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Spec Sess Day 22: Senate action in afternoon?

Memorial to Sen. Mike Carrell in the Senate chamber.

OLYMPIA — The Senate appears poised for action this afternoon on as yet unscheduled bills.

With a portrait of the late Sen. Mike Carrell looking on and a state flag folded ceremonially on his desk, the Senate moved quickly this morning through the standard pro forma session. Standard until the very end when instead of adjourning for the day, the chamber went "at ease, subject to call."

Republicans then went into caucus. Democratic leadership huddled with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen in the wings. A regular session was set for 1 p.m.

There may be some tributes to Carrell, who died last week of complications from treatment for a blood disorder, when most Republican senators weren't in town and shocked Democrats only learned of it in an announcement on the chamber floor.

As far as legislation, the list of possibilities isn't long, but it does have two bills the Ways and Means Committee sent out on Friday: one for tougher penalties on repeat DUI offenders and another that attempts to fix a problem with the state's estate tax. 

Sen. Mike Carrell dead

OLYMPIA — The State Senate held a moment of silence today for Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, who died earlier this morning.

Carrell, 69, a 19-year veteran of the Legislature, was a champion of legislation to help at-risk youth, fight sex trafficking, help members of the military and veterans and support law enforcement. The retired math and science teacher was diagnosed with a blood disease earlier this year that is a precursor to leukemia, and was undergoing stem-cell transplants and chemotherapy for treatment. He was unavailable to be present for the closing weeks of the regular session while he went through treatment, although he did keep up with legislation with regular phone conversations with other members.

Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, the Senate Republican Leader, said Carrell died peacefully in his sleep at University of Washington hospital with his wife Charlotte nearby. He succumbed to lung complications from the medical treatment.

"Senator Carrell was at true statesman who put the people of Washington above all else during his 19 years of public service as a legislator," Schoesler said in a press release. "His commitment to his community was always evident in his work and you always knew exactly where you stood with him." 

Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, the lone member of the Majority Coalition Caucus in the chamber who was managing thebrief  pro forma session, announced Carrell's death and asked for a moment of silence. The announcement stunned minority Democrats, who were in the chamber while taking a break from a caucus meeting to prepare for the second half of the special session. 

Carrell's death creates a political challenge for the Senate as it tries to pass an operating budget or any other controversial legislation in the special session.

He was a member of the Majority Coalition Caucus, the 23 Republicans and two Democrats who banded together late last year to wrest control from the remaining 24 Democrats. Until a replacement is appointed, the Senate is split evenly at 24-24.

Under state law, Carrell's appointed replacement will be a Republican, nominated by precinct committee officers in the 28th District, which covers parts of Pierce County,then selected by the county council. It's a process that usually takes two weeks or more.

Greenhouse gas task force gets OK

OLYMPIA — A special task force to figure out how well the state is doing at reducing greenhouse gas emissions got strong support from the Senate today after it was changed to get to work faster.

A critic, however, said the Legislature was paying attention to "pseudo science."

Senate Bill 5802 would set up a task force with a representative from each of the Legislature's four caucuses and the governor, hire a consultant and determine the best ways to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions and other gases thought to contribute to global climate change.

The Legislature passed a law in 2008 to reduce such emissions, and this bill would basically answer the question: "How's that working for us?"

The task force would also look at different options for cutting down the emissions, what they would cost and suggest priorities designed to give the state the best bang for the buck.

"I want to take the religion out of carbon," said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who added he didn't vote for the original law in 2008, but it's in place now.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said the state is particularly vulnerable on climate issues because it can be easily affected by declining snow packs and rising sea levels. The task force won't be answering the question "is it happening?" as "what are we going to do about it?"

But Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said supporters were producing "a long of pseudo science" on possible problems with global temperatures.

"I have no problem with the earth warming," he said, because carbon dioxide encourages plant growth. "You're making an assumption that it is carbon dioxide that's causing the earth to warm, it could be the other way around."

The increase in temperatures could be part of natural patterns, and causing more of the gas to be released from the oceans, he said.

The task force would be set up in mid May, rather than mid July, making it more likely a report would be available for next year's legislative session. The bill passed on a 37-12 vote.

WA Lege Day 24: No welfare money for strip clubs or guns?

OLYMPIA – Welfare recipients wouldn’t be able to use their benefits cards at strip clubs, tattoo parlors or taverns, if the Legislature passes bills like those considered Thursday by a Senate panel.

The cards, known as EBTs for Electronic Benefits Transfer cards, couldn’t be used for guns or body piercings, booze or cigarettes, lottery tickets or casino ATMs.

Recipients would be barred buying things clearly not for children when spending money from the state’s biggest welfare program – formally known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF – under proposals considered Thursday by the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.

The panel got no objections about blocking such payments from Susan Dreyfus, head of the state’s giant welfare agency the Department of Social and Health Services. The state already bars their use for gambling and lottery tickets. The real question was the best way  to prevent such use with the cards, and to crack down on fraud and abuse.

McKenna: Rein in prisoners’ use of Public Records Act

OLYMPIA – Prison inmates would be barred from collecting damages in public records fights with state government and could be banned from court if they repeatedly file frivolous suits under bills supported this year by Attorney General Rob McKenna.

The state would also put more restrictions on eminent domain foreclosures and crack down on mail theft in legislative proposals McKenna unveiled Monday with legislators from both parties who support them.

Washington’s scheduled 105-day legislative session starts next Monday.

State law requires government agencies to release public records, and allows anyone who is denied a public record to sue and receive damages if a court agrees the record was public and should have been released by the government agency that denied the request….

WA Lege Day 54: Tax package out of committee

OLYMPIA – Despite warnings of wrath from voters in November, Senate Democrats moved a step closer to a vote on some $890 million in tax increases to fix the state’s budget hole.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved 12-10 a three-year increase in the sales tax and a series of changes to tax laws and loopholes designed to help fix a projected operating budget shortfall of $2.8 billion. They also are proposing cutting about $829 million in programs and using federal funds or transferring money out of other accounts to cover the rest.

The 21-part tax package would extend the sales tax to bottled water, cut exemptions for some equipment on wind and solar energy, raise the business and occupation tax on service businesses and raise taxes on out-of-state firms with representatives who sell directly to Washington customers.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the full Senate could debate the tax plan as early as today.

It does not include a recent proposal to ask voters in November if they want to cut back on the sales tax in favor of an income tax on people who make more than $200,000 a year. That could come up in a separate bill before the Legislature adjourns Thursday – if it can gather enough support, Brown said.

“There’s time (to pass the income tax bill) but there has to be willingness in both houses. On that, I’m not sure,” she said.

For almost every part of the 21-point tax package, Republicans offered amendments to strip or pare back a new tax or restore an exemption, then had separate amendments to put each tax change on the November ballot for an advisory vote.

“I think it is important to let people know who is doing what to whom,” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said in asking for an advisory vote on changes to rules that establish when an out-of-state company is subject to Washington taxes.

At one point, the arguments became so repetitive that Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, merely said “Same speech, Madame Chair.” Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, ordered a vote, which got the same result, and the amendment failed.

WA Lege Day 54: Partisan one upsmanship on Beatles

OLYMPIA — Taxing bottled water is such a bad thing that Sen. Mike Carrell wondered today where it would all stop, and offered up no less an expert than The Beatles to prove his point.

But Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, made it clear she wasn’t going to be out-Beatled.

Carrell, R-Lakewood, was trying to force a November advisory vote on a section of the Senate Democrats’ proposal that would extend the sales tax to bottled water. Right now, it’s considered a food item, and exempt from the tax. Republicans had already won the point that the tax should be temporary, but Carrell wanted the plebiscite “to let the people know who is for taxing.”

After all, this is taxing water, he said. What’s next? “There’s an old Beatles song about taxing the air we breathe. This is getting close to that.”

Prentice signaled she’d had enough of the argument by replying: “That Beatles reference is from their album ‘Revolver.’ ”

True Beatles fans know  one of them is wrong. Go inside the blog to find out who.