February 25, 1996 in Nation/World

Legislature Full Of Sound Bites And Fury But Lawmakers Accomplish Nearly Nothing; One Official Wants To Meet Every Two Years

Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer
 

The 1996 Legislature is winding down a sound-bite session that threatens to be one of the least productive in years.

The only major bill approved by both houses so far, a business and occupation tax cut, passed within two weeks of opening day.

On every other major issue - from health care to welfare reform, juvenile justice to property rights - the two chambers have fired bills past each other, but haven’t forged legislation that could actually pass both houses.

The session is scheduled to end March 7.

Asked the purpose of the session, Rep. Duane Sommers, R-Spokane, thought a minute. Then he said: “There probably was not a compelling reason to be here.

“There were great expectations. But now that a lot of bills aren’t going anywhere, there’s a big sense of disappointment.”

Some lawmakers say they should have saved taxpayers the trouble - and $34,000 a day - and stayed home.

“All we’ve done is put the taxpayers financially behind,” said Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane. He believes annual legislative sessions should be outlawed because they are such a waste of time.

“It should be every other year, for 120 days, period, unless there’s an emergency,” McCaslin said. “I can’t think of anything we’ve done this session that anyone really needed. Would the world have stopped turning if we weren’t here?”

The slim results aren’t for lack of effort.

The Senate is expected to break a record for passing bills out of its chamber, with more than 345 bills sent over to the House as of Friday, records show.

“I don’t think there’s ever been anything like that,” said Sen. Sid Snyder, D-Long Beach, Senate majority leader.

The House, meanwhile, has sent a whopping 459 bills to the Senate.

The trouble is, not much seems to happen after that.

Bills die in committee. They languish on daily calendars without being brought up for action. They are killed outright on the floor.

To date only one bill, authorizing interstate banking, has staggered through the legislative killing fields and made it to the governor’s desk.

There are still two weeks to go, and the logjam could break, lawmakers promise. But so far they don’t have much to show for their efforts.

Each party and each house blames the other.

“A lot of these bills never had a chance of getting all the way through the process,” said Rep. Marlin Appelwick, D-Seattle, the House Minority Leader.

“It feels like a practice session in some ways,” he said. “Like this is a scrimmage, that none of it really counts and we are just waiting for the real game in the fall.”

Meaning the fall elections, which lurk in the wings of this legislative session like a thug.

Snyder said he wasn’t surprised so many bills went by the wayside. Of the more than 1,520 bills introduced this session, many were political statements never meant to be law, Snyder said.

“A lot of bills are just to try to embarrass the other house or the other party. Or bills get passed that people don’t even really want.”

Sen. Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, Senate minority leader, said part of the problem is the ship of state has no rudder.

“The governor has been totally absent from the debate, off the radar screen,” he said. “The legislative branch can operate without a governor, but it works a whole lot better with a governor leading the way.”

Gov. Mike Lowry announced Thursday he will not not run again, which some lawmakers say will put him even further in the legislative outfield.

“That’s just a crock,” said Jordan Dey, spokesman for Lowry. “The governor has been very active this session. … Mike Lowry is a player just by virtue of the fact he has ideas and vision, which this Legislature sorely lacks.”

Sen. James West, R-Spokane, chalked the lack of progress on major issues up to the ideological chasm between the Republican House and Democratic Senate.

“There clearly is a tug of war about which direction to take the state. So we are stuck in the status quo,” he said.

House Majority Leader Dale Foreman, R-Wenatchee, a candidate for governor, called the session frustrating.

“There’s been an incredible amount of hard work and we’ve tackled tough issues but so far there’s been no progress on the big issues,” Foreman said.

“There’s a chance. There are still 13 days left.”

Only one thing’s for sure, he said. “People are ready to go home.”

, DataTimes MEMO: These 2 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. GOING NOWHERE Major legislative issues still in limbo and the main sticking points: Welfare. Sticking point: Putting time limits on benefits and cutting off cash assistance for mothers who have more children while on welfare. Juvenile justice. Sticking point: Requiring children who commit sex offenses to automatically be tried as adults. Regulatory reform. Sticking point: Cutting red tape without gutting regulators’ ability to protect safety and health. Lobbying. Sticking point: Cutting taxpayer dollars spent on lobbying by public officials without imposing a gag order. Property rights. Sticking point: Cost, and a referendum on the issue was soundly defeated statewide just last November. Property taxes. Sticking point: Cost of a tax cut. Insurance reform. Sticking point: Who pays the cost of reducing insurance rates for people who buy coverage in the individual market. Source: Staff research

2. LEGISLATIVE ACTION Major action in the state Legislature this week: Lawmakers will spend most of their time this week on the floor racing to pass bills before the session ends March 7, and in conference committee trying to resolve conflicts between House and Senate bills. A House and Senate conference committee will meet all week in public sessions to hammer out the supplemental budget. Information on conference committee meetings is available by calling the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000. Monday 8 a.m. Senate Hearing Room 2, Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing on the appointment of former Congresswoman Jolene Unsoeld to the Fish and Wildlife Commission. 10 a.m. House Hearing Room E, House Children and Family Services Committee work session reviewing the operation of Child Protective Services. 1:30 p.m. House Hearing Room B, House Transportation Committee public hearing on SJM 8027, objecting to the proliferation of billboards on tribal-owned land. 7 p.m. Senate Hearing Room 4, Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee hearing on the operation of public health and safety networks.

These 2 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. GOING NOWHERE Major legislative issues still in limbo and the main sticking points: Welfare. Sticking point: Putting time limits on benefits and cutting off cash assistance for mothers who have more children while on welfare. Juvenile justice. Sticking point: Requiring children who commit sex offenses to automatically be tried as adults. Regulatory reform. Sticking point: Cutting red tape without gutting regulators’ ability to protect safety and health. Lobbying. Sticking point: Cutting taxpayer dollars spent on lobbying by public officials without imposing a gag order. Property rights. Sticking point: Cost, and a referendum on the issue was soundly defeated statewide just last November. Property taxes. Sticking point: Cost of a tax cut. Insurance reform. Sticking point: Who pays the cost of reducing insurance rates for people who buy coverage in the individual market. Source: Staff research

2. LEGISLATIVE ACTION Major action in the state Legislature this week: Lawmakers will spend most of their time this week on the floor racing to pass bills before the session ends March 7, and in conference committee trying to resolve conflicts between House and Senate bills. A House and Senate conference committee will meet all week in public sessions to hammer out the supplemental budget. Information on conference committee meetings is available by calling the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000. Monday 8 a.m. Senate Hearing Room 2, Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing on the appointment of former Congresswoman Jolene Unsoeld to the Fish and Wildlife Commission. 10 a.m. House Hearing Room E, House Children and Family Services Committee work session reviewing the operation of Child Protective Services. 1:30 p.m. House Hearing Room B, House Transportation Committee public hearing on SJM 8027, objecting to the proliferation of billboards on tribal-owned land. 7 p.m. Senate Hearing Room 4, Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee hearing on the operation of public health and safety networks.


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