Posts tagged: 2011 Washington Legislature
OLYMPIA — Budget negotiators continue to hold tight on the details of the general operating budget while insisting there is no problem with the agreement.
It's at the printer, will be distributed Tuesday to members at 9 a.m. and to the news media at 10 a.m. There will be no hearings on the budget (Tuesday is,after all, the 29th day of a 30 day session) but Murray said that's standard operating procedure. There will be hearings on about a dozen proposed changes to state law needed to make the budget work, he said.
“There are no surprises. There is no hidden information that people haven't seen,” he said.
Murray had root canal on Friday and was taking antibiotics Monday for the procedure. “The budget negotiations were worse than root canal.”
OLYMPIA — A disagreement over how to set the state's debt limit could lead to billions in state projects, including the proposed Spokane Medical School, being delayed, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.
Rep. Ross Hunter tells reporters Monday there's a deal on the operating budget, but it won't be released until Tuesday.
OLYMPIA — Budget negotiators have reached deal on the 2011-13 operating budget, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle confirmed late this morning.
“The good news is we have a budget. The bad news is it's a painful budget with some deep cuts,” Murray said.
Don't ask what's in it yet. The contents will be released to legislators Tuesdsay morning, tentatively at 9 a.m., and to the public about an hour later. In the meantime, it has to go to the printer.
“I'm not going to discuss details,” Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, repeated a half-dozen times as reporters questioned him in the House wings.
Negotiators reached an agreement and shook hands about 11 p.m. Sunday. Staff is going over the details to make sure what negotiators agreed to is what they thought they agreed to. “There will not be any big issues that block us from solving it,” Hunter said.
Negotiators had been meeting every evening until 10 or 11 p.m., he said. “There were a couple of moments when theings were a little testy,” he said.
Asked whether the budget will get strong support from both parties in both houses, Hunter said: “It will get at least 76 votes.” Which is to say, at least 50 votes in the House, 25 in the Senate and the governor's signature.
OLYMPIA — At some point today, probably late morning, the House will do something it has resisted for about 132 days: vote on a bill to change workers compensation system.
The deal announced Sunday evening was printed up over night, setting up a vote sometime after the respective parties chew it over in caucuses. If the House pushes it out in time, the Senate could vote on the proposal Monday evening.
There will be no public hearings. Gov. Chris Gregoire tossed off the suggestion that hearings were needed Sunday evening, saying that all elements of the package had undergone hearings already, with the exception of new provisions to guard against fraud, and who could be against more fraud fighting?
Technically, that's not exactly true. The “structured settlement” provisions haven't had a hearing; their precursor, which was known as “compromise and release” and had some significant differences — presumably they must, else House Democratic leaders who seemed more willing to stick their heads in a lawnmower than vote for c & r wouldn't be voting for “structured settlements”.
But it would seem that in the closing days of the session, hearings are overrated.
A budget agreement also seems likely to be announced today, or they could run out of time to get things printed and read and voted on before everyone's coach turns into a pumpkin at 11:59:59 p.m. Wednesday.
Today's special session math: By day's end, we will be 28/30ths gone; which equals 14/15ths gone; which equals 93.33 percent over.
Gov. Chris Gregoire announces proposed changes to the Workers Compensation system as Sens. Lisa Brown and Mike Hewitt look on.
OLYMPIA – An agreement on offering settlements to injured workers could remove one of the main obstacles to the Legislature passing a budget for the next two years.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and the leaders of both parties in both chambers said Sunday evening they had hammered out a deal on a major overhaul of the state’s workers compensation system that will save $500 million in 2012 and $1.1 billion through 2015.
Key to the agreement was a plan to offer “structured settlements” to seriously injured workers aged 55 and over. Those workers would be able to negotiate settlements to be paid over time through a formula tied to average state wages; in exchange, they would forego pensions and state-funded retraining programs now available under the system.
The age limit would be dropped to 53 in 2015 and 50 in 2016.
“It’s not an annuity,” Gregoire stressed. . .
OLYMPIA — An agreement on changes to the state's workers compensation system that is one of the keys to the Legislature settling on a budget was said to be “very close” this afternoon.
Which is presumably closer than the “very close” it was to fruition Saturday afternoon.
“It's so close I can almost smell the roses,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said Sunday afternoon in the wings of the Senate chamber as that body was getting ready to vote on some momentous legislation like getting rid of the Higher Education Coordinating Board and replacing it with another board that will oversee higher education. An announcement was expected “within a couple hours.”
Late Saturday afternoon, Jim Justin, Gov. Chris Gregoire's legislative director, had also described an agreement as “very close.” But legislative leaders and Gregoire spent time Sunday discussing it, so presumably they got very closer. Or verier close. Or verier closer. Whatever.
As for the general operating budget — the $32 billion two-year spending plan which is the Legislature's constitutional duty to set — well that too is (you guessed it) very close.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said there were some small points to settle, but he was confident that would happen. “I'm more nervous about the time left than I am about the details of the budget.”
That's because as of today, the special session is 90 percent done, and only three days remain until adjournment. After an agreement is reached, the budget still has to be printed and circulated.
Asked what points remained to be settled, Murray declined: “I'm not going to negotiate in the media.”
OLYMPIA – The Senate agreed last week to extend tax breaks for film companies that shoot movies and TV shows in Washington.
That makes economic sense, considering a movie being shot in Spokane generates jobs as well as a certain amount of buzz that can’t be measured in monetary terms but definitely boosts community spirits.
Spotting stars like Samuel L. Jackson or Cuba Gooding Jr. at downtown hotels, bars and coffee shops is great sport. Even the most jaded among us can’t resist watching a locally shot production like The Basket and telling out-of-town friends and relatives: “Well you know, the climactic basketball game is actually played…” **
OLYMPIA – Legislators may reach a deal sometime today on one of the key stumbling blocks to passing a budget and adjourning, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Gregoire said Saturday evening.
They still disagree on major changes proposed for the state’s workers compensation system but progress was made in a day of negotiations, Jim Justin, Gregoire’s legislative director, said. “We are very close. Something’s going to happen in the next 24 hours.”
But a deal is not guaranteed, he added: “Is there a potential for it to still blow up? Yes.”
Justin spoke as the Legislature adjourned after a rare Saturday session. . .
OLYMPIA — Washington would ask potential buyers how much the state could get for its wholesale liquor distribution system in a bill approved today by the Senate.
Overcoming objections of people who said it did too little and merely shifted the state's liquor monopoly to private hands, the Senate voted 31-14 to approve a bill to seek requests for proposals from companies interested in taking over the wholesale system. Retail stores would remain in state control.
Hanging over the debate was the filing Friday of an initiative that would privatize liquor distribution and sales throughout the state by Costco, the state's restaurant association and the region's grocery stores.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, argued the bids should not be sought until after the November election if the initiative gathers enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Uncertainty over the outcome of the election would drive down the amounts on the bids, he said.
“If the initiative is certified, this bill is essentially worthless,” Tom said.
But supporters said the Legislature can't put issues on hold just because an initiative was filed. “If the initiative process is a reason for people not to act, we shouldn't be here,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said.
Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach, said the state should look at more than just selling its wholesale operation; it should get out of the retail stores, too. “This is a big issue and it should have been handled in a comprehensive way,” he said.
But Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said there are some advantages to considering changes to the different parts of the system individually. “This is the piece that you don't see when you walk in the liquor store. This is just a first step.”
The bill now goes to the House.
With most legislators playing the waiting game, the most productive thing in the Capitol Saturday morning may have been the wedding photos being taken of Evaline and Dennis Zalevskiy, scene here pausing at the top of the Rotunda steps for their videographer. Afterwards, they entire wedding party went outside and did an “Abbey Road” pose in one of the crosswalks.
OLYMPIA — The official start time of today's legislative session was 10 a.m. Actual start time is somewhat less definite.
House went straight to caucus. Senate went at ease. Negotiators continue to discuss the 2011-13 operating budget and a possible compromise on Workers Compensation for Compromise and Release.
Neither chamber will be doing anything until 1 p.m. at the earliest.
Organized labor sent out a press release denouncing the latest iteration they were shown by Gov. Chris Gregoire Friday morning. It still contains voluntary compromise and release settlements for injured workers age 55 and over, State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson said. No major changes but “some nuances are different.”
They're against it. Johnson said it will create a “litigious system” in our state. “It's not a reform of the system. It's a cost-cutting measure.”
Legislative leaders and members of the business community were in on discussions last night in the governor's office. Labor wasn't there, Johnson said. “They didn't invite us. If anything's changed, it's only getting worse.”
OLYMPIA – The latest plan to allow Washington’s most populous counties to set up pilot programs for medical marijuana cooperatives may have limited prospects of passing this year.
The proposal would allow counties with more than 200,000 people, or the cities in them, to adopt ordinances for co-ops to grow and dispense medical marijuana. Those cities or counties could set rules for security, inspections and allowable amounts of the drug, and would report results to a special task force that would give findings to the Legislature in December 2012. Unlike some previous proposals, the state would not keep a patient registry.
It's the latest iteration of a bill that Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, has been trying to craft since Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most parts of the medical marijuana bill that passed during the regular session of the Legislature.
She said she's being urged by local officials in Seattle, Tacoma and King County to give them something to address the growth in medical marijuana dispensaries.
“They're left in a very difficult position, they can't regulate collective gardens,” she said. “I thought it was worth it to give it one more try.”
The latest version of SB 5955 received a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee Friday but may not have enough support to be reported out of committee. If it does, it may not have the required “four-corners agreement” from both parties' leaders in both chambers, necessary to get a vote in the special session dedicated primarily to budgets, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said.
Gregoire hasn't seen it yet, so she hasn't taken a stand, either, Kohl-Wells said.
Some of the interesting wrinkles in this latest version:
* Patient co-operatives would have to be non-profits.
* Patients can only be a member of one co-operative or collective garden at a time.
* Cooperatives couldn't advertise “in any manner that promotes or tends to promote the use or abuse of cannabis. This includes displaying pictures of cannabis.”
* No franchises.
* It sets up a Joint Legislative Task Force on Medical Use of Cannabis. (Go ahead. Insert the joke of your choice between “Joint” and “Legislative”.)
Ezra Eickmeyer, of the Washington Cannabis Association, said getting rid of the registry is a good step, limiting access to co-oops and dispensaries to only the most populous counties, not so good.
“Someone with four months to live with cancer isn't going to start planting their own cannabis,” Eickmeyer said.
Biggest problem for the bill may be that it's a work in progress with only five days left in the special session
OLYMPIA — Day 25 will mostly deal with Ways and Means. Both the Senate and the House committees have hearings, but with two very different agendas.
House Ways and Mean has a 9 a.m. start, with nine bills on the hearing agenda and nine scheduled for executive session. Topics include expanding family planning, raising the cost of Running Start, cracking down on Medicaid fraud and funneling money into a budget stabilization account.
Senate Ways and Means, which has a 1:30 p.m. start, had its agenda posted shortly after 10 a.m. this morning. It will be voting on setting up an Opportunity Scholarship board, the new medical marijuana law, and adding 25 percent to all preferential rates offered on the state's Business and Occupation tax.
Today's special session math: Day 25 means the special session is 25/30ths gone, which equals 5/6ths, which equals 83.33 percent.
OLYMPIA – As the Senate was extending tax breaks for companies that make movie in the state and killing a plan to extend tourism taxes in Seattle, signs emerged the Legislature might at least make an effort to finish work by next Wednesday’s deadline.
Members of the House of Representatives, who had been told earlier in the week they wouldn’t be in session until next Monday, were given notice late Wednesday to report for work Saturday morning and expect to work every day through the deadline. Senate staff was being told Thursday to expect a similar work schedule.
Work on a budget that can pass both chambers continues behind closed doors but negotiators reportedly are closing the gap for different amounts of spending and savings over the next two years. A bigger question might be whether the two chambers can pass between 30 and 50 separate bills that would be needed to change existing state law so any compromise budget will work.
Changes to the state's workers compensation system are still one barrier to adjournment, but there may be movement on that front, too.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said it may be possible to achieve savings in the state’s workers compensation system without the controversial plan to offer injured workers 55 and older a voluntary settlement, known as compromise and release. The Senate has passed such a bill, and Gov. Chris Gregoire supports it, but House Democrats have so far refused to vote on it.
“What I support is a comprehensive workers compensation bill that helps improve the soundness of the system,” Brown said before attending a late afternoon meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, and Gregoire. “I’m not caught up on a specific provision.”
A majority of the Senate, however, does still support compromise and release, she added.
Some sort of compromise and release compromise (comp/rel/comp?) would leave a proposal to lower the state's debt limit as the other major barrier. The Senate has proposed dropping the limit from 9 percent to 7 percent; earlier this week, the House Capital Budget Committee offered a compromise, dropping the limit to 8.5 percent.
OLYMPIA — The Senate narrowly rejected a plan to extend taxes levied to build Seattle's baseball stadium as a way to pay for expansion of the state convention center, arts and culture programs and housing projects.
By a 24-22 vote, a proposal to continue a tax on hotel and motel rooms and rental cars in King County went down in the face of warnings that voters would be convinced of the adage that there's nothing more permanent than a temporary tax. To pass the Senate, a bill needs at least 25 votes. It could be brought back for another vote sometime Friday if one of the 22 “no” votes switches sides.
The taxes were approved in 1995 to build a new stadium for the Mariners, now known as Safeco Field, during a special session of the Legislature. The taxes were to stay in place until bonds were paid off or 2015, whichever came first.
The bonds will be retired later this year. SB 5958 would have continued charging the taxes until 2015, and redirect the money to expand and renovate the Convention Center in Seattle, Pioneer Square preservation projects, affordable housing projects in Seattle and arts programs.
“We made a commitment to the people of King County and the state of Washington,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said. “Voters have to know that when we say a tax is going away, it really will go away.”
OLYMPIA — The Senate extended a tax incentive for motion picture production companies filming in Washington state over objections from critics that it was a “loophole” that doesn't bring much benefit to the state.
On a 30-16 vote, the Senate approved SB 5539 which offers incentives to companies that shoot movies or television shows in the state and hires local workers. It rejected an amendment to set a requirement that at least 75 percent of the workers be state residents.
Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the exemption was first proposed and approved in 2006, when all the surrounding states had incentives and Washington risked losing out to Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia. Spokane-based North by Northwest was being lured to Boise because of tax incentives, she added.
“Spokane hosts several films a year,” she said. It often wins out over Seattle because it's willing to close streets and let film companies reconstruct storefronts for their productions. “It's the kind of thing I'd rather have in Spokane than Boise.”
Sen. Jim Kastama, Puyallup, said the incentives “are not worth the money spent” and that other things like research at the state's universities is a better use of state money. One study suggested the state gets only 14 cents back for every dollar of incentive, he said.
But other studies suggest there's almost $2 of increased economic activity for every $1 spent. And Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, said the number of states offering such incentives has grown, from 14 when Washington first offered them in 2006, to 44 now. The prospect that this incentive would disappear prompted one company to film the television series “The Killing” in British Columbia and Oregon, even though it is supposedly set in Seattle, she said.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said in recent weeks some of the people supporting this tax incentive were calling for the closure of tax loopholes. “We're opening up another loophole,” Tom said.
The bill now goes to the House.
OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives returns to work at 10 a.m. Saturday, with a warning that they can expect to work through the weekend.
One source in the Capitol noted that Saturday is also the day some members of a small Christian sect believe the End Times will start and the Rapture will occur. Won't that mess up the works?, he asked.
Probably not, for several reasons.
One is that the rapture is scheduled for 6 p.m., and anything the House can't get done in eight hours probably can't get done that day.
The other is that the Rapture only involves God's elect, who will be taken into heaven and saved. Note the distinction between “elect” and “elected”. Chances are the House will have enough folks to work through the night, and come back the next day.
Still, if anyone disappears in the middle of a debate, it could mess up one of the close votes. Someone will also have to decide whether they are marked “absent” or “excused” in the official tallies.
We'll keep you informed.
Relatively calm this morning in and around the Capitol.
OLYMPIA — The Senate is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m., but doesn't have a schedule yet. They'll break to get some bills queued up shortly after invocation, then caucus, then go to lunch, then vote on bills.
(Editor's note: Original story suggested they 'd go to work on the floor before lunch. Notice from the Senate staff at 12:15 p.m. says, nope, they're breaking for lunch first, then having a floor session. Apparently they worked up an appetite in caucus.)
There are some “heavy lifting” proposals on the list, which can be found by going inside the blog.
House members will be trying to figure when to head back to the capital by Saturday morning after blowing Dodge earlier this week with expectation they might be off until Monday.
A bit of special session math: We're 24/30ths gone, which equals 12/15ths, which equals 8/10ths which equals 4/5ths which equals 80 percent.
Not that anyone's counting.
OLYMPIA — The rumor mill was working harder than a lobbyist's Blackberry Wednesday.
The Legislature will be in session until the fall. No, it will be done by next Wednesday. No, it will run out of time and be sent home, brought back the last week of June under the threat of a state government shutdown.
All of this is exacerbated by the fact many House members went home Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, with nothing scheduled until Monday. The Senate was in session, but handled only a handful of bills around noon Wednesday before adjourning until Thursday. (See Sunday Spin: Are we in Oz or what?)
There's really not much to do until the two houses get an agreement on a general operating budget, proposed changes to workers compensation and rearranging the state's debt limit.
But Wednesday night came the first sign of some movement in the log jam.
House staff was notified that representatives are bieng called back for a session starting at 10 a.m. Saturday “and will meet every day through May 25th. This includes Sunday May 22nd.”
So clearly, something must be up.
OLYMPIA — One week to go in the special session, but the pace is less than hectic.
Senate Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to vote on proposals to consider selling or leasing the state's liquor distribution system, and to eliminate some tax breaks for businesses.
That will come after harings on long-term disability and teacher pay.
The Senate has floor activity possible, but schedulers say it should be “light” today but “heavy” tomorrow.
There will be no floor action in the House today, with most members told Tuesday they could go home. They might not be called back before Monday.
OLYMPIA — The Senate narrowly passed legislation to allow cigar lounges in Washington, despite warnings from some Democrats that the denizens of such establishments may be setting themselves up for some equipment problems down the road.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, urged a no vote on Senate Bill 5542, noting all the maladies that cigar smoking can cause. Cancer was an obvious one, but Tom added several others. Cigar smokers are twice as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction, he said, so the macho image of cigar-smoking guys may be misplaced.
“I'd hate to see these cigar lounges sponsored by Viagra,” Tom said.
The bill is about personal choice, Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland said. “Are we going to be that much of a nanny state?”
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he had no problem with people making the choice to jeopardize their own health. But employees of the lounges will be required to sign a waiver that acknowledges they are working in a hazardous area. But Republicans who support the cigar lounge bill should pay attention to Tom's warning about medical consequences:
“A vote for this bill is a vote for Family Planning,” Kline said.
The bill passed 26-21, and was sent to the House.