Democrats, to give non-residents a change to file for a refund of the sales taxes they pay when shopping in Washington, passed on a voice vote.

The second, by Republicans, to place any taxes on the November ballot through a referendum and remove the emergency clause failed on a 46-51 vote.

The third, also by Republicans, would just remove the emergency clause so that the taxes wouldn't kick in on July 1, when the new budget starts, but 90 days after the session ends (whenever that might be).  It failed 47-50.

GOP: We could still finish on time. Maybe.

OLYMPIA — The Legislature might still finish on time Sunday, even though the House and Senate have two very different budget proposals and disagreements on some key policy issues, Republican leaders of the Legislature and the Democrat who heads up the Senate's majority coalition said today.

“Logjams can be broken,” Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said. “We've seen it before. We could see it again.”

“This place is amazing in the miracles that can transpire,” Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said.

Speaking less than two hours after Gov. Jay Inslee said a special session will likely be needed to reach agreement on several budgets and other policy measures, Tom, who leads the mostly Republican Majority Coalition, and GOP members of the House and Senate, said they believed it might not be necessary.  

The dynamite needed to break the logjam, however, would seem to be House Democrats agreeing to a budget with no new taxes, similar to the one the Senate passed two weeks ago. The House is scheduled to vote this afternoon on a tax package that would generate an extra $900 million over the next two years by eliminating or reducing certain tax exemptions, credits and preferences.

Until that tax package passes, negotiations are difficult because the two sides don't have firm budgets in place for starting points, Sen. Andy Hill, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said.

Tom and legislative Republican leaders made clear that if a special session is needed, they will put the lion's share of the blame on Inslee for not doing enough to help negotiate a settlement.

“He's not as active as his predecessor,” Schoesler said, a reference to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who often would mediate discussions and keep legislators in a room until they'd reach a compromise.

Inslee said earlier in the morning he and his staff have had regular meetings with legislative leadership and individual legislators to try to reach compromises, but he can't impose a solution on the different sides.

“I was elected governor, not dictator,” he said. “I think people are acting in good faith.”

Inslee: Odds favor special session

Gov. Inslee explains why he thinks Legislature will need more time.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee all but conceded the Legislature will need a special session to finish work on budgets and key issues like education.

“I think we'd have to draw to an inside straight to get this done by Sunday night,” Inslee said at a morning press conference called to discuss the current session, which is in the 101st day of a 105-day session.

Legislators should continue to “do everything humanly possible” through Sunday and try to finish as much work as possible, the governor said. But the list of tasks is long, and includes agreements on the state's general operating budget, its basic transportation budget and a possible tax increase for new road projects and more maintenance, a capital projects budget and at least a start on major improvements to the state's public schools to meet a state Supreme Court mandate.

“This is not just a budgetary exercise, there are policy issues also,” he said. He has several items on his list of policies, including the Reproductive Parity Act, the Washington Dream Act, and legislation on gun violence that would include universal background checks for gun sales.

None of those three are in a position where they could pass by Sunday without some extraordinary parliamentary maneuver.

He'd also like more support for education programs that boost science, technology, engineering and math, additional support for early learning and giving schools a letter grade evaluation.

 But he seemed to acknowledge that not everything on his wish list, or any legislator's list will be accomplished, even with a special session: “We're not going to be able to solve all of Washington's problems this session.”

By law, the regular session in an odd-numbered year — which is the year after a state general election — is 105 days long. If the governor calls a special session, it can go for up to 30 days. Legislators can end it sooner if they accomplish everything they believe they need to accomplish.

Inslee said he'd talk to legislative leaders about the topics for a special session, but wouldn't try to limit issues they might discuss. “I can't eliminate people's ideas from the mix.”

WA Lege Day 101: A day of debates and votes?

OLYMPIA — With the session days in triple digits, the Legislature is expected to spend most of the day — and perhaps part of the night — in debates and votes.

The 105th and final day of the regular session will be Sunday, and leaders are not yet saying they will need a special session to complete work. Individual members, however, have been suggesting there's no way they'll be done.

Sen. David Frockt, in discussing a school funding proposal recently, described it as “… at the end of the session — in August or whenever.”

Some members have even been asking reporters when they thought the session would end. Spin Control's answer: We always bet the over, never the under, on such things.

Gov. Jay Inslee was reluctant yesterday to admit the Legislature would need extra innings, although he did allow as how “there's a lot of work to be done.” But when asked about some of his priority bills, such as the Reproductive Parity Act and the Washington Dream Act, which appear dead, he turned philosphically Zen:

“In my view, they have an infinite number of days to do their work,” he said.

Talk about betting the over…

Beer tax hike among those dropped by House

OLYMPIA – Some businesses and their customers could see higher taxes starting this summer as the state tries to increase the money it spends on public schools, but beer makers and the folks who consume their product aren’t likely to be among them.

A key committee dropped breweries from its list of businesses that would see their tax exemptions dropped or narrowed under a plan to pay for the House Democrats’ version of the 2013-15 state operating budget.

The vote by the House Finance Committee took place as leaders in both chambers maneuvered to pass bills needed to make their budgets viable for negotiations that must resolve conflicts before the regular session ends Sunday or a special session will be called.

The coalition controlling the Senate, meanwhile, passed several changes to state law needed to make their budget work, allowing part-time workers for the state, public schools and colleges to be shifted to the planned medical insurance exchange being set up under federal health care reform. They also approved major changes to the way the state pays for some education programs.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 100: Autopsy bill passes

OLYMPIA – Spokane County’s medical examiners may soon have no legal barrier that stops them from talking about the results of investigations into deaths that involve actions by law enforcement officers.

A unanimous Senate Tuesday passed a bill allowing them to discuss the results of autopsies and post mortems of people who die in encounters with police or while in jail. A unanimous House passed the same bill last week, and it’s headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

To emphasize that such comments will be permissible, sponsor Mike Padden, the Spokane Valley Republican who heads the Senate Law and Justice Committee, engaged in a bit of rehearsed dialogue with the panel’s top Democrat, Adam Kline of Seattle, before the vote. . .

House panel revises, passes tax hikes

OLYMPIA — Democrats on the House Finance Committee approved a $900 million package of tax increases this morning designed to pay for increases in public school programs. Republicans voted no, saying the state should increase money for schools without raising taxes.

On an 8-5 vote, the committee approved House Bill 2038, which ends some business tax exemptions, shrinks others and extends some taxes passed in 2010 as temporary.But first they pared back some of the increases they originally proposed, dropping new or extended taxes on beer, insurance agents, stevedores and janitors.

Money raised from those tax changes would go into a trust fund to pay for changes in the state's public education system, which the state Supreme Court has said must be improved.

“We have tough, difficult choices,” Chairman Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said. “We're asking everyone to contribute to our quality of life.”  

But Rep. Terry Nealy, R-Dayton, said the committee was “taking a butcher knife to these businesses, rather than a scalpel. We're picking winners and losers among our businesses.”

He and other Republicans also noted the Senate budget spends an extra $1 billion on public schools without raising taxes.

“We don't need new taxes to balance our budget,” Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said. “It's the courage to fund education first and say no to some other people that we need.”

Republicans also tried unsuccessfully to add a clause requiring the tax increases to be sent to voters in November. Carlyle argued it was the role of the Legislature to close tax exemptions it has approved over the years that may no longer be working as they were initially intended.

The bill now goes to the House for a vote sometime later this week.

Council considers blocking citizen initiatives

Signatures on petitions in support of two proposed citizens’ initiatives in Spokane will be counted and verified. But council members hinted Monday that they may block the proposals from the ballot even if activists collected enough support.

The Spokane City Council voted 6-0 on Monday to ask the Spokane County Auditor’s Office to verify the signatures collected for Envision Spokane’s Community Bill of Rights and Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution’s initiative that would, in part, outlaw people representing corporations from discussing legislation with elected leaders in private settings.

Both groups have collected significantly more signatures than necessary to place the initiatives on the November ballot, but some City Council members said they believe the proposals are unconstitutional.

Senate votes to shift school funds

OLYMPIA — The Senate voted to tap a trust fund set up for school construction to help pay for other education programs and make its budget proposal balance, despite warnings it was full of “gimmicks.” 

Minority Democrats tried unsuccessfully to block some of the accounting changes needed to make the Majority Coalition's “no new taxes” budget work. It suspends a pay increase mandated by a 2000 initiative for a cost-of-living for teachers, something the Legislature has done most years since voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure.

It also allows the state to dip into the public lands trust fund, which a 1965 constitutional amendment sets aside for school construction, and use $166 million of it for other education programs.

“It may or may not be constitutional, but it's not good policy,” Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said.

Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, countered that the Senate bill manages to add nearly $1 billion to improve public schools — something it is under orders from the state Supreme Court to do — without raising taxes: “The thing that matters is not where the money comes from… but where the money goes.”  

Efforts to amend the bill were rejected, and it passed on a 28-20 vote

Close vote on changes for part-time state workers

OLYMPIA — A proposal to allow the state and local school districts to have their part-time workers get medical insurance through “Obamacare” barely cleared the Senate today.

Senate Bill 5905, which allows the state and school districts to bargain with their part-timers to be switched to the coming health insurance exchange, passed on a 25-23 vote, but only because some Republicans who normally oppose the federal Affordable Care Act voted to support it. Many Democrats, who generally support the exchange, said they were opposed to allowing state and school workers to be pushed into an untested and at this point incomplete system.

The bill attempts to save the state money by moving part-time workers out of the state-sponsored health insurance systems if the workers will agree to get their own insurance through the exchange, which will be set up to help individuals and small businesses find affordable coverage. They'll be offered raises to cover some of the increased costs of that insurance.

The exchange won't be operating until late this year.

“The exchange is not functioning yet,” Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said. “We can't make the decision today… Next year, let's look at it again.”

But the Senate budget proposal relies on $127 million in savings by shifting part-time workers in state agencies, public schools and state colleges and universities to the exchange.

As votes were counted and the measure appeared in jeopardy, several senators, including Mike Padden, R-Spokane, switched from no to yes. 

WA Lege Day 99: One week left (theoretically)

OLYMPIA — The Legislature moves into its last regularly scheduled week with budgets to reconcile, taxes to raise or not raise and other bills to pass.

Sunday is Day 105, and if there's no budget deal by then, we're looking at a special session, either right away or after a cooling off period in which budget negotiators have a chance to come up with a deal without the rest of the Legislature hanging around. (And possibly without the public able to watch.)

With the clock ticking down, the House and Senate have both put a possible evening session on the calendar today, along with their regular daytime sessions and committee hearings.

A full list of today's committee hearings can be found inside the blog. 

Sunday Spin2: So what did pass at cutoff?

So the big question as each cutoff approaches is what will be the last bill to slip through, under the wire. This is sometimes known as the 4:59 bill, because cutoff was set years ago at 5 p.m., allegedly so legislators of yore were not late for Happy Hour. But once they start debate on the 4:59  bill, they can go until everyone has had their say, or a majority gets thirsty – whichever comes first.

This time around, the 4:59 bills in the House and Senate weren’t controversial, but they had strong Spokane roots.

In the House they voted on Senate Bill 5256, generally known as the Spokane Autopsies and Post-Mortems Bill, because it allows medical examiners to talk about the results of autopsies in cases involving law enforcement or jails.

In many counties, medical examiners aren’t reticent, but they are in Spokane. After cases involving local police or deputies, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich pushed for the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley. After being amended to exempt any current cases, it passed 96-0.

Over in the Senate, they passed House Bill 1045, more generally known as the Safe Streets Bill, because it allows cities to require drivers to go slower on side streets and in residential areas without doing costly engineering studies. Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, had sponsored a similar bill in the Senate and managed to get the House version slipped in under the wire. It passed 45-2.

Sunday Spin: Parity bill cut off at cutoff

OLYMPIA – The Legislature has a variety of deadlines designed to winnow down the thousands of bills  introduced in any given session to a few hundred that actually require everyone to cast a vote.

These deadlines, known as cutoffs, generally require a bill to prove it has enough support to move to the next step: get out of a committee, win a vote in the chamber where it was introduced, get out of a committee in the other chamber, and so on.

They can also provide a bit of drama, because by missing the cutoff, a bill is often described as dead – not quite accurate because they do sometimes get called forth from the grave like Lazarus, although that’s more an exercise in parliamentary legerdemain than divine intervention.

As one of the final cutoffs neared last Wednesday, much of the drama revolved around the Reproductive Parity Act. . .

So many taxes, so many comments

Joe Korbuszewski addresses the group protesting a new tax on microbreweries Friday on the Capitol steps.

OLYMPIA – The Legislature looked at raising a wide array of taxes Friday — on beer, gasoline or bottled water, on doctors, lawyers or janitors or on nonresidents who come to Washington to shop.

Some people told legislators it was the right thing to do, either to help schools or protect jobs. Others told them it was the wrong thing to do, because it will hurt businesses and destroy jobs.

Legislators didn't vote Friday on any of the proposals to close exemptions, end special rates, extend surcharges or make temporary taxes permanent. Their fate hinges on upcoming budget negotiations between the House, where the tax increase bills now reside, and the Senate, where a coalition that controls the chamber has vowed not to raise taxes. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog

Showing up for the protest

The Rainier bottles “graze” in front of the Capitol during a protest against the extension of the state's temporary beer surcharge.

OLYMPIA — There's never a giant opener around when I need one.

A pair of the Rainier bottles made famous in the beer's off-beat commercials, with their “wrangler” in tow, showed up at the Capitol for the protest against continuing the temporary beer surtax and extending it to microbreweries.

A couple of things you may not know about the iconic beer-creatures. In their costumes, they are blind as bats, and were not allowed to go up and down the Capitol steps in costume. The costumes don't handle the rain well — making one wonder what would happen to them in a giant ice chest.

Mugging for the crowd


Sens. Mike Baumgartner, left and Doug Ericksen hold beer steins while addressing a demonstration against the a new tax on microbreweries. The mugs were empty.

WA Lege Day 96: Taxes, transportation and beer

OLYMPIA — The House omnibus tax bill gets a hearing this morning in the Finance Committee, playing to a full room of folks explaining why a tax increase on their particular industry is a bad idea, and folks explaining why more taxes in general is a good idea.

One of the industries in the tax bill, the beer industry, will sponsor a Defend Washington Beer rally on the North Capitol steps at noon. Large breweries are facing an extension of what was supposed to be a temporary tax, albeit at a smaller rate while microbreweries, which were exempted from the surtax in 2011, would have one levied on them.

 A children's steel drum Calypso band will be playing just inside in the Capitol Rotunda, so it should be a festive time.

This afternoon the House Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on an $8 billion-plus tax package for new road projects and improved maintenance. It would raise the gasoline tax as well as give local governments the ability to raise license tabs.

Tougher DUI penalties need work, panel told

OLYMPIA – Efforts to fast-track a crackdown on repeat drunk drivers, announced with bipartisan fanfare Tuesday, hit some go slow warnings Thursday from prosecutors, judges and cops.

They're raising so many questions that a key committee chairman all but acknowledged Thursday the Legislature might not have a final bill ready by the end of its regular session just nine days away.

“The bill has some significant flaws,” Rep. Roger Goodman, R-Kirkland, the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, acknowledged during a hearing on House Bill 2030. “We’re not going to jam this bill through.”

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Child sex-abuse prosecutions extended

Virginia Graham watches as Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill extending the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases.


OLYMPIA – Virginia Graham’s journey to get justice for victims of child sex abuse isn’t over, but after nearly 10 years of pleading and prodding the Legislature she can take a breather.

A bill that extends the statute of limitations on child sex crimes to allow charges to be filed until the victim turns 30 was signed into law Thursday afternoon. The Spokane mother of three stood at Gov. Jay Inslee’s right hand as he put his signature on the bill. Former Rep. John Ahern, who fought for much of that decade to change the law was nearby, as was newly elected Rep. Jeff Holy, who picked up fight when succeeding Ahern.

In one hand, Graham held a handkerchief that moved frequently to her face, dabbing tears as Inslee signed the bill and ceremonial pens were passed out. In the other, she clutched tight to a pair of purple and white rosaries that wound around her palm…



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Heated debate over RPA in the Senate. More ahead?

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats tried a new way to bring the Reproductive Parity Act to the floor through a parliamentary procedure.

After failing Tuesday in an attempt with one manuever — known as the 9th Order — on a 23-25 vote, they moved this morning to bring up a broad insurance bill this afternoon at 4:59 p.m., essentially making it the last bill before the clock ran out for one of the Legislature's key deadlines to pass bills. They would then amend the parity act onto the broader bill.

The motion from Sen. Karen Keiser brought loud objections from the Majority Coalition, with Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville shouting “Point of order” so many times that Lt. Gov. Brad Owen finally said “I heard you the first time.”

Keiser said the Majority Coalition said Tuesday they objected to the method of bringing up the RPA, which would require abortion to be offered by most insurance companies that cover maternity services. This was a different method, based on the fact that the insurance bill has a title so broad the parity act would fit under its umbrella.

Schoesler said Keiser was making a reference to other members and impugning them, which isn't allowed under Senate rules. Owen said he didn't hear any impugning of motives

The goal of the maneuvering is to create a situation in which two members of the Majority Coalition, Rodney Tom and Steve Litzhow, who support abortion rights will break with the caucus that opposes abortion.

“We were told there's always a way to bring a bill to the floor. We have found a way,” Keiser said.

This wasn't it. The motion failed 23-25, with Tom and Litzhow voting against placing the omnibus insurance bill on the calendar as the last legislation to be debated before the deadline passes.

But the maneuver does signal a possible path for Democrats to get the RPA through the Senate. If the omnibus insurance bill comes up anytime before 5 p.m., they can move to add the parity act with an amendment, forcing an up or down vote on the substance of the bill that isn't tied to a fight over procedure.

DeBolt steps down as House GOP leader

OLYMPIA — Citing health concerns, Rep. Richard DeBolt said today he is stepping down as House Republican leader.

DeBolt, a Chehalis resident first elected in 1996, suffered an unspecified health emergency on the evening of April 10 at his home, a statement from the House Republican caucus said. He has been excused from the legislative action since then, including a vote on the House operating budget last Friday.

He  said he experienced similar health problems two years ago and was advised at that time by his doctor to step down from his leadership post.

“I didn't take that advice and a should have,” he said in the statement.  two years ago, but didn't, the statement said . “Sometimes people take their health for granted and feel invincible, but then they are confronted with reality.”

DeBolt will finish out his two-year term, the statement said. Deputy Minority Leader Joel Kretz of Wauconda, is serving as leader until the Republican caucus has a formal reorganization.

WA Lege Day 94: Lots of bills will get votes

OLYMPIA — The House and Senate are expected to vote on a boatload of bills today on a wide variety of topics.

That's because any bill not connected to the budget, that has passed one chamber must pass the other chamber by 5 p.m. Otherwise, it's pretty well dead unless there's some herculanean lift of parliamentary procedures to get it through. (For those wondering about Gov. Jay Inslee and a crew of legislators announcing brand new anti-DUI legislation yesterday, those bills will be a lesson in how the normal rules are circumvented to get something done that almost everyone wants.

Look for updates throughout the day on bills that make the cut.

Phone books may some day be rare

OLYMPIA – Some day soon, small children could have trouble reaching the dining room table. Doors will blow shut with the breeze. Well-muscled men will search in vain for something to tear in half to prove their strength. Navin Johnson will not jump for joy with the delivery of a new phone book.

The ubiquitous phone book will stop being so, well, ubiquitous.

By order of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, phone companies in the state are no longer required to deliver the White Pages to every subscriber. Customers may have to ask for a phone book from their carrier; they may say ask the company not to deliver one, and look up the number online.

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

Beware of scams from Boston bombing

OLYMPIA — Be careful about giving money to groups that claim to be helping victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, state officials warned today.

In what some would consider a disturbing sign of the times, Attorney General Rob Ferguson and Secretary of State Kim Wyman issued the caution barely 24 hours after a pair of bombs were detonated near the finish line of the iconic race.

Fake fundraisers will use the tragedy to scam people into making bogus contributions, they warned. Be careful with your money and make sure the donation helps those who really need help.

They offered some good tips for making any charitable contribution, but particularly in times of tragedy. Those tips can be found inside the blog.


House passes $8.4 billion Transportation Budget

OLYMPIA — House Democrats passed a two-year spending plan for the state's transportation system today, overcoming Republican objections about a controversial bridge over the Columbia River and the way tolls are set on roads and bridges.

Included in the bill is some $79 million for projects in Spokane County, including about $68 million for the North Spokane Corridor. In an amendment sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, before the final vote, any money saved in the next two years on that project will be held and spend on future portions of the longtime Spokane road project.

Transportation budgets are often bipartisan bills in the Legislature, but this proposal had several elements that caused some Republicans to balk. One is some $450 million for the Columbia River Crossing, a controversial bridge connecting Vancouver with Portland that critics say is poorly designed and too expensive, in part because of the inclusion of light rail capacity. Light rail exists on the Oregon side of the river, but not the Washington side.

The other is the delegation of the authority to set fees on bridges and toll roads to the Washington Transportation Commission, rather than requiring the Legislature to set them.

'It's a solid budget. It doens't have a lot of frills,” Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said.

Riccelli said it was a good budget for Eastern Washington, with money for transportation projects that help farmers and local businesses plus the “Safe Routes to Schools” program as well as the North Spokane Corridor.

But Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said some of the priorities were misplaced, by spending money for the State Patrol to set up traffic cameras to control speeders in some areas rather than hiring more troopers and only supplying partial money for the North Spokane Corridor rather than the whole project. “Clearly this budget needs a lot more work,” Shea said.

It will get more work. After passing on a 68-28 vote, the bill now moves to the Senate which has some different plans on how to spend the state's transportation money

WA Lege Day 93: Transportation budget in House

OLYMPIA — The House is planning to vote on the 2013-15 Transportation Budget this morning.

OK, so maybe you've heard that before. Like as recently as yesterday.

They didn't get to that or the Capital Budget on Monday, but we're assured they will do the transportation package this morning.

That's a plan for continuing the projects the state has. A new plan was released this morning to build more projects, do more maintenance and add to the current state of the state's transportation systerm. It's an $8.4 billion plan, a revision on the $10 billion plan announced about two months ago; it still has a phased-in gas tax of 10 cents total over 10 years, although it's broken up as 5 cents, 2 cents, 2 cents and 1 cent in two-year increments. There's no bicycle tax and no hazardous substance tax.

Elsewhere, Gov. Jay Inslee and a group of legislators have a press conference at 2 p.m. to announce tougher laws against drunk driving.

The Capitol Campus around the Tivoli Fountain is festooned with hundreds of pinwheels set up by the Department of Early Learning, creating sparkles on the lawn whenever we get so much as a light breeze.

Democrats plan maneuver on 2 controversial bills

OLYMPIA — Minority Democrats say they are ready to use a parliamentary maneuver to bring two bills that are trapped in committee to a vote in the Senate.

Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray of Seattle said today they will use a tactic known as the Ninth Order to bring up the Reproductive Parity Act and the Washington Dream Act, which have already passed the House but have not been voted out of their Senate committees.

“The votes are there, there is no reason not to pass this legislation,” Murray said.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, one of two Democrats who joined all Republicans to form the Majority Coalition Caucus, called the prospect of the maneuver “political gamesmanship” that may try to take advantage of the group being down one member because of illness. But he doubted it would be successful.

“I just don't think there's going to be anybody break ranks,” Sheldon said.

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

Something for Tax Day

Your federal income tax forms are due today. If you haven't started and you need to file something harder than the 1040EZ, you may want to think about filing for an extension.

If you're done with taxes and want a diversion — and you're old enought to remember the old Space Invaders computer game — you might have fun playing a round or two of Tax Evaders, a game in which regular people try to destroy the tax breaks of large corporations. 

The not too subtle point is that large corporations win. But it's interesting those in a nostalgia/retro sort of mindset. 

WA Lege Day 92: Budget votes later today

OLYMPIA — The House and Senate are expected to spend quite a bit of time passing bills today, or at least talking about which bills they will try to pass.

The House may vote on both the Capital and the Transportation budgets, which are written and approved separately from the operating budget. Senate Democrats will explain their plans for trying to get two bills that they like but have been unable to move out of committee — the Reproductive Parity Act and the state Dream Act — onto the Senate floor for a debate.

The RPA would require any insurance plan that covers maternity services to also cover abortion. The Dream Act would allow children who came to the United States with their parents as undocumented immigrants when they were young, but attended school and graduated in Washington to be eligible for certain state college aid programs. Both have passed the House, and may have 25 votes if they get to the full Senate, but don't have enough support from the Majority Caucus leadership to make it out of committee or onto the floor.

Sunday Spin: Smile, Mr. Secretary, you’re on candid camera

OLYMPIA – When a federal Cabinet secretary stopped by the Capitol last week, trying to prod the Legislature into action on a big multi-state project, he got a warm welcome from Gov. Jay Inslee. Not so much from Senate Republicans.

So what would one expect for a member of a Democratic president’s administration? you might be thinking. Considering it was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, some folks were expecting something a bit more politic.

LaHood was in town to push the Columbia River Crossing, a bridge between Vancouver and Portland is the most controversial topic in Southwest Washington. Take the heat the North-South Freeway generated in its earlier days, multiply it by 10, and you might get to the animosity between supporters and opponents of the CRC. . .

House passes budget much different from Senate.

OLYMPIA — The House passed a $34.2 billion budget for most state programs that would add money to public schools and assumes a jump in some taxes on businesses and consumers.

In a mostly party-line vote, House Democrats the two-year spending plan that their budget chairman, Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina, described as “a responsible budget that invests in our education obligations responsibly.”

Republicans described it as a budget that will cost the state jobs. “My taxpayers and my businesses are not happy about this budget at all,” Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the ranking Republican on the budget committee, said.

The 54-43 vote, in which all Republicans and a single Democrat voted no, was merely the next step in the political dance between the House, the Senate and Gov. Jay Inslee, moving the state's biennial operating budget into negotiations among all those groups. Inslee also proposes changing some tax preferences to increase revenue; the Senate spending plan which passed last week has no tax increases, although some members who voted for that plan said they expected it to come back from the House with some “loopholes” closed.

Those negotiations will start Monday. The session is scheduled to adjourn on April 28, but a special session will be called if a spending plan isn't hammered out by then.

The House legislation that would actually end or revise those exemptions and extend temporary taxes on some business services and beer has not yet had a committee hearing.

The House budget reduces class siizes for young children in public schools, pays for all-day kindergarten in some of the state's poorest districts and adds money for school supplies and transportation. It also increases spending on early learning programs and all

“We all face the same problems. We choose different solutions,” Hunter said. The Senate plan relies on gimmicks and unrealistic assumptions the House plan doesn't use. “We don't give everybody everything they want. We fix broken stuff.”

But with state revenues expected to grow by $2 billion over the next two years and some $900 million in other changes that both sides support, the state shouldn't have raise taxes, Alexander said: “When do we say enough's enough? At what point do we say government needs to live within its means.”

Countered Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington: “This is the only budget I've seen today.”


Beer and wine at the movies moves forward

Sen. Andy Billig argues in favor of allowing small theaters to serve beer and wine.

OLYMPIA — Small theaters would be able to sell beer and wine during movies under a bill that narrowly passed the Senate today.

Over objections from some senators that it represents a further “desensitization” of the dangers of alcohol, House Bill 1001 passed 27-21 and was sent back to the House to approve one change that did pass the Senate: The new rule is limited to theaters that have four or fewer screens.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the change in state law would provide a bit of commercial help for neighborhood movie houses like North Spokane's Garland Theater, that are struggling to compete with the large multiplexes. It allows them to sell a glass of wine or beer to adults to take into the theater, even when children are present in the room. Theaters who receive a license to serve beer and wine from the state Liquor Control Board must have plans to ensure minors aren't served and face double the fines for violations that a bar would receive.

Sen. Jeanne Darnielle, D-Tacoma, said the bill doesn't have enough accountability, and the state doesn't need to expand places where alcohol can be served: “We're just in a race to decide (alcohol) is not a health problem. We begin to think it's all right, that it doesn't have more consequences.”

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said he rarely drinks but beleives the bill represents one of the few areas where he thought the state could be more liberal. “It's a step toward moving our culture to being more comfortable with these issues.” 

The bill now goes back to the House for agreement on an amendment that limited the number of screens a theater can have to four to be eligible for the license. Multiplexes are currently able to sell beer and wine with a special license in a theater that's restricted to adults.

Elector pay would go up

Sen. Mike Padden listens to debate on bill to raise pay to presidential electors.

OLYMPIA — Electors who cast their vote for the state's choice for president would get more money in 2016 — quite a bit more — under a bill that passed the Senate this morning.

Pay for presidential electors in Washington was set in 1891 at $5 a day and 10 cents a mile for the journey to Olympia. Hasn't been changed since.

The Senate approved House Bill 1639, which would give electors a per diem for lodging and food as well as mileage that equals the regularly adjusted rates for state officials. Right now, that's $77 a day for lodging, $46 a day for food and 56.5 cents per mile.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, the only member of the Senate who has served as an elector, offered an amendment that would up the rates to $25 per day and 50 cents per mile, saying the rates need to be adjusted but not quite so generously. “There's not going to be any problem having electors that want to represent their party,” he said.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Puyallup, argued that using the same rate that legislators get is the fair thing to do, particularly for an expense the state only faces once every four years.

Padden's amendment failed on a voice vote, and the bill passed 38-10. It  has already passed the House, so it goes to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Spin Control Trivia extra: What year was Padden an elector, and why is he famous for it? Answer inside the blog.

Senators weigh in on FAA tower closure plans

WASHINGTON — Powerful Congressional voices on transportation issues, including Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, admonished the Federal Aviation Administration for plans to shutter control towers nationwide as a result of federal spending cuts, including Spokane’s tower at Felts Field.

 Cantwell joined six of her colleagues on Capitol Hill to sign a letter insisting the agency look at other options to comply with mandated federal spending cuts. The signees warn the closures, which would hit 149 towers under contract with the FAA, could have air safety ramifications that have not yet been looked at closely.

 “It is deeply troubling that the agency seems intent on proceeding with the closure of key air traffic control assets absent adequate safety data and study,” the legislators wrote in a letter delivered to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Thursday.

 The Felts Field tower was scheduled to close April 7, but the FAA delayed those plans until June 15. The Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold a hearing next week to press officials on the affect federal budget cuts would have on air safety. Huerta will be among those testifying.

 Cantwell was among several Commerce Committee members who signed the letter, along with Committee Chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

Senate passes ban on selling vapor cigs to minors

OLYMPIA – Minors would be barred from buying “vapor” cigarettes under a bill headed for Gov. Jay Inslee.

In a 46-1 vote, the Senate approved a bill Thursday that would make it a gross misdemeanor to sell non-combustible tobacco products to minors. The products extract nicotine from tobacco without a flame.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said it’s important to keep the products from teens because nicotine habits can be formed early in life. Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said banning their sale to minors is important but “this does not validate the use for adults.”

The bill passed the House unanimously last month.

GOP to put AR-15 up for bid

State Republicans will have a chance to bid on a rifle at the center of the current gun-control vs. gun rights debate, an AR-15, at their spring fund-raiser this weekend.

But State GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur said auctioning off the semi-automatic rifle is not a pro-gun statement. Washington Republicans are pretty much all pro-gun already.

“It’s a pro-fund-raising statement,” party spokesman Keith Schipper quoted Wilbur as saying.

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

Senate: Ye-Haaaa for National Cowboy Day

Sen. Mike Padden, left, talks with Sen. Andy Billig on the Senate floor during the discussion of the National Cowboy Day resolution Thursday.

OLYMPIA — Ignoring the advice of almost every political consultant worth a darn that an elected official should not wear silly headgear, the Senate donned cowboy hats today as it took up a resolution marking National Cowboy Day.

Plaudits for the Western iconic figure flowed like the Pecos. There was much talk of “mosey-ing” and what may have been one or two bad John Wayne imitations. One Seattle senator even recited the beginning lines from “I'm an Old Cow Hand.”

It is also National Cattlemen's Day, so it's possible the free beef and burgers out in the parking lot helped fuel some of this rhetoric.

The resolution passed without a discouraging word.

As the session continued with more mundane topics like fruit and vegetable district funding, licensing Christmas tree growers and banning the sale of tobacco vapor products to minors, the cowboy hats slowly came off and were set on desks.

About 4 p.m., Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, asked for a point of personal privilege in between votes on bills. His hat was still on his head:  “I'd just like everybody to look around and see who the last real cowboy is.”

Hitching a ride across the Pacific

OLYMPIA — By now, most people have heard or read about the striped fish that came across the Pacific in a boat after the tsunami in Japan.

But the boat that washed ashore near Long Beach was actually full of critters that made the trip. The state Department of Ecology has posted photos of some hitch-hikers on its flick page, which can be seen by clicking here.

Budget action likely today

OLYMPIA — The House Appropriations Committee is likely to vote this afternoon on whether to advance the budget plan Democrats released yesterday, setting up debate on the floor on Friday.

After a marathon hearing Wednesday, a few hours after the $34.5 billion spending plan was unveiled, the committee scheduled an executive session which gives members a chance to praise or criticize the plan then vote on whether to move it to the full chamber.

It's a foregone conclusion Democrats have the votes on the committee to move it out of committee, and Republicans reportedly will not object to a full debate and floor vote on Friday. Not yet scheduled is a hearing on what could be the most contentious part of the budget proposal, an omnibus tax bill that reduces or eliminates the various tax preferences that help get the budget the money it plans to spend.

That will have to be heard by the House Finance Committee, which right now isn't scheduled to meet until next Friday.

Elsewhere around the Capitol, a hearing on a plan to rewrite parts of Initiative 502 to develop “a commercially viable regulatory scheme” for legalized marijuana, had to be scrapped Thursday morning because one of the votes in favor wasn't there to move it out of the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee. Senate Ways and Means is working on the 2013-15 Capital Budget.

And there are an unusually large number of cowboy hats in and around the building because the Washington Cattlemen's Association is  having its annual barbecue in the space  between the Capitol and the House office building. So yes, the entire area smells like grilled meat, and no, there's no Washington Vegetarianpersons' Association Day to provide that sort of balance.

House Dem’s budget gets praise, criticism


OLYMPIA – House Democrats want to spend about $1.9 billion more on education over the next two years, paying for much of it by extending some taxes set to expire in June and closing more than a dozen tax breaks now on the books.

As expected, they released a budget Wednesday with significant differences from the plan that passed the Senate last Friday in how it raises, spends and saves money over the two years that start July 1.

It fanned the rhetorical flames over taxing and spending, with one Senate Republican saying House Democrats should “put on their big-boy pants” and make tough budget choices, and Democrats saying the Senate plan was akin to a family putting its groceries on the credit card. . . 

To read the rest of this story, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

House Dems: Spend more on schools, close 15 tax ‘loopholes’

OLYMPIA — House Democrats released their 2013-15 budget proposal this afternoon with calls for adding $1.9 billion to public schools, extending taxes set to expire at the end of June and closing a series of tax preference.

It's in sharp contrast to a budget that passed the Senate Friday on a bipartisan 30-18 vote that has no tax increases — in fact, there are about a dozen new credits — and about $1 billion extra for schools.

It also spends more on public colleges, allowing for some tuition increases. That's different from a Senate plan that would cut tuition by 3 percent.

“It's a responsible, honest and sustainable budget,” House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said at the official “rollout”. “It actually funds the reforms (in education) that we said we would do.”

Among the tax exemptions the proposal would close is the ability for residents from some other states to avoid paying sales tax on purchases in Washington. Under the House Democrats's proposal, that would disappear except for auto sales.

The largest amount of “new” revenue would come from making permanent an increase in some business taxes enacted as temporary in 2011. It also extends, at a lower rate, a temporary tax on beer enacted at the same time. Together, that would raise an additional $593 million over two years.

With the state under orders from the Supreme Court to do a better job of paying for public education, the House Democrats propose increasing spending by $1.3 billion for programs that address the court mandate, and an extra $1.9 billion total for education.

Spokane County loss on land deal finalized

Spokane County’s loss of more than $1 million in a land deal with the Spokane International Airport was completed Monday by the Spokane City Council.

In 2008, the county paid $3.2 million for nearly 400 acres between the airport and Fairchild Air Force Base to relocate a rail line that crossed the base and protect the base from encroaching development. County commissioners agreed to sell the land to the airport late last month for $1.75 million.

The Spokane City Council, which along with the Spokane County Commission must approve major airport financial decisions, unanimously approved the deal on Monday. The airport’s ownership is shared by the city and county.

House budgets come out today

OLYMPIA — House Democrats will release their proposals for two-year operating and capital projects budgets at noon today.

As dismissive as leading House Democrats have been about the Senate budget which passed last Friday, we can expect that it will have some new revenue, probably through the closing of some tax preferences, have more for social services and not suggest a cut in tuition for public universities and colleges. 

For those who want to see the budget drama unfold live, it will be broadcast on TVW.

Just how far apart the two budgets are at this point will offer some insight on whether the Legislature can wrap up its work by April 28, the last day allowed for the regular session.

Based on the last three years, a betting person would probably take the over, not the under, on any wager involving that subject.

Asbestos labelling passes House

OLYMPIA — Products that contain asbestos would have to be labelled in Washington state stores under a bill that passed the House Tuesday.

Approving a bill that already passed the Senate, the House voted 65-28 to support a bill first introduced by Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, that requires construction projects that have some form of asbestos in them to be clearly labeled. It first turned down an amendment by Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, to lower the potential maximum penalties from $10,000 to $1,000. Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, said violators are more likely to get a warning and the chance to take corrective action, than a fine. The higher figure is a maximum, not a set amount for every infraction, he added.

Short said she didn't object to the concept of the bill: “People absolutely ought to have the right to know.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Senate Capital Budget released

OLYMPIA — The Senate's plan to spend some $3.6 billion on projects large and small, known as the Capital Budget, was released today with nearly $67 million for projects in Spokane County.

Among the largest Spokane-area projects are $8.5 million for the Extended Learning Center at Spokane Community College, $7.5 million for an upgrade of the water system on the Eastern Washington University campus, $5.4 million for a security electronics upgrade at Airway Heights Corrections Center and $3.9 million for a water main upgrade in southeast Spokane County.

It has $1 million for a new building for Spokane Public Radio and $240,000 for renovations at the Campbell House. 

A House version of the Capital Budget is expected later this week. After hearings and votes in both chambers, the project lists will have to match.

A complete list of Spokane County projects in the Senate proposal can be found inside the blog

6th District call-in tonight

Sen. Mike Baumgartner and Rep. Jeff Holy, two Republicans who represent Spokane's 6th Legislative District, are holding a town hall meeting by phone this evening.

The session will feature a live poll of those on the line and a chance to ask questions of the legislators.

The one-hour session begins at 7 p.m. to those who call 1-877-229-8493 and enter the ID number 17921. 

Child sex-abuse prosecutions extended

OLYMPIA — Victims of child sexual abuse could report their assaults up to the age of 30 under a bill approved today by the Senate.

The bill extends the statute of limitations for charging suspects in child sexual abuse cases, which currently require a victim report the abuse in one to three years, depending on the age of the victim and some other circumstances.

Post traumatic stress disorder can keep a victim from reporting the abuse until after they become adults, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said.

“I think we want to catch as many sexual offenders as possible. We want to convict as many sexual offenders as possible,' Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam.

The bill passed the both the Senate and House unanimously.

Did the City Council violate City Charter?

Last night’s City Council meeting boiled down a debate on the definition of shall.

The Spokane City Council’s creation of 13 new public safety departments appears to violate the City Charter. But city attorneys insisted that “shall” does not always mean shall, at least not in the way the three City Council members on the losing side of the issue or perhaps a standard dictionary would define it.

Section 25 of the Spokane City Charter, at least on its face, appears to say that the City Council can’t create a new department except when it approves the annual budget – usually in December.

Here’s the exact language: “Administrative departments shall be created or discontinued by the city council at the time of the adoption of the annual budget, as the public business may demand. The rights, powers, and duties of the departments shall be prescribed, distributed, assigned, established, or discontinued by ordinance.”

Council President Ben Stuckart asked the council to defer the vote. He argued that shall means, well, shall.

Election beauty in the eye of the beholder?

OLYMPIA — Just because legislative budget committees are under the gun to get their work done doesn't rule out a few light moments.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee was discussing a bill that would expand primaries so that any office up for election is on the primary ballot, even if only one candidate has filed for the position. Under current law, in some cases when only one or two candidates file for some offices, they just go straight to the general election ballot.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said there was a time when two-person races were on the primary ballot, even though it was clear both candidates would move on to the general election: “We used to call those beauty contests.”

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said: “I think you're being a little generous to call your last election a beauty contest.” 

The same bill would require ballot return envelopes to have prepaid postage. Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, said that was added to the proposal by a different committee because requiring voters to pay for postage was akin to a poll tax: “You have to pay to participate.” (For a previous item on the postage vs. poll tax argument, click here.)

The state would reimburse counties for their postage costs under the bill. Katie Blinn of the Secretary of State's office, which runs elections for the state, had only one question about that: “Will it be funded in the budget?”

Right now, it isn't. 

House panel keeps toll power with commission

OLYMPIA — The ability to set tolls on bridges, ferries and some special highway lanes would stay with the appointed Transportation Commission rather than the Legislature under an amendment rejected Monday afternoon.

The House Transportation Committee rejected an amendment to the 2013-15 budget that would require the Legislature to set all tolls, which was part of an initiative approved last year.

The Legislature regularly delegates that authority to the commission, but Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said voters should be able to  hold legislators accountable for those tolls at the next election, not an unelected board.

But Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said the bond market, which sets the rates for the bonds the state must sell to build big projects, generally charges more if a political body like the Legislature is in charge of setting the fares and tolls that will pay off the bonds. Approving the amendment would make financing more expensive, Clibborn said.

The amendment failed on a voice vote.

House budget coming Wednesday

OLYMPIA — The House Appropriations Committee is expected to release its general operating budget sometime Wednesday, giving everyone a chance to see how far apart that chamber is with the Senate, which passed its “no-new taxes” budget on Friday.

There may actually be two full budgets released, one from Democrats who are in the minority, and another from Republicans, who would be finishing up their “fund education first” proposal which spelled out last month what they wanted to spend on public schools, but didn't spell out where they'd cut the rest of the budget to pay for extra education programs.

On Monday and Tuesday, the budget committees will be working to get bills from the other chamber out of their committees to beat the April 9 cutoff deadline. House and Senate Transportation committees have marathon hearings Monday on the transportation plans.

Sunday Spin2: Detours on the budget debate

Friday’s four-hour budget debate in the Senate was mostly about programs that get cut or taxes that don’t get raised. But there were brief detours into other topics, including cigar lounges and Spokane Indians baseball. . .

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

Sunday Spin: A sustainable budget is debatable

OLYMPIA – For the next three weeks, at a minimum, legislators will be throwing around the word “sustainable” more than a bunch of organic farmers hectoring an executive from Archer Daniels Midland.

It is the go-to cudgel for anyone who doesn’t like a budget proposal, and as Friday’s budget debate in the Senate showed, even when people help write a budget admit there’s plenty in it they don’t like. . .

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

OFM:Senate budget might not pencil out

OLYMPIA — The state budget office is questioning some parts of the 2013-15 operating budget proposal released earlier this week by the leaders of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The budget uses some assumptions that may not be legal, and others that don't have enough information to say whether they are realistic, David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, said in a letter to Committee Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, and Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, the ranking Democrat. 

“There are significant concerns with the structure of this budget, such as reductions to local government programs and our state's safety net,” Schumacher says at the top of a four-page list of questions about proposed decisions on education, health and  human services, natural resources, general government and “non-specific savings.”

The committee passed the budget on Thursday and moved it to the Senate, where it could come up for a debate this afternoon.

Both Transpo Budgets hold line on taxes, projects

OLYMPIA – Legislators began hearings Thursday on competing but similar multi-billion-dollar spending plans for the state’s highways, bridges, ferries and mass transit.

Prepared separately by the House and Senate, the two $8.4 billion transportation budget proposals have many things in common. Described variously as “bare bones” and “Band-Aid” by some Democrats involved in writing the plans, neither calls for big new projects or new taxes.

While they differ on some key elements involving ferries and some West Side projects, both would spend about $75 million between mid 2013 and mid 2015 on state projects in Spokane County.

To continue reading this item, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Mobley won’t lead revamped arts agency

The woman who led the city’s arts department for 15 years before it was dismantled last year won’t be the permanent leader of the new agency promoting the arts in Spokane.

Karen Mobley said Thursday that she decided to step down as the interim director of the Spokane Arts Fund on March 31. The fund was revamped last year after Mayor David Condon followed through on former Mayor Mary Verner’s proposal to remove the arts department from city government.

Until late last year, the Spokane Arts Fund was the small nonprofit arm of the city’s Arts Commission. The fund now performs the functions of the city’s former department and has a $160,000 budget provided by the city and several agencies and businesses. The fund’s headquarters are located within the offices of Visit Spokane, the organization formerly known the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Setting rules to ban smoking pot in bars

OLYMPIA — The Washington State Liquor Control Board started the process to set a new rule ban the use of marijuana in bars.

One might say that Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana use by adults, was pretty clear about that by saying it's illegal to open a package of marijuana or have “useable marijuana” in view of the general public. But a couple of bars, including one in Olympia, have been allowing customers to smoke marijuana in special rooms set aside as private clubs. 

Not surprisingly, this has raised some concerns from law enforcement about people who consume both marijuana and products dispensed by the bar, then try to make their way home on the highways and byways.

The liquor board must go through several steps to craft such a rule, which can be seen by clicking here. The board is taking public comments until May 10.

House transportation budget: No new taxes, no new projects

OLYMPIA — The House Transportation Committee released an $8.7 billion spending plan for the next two years, and like the Senate plan released Wednesday it projects no tax increases.

In February, Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn and a group of other Democrats did produce a separate $10 billion proposal, dubbed Connecting Washington, that called for a series of increases in taxes and fees, including a boost in the gasoline tax of 2 cents per year for five years.

The plan released Wednesday has no new taxes, and no new big projects, but continues work on current projects and ferries under construction. Because gasoline tax revenues are declining with more efficient cars and drivers cutting their trips, it's about $1.4 billion less than the current two-year budget. It cuts staff at the departments of Transportation and Licensing and eliminates some ferry runs that get less use.

Rep. Ed Orcutt of Kalama, the leading Republican on the committee said it streamlines projects and holding the Transportation Department accountable. Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, called it a Band-Aid, “not a long-term solution.

Both spending plans get road-tested today. The budget proposal has a hearing in the House Transportation Committee today at 3:30 p.m. The Senate Transportation budget has a hearing in the Senate committee at 1:30 p.m.

Ethics Committee: Fagan has right to call Inslee “lying whore”

Councilman Mike Fagan was within his rights to call Gov. Jay Inslee “a lying whore,” the Spokane Ethics Committee ruled on Wednesday.

The committee voted unanimously that the slur, which was part of a letter signed by Fagan and two others, didn’t violate city ethics rules because of the inability to establish that it harmed the city. They also said that Fagan’s free speech rights likely trump the ethics code.

“We can’t really tell a public official what they can and cannot say,” said Committee member Monica Holland. “Political speech is one of the most protected types of speech that we have in this country. So while the conduct may be perceived to be unprofessional and unbecoming to a publicly elected official and perhaps reflect badly on our city, I don’t know that we can really enforce anything, because it’s free speech at the end of the day.”

Senate budget: More for schools, less for social programs

Sen. Andy Hill describes the budget proposal with Sen. Jim Hargrove waiting nearby in the State Reception Room.

OLYMPIA — Leaders of a Senate committee released a $32.5 billion operating budget that spends more on education, less on programs for the poor and doesn't raise taxes. They acknowledged they don't know if it has the support to pass that chamber, let alone become the actual spending plan for the next two years.

It differs significantly from recommendations from Gov. Jay Inslee last week, but meets four goals Senate budget writers set at the beginning of the year, Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond said: It doesn't hurt the economy by raising taxes; increases spending on education programs ranging from pre-kindergarten through graduate school; it preserves some services for “the most vulnerable” and it was crafted by members of both parties.

The budget adds about $1.5 billion to the state's public school system, with about $1 billion of that going to basic education costs. The state is under a Supreme Court order to meet the constitutional requirement to make education its top priority.

It adds about $300 million to the state's universities, colleges, community and technical colleges, and orders a 3 percent cut in tuition.

It relies on some $303 million in federal money for fully participating in Medicaid expansion from the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. It cuts money for such programs as Temporary Aid to Needy Families, childrens nutrition and aid to the disabled.

With the Senate divided 25-24 between a majority coalition made up of all 23 Republicans and two disaffected Democrats, and the remaining 24 Democrats, Hill emphasized the budget was drafted as “a true collaboration.”

But the ranking Democrat, Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, said he was only sure of two votes for the budget, his and Hill's. Other Democrats may want to restore money to some social programs and look for tax increases or close tax loopholes to pay for it, he said.

“We'll have to wait to see the floor vote” to see if it has bipartisan support in the Senate.

In a prepared statement, Gov. Jay Inslee called the Senate budget proposal “deeply flawed,” and said it relied on “short-term fixes and budget tricks” while cutting social services to pay for schools.

A hearing on the Senate budget proposal was scheduled for about three hours after the spending plan was released. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to release it's own budget in the coming days.

Senate Transportation Budget: No new taxes or big projects

OLYMPIA — The Senate Transportation Committee released an $8.7 billion spending proposal for the state's highways, bridges, ferries and state patrol Wednesday, but said its bipartisan leaders said they have no plans right now for any possible tax increases for new projects.

While acknowledging there is a push from business, labor and many other groups for some kind of tax package for major highway and bridge projects, thebipartisan committee co-chairs said they would wait to consider what, if anything, the Democratically controlled House passes before figuring it into their proposal.

“I say take it one day at a time. Let's see what comes over from the House,” Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, said.

Although there may be strong support among the various groups lobbying the Legislature, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, any tax increase would likely go to voters. “I'm not sure they're willing to pay.”

Instead, they released plans tospend $4.1 billion on highway improvements and preservation projects already on the books, including $68 million for the North Spokane Corridor through a combination of state and federal fund sources, and $200 million for the “deep bore” tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

It also calls for increased wages for the Washington State Patrol and studies for better oversight of transportation projects and expanding the “Good to Go” pass program, which has had significant problems over the last year in its start-up for a toll bridge in Seattle, to cover all tolls as well as ferry fares.

WA Lege: Yay for the Lilac Festival

Lilac Queen Brett Rountree addresses the state Senate.

OLYMPIA — The Senate and House took a not too controversial stance this morning, passing resolutions in support of the Spokane Lilac Festival and it's 75-year anniversary.

With Lilac Queen Brett Rountree of Central Valley High School on the rostrum and the rest of the court in the gallery,  the Senate approved Resolution 8646, which recounts some of the history of the festival and explains some of the projects the groups behind it support.

“In general, it's a celebration of awesomeness,” Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane and the resolution's prime sponsor, said.

Added Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane: “It's one of those things that make Spokane better every year.”

A few minutes later, the House also voiced support for the festival. 

I-1183 changes proposed

OLYMPIA — The Legislature is considering changes to the initiative that got the state out of the liquor business, changing some of the fees charged distributors and retailers.

Liquor distributors told the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee Tuesday they wouldn't fight a plan to continue the 10 percent fee on on the sale of distilled spirits, rather than letting it drop to 5 percent next year as planned in Initiative 1183.

They had doubts the Legislature would let it go down, anyway, a representative of a major distributor told the committee.

That change would raise an estimated $203 million over the next 10 years. Some of that money could be used to make up for the hit local governments took last year when the state changed the traditional split of liquor revenue with cities and counties.

Another proposed change, to drop the 17 percent surcharge for small stores previously owned or licensed by the state when they sell to bars and restaurants, would cost the state about $18 million over 10 years. But it might save some of those stores from going under, the committee was told.

The bill would also lower the liter tax on distilled spirits from $2.44 to $1.22.

McMorris Rodgers invitee denied visa

WASHINGTON — An Indian leader invited to the United States by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and other lawmakers has previously been denied entry.

A U.S. Congressional delegation including McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, invited Indian government executive Narenda Modi to talk about economic development last week, The Washington Post reports. The three lawmakers visted Modi in India last week.

But Modi, chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, has been denied a visa because of a religious clashes in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 Muslims and Hindus on his watch.

The visit to India by McMorris Rodgers, Reps. Aaron Shock, R-Ill., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., and several American businesspeople took place over 10 days and included accommodations in lavish hotels, according to records obtained by Hi India, a Chicago weekly newspaper covering South Asian politics abroad. McMorris Rodgers' office told the Post via email that the congresswoman only spent two days on the trip, which was funded by a Chicago-based political action committee.

Kreidler heart surgery successful

OLYMPIA — Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is recovering from a heart bypass and valve replacement surgery.

A statement from his office said the surgery at an Olympia hospital was planned after doctors had monitored his heart for several months. Kreidler, 69, was elected to a fourth term last November. Acting Chief Deputy Deb McCurley is filling in durying his recovery.

McLaughlin considering move to Spokane Valley

Spokane’s most senior elected official is considering a move to the east.

City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said last week that she may move into Spokane Valley’s 4th Legislative District to run for the House seat held by state Rep. Larry Crouse – if he decides to retire.

McLaughlin, a Republican, can’t run for a third term on the City Council because of term limits.

Crouse, 68, said he likely will decide if he’ll run again early next year. He said he’s had a rough legislative session this year because of his health, but that he doesn’t suffer from any life-threatening illness. Crouse had surgery early this year because of a blocked artery in his leg and later suffered from food poisoning. But he said he’s getting back to normal.

“It has a lot to do with my health,” Crouse said. “If I feel good and feel capable of doing a good job, it’s a possibility that I will run again.”

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

WA Lege Day 79: Clock ticking for policy bills

OLYMPIA — Many committees will be scrambling to get certain bills passed before Wednesday's deadline, but one House panel will be taking up a new proposal on liquor revenue.

The Government Accountability and Oversight Committee has a proposal to change the fee structure for liquor distribution, one that could bring in an extra $185 million over the next 10 years. As noted in a previous Spin Control item, liquor is a hot topic in the Legislature this year, so along with discussing these changes in fees, it will also consider  beer and wine sampling at farmer's markets and free drinks at day spas.

Policy bills — those that aren't needed to provide money to make the budget work — that have passed the chamber where they started must be out of the committee in the other chamber by Wednesday, or go on a form of life support where extraordinary measures are needed for revival.

A Senate proposal for an operating budget should be showing up sometime soon, but as of this morning, no big rollout was announced for today.

A full schedule of today's hearing schedule is inside the blog.

Legislature bellies up to the bar on alcohol legislation

OLYMPIA – For all the attention being paid to legal marijuana this session, it’s the more traditional legal intoxicant – alcohol – providing Washington legislators with a greater array of possible changes to state law.

More than a dozen bills working their way through the legislative process would increase a person’s ability to consume some form of alcohol at some new setting.

A glass of beer or wine in the theater? Several proposals for that.

How about a shot of something stronger with that movie? Separate bill for that.

Taste a bit of that expensive scotch before buying it at the store? The stores would like to oblige.

Free glass of wine with that massage and pedicure? Could be legal later this year.

Let college students who are 18 to 21 taste wine if they are in viticulture classes? Prospects look good, although the students they won't be allowed to swallow.

Buy a growler of cider at the local microbrewery? Maybe not; could be a problem under federal law. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Becker: No vote on abortion coverage bill

OLYMPIA —  Supporters of the controversial Reproductive Parity Act say they have enough votes to pass it in the Senate, but they may not get the chance.

The chairwoman of the committee that held a two-hour hearing on the bill said Monady afternoon she will not schedule a vote on it, meaning the bill will die without further parliamentary maneuvering.

Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville and the chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee, said some four hours after the hearing she will not schedule a vote on the bill. Becker, who refused to hear a Senate version of the bill earlier in the year, said she fulfilled a pledge to hold a hearing on the House version after the bill passed the other chamber.

Some people consider the bill unnecessary because all health insurance companies offer abortion coverage, Becker said. Others, including U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, say it could jeopardize federal health care funds by violating a law that protects some groups from being forced to buy insurance that violates their religious principles.

The bill mentions exemptions for what's known as the conscience clause in three different places, but opponents said it contradicts those exemptions with other language that says an employee cannot be denied abortion coverage. 

“The fact is that at this point, House Bill 1044 is a solution in search of a problem,” Becker said in a prepared statement to announce she wouldn't schedule a committee vote on the bill. Wednesday is a deadline for the bill to get voted out of the committee to continue moving through the regular process.  

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens and a sponsor of the bill, told the committee Monday he had 25 signatures on a letter saying they would vote for it if it came to the Senate floor. That would be enough to pass it and send it to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has said he would sign it.

 To do that, however, they'd have to hold together and try bringing the bill to the floor through a parliamentary procedure. Among the 25 signers to the letter is Sen. Rodney Tom, of Medina, the Democrat who leads the mostly Republican majority coalition that controls the chamber and opposes the bill.

Abortion coverage bill faces deadline

OLYMPIA — As abortion-rights groups and their legislative allies try to force a vote on a bill that would expand requirements for insurance companies to cover the procedure, a Washington congresswoman is warning President Obama the proposal violates federal laws.

The Senate Health Care Committee held a two-hour hearing Monday morning on the House version of the Reproductive Parity Act, with regular supporters and foes of abortion lining up on the expected side of the bill that would require most insurance plans that offer maternity benefits to cover abortion, too.

There were dueling religious leaders. Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain argued the bill, if passed, would make insurance coverage of abortion mandatory in Washington, even for employers with religious objections to abortion. Rabbi Seth Goldstein of Olympia said the bill should be passed to provide “freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

There were dueling leaders from women's groups. Elaine Rose of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest acknowledged that nearly every insurance plan offered in Washington covers insurance, and the bill was designed to “keep it that way” as federal health care reform proceeds. Angela Connolly of tlhe Washington Women's Network called the bill “anti-woman” because it forces them to accept a health care plan that forces them to “participate in what they see as violence against women.”

Health Care Committee Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, sometimes had to remind speakers to stick to the bill rather than veering into some of the bigger controversies over abortion, such as when one abortion foe started discussing policies of Nazi Germany.

In the hearing room, Sen. Mike Padden released a copy of a letter, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers sent Monday to Obama saying the bill has “far-reaching and alarming conseqluences for the citizens of Washington state who embrace life.”

McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Eastern Washington's 5th District, said the bill does not satisfy federal restrictions on “conscience rights”, or the protection to allow people who have religions objections to abortion to opt out of insurance plans. That could  jeoparize federal funds for welfare, jobs and education, she said, adding she “looks forward to working with you as both Congress and Administration fullfill our constitutional rols to uphold and enforce…conscience protections.”

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who sponsored a Senate version of the proposal that did not get a hearing in the committee, also had a letter, one signed by 25 senators enough promising to vote for the bill it if it comes to the floor.  That would be enough to pass it and send it to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has promised to sign it.

But the easy way to a floor vote comes if the bill passes out of the Health Care Committee by Wednesday, a deadline for bills from one chamber to pass the panel holding the hearing in the other chamber. Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, wanted the committee to vote on the bill after Monday morning's hearing. But as testimony finished, with Keiser saying “Madam chairwoman, madam chairwoman,” Becker gavelled the panel to adjournament without a vote. 

The committee has a meeting on Tuesday morning, however, to consider votes on any of  the House bills it has heard over the last month.

WA Lege Day 78: Abortion coverage hearing today

OLYMPIA — The Reproductive Parity Act, which would require any insurance plan that overs maternity benefits to also cover abortion, gets a hearing this morning in the Senate Health Care Committee.

The bill is controversial, as has been its scheduling.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who supports the bill, originally a Senate version of the bill would get a hearing in the Senate Law and Justice Committee in January. That panel held a two-hour hearing on a bill on the other side of the abortion debate, which required adult notification when a minor was seeking an abortion.

But Law and Justice Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, cancelled the parity bill hearing, and both he and Health Care Committee Chairwoman Randy Becker, R-Eatonville, refused to schedule one. Tom said chairmen have full discretion at what they hear, and he wouldn't override them, even though Senate Democrats introduced a third version of the bill in an attempt to get it sent to a friendlier panel.

When the House passed its version, Becker said she would hear that bill in Health Care. It's the only bill on that committee's  10 a.m. meeting.

To see the day's full committee hearing schedule, or to comment, continue inside the blog. 

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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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