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Sunday Spin: 363 bills in 176 days, and other numbers from the 2015 session

OLYMPIA – Although the Legislature left town July 9, the true end of the session came Wednesday when Gov. Jay Inslee signed the last three of the 363 bills lawmakers managed to pass in their record-setting 176-day triple-overtime stint.

That’s an average of just over two bills a day, although averages are among the misleading of numbers. Many days, particularly in the three overtime periods, went without a bill being passed, or even debated, because most legislators weren’t around. Parsed another way, it was about 15 percent of the 2,434 bills they introduced, many of which disappeared into the void without a vote, a hearing or, in some cases, a second thought.

Every bill is important to someone, but some bills were momentous, such as the $38.2 billion operating budget with more money for schools, pre-schoolers and mental health services, a cut in college tuition and, to be parochial, a shot at a new medical school in Spokane. Some will be felt for years to come, like the extra 11.9 cents in gasoline taxes over the next year, as well as the highways, bridges, road maintenance, ferries and transit projects those taxes will help pay for.

A full list of all the bills passed and signed is attached in a spread sheet courtesy of the Secretary of State's office.

(Random thought: When that full 11.9 cents kicks in, will the local gas stations whose pumps end their prices with .9 – as they have for decades – and sell for prices ending in .8? If not, can someone explain what happens to that extra tenth of a cent?)

The last three bills Inslee signed were the transportation “package” with the gas tax increase and other transportation fees, the long list of projects to soak up that money, and the authority for the state to sell bonds to build said projects and repay them with said taxes.

Road projects are among the most popular things a Legislature can approve because they help people get from here to there and pay construction workers a good wage to build them. Signing ceremonies become the legislative equivalent of success having many parents, with opportunities to smile for the cameras and applaud the speeches about the great accomplishment. For the signing, Inslee moved the ceremony from his Olympia conference room to an outdoor platform overlooking Lake Washington on the University of Washington campus.

It is unusual but not unprecedented for a legislator who voted against the bill to show up at such events, just as they do for a ribbon cutting, particularly if it has money for an important project in his or her district. Some people regard that as hypocrisy, but it can be alibied by saying there were a few flaws in the bill but the project is good and the constituents benefit.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, may have set a new standard for chutzpah, however. An hour before the ceremony he issued a press release blasting the gas tax and the project list as a raw deal for his constituents. He said he was heading to Seattle himself to “call out” Inslee on the tax hike and the lack of transportation reforms.

His strident opposition wasn’t a surprise. Benton voted against all three bills, with a four-minute denunciation of the gas tax and the lack of reforms during the final debate. But it was worth tuning in to TVW to see if he’d be picketing the ceremony in sack-cloth and ashes, carrying a placard inscribed “Woe Is Us!”

Instead he joined the crowd behind the podium as various people spoke in pre-signing exhortations. Among them, Sen. Curtis King, a fellow Republican who helped craft the package, praised Inslee for giving up a long-standing push for a carbon-reduction system and said the package would move the state forward.

“It works for every part of the state,” King said. “We have reforms and from where I sit, they’re substantial.”

The silver-haired senator wasn’t always in the picture frame in the TVW webcast but seemed to be smiling and applauding along with everyone else when he came into view. Asked if there was a confrontation with the governor after the signing, an Inslee staffer said not that she saw: “Just lots of smiling for photos.”

Benton’s animus to the transportation package was not shared by the Washington Climate Collaborative, which praised the bills within minutes of their signing as a way to reduce traffic bottlenecks and pollution.

Just like some compilation of tree-huggers, you might be saying. Except the Climate Collaborative only sounds like a bunch of enviros. It’s really an umbrella group for chambers of commerce and economic development councils, farm and food-processing groups, economic development councils, construction unions and trade groups, oil marketers and the Western States Petroleum Association, many of whom have been fighting Inslee’s carbon-reduction plans for the last three years. So yeah, they’re happy.



Grain loading deal reached

Dock workers and a major grain company in Vancouver have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract, clearing the way for smooth shipments of grain as the wheat harvest gets underway and removing a bone of contention between some legislative Republicans and Gov. Jay Inslee.

The AP report on the agreement can be found inside the blog. A bit of back story: In the midst of the labor dispute, United Grain imposed a lockout in February 2013 after saying a union worker had sabotaged company equipment. The longshoremen set up picket lines. Federal and state grain inspectors, who must check the wheat before it was shipped, were hesitant to cross the line. 

Last October, the Washington State Patrol began escorting inspectors into the facility, saying he hoped this would lead to a settlement. Last month Inslee said he was cancelling the escorts because no progress had been made, and he hoped the change would bring both sides back to the bargaining table and lead to an agreement.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, filed an ethics complaint in last July against Inslee with the Executive Ethics Board, contending the governor was failing to protect public employees and "using his office to unfairly benefit his political allies." The board dropped the complaint last week, saying the governor's actions didn't appear to violate the state Ethics in Public Service Act and the board didn't have jurisdiction over the matter.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, welcomed the agreement, saying in a prepared statement he was "glad cooler heads prevailed and these two parties were able to reach an agreement."

Inslee released a statement calling the agreement "outstanding news" and notified United Grain Company that state grain inspectors will resume inspections immediately. 

Senators’ per diem pay going up 33%

OLYMPIA — State senators will be able to collect an extra $30 a day for expenses during legislative sessions under a rule approved Tuesday by a committee of their members.

The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee voted 4-3 to raise the allowance for daily expenses by 33 percent, upping the per diem to $120 from the $90 it has been since 2005.

Over objections from some senators who said the question of expenses requires a more comprehensive look, the committee agreed to match the House of Representatives, which raised per diem for its members before the 2014 session started.

"I think it's inappropriate to raise the per diem for members and staff with less than 24 hours notice," said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. "This is the wrong message at the wrong time, and possibly not even the right measure."

The main expense for legislators living in Eastern Washington or other districts far from Olympia isn't food and rent, he said. It's the cost for trips to and from home. Raising the per diem "is going to reward the people who live closest to the capital," he said.

Committee Chairman Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said the committee had discussed it enough, and cast the deciding vote to raise the expense allotment for senators, as well as a jump from $30 to $40 in the per diem for legislative assistants.

Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, said legislators haven't received a pay increase since 2008. "We don't need to get rich being in public office, but we sure as hell don't need to go broke."

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, made the motion to raise the per diem, even though she doesn't collect it during the session. It would be reasonable to consider other expenses in the coming months, she said, and those who object to the increase have an alternative: "Nobody has to take the full amount of per diem. You can take less."

Raising the per diem in the House added about $176,000 in expenses for a 60-day session like the most recent one, and would add about $308,000 for the longer 105-day session. Estimates for the committee say the increase for the Senate would add $95,000 in a short session and $155,000 in a long session.

The $30 increase was the largest per diem raise since the Legislature started yearly sessions in 1979. The rate started at $40 in 1979, and was raised gradually, every few years, for most of that period through 2005. Ten years is the longest it has ever remained at the same rate.



Clean up your language, 2 senators told

OLYMPIA — Two senators from Southwest Washington were admonished to use "professional, business language" and the caucuses should help members deal with "interpersonal conflict," a special Senate committee said today.

Put in plainer language, Sen. Ann Rivers should not have called Sen. Don Benton a "piece of sh-t," and Benton should not have called Rivers "a trashy trampy-mouthed little girl," the Facilities and Operations Committee said after investigating dueling complaints that each had about the other for violating the Senate's Respectful Workplace Policy.

Documents released by the committee detail a conflict that stretches began in April, as the Legislature was wrestling with whether a major transportation package would include the Columbia River Crossing, a proposed bridge to connect Vancouver and Portland. Both Benton and Rivers, who represent Vancouver-area districts, oppose the project, but were disagreeing on some of the tactics to block it. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

For the full details, check out the original complaint and the appeal documents below 


Sunday Spin: Smile, Mr. Secretary, you’re on candid camera

OLYMPIA – When a federal Cabinet secretary stopped by the Capitol last week, trying to prod the Legislature into action on a big multi-state project, he got a warm welcome from Gov. Jay Inslee. Not so much from Senate Republicans.

So what would one expect for a member of a Democratic president’s administration? you might be thinking. Considering it was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, some folks were expecting something a bit more politic.

LaHood was in town to push the Columbia River Crossing, a bridge between Vancouver and Portland is the most controversial topic in Southwest Washington. Take the heat the North-South Freeway generated in its earlier days, multiply it by 10, and you might get to the animosity between supporters and opponents of the CRC. . .

Sunday spin: Name that bridge for (name that price)

OLYMPIA – Legislators are considering – not too seriously, it seems – a plan to allow the state to sell the naming rights to its many roads, bridges, tunnels, buildings and other facilities.

Should it pass, Spokane residents might at some future date drive east on the Avista Interstate, cross the Microsoft bridge over Lake Washington, take an exit onto the Starbucks Expressway, grab the REI exit ramp to the Nordstrom Terminal, then catch the Ivar’s Acres of Clams ferry boat for points west.

There’s no rate structure in the proposal which had a hearing last week in the Senate Transportation Committee, so how much the state might collect from such a scheme isn’t known. That was clearly a shortcoming, for sponsor Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, could only say the state ought to at least explore any chance to rake in some money that “we don’t have to take out of the taxpayers’ pockets.” Legislators respond better when more definite pots of money are dangled in front of them, such as the possible windfall from legalized pot.

The bill drew predictable harrumphs from purists who think the state ought not to besmirch its fine infrastructure. A member from Gig Harbor seemed leery about the prospect of renaming the Tacoma Narrows Bridge the Chuck E. Cheese bridge, although it’s not immediately clear if he’s spent too much time eating their pizza while screaming kids thrashing about in the pit of plastic balls or just thought it would be unseemly for the company to paint its giant cartoon rat on the structure.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with it if the Legislature can extract a decent rate, although naming structures for corporate entities can be a problem when a corporate change comes along. Just about the time one gets used to Seahawks Stadium being Qwest Field, it gets changed to CenturyLink Field, which requires a search for a catchy nickname like the Clink.

Besides, the state has a tendency to name its various structures and facilities already, but on a very narrow criteria and for no cash in hand. They are almost all named for politicians who are either dead, or at least so long retired that their former adversaries can’t put up a fuss when the naming resolution comes around. Don’t believe me? Get off I-90 on the Jimmy Keefe Bridge, take a left at the light and go down to Division, where if you turn right you will cross over the Sam C. Guess Bridge. Keefe, a Democrat, and Guess, a Republican, were both longtime legislators. Over here, the naming game is nothing if not bipartisan.

1 year for initiatives to get signatures? How about 2 years?

OLYMPIA – As state law enforcement officials began investigating more than 8,000 allegedly forged signatures for a pair of ballot measures, a legislative panel looked at changes to the century-old avenue for grass-roots democracy, the initiative process.

One suggestion the Senate Governmental Operations Committee aired out Thursday: Give initiative campaigns more time to circulate petitions.

“If we give citizens more time to get involved, you wouldn’t need paid signature gatherers,” Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 23: Fight ahead over immigration?

OLYMPIA — Add immigration to the list of issues that could provoke a heated argument in this year's Legislature. Two mutually exclusive proposals involving undocumented students in the state's colleges will be in the Senate.

Young adults who came to the United States with their parents as young children and were raised and educated in this country would be eligible for some state college aid under a proposal announced Tuesday by Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.

What's being dubbed the Washington State DREAM Act would open up the State Need Grant and College Bound Scholarship programs to high school students who are undocument residents. Those programs already have long waiting lines; the State Need Grant last year had 32,000 applicants who couldn't get aid because the program ran out of money. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog. 

WA Lege Day 39: Initiative law changes advance

OLYMPIA — Proposed changes to the state's initiative laws were blasted as unconstitutional, arrogant and un-American by a Republican senator who tried to block them Thursday.

No, they're an attempt to bring modernize the system and protect it, said the Democrat who sponsored the changes.

In a series of 4-3 votes, the Senate Government Operations Committee rejected most attempts by Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to change the proposal and sent it to the next step of the legislative process. Senate Bill 5297 would raise the fee for filing an initiative from the current $5 to $500, require businesses that pay people to gather signatures to register with the state and require paid signature gatherers to present photo identification whenever asked.

"Last time I checked, we live in America," said Benton in explaining an amendment to strip out provisions for paid-signature collectors to have identification. "We don't have to carry papers. You shouldn't have to provide a photo ID to anybody other than law enforcement."

To read the rest of this item, click here to go inside the blog…

Benton quits Senate race, backs Rossi

Just a week after saying he was sticking in the U.S. Senate race, State Sen. Don Benton dropped out and endorsed the man he labeled the “establishment” candidate, Dino Rossi.

In a press release, Benton, a Vancouver Republican and former chairman of the state party, said the party needs to “consolidate our resources and work together to put our country back on track.”

“Therefore, since this campaign has never been about me, I have decided to do what is best for my country, my party, and my fellow Washingtonians: I am stepping aside to endorse Dino Rossi,” Benton said in a press release.

Rossi formally entered the race last week, after months of speculation which drained much of the attention from Benton and the dozen or so other Republicans already running. Benton officially entered the race in February, and had raised $121,000 by the end of March; Rossi’s campaign said Thursday it raised $600,000 in one week.

After Rossi made his candidacy official last week, Benton vowed to stay in the quest to be one of two candidates to survive the Aug. 17 primary. As a three-term incumbent and the only recognizable Democrat in the race, Patty Murray is expected easily to take one of those spots, leaving one for the crowded field of challengers.

Benton called Rossi a friend, but suggested he had the wrong connections: “We can no longer look to the establishment to turn our economy and our country around. The people want an independent voice that will take on both parties and stand up for common sense and fiscal responsibility.”

All announced candidates must file their paperwork and pay the filing fee by next Friday to have a spot on the primary ballot.

Rossi entrance not clearing GOP field

ino Rossi’s long expected entrance into the U.S. Senate race did not prompt a mass exodus by other Republican candidates Wednesday. Several said they welcomed the competition of the former state senator who has been weighing the race for months.

Rossi, who announced his candidacy on the Internet early Wednesday morning after months of weighing his options, has statewide name recognition from two runs for governor and enters the race with the support of top Senate Republicans. But at least five active GOP candidates said they’ll stick in the race.

That includes state Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver, who has amassed a list of endorsements from GOP office holders, and former NFL player and Connell farmer Clint Didier who has the support of Sarah Palin.

Voters will now have a choice between a “GOP established candidate or a citizen statesman who is a part of the grass roots movement,” Didier said in a press release after Rossi’s 7 a.m. announcement was posted on the Internet.

Benton called Rossi a friend whom he will enjoy debating, while taking a shot at Rossi’s Washington, D.C., establishment backing: “We can no longer look to the establishment to turn our economy and our country around. The people want an independent voice that will take on both parties and stand up for common sense and fiscal responsibility.”

Sean Salazar, a Seattle chiropractor who specializes in sports injuries, offered to drop out months ago and support Rossi if the former gubernatorial candidate would get in the race then, spokeswoman Kandy Schendel said, but Rossi took too long to decide. “He’s not going anywhere. We’ve put so much work into this campaign, the volunteers are saying ‘You better not jump the race.’”

Salazar is building a coalition among voters that Rossi and some other Republicans ignore, such as Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics, she said.

Craig Williams, a PacifiCorp energy trader and real estate broker from Vancouver, said he considers Rossi and all the other GOP candidates friends and won’t run against them. “Our focus is Patty Murray.” He said while Rossi and others court the far right, he’ll seek support from a broader spectrum of Republicans, independents and Democrats in the Top Two primary.
“It’s really not a primary, it’s two general elections in a row,” Williams said.

Paul Akers, a Bellingham businessman, is staying in the race, a spokesman said. He released a statement saying his expertise in “empowering people and eliminating wasteful spending” was what the nation needed.

Skip Mercer, a Seattle physicist and professor at the University of Washington, will likely stay in the race but may run as an independent, his wife Lisa Mercer said. Skip Mercer is on a ship in the Philippine Sea doing research and may not even know that Rossi is formally in the race, she said.

Mercer’s campaign website has a picture of him with Rossi taken months ago. Whether he’ll remove the photo is “a decision he has yet to make,” she said

Only one candidate in the race Tuesday said he was getting out because Rossi was got in. Ed Torres of Orting, a general superintendent for a plumbing firm, said he was throwing his support to Rossi.

Another, Art Coday, a Shoreline physician, “is still in a decision-making process,” a spokesman said.

WA Sen Race: Rollin’ in pollin’

Washington’s U.S. Senate race may not be on most people’s radar yet. But if you’re a pollster, you’ve gotta love a race with a three-term Democratic incumbent, 10 announced Republican challengers. one potential but unannounced Republican challenger and the national political machines ready to jump into anything with the slightest provocation.

Today there’s word of an Elway Poll which has Sen. Patty Murray up 51% to 34% over Dino Rossi, who’s thinking about the race but hasn’t committed to it yet. The same survey has her up 51% to 27% over Don Benton; 50% to 24% over Clint Didier and 50% to 26% over Paul Akers.

Which is a big difference from yesterday’s Rasmussen Report poll that was:

Murray 48% Rossi 46%
Murray 52% Benton 38%
Murray 51% Didier 36%
Murray 49% Akers 35%

Which was different from the mid April SurveyUSA poll that was:

Rossi 52% Murray 42%
Murray 46% Benton 44%
Murray 46% Didier 44%
Murray 45% Akers 44%

Which was different from the late March Research 2000 poll in Daily Kos that was:

Murray 52% Rossi 41% (they didn’t do the other candidates)

Which, in turn, was different from the Moore Information poll in late January, that was:

Rossi 45% Murray 43% (also did not do the other candidates)

So take your pick, but remember when partisans start talking about “the poll results”, you have to ask “Which poll results?”

College Republicans straw poll goes to Didier

The Washington College Republicans just released the results of the straw poll from their recent convention in Spokane, and they’re backing Clint Didier…although with a couple of caveats.

First, while there are 11 announced GOP candidates looking to oust Patty Murray in the U.S. Senate race this year, they only invited the ones “deemed most likely to win the primary.” Of that group, they had a few that declined, David Bergman of the Gonzaga College Republicans said.

Unfortunately, Craig Williams was unable to attend due to a conflict in his work schedule.  Sean Salazar opted to spend the weekend focused on the west side of the state, rather than accepting a request to speak before the gathering of College Republicans from across the state, in the county that contains the largest concentration of elected republicans in the 
state. Chris Widener was also unable to attend,” Bergman wrote in a press release.

So only four showed up. 

Then the group took two straw polls, one for all in attendance and one for just the College Republicans.

Didier finished with 75 percent of the votes in the first, with Paul Akers, Art Coday and Don Benton trailing far behind. Didier got 60 percent in the second, followed by Coday, Akers and Benton.

Wrapup: I-960 suspension passes the Senate

OLYMPIA – The Legislature would be able to raise taxes this session and next with a simple majority vote under a bill approved Tuesday in the state Senate.

In the most contentious Senate debate this year – one that constantly invoked “the will of the people” and at one point became a showdown between grandmas in the chamber – Democrats suspended the need for a supermajority on tax increases imposed by voters in 2007.

Just hours after a 26-23 victory, however, they said they’d made a mistake and intended to suspend all the requirements of Initiative 960, including the need for statewide advisory votes on any tax they choose to raise. Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, the bill’s prime sponsor, said in an evening press release the majority party will bring up a new version to the Senate floor “as soon as possible … to suspend I-960 in full until July 2011.” (WEDS update: Senate Democrats expect to introduce a bill to “fix” that problem sometime today and suspend all of I-960 for that time period. No time table at this point but watch Spin Control for updates.)

To read the rest of this story, click here to go inside the blog.