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Budget deal may be near

Fri., March 30, 2012, midnight

Gregoire ends boycott of signing legislation

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire lifted her self-imposed boycott of bill signings Thursday and said legislators could be close to reaching a deal on cuts to the state’s operating budget. Or not.

“In the next 48 hours, we could have an agreement,” she said. “Then again, in the next 48 hours, it could all fall apart.”

The goal is to get a package that includes budget cuts, revenue increases and government reforms that members of both parties in both houses can support, she said. They can’t demand to hold off on a budget vote until certain reforms are passed or certain tax breaks are ended.

“They’ll put (a final package) before their members. Either they have the votes, or they don’t,” Gregoire said.

They’re running out of time. The special session’s 30 days are up on April 10, which is two days after Easter. Gregoire said she’d like them to be done in a week, by Good Friday.

Talk or rumors of another special session, which would be the third since Nov. 28, are “abhorrent,” she said.

Legislators were making enough progress that Gregoire went back to signing bills passed in the last session. She stopped putting her signature on bills last Friday after legislators finished their second week without much progress toward closing a gap of as much as $1.5 billion between what the state expects to collect and what it is scheduled to spend under its current operating budget.

In Washington, any bill becomes law even without a governor’s signature after a set period of time. That deadline is midnight Saturday. So the main question was whether legislators and the bills’ supporters would be around for the ceremonial signing.

In ceremonies that started at 1 p.m. and continued past 7 p.m., Gregoire signed 110 of the 177 bills remaining from last session.

She signed a dozen bills designed to combat human trafficking and child prostitution. With bipartisan support, most of the bills moved easily through the Legislature. They included regulations on advertising of minors for “escort services,” tougher penalties and property seizures for child prostitution and sexually explicit materials that use minors, and licenses and inspections of certain massage parlors.

Other bills:

• Increase penalties for vehicular homicide involving driving under the influence.

• Allow for the establishment of juvenile gang courts.

• Help pay for programs to help the homeless by extending a $20 document recording fee on real estate documents through 2017.

• Prevent the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association from barring teams from postseason play because of unintentional rule violations.

• Reform truancy laws with the goal of keeping minors in school and out of corrections facilities.

• Allow community and technical colleges to appoint students to their trustee boards.

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