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WA Lege 2014: The done and the undone

OLYMPIA – The Legislature closed up shop with seven minutes before its constitutionally mandated midnight stopping time Thursday, ending a short session that was short on expectations, and many would argue, short on accomplishments.

After passing an updated operating budget that even supporters said contained plenty of things to dislike, a couple of bills on many legislators’ priority lists were saved from oblivion and moved back and forth between chambers with admirable speed.

Military veterans were granted in-state tuition at Washington’s public colleges and universities, regardless of how long they’ve been in the state. A $40 fee home buyers pay to file their documents, which pays for programs to fight homelessness but due to expire this year, was extended until 2019.

Meanwhile, the subject getting the most attention seemed to be deciding what medical procedures can be performed by plebotomists, medical assistants who draw blood. A phlebotomist bill ping-ponged back and forth across the Rotunda and showed up on one floor or the other eight times in the last eight days as the chambers tweaked the bill with amendments. It eventually had to be untweaked because the wrong amendment was added – and approved – before people noticed, so that amendment had to be subtracted and replaced, prompting three roll-call votes on the last day.

“I didn’t know what a phlebotomist was until today,” Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, deadpanned. . . 

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Capital budget passes. Lege to adjourn

OLYMPIA — The Legislature passed a $3.6 billion capital projects budget this evening as its last action of its protracted session.

In quick succession, the House and Senate both passed the list of projects and gave the state the authority to sell bonds to build them.

With a plan to spend an extra $10 billion on transportation projects dead, the capital budget was the final thing on the Legislature's plate and adjournment is expected soon.

Lege adjourns, but they’ll be back

OLYMPIA – For the fourth time in as many years, the Legislature will go into overtime to figure out how to spend the money it collects, and how much it should collect.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he wants budget negotiators to stay in Olympia to continue working on the state’s two year spending plan. The remainder of the legislators will return for a special session that begins on May 13. It can go up to 30 days, and cover issues beyond the budget.

Inslee said all sides need to be flexible on budget negotiations and other issues that may come up, but he seemed to be drawing a line in the sand that would require fewer cuts and at least some extra revenue from closing or shrinking some tax preferences.

“We will not balance that (budget) on the backs of seniors, homeless kids and the disabled,” he said.

Senate Republicans said they would have preferred to start the special session today Monday, without any break. Their members all want to be involved in discussions about programs and policies, Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said, and have different expertise on the intricacies of the budget. And they continue to oppose tax increases, he added.

Inslee wants legislators to also handle issues involving abortion, gun control and immigration, which have been blocked in the Senate. Republicans may have some issues that Inslee opposes that they will introduce, although “we haven’t had that discussion yet,” Schoesler said.

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Special Session: Talks continue

OLYMPIA — A meeting among legislative leaders, top budget writers and Gov. Chris Gregoire continues into the evening as the group looks for a way to reach agreements on budgets and reforms connected to that spending plan.

Three reforms are reportedly under discussion: a way to plan for balanced budgets for four years, rather than the current two years; changes to public school employees' health benefits that eventually bring them in line with the state employees' system; revisions to state employees' pension plan that would eliminate some early retirement options for new hires.

Different versions of each exist in the House and Senate. With the clock ticking toward a midnight Tuesday adjournment, there's not enough time to keep passing different versions back and forth. Legislators will need to agree to one version of each reform bill, along with a final version of the revised operating budget and a capital budget, and get them passed in the same form by both chambers.

EOB: Legislature Adjournment Nears

The Senate has adjourned for the day, and Senate Republicans have headed into a closed-door caucus. The Senate will convene at 9 a.m. tomorrow, as will the House. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said the Senate will work through the morning and finish its calendar by noon, after which focus will turn to the three remaining big issues that are hampering the close of the legislative session: tax cuts, teacher pay, and state savings. Davis said the Legislature will “hopefully be out of here a few days thereafter.” Amid murmuring, he added, “Think positive, folks”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Would you rather have the legislators in Boise or at home?