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Washington has 50-year-old ‘sister’

Gov. Jay Inslee and his wife Trudi greet Hyogo Prefecture Gov. Toshizo Ido at a ceremony marking the sister state relationship between the two areas.

OLYMPIA — Washington state officials will mark the 50th anniversary of a relationship with Japan's Hyogo prefecture with some pomp and circumstance around the capital today.

Gov. Jay Inslee will welcome Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido and members of the prefecture's assembly at the Temple of Justice this morning, and the two chief's of state will have lunch at the governor's mansion at noon while various business, education and cultural groups will have seminars around the Capitol Campus. They'll renew the sister-state relationship with a signilng ceremony  in the Senate Chambers, then attend a reception with food and entertainment from both locales.

Spokane's sister city, Nishinomiya, is located in Hyogo prefecture. So which came first, the sister city or the sister state?

The relationship between Nishinomiya and Spokane predates the Washington-Hyogo relationship by a couple years.

Court to Obama: Follow the law on waste repository

The federal government must resume work on the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada that would store the high-level nuclear waste from Hanford and other sites around the country, a federal appeals court said today.
In what amounts to a judicial smackdown of the Obama administration, the court said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Obama administration can't override Congress, which ordered the repository built in 2002.
Washington state, which is the home to an estimated 56 million gallons of highly toxic nuclear waste from the production of nuclear warheads at Hanford, had joined the lawsuit against the commission. Along with South Carolina and some residents of the Tri-Cities, Washington sought a writ of mandamus, or order from the court for the federal government to follow the law.  Today they got what they wanted …
  

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

Gov. Inslee makes two appointments to Fish and Wildlife Commission

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Gov. Jay Inslee has reappointed the chair of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to a six-year term and has appointed the executive director of the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association to a vacant position.

The commission is a nine-member citizen panel that sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Members are appointed by the governor to six-year terms and are subject to state Senate confirmation. Three members must reside in Eastern Washington, three in Western Washington, and three may live anywhere in the state. No two members may live in the same county.
The governor reappointed the commission chair, Miranda Wecker of Naselle, to the Western Washington position she has held since 2005, for a term that runs through Dec. 31, 2018. Wecker, who has served as chair since 2008, is the director of the Marine Program at the University of Washington Olympic Natural Resources Center.
Inslee also appointed Robert Kehoe of Seattle to a vacant at-large position for a term that runs through Dec. 31, 2014. Kehoe, an attorney, joined the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association as general counsel in 1997 and became executive director in 2009. He has served as a commercial fishing industry representative on the Pacific Salmon Commission since 2001.
“Miranda Wecker has done an excellent job in leading the commission's work on several challenging fish and wildlife policy issues, and I am very pleased that she is willing to serve another term,” Inslee said. “Bob Kehoe is a well-respected leader in the commercial fishing industry and will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the commission's deliberations.”
The commission's next meeting is scheduled Aug. 2-3 in Olympia. 

Medicaid expansion: Info campaign coming

OLYMPIA – Washington’s new state budget signed into law this week relies on the expansion of Medicaid, both to provide health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people and to help balance its bottom line.

But state residents will have to wait until October to sign up for that coverage, and until next January for it to kick in. State officials agree that the program isn’t well understood yet, but say a major information campaign is coming to help people understand how it works and who will qualify.

In general, anyone whose annual income is below 138 percent of the poverty level, will be eligible for free health care under Medicaid…

 

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

Well, it’s ‘Medi-‘ something

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee's recent press conferences have been a mix of the good and the bad from the late legislative session.

Yay for the billion added to public schools, the tuition freeze for colleges, expanded health care, the social service programs included in the budget. Boo for the lack of an extra transportation package, failure of the Reproductive Parity Act, Dream Act…

In case anyone missed the coverage in newspapers, blogs, websites, television or radio, the Inslee campaign team took up the refrain this week in a blast e-mail to supporters.With a handy link to click to “spread the word on Facebook”

 But they made one goof,  referring to the extra health care as coming from Medicare, which is a program targeted mainly to seniors, rather than Medicaid, which is targeted at low-income residents.

Yeah, it's a common mistake, and we here at Spin Control have done it a time or two. But we've probably never put it in a big green box with oversized type, at least not without running it past editors.

Campaign machinery gets a little rusty in the months after the election.

WA shutting down Columbia River bridge office

Inslee says there's no money for the CRC, and no plans right now to get any.

OLYMPIA — The office planning for a new bridge to cross the Columbia River from Vancouver to Portland will be shut down, with no plans to replace the structure, Gov. Jay Inslee said.

“There is no money for work in this bridge,” Inslee said Monday. The Legislature failed to pass a transportation package that would have contributed the state's share of the project and without that money, federal funds aren't coming, he said.

September is the deadline for a state decision to join the project with Oregon and the federal government, but as long as the coalition that controls the state Senate opposes the project, there's no reason to call another special session to address that and other new transportation projects and additional road and bridge maintenance that would be funded by a gasoline tax increase, he said. 

Budget agreement reached

Inslee and legislative leaders say there's a budget deal.

OLYMPIA – After 150 days of debating, posturing and negotiating legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee reached agreement Thursday – Day 151 – on a $33.6 billion spending plan to carry many state programs through the next two fiscal years.

“State government will continue to operate,” Inslee said.

The deal should be passed by both houses and on his desk by 5 p.m. today, Inslee said in a brief announcement attended by a bipartisan group of 10 legislators. He released no details of the agreement, but legislative leaders later offered only some broad outlines of the deal, either in meetings with their rank and file members or to the press.

Among them:

Budget impasse keeps Inslee out of Hoopfest

Inslee goes up for a rebound last January in pickup game at governor's mansion.

OLYMPIA — The Legislature has until Sunday night to pass a budget that would stave off a partial state government shutdown, but the impasse will keep Gov. Jay Inslee out of Hoopfest this weekend.

 An avid basketball player who arranged a pick-up game on Inauguration Day between his swearing in and the ball, Inslee put together a team last year when he was on the campaign trail. He had promised a contingent from the Spokane-area chambers of commerce that he'd bring a team to Hoopfest this year and vowed to double the wins from 2012… to two.

But that was in January, when it seemed like the Legislature had plenty of time in its 105-day regular session to agree on the 2013-15 operating budget. One regular session and 1.5 special sessions later, that budget deal remains elusive. If that deal is reached, both chambers will have to pass it and Inslee sign it before midnight Sunday to give the state the authority to spend money on certain programs and pay wages and benefits for many state workers.

“He is not going to be leaving town this weekend,” spokeswoman Jaime Smith said.

Team Inslee would have been down two players. State Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, was on the roster and he, too, is stuck in Olympia. They didn't sign up for the tournament, Smith said.

Gov’s office preps for shutdown, hopes for deal

Heuschel describes some effects of a partial state government shutdown to reporters Wednesday.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee's staff tried to emphasize “tremendous concern” over a potential government shutdown that could be required next week without suggesting “the sky is falling”.

 But they stressed there was no agreement yet on a 2013-15 budget which would eliminate the need for a shutdown. Although the predominantly Republican coalition that controls the Senate said late this morning that an agreement had been reached, other sides involved in negotiations called that premature.

“This came as a big surprise to the other parties,” David Postman, the governor's spokesman, said. “They were negotiating at the time of the announcement . . These things happen. We all make mistakes.”

Inslee's cabinet spent an hour Wednesday discussing the effects of a partial government shutdown in the event a deal is not reached, passed and signed by midnight Saturday, the final day of the current fiscal year. 

Mary Alice Heuschel, Inslee's chief of staff, emerged to offer a partial list of people being notified about the state services that could feel the impacts on Monday.  . .

Inslee: Budget deal “very close”

Inslee predicts budget agreement by end of Monday.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said legislators are could reach an agreement on the 2013-15 operating budget by the end of the day.

“The current state of negotiations gives me confidence that agreement is imminent,” Inslee told reporters at a 2:30 p.m. press conference. “I'm more confident than I was at 9 o'clock this morning.”

Legislative leaders have come up with a “significant change”, which, Inslee said “I won't be able to share with you.”

But those changes have created a way the state can meet its mandate to improve public education and preserve the safety net, he said.

Inslee spoke slightly more than an hour after state agencies began sending temporary layoff notices to some employees who would be told not to show up for work next Monday if the Legislature doesn't pass and Inslee sign the 2013-15 operating budget. About 26,000 workers, out of the 59,000 or so in state employ, would be subject to layoff because the budget gives the state the legal authority to spend money on programs and salaries.

The Legislature was unable to agree on a budget during its regular 105-day session or the 30-day special session that followed. It is now on Day 13 of its second special session. In recent days, some legislative leaders have made predictions about a deal being reached that proved overly optimistic and Inslee was asked why the public should think this was any different.

“This is the first time I have said there has been very substantial progress in negotiations,” he replied 

Government shutdown list in works

OLYMPIA — Despite a slightly better economic forecast and expectations of a budget deal among legislators, Gov. Jay Inslee's office has prepared a list of state services that would and wouldn't be available July 1 if a budget isn't passed.

The preliminary list divides agencies into three categories: No shutdown; partial shutdown and complete shutdown. Among those staying open are the state colleges and universities, the courts and those that receive money from something other than the operating budget, such as the Transportation Department, Innovate Washington, Financial Institutions, Treasurer and Traffic Safety Commission.

Some smaller agencies — the Arts Commission, Public Disclosure Commission, Eastern Historical Society, Liquor Control Board, Human Rights Commission and Indian Affairs — would be among those facing complete shutdown, as would the state Parks.

Partial shutdown is more complicated, but it includes many of the big agencies like Departments of Social and Health Services, Health, Military, Natural Resources, Corrections and State Patrol. But no, the last two don't mean the prisons doors would be thrown open or no one would be writing tickets on I-90.

For a look at the list, click here.

Special Session 1 over. Special Session 2 ahead

OLYMPIA – The Legislature closed for about 17 hours overnight Tuesday – the amount of time between its ineffectual first special session and a second special session that some say could bring the state to a fiscal cliff.

Gov. Jay Inslee criticized the largely Republican Senate majority for pushing ideology over budget compromise as he issued the proclamation for a second legislative overtime period Tuesday morning.

“The budget is our primary duty. That’s where our focus should be,” Inslee said. “They need to come to a common-sense position, so that we can fulfill the obligation to our kids”. . .

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

Spec Sess Day 30 or Day Minus-1

OLYMPIA — It's the final day of the First Special Session. Or possibly the eve of the Second Special Session. Take your pick.

Legislators don't have much incentive to pass anything today unless they could pass it in both chambers, because at the beginning of a special session everything still hanging fire goes back to its “house of origin”, which means they'd just have to pass it again.

Gov. Jay Inslee has a 10:30 a.m. press conference “to discuss the special session”, which means he could issue the call for the second session at that point, or urge them to get as much done as possible before midnight before the call goes out.

Preparing for fire season

Inslee deploys a fire shelter.

OLYMPIA — Jay Inslee completed one of the annual spring rituals for a Washington governor this morning: passing the test for minimum wildfire training in the advance of the state's fire season.

To do this, one must walk a mile in no more than 16 minutes. He managed it in just over 13, strolling with Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark staff and assorted media, on a course laid out by the Department of Natural Resources at Capitol Lake. Possibly most impressive, he did it in his dress shoes.

One must also demonstrate the ability to unpack and crawl into a fire shelter in 26 seconds. He had a few seconds to spare.

“I'm trying to get a budget through the Washington Legislature. Geting into a fire shelter is nothing,” he told reporters afterwards.

This doesn't qualify one to fight wildfires in the forests or ranges. That's a much tougher test. This is the minimum for going up to the fire line.

Summers are getting warmer, drier and longer with each passing decade, and tree kills by beetles more frequent, Inslee said, which means fire seasons in most years are getting more longer and more intense.

One might assume that if the governor showed up at a wildfire, they'd let him go to the fireline if he wanted, but governors usually take the test to show support for the DNR.

Inslee: Senate prefers rich over school kids

Inslee criticizes Senate plan to change estate tax.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee, clearly frustrated over a lack of progress in budget negotiations and a plan to fix a problem with the estate tax, accused the Senate today of hurting school children to help multi-millionaires…

 

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

Spec Sess Day 23: Gone in 34 seconds

OLYMPIA — The Senate got through its pro forma session this morning in 34 seconds. That was about 5 seconds short of the record, but still in the neighborhood of “don't blink or you'll miss it.”

Gov. Jay Inslee has a noon press conference to discuss “budget issues pending in the special session.” Considering he issued a statement on Friday in which he said he was “increasingly concerned about the pace of budget negotiations”, and the pace has not picked up one might reasonably expect he is at least still concerned. You can watch it live on TVW; we'll have a report shortly after the press conference concludes.

The House Appropriations Committee has a hearing tomorrow on a bill to eliminate some tax preferences; would love to tell you what's in it but it won't be available until Wednesday, possibly not until noon, which is 90 minutes before the hearing starts.

The committee might also vote on an early House Democratic budget, House Bill 1057, which predates the proposals that passed at the end of the regular session.

Inslee to Legislature: Pick up the pace

OLYMPIA — Time is running out for the work the Legislature needs to do in the special session, Gov. Jay Inslee said today.

Inslee called a committee vote earlier in the morning on legislation go fix a problem with the state's estate tax “good progress”, adding he expects the Legislature to reach an agreement on the bill in the next couple of days.

“However, there is still much that remains to be done and time is running out,” he said. Today is Day 17 of the 30-day Special Session.

“If budget negotiators are able to reach key compromises in the next week, we will be able to finish on time,” he said in a press release. “But negotiators need to pick up the pace to make it happen.”

State taps reserve for businesses hurt by bridge outage

OLYMPIA — Washington will spend $150,000 from the Economic Development Strategic Reserve for a program to let the public know that businesses in and around Skagit County are open, even though a section of the I-5 bridge is down.

Gov. Jay Inslee today said he directed the state Commerce Department to tap the reserve to help get the word out about alternate routes while the state works on a temporary and a permanent fix to the Skagit River Bridge. The money will be used for marketing and promotion efforts, not just for Skagit but for Whatcom, San Juan and Island counties, who are likely to feel the pinch. The state may also apply for a disaster declaration from the Small  Business Administration after it collects data on the economic impact.

Money from the reserve will be used to develop a marketing program to tell people what businesses and attractions are open and how to access them on alternate routes or ferries.

“People need to know that these counties are open for business and that the bridge collapse need not interfere with vacation, business or recreation plans,” Commerce Director Brian Bonlender said in press release announcing the money.

A section of the 58-year-old bridge collapsed into the river last Thursday evening after a truck collided with some of the support structure. Traffic will be detoured to other bridges at least until next month while a temporary replacement section is built and installed. A more permanent replacement section might be finished by September. 

Inslee signs wolf management bill

PREDATORS — Gov. Jay Inslee today signed legislation that will provide state wildlife managers more resources to prevent wolf-livestock conflict and expand criteria for compensation to livestock owners for wolf-related losses.

Senate Bill 5193, requested by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and prime-sponsored by Sen. John Smith, R-Colville, was supported by a cross-section of interest groups.
“Washington state is committed to wolf recovery, but sustainable recovery requires that we address the legitimate needs of farmers, ranchers and other residents of the communities that are on the front line of wolf recovery,” said Phil Anderson, WDFW director. “This bill does that.”
As signed by the Governor, the new law:
  • Increases the state's personalized license plate fee by $10, effective Oct. 1, with the proceeds to support WDFW's efforts to monitor wolf recovery and prevent wolf-livestock conflict in collaboration with farmers, ranchers and local governments, and to compensate livestock owners. The Department of Licensing estimates the fee will raise more than $1.5 million during the upcoming two-year budget cycle.
  • Allows WDFW to compensate livestock owners for their losses at the current market value of the animals.
  • Permits compensation regardless of whether livestock owners were raising the animals for commercial purposes.
  • Revises other elements of state law to make it more consistent with the state's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan as adopted by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission in December 2011.
 As of March, there were 10 confirmed packs and two suspected packs, plus two packs with dens in Oregon and British Columbia whose members range into the state. Most of the confirmed packs are found in Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.
The public can help the state manage wolves by reporting mere sightings as well as suspected attacks on livestock on the WDFW hotline, (877) 933-9847
Or use the state's wolf observation website to report wolf sightings or suspected attacks.

Workers get ‘password protection’

OLYMPIA — Employers can't ask their current workers or job applicants for access to their social media accounts under a law signed Tuesday.

Sometimes called the “Facebook Bill”, Senate Bill 5211 makes it illegal for an employer to request a worker or a job applicant for the login information to a social media account or to make the employee access the account with the employer present. An employee or applicant can't be required to add someone to a contact list or change the settings to give a third party access to the account.

Sen. Steven Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said Washington is the eighth state to have such a bill. “Privacy shouldn't be a thing of the past that we are forced to sacrifice every time technology moves forward.”

After signing the bill, Gov. Jay Inslee said it was a solid step for protecting people's privacy today.

“We do have to realize that technology changes so fast that we may turn around tomorrow and find circumstances where people are not adequately protected by it, from new technologies we haven't even thought of yet,” he said.

Wolf bill signed into law

OLYMPIA — Washington will set up a special fund to pay for losses of livestock to the state's growing wolf population under a bill signed Tuesday.

The new law sets aside up to $50,000 each year from the money raised by selling personalized license plate for losses from wolves. It also allows farmers and ranchers to be compensated for all animal losses, not just for animals being raised for commercial purposes under the previous law.

Senate Bill 5193, sponsored by Sen. John Smith of Colville, was a key to expansion of Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations that allow property owners to shoot a wolf that is attacking livestock or pets.

The Legislature debated several plans to control wolves in Eastern Washington because the rapid growth in the formerly endangered animals' population as a result of successful recovery efforts.

“This is something where Washington state can really lead the nation in figuring out how to deal with the recovery process,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Inslee on Med School flap: We can work it out

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee downplayed any conflict between the state's two research universities over operations at the new joint medical school facility in Spokane, saying he wouldn't even call it a disagreement.

“I'm confident that we can find a way that Huskies and Cougars can work together on this,” Inslee said during a press conference this afternoon.

As to whether the state would build a new, complete medical school in Spokane if the two universities can't come to an understanding, Inslee said that is “getting a thousand miles ahead of ourselves.”

As reported in this morning's Spokesman-Review, Washington State University President Elson Floyd said the University of Washington is not sending enough second-year medical students to the new program at the Riverpoint campus in Spokane that the two are jointly operating. The school will have only 17 students for the 20 slots approved by the Legislature for a pilot program, and Floyd criticized UW for not recruiting enough students to fill the slots.

If UW won't cooperate, WSU will “plow our own way” and explore setting up its own four-year med school, Floyd said.

UW President Michael Young said only 17 students were interested in the Spokane program. To the suggestion that WSU would set up its own med school, Young said, “Good luck.” Floyd doesn't understand how a med school is run.

Inslee said he talked to people about the med school when he was in Spokane over the weekend and “I'm confident in our ability to work through this.”

Inslee signs autopsy bill

Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Mike Padden talk before the autopsy bill is signed.

OLYMPIA – Spokane County’s medical examiners should feel free to talk about the results of investigations into deaths that involve actions by law enforcement officers.  Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Monday allowing county medical examiners and coroners to discuss the results of autopsies and post mortems of people who die in encounters with police or while in jail.

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

Inslee vetoes part of transportation budget

OLYMPIA – A legislative compromise over a controversial bridge over the Columbia River was sliced out of the state’s $8.8 billion transportation budget Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee, who insisted it would endanger federal money and could lead to the bridge not being built.

Just hours after he joined a rally on the Capitol steps by union members and business leaders who are calling for even more spending on roads, bridges, buses and ferries, Inslee cut a provision that would limited the amount of federal money funneled through the state to the Columbia River Crossing bridge at $81 million – and then only if the U.S. Coast Guard approved the project’s building permit. If the Coast Guard doesn’t approve the permit, the money would be spent to study on a new bridge design.

If the Coast Guard doesn’t issue the permit, there’s no need to spend that money on a new design, he said. The state will lose federal funding for the bridge and “there is no other viable option to building this bridge in the next 10 years,” he said.

The bridge was a major sticking point over the state’s two-year transportation budget during the regular session, with some Republicans from southwest Washington insisting it was a flawed design that should be scrapped. The $81 million limitation and study provision was an attempt to strike a compromise that allowed the entire two-year transportation budget to move through the two chambers. But Inslee insisted Monday that deep concern over the bridge was held by only a few senators.

“We don’t build appropriations to nowhere,” Inslee said. “This veto help sharpen legislators’ minds.”

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

Supporters of roads package rally

Ava Conner, 6, accompanied her mother Jennifer to the Capitol for today's rally for a transportation package.

OLYMPIA — Shouts of “Pass it Now” filled the Capitol steps this morning as supporters of a new package of taxes and road projects tried to goad the Legislature into action.

In front of the podium where a couple hundred sign-carrying protesters in hard hats and safety vests. Behind the podium were folks in suits and ties. It was a visual reminder that the package has the support of labor unions and the state's business community, backed up by speakers like Gov. Jay Inslee, who has made passing a transportation package one of his top priorities for the special session.

“We've got to finish what we have started,” Inslee told the crowd. “It is crunch time…There is a tooth fairy but there is no transportation fairy.” 

Where it lacks support, however, is in parts of the GOP caucuses in both chambers of the Legislature, where opponents of the Columbia River Crossing bridge between Portland and Vancouver are against including money for that project. Some members also want any taxes the package will include to be sent to a statewide vote in November by including a referendum clause in the legislation.

Drunk driving crackdown moves forward as booze bills are signed

OLYMPIA – As a Senate committee approved tougher laws against impaired drivers Tuesday, some senators wondered aloud if the Legislature isn’t at least partially responsible for putting more drunks on the road by expanding the places where alcohol is consumed.

Less than an hour after the Senate Law and Justice Committee gave unanimous approval to a proposal that would require more and quicker jail time for drivers convicted of alcohol or drug impairment, Gov. Jay Inslee signed four bills the Legislature recently passed that add new places from which a person might be driving after legally consuming alcohol. . .

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

Spec Sess Day 2: Tougher DUI bill passes committee

OLYMPIA — A law that toughens the state's drunk driving laws, in part by increasing mandatory jail time, received unanimous approval this morning from the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Despite concerns by some senators that it didn't go far enough, or provide money to cities and counties for the higher costs of extra prosecutions for driving under the influence, all committee members gave it at least tentative support.

Just who was responsible for some of the drunks on the road was part of the debate. The Legislature must accept some responsibility, Sen. Jeanne Darnielle, D-Tacoma, said because it continues to increase the number of places where a person can consume alcohol — at movie theaters, public markets and spas —  and then drive home.

The voters should accept some of the blame, said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. They opened up sales of distilled spirits in supermarkets through a 2011 initiative, and legalized marijuana consumption by adults in 2012. Stores like Costco now have mountains of liquor on display in their aisles, she said.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, tried unsuccessfully to attach amendments that would pay for increased prosecutions and incarcerations by extending the temporary tax on beer that was imposed in 2010 and is due to expire on June 30.  Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said taxes to pay for the bill is something the Ways and Means Committee will address.

The bill makes a fourth conviction for driving under the influence a felony, down from five convictions under the current law. It sets up mandatory jail time or treatment programs for earlier offenses, would allow judges to order a drunk driver to abstain from alcohol and submit to mandatory daily testing.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday that tougher drunk driving laws were one of the three top priorities for the special session, along with passing an operating budget for 2013-15 and a package of new transportation projects that will require some new revenue.

Inslee narrows top priorities for special session

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee has shortened his top priorities on the Legislature’s “to do” list for the special session to three things:

Pass an operating budget. Pass a new package for transportation projects. Toughen penalties for those who drive drunk or high.

At a press conference on the opening day of the 30-day special session, Inslee acknowledged that three other things he listed as priorities two weeks ago might not get done.

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

WA Spec Session: On not negotiating in the media

OLYMPIA — Neither the governor nor the leaders of the caucus controlling the Senate will negotiate the budget in the news media.

We know this, because the said so this afternoon in press conferences, which were called to talk about the special session that started today and is mostly about getting a budget agreement

At various times over the span of an hour, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Mark Schoesler and Sen. Rodney Tom all stated emphatically that they would not negotiate in the media. They said they were making progress, or that they were encouraged or that they hoped to be done in the allotted 30 days although it's possible that wouldn't happen.

Inslee said budget negotiators had agreed to “some of the fundamental assumptions” that would underlie the $33 billion plus, two-year operating budget. They hadn't started exchanging offers yet, but he was encouraging them to do so, to reach a consensus.

So what might those fundamental assumptions be? It has to do with how much savings some reforms might produce or revenue a change might produce, he said. But to get beyond that would be beyond the agreement not to negotiate in the media, he added.

Would Inslee support a budget that would close some tax loopholes but not extend temporary business taxes on professional services or continue a temporary tax on beer, as he proposed?

 “It is unwise to negotiate in the media,” he said. “The budget I have proposed is a great … but I am going to be agreeing to something different.”

Sen. Rodney Tom, the Democrat who leads the predominantly Republican Majority Coalition Caucus, said his caucus members aren't in a compromising mood, believing they already compromised to put together their no-new-taxes budget that picked up some Democratic votes when it passed the Senate. Republicans gave on accepting federal money from the expansion of Medicaid, which is supporting “Obamacare.”

Of course, that sort of ignores the fact that most of those Democrats voted for that budget as a way of moving the process along, and said they expected it to come back from the House with some tax preferences changed. Bu would any Senate Republicans support any budget that contained any tax changes?

“Right now, we've put together a budget that doesn't require revenue,” Tom said. “We're not going to negotiate the budget in the media.”

The prospects of getting a deal in 30 days after failing to reach agreement during the 105 days of the regular session? Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he's a farmer, so he's an optimist. Senators are being told to be flexible, and either stay in Olympia or be available for teleconferences to discuss negotiaitons.

Sunday Spin: Stop me if you’ve heard this one — Lege starts Monday

OLYMPIA – The Legislature returns to town Monday in search of a compromise on a two-year operating budget that keeps the state in the black, uses relatively few accounting gimmicks, may or may not raise taxes and doesn’t get them hauled into court on a case they can’t win.

If those lines give you a sense of déjà vu, it’s probably because the same thing could have been written about the start of every regular session and special session since 2010.

A Google search would likely show it has been written by someone each of the last four year. Probably at least once by me.

Every regular session starting in 2010 required at least one special session to finish work on the budget. (Some careful readers might note that was when I started covering the Legislature full time in Olympia, and wonder if the two are connected. Probably not, but don’t give legislators any ideas. Bad ju-ju from the press might be too handy of an excuse for some to pass up.)

Some years they go directly from the regular session into the special session, or take just a few days off for Easter or some other holiday that coincides with end of their allotted time. This year, Gov. Jay Inslee called a two-week break before going into overtime, sending most of them back to their districts to spend time with their families, and in a few cases, raise money for this year’s campaigns. While most don’t have to worry about re-election this year, a few have dreams of another office, like Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray who’d like to be mayor of Seattle. A few others, like Sen. John Smith in the 7th Legislative District, were just appointed a vacancy that developed late last year, so they have to win the seat in a special election this year.

Not everyone was sent home for the duration, however. Leaders of the budget committees and their staffs were searching for a compromise that could be presented to the caucuses or sent to a hearing soon after other legislators return. At the end of last week, Inslee was doing his best to remain optimistic without over-promising.

Negotiators were making progress on a budget compromise, Inslee said, but not enough he could say for with any certainty the Legislature will be working full-time from the get-go Monday. He expects negotiators from both parties and both chambers will “start making the hard compromises necessary” and legislators could have a few other issues, like getting tougher on repeat drunk drivers, to occupy their early days back.

Compromises are a given, considering operating budgets passed by the Senate and House are more than $1 billion apart in terms of total spending, and the House budget calls for ending or shrinking some tax exemptions the Senate does not.

Inslee included himself among the folks who will have to compromise, although he didn’t suggest what his compromises might be, which would be akin to a poker play turning up his hole cards before going all-in during a game of Texas Hold ’em.

When the Legislature adjourned on April 28, Inslee described the sides as “light years apart.” Other than to say they were making progress Friday, Inslee said he couldn't elaborate: “We've agreed not to talk about negotiations.”

Perhaps, as colleague Jerry Cornfield of the Everett Herald suggested later, they’re approaching a point where they’re at least in the same solar system.

But don’t expect the rocket to land any time soon.