Session opens with Capitol full of hopes

SUNDAY, JAN. 8, 2012

OLYMPIA – There is nothing so hopeful, it seems, as a state Capitol on the eve of a legislative session.

Even in a year like 2012, when the state faces yet another budget crisis and the Legislature has a mere 60 days to solve it, legislators, and the people who expect them to earn their keep by doing certain things, have a long list of “wants.”

As was much-mentioned last week, Gov. Chris Gregoire wants them to legalize same-sex marriage, which is no small change in state policy, regardless of whether you think it’s a good idea or a bad one. She also wants certain changes in education policy and oversight; easier tax collections, licensing and permitting for small businesses; a temporary half-cent sales tax increase …

To any mention that some legislators say the session will be all about the budget, Gregoire offers admonitions for two different sensibilities. Multitask, she says to those comfortable with modern business-speak.

“Git ’er done,” she also says, channeling her inner Larry the Cable Guy. Find some $1.5 billion in savings quickly and move on to other things. This despite the Legislature’s recent history of needing extra innings to craft budgets, even in its 105-day session last year.

Gregoire is not the only one wishing to heap more onto the legislative plate than a single serving of budgetary gruel.

Attorney General Rob McKenna wants more protection for the stalking victims who find themselves harassed and threatened by people they barely know. This would seem a slam dunk, especially with some high-profile cases on the West Side like the murder of an elementary school teacher when she arrived for work. But the session will have a political undertow that could drag down any bill, and Democrats may be reluctant to give the top Republican candidate for governor anything he wants.

He’d also like a law allowing public bodies to record their secret closed-door executive sessions, should they choose, but not have those recordings subject to the state’s Public Records Act. They could, however, be reviewed by a judge, also behind closed doors, to determine whether the city council, county commission or other body was doing something in secret that it shouldn’t. This would apparently raise the level of transparency on executive sessions from solidly opaque to almost translucent.

Both parties want to work on job creation, although by cutting the budget they will almost certainly eliminate state jobs. Good to keep in mind when citing unemployment stats.

Two competing factions in the fight over marijuana will go head-to-head, not in a cops versus dopers fight but a possibly nasty dispute between those who want the substance legal in small amounts for everyone over 21, and medical marijuana supporters who think the other group’s initiative is seriously flawed.

Some House Democrats want to require health insurers who cover maternity benefits to cover abortions also, a proposal that may be the only one that can generate more heat than the same-sex marriage debate.

Other Democrats want to trade Gregoire’s temporary half-cent sales tax for a small income tax. They promise to sweeten the deal by lowering some other taxes but seem heedless of the fact that income taxes are the third rail of Washington politics.

Some Senate Republicans want legislation and a constitutional amendment to make English the official language of the state. This is apparently to keep various agencies from issuing regulations in Swahili or Mandarin, or posting legal notices in Greek. It’s not clear if they’d still adjourn sine die when the session ends, because that’s Latin. They may have to just … quit.

These are only a few of the “wants” that have already surfaced, and more will show up in the coming weeks. In calling for new policies in the current budget climate, some legislators are quoting an axiom, often attributed to Rahm Emanuel, that one should never waste a good crisis.

But this also brings to mind a favorite saying for parents of whiny kids: There are people in hell who want ice water.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at spincontrol.

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