OLYMPIA — Friday's debate over the Senate capital budget amendments prompted a brief but interesting bit of parliamentary drama in the ongoing maneuvering between minority Democrats and the predominantly Republican coalition that controls the chamber.
Democrats first objected to a fairly minor amendment to add $250,000 to the budget to study designs for a new State Patrol headquarters, which has its current home in antiquated building north of the Capitol. They said they were for the study, but didn't like the line in the amendment that said new HQ couldn't be on the Capitol Campus. Why keep the patrol off-campus, they asked
That's not what the amendment says, said coalition members. Yes it is, said Democrats, including Andy Billig of Spokane, who read directly from the amendment: “The predesign must consider a variety of sites, excluding sites on the West capital campus.”
Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat who votes with the coalition, said Billig was reading it wrong. No, he wasn't, Democrats grumbled on the floor. (For the record, he wasn't.)
The amendment passed on a voice vote, but arguments quickly followed on another small amendment, supported by Democrats, to add money to fight flooding on the Chehalis River. Democrats called for a head count on that amendment. Those in favor stood and were counted; those opposed stood and were counted. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who presides over the Senate, announced the count as 24-24, voted yes to break the tie and pass the amendment, and brought the gavel down. Coalition members, who have 26 members, claimed a miscount, but Owen told them staff had counted three times and arrived at the same number, and that he'd already announced the vote and dropped the gavel. So the decision stood.
When the coalition put further debate on the budget on hold, Democrats moved to go to the Ninth Order of Business, essentially a move to force something onto the floor that's stuck somewhere in the process. They wanted a vote on a bill to aid the homeless, Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson said. The bill is stuck in a committee, and apparently dead without something like this to shock it back to life.
“It cannot wait,” Nelson said. “Let's not turn our backs on homeless children.”
The bill has bipartisan support, so in one sense this was a way of getting Republicans to bypass Committee Co-chairwoman Jan Angel to bring it to the floor for a vote. But going to the Ninth Order is real test of who controls the chamber sort of a parliamentary coup. So naturally, the Senate went to the equivalent of DefCon 1. Objections were shouted, questions were asked, errant members were brought back to the floor, a recorded vote was demanded.
Democrats lost 23-26, which is, of course the split between them and the Majority Coalition Caucus.
Back to ordinary business, and eventually, the passage of the Capital Budget on a bipartisan 31-18 vote.