Posts tagged: 2011 Washington Legislature
Gov. Chris Gregoire congratulates Sen. Mike Baumgartner on the passage of his government consolidation bill just before she signs it.
OLYMPIA — All the political infighting, negotiating and debating of the last weeks of the special session were essentially condensed Wednesday with bill signings for more than a dozen pieces of legislation.
That meant that some t hings that generated much angst and several stories during the 105-day regular session and the 30-day special session got fairly short shrift Wednesday as Gov. Chris Gregoire signed what is either the Legislature's crowning bipartisan achievement or its shining example of economic irresponsibility, the 2011-13 general operating budget.
But before Gregoire signed the budget, she signed into law the revisions to the workers compensation system that allow for voluntary structured settlements for folks who get hurt on the job, an expansion of family planning services, restrictions on the amount of time a family can receive temporary aid, a revamp of the Disability Lifeline and a study of the possible leasing of the liquor distribution system.
She also signed what turned out to be the last bill passed in the session, SB5931, which was Spokane Republican Sen. Mike Baumgartner's bill to streamline government by combining several departments like General Administration, printing and information services into a single Department of Enterprise Services. agencies.
“Now we'll implement it, and we'll implement it well, right everybody?” she asked state officials gathered for the signing.
When she got a tepid assent, she repeated “RIGHT, EVERYBODY?” and got stronger agreement.
Baumgartner made the trip over for the bill signing and was all smiles, although it's not clear if it was more because his bill passed or his wife, Eleanor Baumgartner, just had their first child less than a week earlier.
Their son, Conrad Michael Augustine Baumgartner, was born June 6 at Sacred Heart Medical Center.
OLYMPIA — With the Legislature a full week in the books, the group WashingtonVotes, has released its annual statistics about the number of bills introduced and passed, the votes taken…and the votes missed.
Topping the list of missed House votes was Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane Valley, which was a surprise initially because Crouse is usually far down in that tally. He missed 143 votes in the just-finished regular and special sessions, because of medical problems.
“In the past 16 years, I don't think I missed that many votes, total,” Crouse said Thursday.
He had back surgery last October, and his back started acting up again after the session started. “It was miserable,” he said. “It got so bad that I h ad to schedule surgery again. I didn't have a choice.”
He scheduled it for May, which would have been after the session, had the Legislature finished on time. Instead, the surgery fell in the middle of the special session. He made it in several days while recuperating, but otherwise stayed away.
“I was in contact, on the phone, with leadership. If they needed me there, I would be there,” he said. As it turned out, there weren't many 714 roll call votes in the House that were close.
No. 4 on the list of missed votes for House members was John Ahern, R-Spokane, with 66 missed votes. Ahern returned to the Legislature after a term off, and had better voting attendance in previous sessions.
“I had a couple of family emergencies, two hospitalizations,” he said Thursday. First his wife was ill, then his son was in a car accident, and he was back in Spokane for those votes. He said he enterred in the House record how he would have voted, had he been there.
Topping the Senate list was Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, who told the organization many of the 120 votes he missed were a result of being away for the unexpected death of his father. Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, was second with 79 votes. Some were a result of the “unforeseeable conflicts due to the nature of special sessions,” he said, while others occured during votes that weren't close and he chose to be off the floor “to meet with constituents who have come to see me.”
Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, missed 36 of the 648 Senate votes cast, and Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, missed 30. But that put them 10th and 13th from the top, respectively.
Some Spokane-area legislators had perfect scores. In the House, Republicans Joel Kretz of Wauconda, Joe Schmick of Colfax; Matt Shea of Spokane Valley, and Shelly Short of Addy, as well as Democrats Andy Billig and Timm Ormsby, made every roll call vote. So did Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
Having a perfect voting record in the Senate is a bit more difficult, because senators have to be present to vote by voice when the roll call is taken. The House votes by machine, in a very short allotted time, and it is possible for a representative who is off the floor to leave instructions with a seatmate which button to push.
But representatives do have to be in the chamber that day. They can't call in a vote from Spokane after watching the debate on TVW.
Other fast facts from Washingtonvotes.org: Legislators introduced 2,093 bills and passed 444.
If there were a 12-step program for reporters to curb our addiction for stories we know aren’t going anywhere, I’d sign up in a heartbeat after the late, not-so-great legislative session.
“Hi, my name is Jim, and I’m addicted to stupid ideas that I can’t help writing about.”
They’d all say hi back, and I could launch into my tale of woe…
To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA – In a legislative marathon that took an extra 30 days, the 2011 Legislature may have produced an extra helping of winners and losers.
How big the victories and how bitter the losses may not be known for some time, but it is clear which column some legislators, groups and ideas fell in.
To read the list, or to comment, go inside the blog
OLYMPIA – At times, it may have seemed that the only issues the Washington legislature worked on during the past session were budgets and medical marijuana.
Those things did take considerable amounts of time during the last four months, but lawmakers passed 444 different pieces of legislation on a wide variety of topics, from improving elections and streamlining government to protecting livestock and cracking down on big-game poaching. There were issues big and small, and many weren’t controversial….
OLYMPIA — Before I left for Olympia, Photo Editor Liz Kishimoto gave me a camera. A really good camera, with two very nice lenses.
Other members of The Spokesman-Review's prize-winning photo staff gave me some tips on how to use it because, well, it's been a few decades since Press Photography I in Journalism School when students were given a camera and a notebook and told to come back with something in both. Having spent much of that time working with some of the best newspaper photographers in the country (this is objectively true, the S-R has a trophy case to prove it), it's possible to pick up a few things by osmosis.
The thing I learned most was to always carry the camera. The second thing was, it's digital so take lots of pictures. There's a better chance that one will turn out, and you can wipe out the really bad ones so no one else ever sees them.
Over the course of the session, some were published in the paper, and others wound up online. Here's a slide show from some of the images from the just completed legislative session.
OLYMPIA — It is the day after the night before at the Capitol. Not quite a ghost town 12 hours after the gavel came down for the legislative session, but very little trace of what was here for the last four and a half months.
There are no lobbyists stalking the hallways, iPhones in one ear while they type on laptops with the free hand. Almost no legislators, and staff members are packing up offices for what almost everyone hopes will be a long wait before they have to return. (Overheard in the Capitol Dome coffee shop: Migrating legislative staffer to permanent Capitol staffer: “So I told (my boss). Hey, you just voted to cut my pay. Thanks a lot.”)
A smattering of tourists are making the rounds. The most action of the day will probably be the noon concert in the Rotunda by the LaVenture Middle School Concert Band. If they'd only booked in a day earlier, they would've had a much bigger audience.
Next big day on the legislative calendar: June 16, when the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council updates its numbers for state revenue over the next two years.
From the president's rostrum in the Senate chamber, Gov. Chris Gregoire points to twin screens showing the leaders of the House and Senate gaveling the session to a close Wednesday evening.
OLYMPIA — Shortly after the gavel came down on the 2011 Legislative session, Gov. Chris Gregoire and several legislative leaders used some of the following terms to describe it:
“Truly bipartisan. It's a new trend in how we're going to do business,” said Gregoire.
“It's hard to say 'What a great session'.. when so many sacrifices were made,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.
“It was one of those times when the Legislatured did what the Legislature should do — solve problems,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.
“A historic legislative session,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.
They passed budgets in tough economic times without raising taxes. Republicans got some of the reforms they wanted, Democrats saved some of the social safety net programs that were on the chopping block.
There were a few things that didn't get done, like a transportation fee bill that got hung up in the Senate because it didn't have enough votes, Brown said. And some business tax exemptions that got hung up in the House because folks got tired and ran out of time, Sullivan said. While he wouldn't necessarily agree with the term “hostages” — a term that was used by lobbyists watching the bills and some members, Sullivan did say there wasn't a lot of enthusiasm for them among majority Democrats.
“Having passed a budget that didn't fund some of our priorities, it was difficult to get our members to turn around and pass tax breaks,” he said.
Speaking of the budget, the $32.2 billion general operating budget that was hailed as a model of bipartisanship when it passed the Senate Wednesday had to make it through the House the previous day without a single GOP vote. Same budget, very different partisan opinions. How could that be, the group was asked.
You'd have to ask the House Republican leadership, they said. Unfortunately, House GOP leaders were invited to the press conference but didn't attend.
OLYMPIA — Late Wednesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla wait for the vote on the 2011-13 operating budget worked out in a series of compromises between both parties.
OLYMPIA — Linda Chesnut thought there might be a bit of tension in the Capitol Building Wednesday and decided she should try to do something about it.
So the licensed masseuse from Body Matrix Massage set up a special chair in the hallway between the Senate and the House of Representatives and offered massages for a donation of $2 a minute. She had takers before she had the chair fully set.
“They're running late and I think a lot of people can use a stress break,” she said.
After a while, staff from General Administration told her she'd have to leave because she didn't have a permit. Too bad, because if she'd been allowed to stay, and the state taken say, a 10 percent cut, they might've taken care of that pesky budget shortfall.
OLYMPIA — With prosects for medical marijuana legislation dead in the Legislature, a group unhappy with what's left of the cannabis law post-veto will try to get it on the November ballot so voters can dump it.
Steve Sarich of CannaCare filed Referendum 73 with the Secretary of State's office this week, a proposal that would ask voters to put the law back to where it was before Senate Bill 5073 was passed and partially vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
CannaCare, which operates medical marijuana clinics and dispensaries, lobbied against 5073 as it bounced around the Legislature and contends Gregoire's partial veto that wiped out large sections of the bill made it worse.
Referendum supporters will have to get about 121,000 signatures by August 23 — assuming the Legislature finsihes work sometime today. (They have 90 days from final adjournment.)
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, tried to push a new medical marijuana bill through the Legislature in the final days, but on Tuesday threw in the towel and conceded it was not going to make it; she'll try again next year, she said. For an Associated Press account on the end of that legislative effort, click here.
In other medical marijuana news, Rep. Roger Goodman, a supporter of the medical marijuana legislation, sent Attorney General Rob McKenna a letter challenging him to state his position on medical marijuana, in light of the fact the AG has a well known position on another health-care topic, the federal Affordable Care Act. (McKenna's against parts of it, and joined a lawsuit seeking to block its implementation.)
OLYMPIA — The red blur moving through the hall between the House and Senate chambers a few minutes ago was Gov. Chris Gregoire, shuttling between Speaker Frank Chopp's office and Majority Leader Lisa Brown's with a list of bills in hand.
Bills that apparently legislative leaders and she agreed need to be passed before the Legislature adjourns. Bills that at 3 p.m. had not yet been passed..
She said the Legislature should be able to avoid amending the general operating budget, saving another vote in the House. The problem with the amount of money in the Life Sciences Fund can be handled without an amendment.
So what was she worried about? “Are they going to get out of here,” she said, looking down at a folded sheet of paper that contained a list of bills and power walking past OFM Director Marty Brown and several senators and into Brown's office.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argues against the Capital Budget supported by some $1.1 billion in bond sales.
OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives gave overwhelming support this morning to some $2.8 billion in public works projects — from new facilities for universities to sewers in small communities — paid for by bonds or special accounts.
The list of projects includes $35 million to start the new Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Sciences Building in Spokane, and $30.5 million for the Patterson Hall Remodeling on the Eastern Washington University Cheney campus and $17.6 million for classroom remodeling on the Spokane Falls Community College campus, $17 million for stormwater overflow improvements in Spokane, and $3.5 million for the Spokane YMCA/YWCA.
HB 2020 also has smaller items, like $1.6 million to buy land around Antoine Peak, $1.25 million for the Spokane Food Bank distribution center, $862,00 for ARC of Spokane, $500,000 for baseball and softball fields at Betz Park in Cheney, $400,000 for the Spokane Aerospace Technology Center and $79,000 to the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program.
All would be paid for in by some $1.1 billion in bonds the state will sell over the next two years.
Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, chairman of the Capital Budget Committee, called the bond bill “the best and biggest opportunity we have to create private construction jobs across the state.”
But some Republicans balked, saying the state is taking on too much debt, and the bill includes money for the state to purchase new land. “We can't manage the land we already have. Why are we buying more?” Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley asked.
He was among 10 Republicans who cast no votes as the bill passed 84-10.
There were no such objections, however, to HB1497, a separate bill for some $1.7 billion in capital projects covered by accounts set up for special public works needs, ranging from sewer and water lines, to cleanup of toxic soils to construction of RV parks. It passed 94-0.
That bill has a budget proviso — a special order from the Legislature to a state agency — requiring the state Military Department to exchange a building and 5.5 acres it has at Geiger field with Spokane Community Colleger; the college will then trade that land with Spokane International airport for land for the Aerospace Technology Center.
Another section directs Eastern Washington University to sell its building at 701 W. First Ave. in Spokane and deposit the money in its capital projects account.
Both bills now go to the Senate, which must pass them by midnight tonight.
OLYMPIA — While the Final Days didn't begin with the Rapture at 6 p.m. Saturday as predicted, the final day of the special session has arrived.
The list of things to do is long. Expect the day to be likewise.
The House starts with a vote on restricting the debt limit, then moves on to the capital budget this morning.
The Senate's schedule isn't set yet, but they've got the operating budget and the capital budget to do, sometime today.
And both chambers have a series of separate bills that are necessary to make the operating budget work. Add to that various bills that individual legislators have nursed through the last 134 days, and need just one more vote in one house or the other, to turn someone's dream into a law.
Today is Day 30 of the 30-day special session. Stoppage time is about to run out.
OLYMPIA – The state’s $2.8 billion Capital Budget will include $35 million to start construction on a new medical school in Spokane.
Legislative leaders announced Tuesday afternoon they have reached agreement on the Capital Budget and a contentious side issue involving limits to the amount of debt the state can take on.
The list of projects that will be covered by some $1.1 billion in bonds won’t be released until sometime this morning, but Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown confirmed the Washington State University Spokane Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Services Facility will be on that list.
“The pieces are coming together,” Brown, D-Spokane, said.
To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.
Legislative leaders announce proposed 2011-13 general operating budget Tuesday.
OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders unveiled their latest — and possibly final — version of the 2011-13 operating budget they described as painful but sustainable. A deal on the capital budget and changes to the state's debt limit are expected later Tuesday.
The proposed budget, which totals some $32.2 billlion for state programs and salaries, has cuts for every state agency and department. It has pay cuts for state workers and expected cuts for K-12 teachers and other school employees. It cuts but does not eliminate the state's Basic Health program, revamps the Disability Lifeline to end cash grants, cuts higher education but allows the universities and colleges to make up for much of the reduction by raising tuition as much as 13 percent at the University of Washington, Washington State and Western Washington universities, 11.5 percent at Eastern Washington University and 11 percent at community colleges.
The cuts are painful, but in some areas not as bad as earlier proposals, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. Gov. Chris Gregoire's initial budget plan would have eliminated Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline. This proposal saves both, on much reduced levels.
“A budget seems like a math problem, but we all kknow it is really about people,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said.
This proposal is more responsible than previous budgets because it does not count on an infusion of federal cash or borrow from other accounts to keep it out of the red, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman said. The safety net is in place, but “it's thinner,” he said.
“This is the first budget that does not spend more money that we were forecast to have,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.
The proposal is written as an amendment to the bill sitting in the House of Representatives, where it has been since the start of the special session 29 days ago. It will likely come to a vote in the House later today and move to the Senate. There the vote will await the announcement of details of the state's other big spending package, the Capital Budget, and a possible agreement on plans to reduce the state's debt limit.
Negotiators reached a tentative deal on the Capital Budget at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, legislative leaders said, and will announce details Tuesday afternoon.
School districts will see a reduction in their state funding that equals a salary reduction of 1.9 percent for teachers and other certified staff, and a 3 percent reduction for administrators. The Legislature doesn't have the authority to cut those salaries, which are part of labor contracts negotiated between the districts and the individual unions. The districts will be able to reopen contracts to seek lower wages, or they could choose to make other cuts.
Those cuts are separate from the suspension of cost-of-living adjustments that voters approved by an initiative in 2000, and a “catch-up” of COLA raises that were suspended in the 2009-11 biennium. Teachers who are eligible for step increases will receive those raises.
Requirements to reduce class sizes, mandated by another 2000 initiative, are suspended, as is a program to reduce class sizes in Grades K through 4. A separate program for smaller K-3 class sizes in high poverty areas did receive money, however.
State employees would receive a 3 percent pay cut through a previously negotiated contract provision that calls for them to reduce work hours by 5.2 hours per month. Management in state agencies are ordered to cut between 7 and 10 percent.
A new system for daily and annual fees at parks, natural lands and other state properties is designed to offset a total of $68 million in total cuts to natural resource agencies such as State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife. The passes, which have already been signed into law, will cost $10 for daily use and $30 for an annual “Discover Pass.”
Eligibility in the Basic Health program will be reduced to those who are eligible for Medicaid, and new admissions will be frozen, so the plan will cover about 37,000 people per month in fiscal 2012 and 33,000 in fiscal 2013. The state will also cut payments to hospitals, health centers and rural clinics and emergency rooms being used for non-emergency conditions. It will elimnate the Adult Dental Health program and copayments for Medicare Part D copayments for some clients. It will require families enrolled in the Children's Health Program to pay higher premiums.
The Disability Lifeline program, which currently provides health care and cash grants to disabled people unable to work, is will be replaced with new programs for a savings of about $116 million. The state will continue to provide medical care through other programs, and offer vouchers for housing and essential services to eligible participants through the Department of Commerce.
OLYMPIA — There will be no more attempts this year to rewrite medical marijuana laws.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, announced this morning that she's done for now and won't try to move her latest proposal through the Legislature in what's left of the special session. For the entire statement, click to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA – After tying the Legislature in knots for much of the last three months, changes to the state’s century-old workers compensation sped through both houses Monday with comfortable margins. It passed the House 69-26, and the Senate 35-12.
The changes, which also have the support of Gov. Chris Gregoire and should soon become law, are projected to save the disability system some $1.1 billion over the next four years and stave off double digit rate increases for businesses.
To read the rest of Tuesday's print edition story, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — A key piece to the puzzle of making changes to the state's workers compensation system came from Rep. Matt Shea, who suggested negotiators drop the idea of “lump sum” payments in favor of structured settlements.
Shea, R-Spokane Valley, suggested a system that is more common in settlements over tort claims, or lawsuits involving damages. Rather than giving an injured worker the full amount of any agreed payment all at once, the state could give workers the money over time through a structure set by statute.
Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, complimented Shea during floor debate on the bill and explained later in a prepared statement the suggestion became a key to negotiations because House Speaker Frank Chopp had refused to consider lump-sum agreements that were included in other bills. “It's an innovative suggestion that gained acceptance among negotiators and it was a key piece of the puzzle that allowed us to move forward on needed workers compensation reform.”
Shea, an attorney, said he talked with other attorneys and labor representatives about the concerns with lump sum settlements, that some workers wouldn't have money left for later. He suggested a system used in damage lawsuits that pays out a settlement over time. “The governor accepted the idea and it was written into the agreed conference legislation.”
OLYMPIA — Major changes to the state's workers compensation system passed the House Monday on a 69-26 vote.
Most proposed amendments were ruled out of order by Speaker Frank Chopp, and debate centered around whether injured workers would be helped or hurt by a change that would allow them to take “structured settlements” rather than take part in state retraining programs and go on a pension program.
Rep. Chris Reykdahl, D-Tumwater, said the changes were part of a “relentless pursuit to take on workers”. Businesses will be helped at the expense of workers, he said.
Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, insisted it was a “creative and somewhat experimental” change to the state's century-old system designed to protect injured workers. “If I were an injured worker, I would want this option. If there are problems, I'll be the first to come back and fix them.”
Rep. .Tami Green, D-Lakewood, acknowledged the plan was controversial, but should be given a chance to work. “I guess I would ask us to all calm down a lilttle bit,” Green said in opening the debate. “If there are problemls, we can come back and fix them.”