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‘Contract’ Runs Into Fine Print

Some at the helm of the House GOP fear their “Contract With Washington State” is about to hit a legislative Bermuda Triangle: the Senate.

Democrats in control of the Senate have yet to give any major House bills that are part of the contract a hearing, or to even pass alternatives to them. Instead, the contract’s being largely ignored.

Usually mild-mannered Sen. Majority Leader Marcus Gaspard, D-Puyallup, pointedly remarked this week that senators aren’t there to play “nurse-maid” to the GOP contract and will set their own agenda.

That has some House members in a huff. But they also see opportunity if the Senate rebuffs their work.

“Kill it all, kill it all, I dare you. That’s my message to the Senate,” said Rep. Todd Mielke, R-Spokane, House Republican Caucus chairman. “If the Senate leadership wants to thumb their nose at the will of the people, that’s up to them.”

So far House Republicans have hung together with remarkable unity, passing major legislation with overwhelming support, including a bill to repeal most of the 1993 health care reform act, regulatory reform, a property-rights initiative, and a bill to stiffen penalties for armed crime.

Midway through the session, the House has nearly fulfilled the contract.

Some House Democrats admit they’re disappointed the GOP’s conservative wing hasn’t splintered the new majority with a civil war over social issues.

“I keep saying bring ‘em on, bring ‘em on,” said Rep. Marlin Appelwick, D-Seattle said. “Those conservative Republicans are the best fund-raiser I’ve got.”

Psst, open meeting, pass it on

Lawmakers are expected to break their long tradition of secret conference committees this year, but few expect a graceful transition into the sunshine of open meetings.

Guerilla tactics and shuttle diplomacy look more likely. House members promise they simply won’t close the door when conference committees meet, since senators continue to hold out against reform.

Even with the door wedged open, Rep. Brian Ebersole, D-Tacoma, said he expects much negotiating will still go on in secret. He predicted House and Senate members will just exchange drafts of legislation in public, then adjourn and negotiate behind closed doors.

“You’re not going to get a keyhole on a true, open exchange. The Senate keeps saying it can’t be done.”

But obviously, it can: Washington is one of only six states in the nation that holds conference committees in secret as a matter of policy.

Hey, the manual was missing

Back to Condomgate, as some have dubbed it in Olympia.

It seems some Spokane residents - all male - were a bit confused when they visited a unisex bathroom in the Capitol recently, and cried foul about an alleged condom machine beneath the elegant dome.

Rep. Todd Mielke, R-Spokane, blamed the suspect machine on the hallway’s previous tenants, the Democrats, only to be informed after some sleuthing that the machine contains feminine hygiene products.

One Democratic female legislator presented Mielke with samples from the machine to make the point.

“It seems there was a bit of confusion,” said Mielke. “But what do you expect from a bunch of men.”

Is there an echo?

Remember Republicans carping about being kept out of the budget process while in the minority?

Rep. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane complained this week she’s been reduced to mailing Rep. Jean Silver, R-Spokane, notes in order to make her views on the budget known.

Silver, an ever-cheerful sort, actually looked angry when told of Brown’s complaint. “She’s in the minority and has to learn that.” Then added: “They are starting to sound just like we did.”

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