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.
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The Reproductive Parity Act would require any insurance company that covers maternity services to also cover abortions. The Dream Act would allow students who were brought to the country illegally as small children by their parents but raised in the United States to receive state Need Grants if they were otherwise eligible.
Under the rules of the Senate, a bill usually only makes it to the floor for a debate and final vote if it is passed out of a committee. Both bills have been heard in committee but were not voted out by panels controlled by Republicans.
An exception to those rules can be made by going to the 9th Order of Business, which requires a majority vote of all senators present. The Majority Coalition holds a 25-24 majority in the chamber, but one of its members, Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, is generally not present because he is being treated for preleukemia. That means the two sides are split 24-24.
Murray said that one member of the Democratic Caucus, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, would likely vote with the majority, providing a replacement vote for the absent Carrell, especially on the parity act, which he opposes. Under Senate traditions, one caucus doesn't try to take advantage of a member's illness to gain the upper hand in a close vote.
But Republicans who support the two bills would face the prospect of voting for the legislation which they have publicly endorsed or siding with their caucus to maintain the majority's control. If two Republicans agree to do that, Democrats would have the majority needed to bring those bills to the floor; if they don't pick up at least two votes, the bills won't get a debate on the Senate floor and a chance to pass.
"We are at some point going to go to the 9th Order," he said. Republicans and moderate Democrats used that tactic last year to force a vote on a budget written by the GOP.
Democrats will try to make a vote on the parliamentary maneuver the same as a vote on the bills that some moderate Republicans, as well as Sen. Rodney Tom, the other Democrat who helped form the Majority Coalition and now serves as the majority leader. The Majority Coalition will paint it as a threat to the order of the Senate's ability to function well enough to complete its work by April 28, the day the session is scheduled to end.
If senators start bypassing the regular process to bring bills to the Senate floor, there's no telling where it will stop, Sheldon said: "Who's to say it's just two bills?"
Senate Democrats conceded Monday they might not have the votes to pull off the parliamentary maneuver, but said they are willing to risk calling for the vote and losing. "Sometiems you have to lose before you win. Sometimes you just have to vote," Murray said.