OLYMPIA – It’s likely to be a lively – and long – week in the state House of Representatives, where at least half a dozen controversial bills are queued up for debates and voting by a key deadline Friday night.
The starting gun sounded Tuesday, as an obscure legislative rule took effect, forcing lawmakers to be something that most don’t like to be: brief.
Most of the time, House lawmakers – and there are 98 of them – can drone on for 10 minutes during floor debate. Starting Tuesday, that was shaved to a maximum of 3 minutes.
“When you hear the 3-minute-rule kicking in, start paying attention,” said Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane. “Because that means the big stuff’s coming. It’s like a pitcher coming out of the bullpen, throwing strikes every 20 seconds.”
Among the bills likely to be at bat in the House this week:
•Allowing people to register to vote on Election Day,
•Banning abstinence-only sexual education in public schools,
•Banning use of handheld cell phones while driving,
•Having all workers pay into a fund to provide $250-a-week stipends for people taking family medical leave,
•Setting state goals designed to ease global warming.
“It’s going to be stressed,” said Rep. David Buri, R-Colfax. “People are tired. We’ve been here 80-some days, and we’re getting to some of the more controversial bills.”
Even with the time limit, however, the far-outnumbered Republicans in the House are prepared to talk and talk some more on bills they don’t like. By slowing the process down through lots of amendments or by requiring roll-call votes on everything, a minority party can run out the clock and kill bills simply because there’s no time to get to them before the end of the session.
“All we’ve got is our mouths at this point,” said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. “There’s nothing else we can really do to stop things.”
“We represent a lot of people, and we don’t want to just roll over,” Buri said. “We’ve got to say, ‘This is a bad idea.’ That’s our duty. … We may be fatigued, but we’re not beaten.”