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Rodney Tom addresses a delegation from Spokane last January.
OLYMPIA — Rodney Tom, a Republican turned Democrat who joined with GOP members of the Senate to form a ruling coalition for the last two years, will not run for re-election this fall.
Tom, currently the Senate majority leader, announced today he concluded over the weekend “the decision not to run is the right one for me and my family.”
He called his service as leader of the Majority Coalition Caucus “an opportunity of a lifetime for me personally”. . .
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OLYMPIA — A transportation package from the predominantly Republican Senate majority may be announced Thursday, although coalition leaders couldn't say Wednesday how much support it has in their caucus.
Instead, they took aim at Gov. Jay Inslee, accusing the governor of a lack of leadership in negotiating something that he and legislators have said the state needs for more than a year — a plan to build new highway projects, fix roads and bridges, reform transportation practices and generate support for the taxes needed to accomplish that. They haven't had a meeting with Inslee since the first day of the legislative session, Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, said.
“We need to get back in that room,” Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said. “The governor's going to have to show a lot of leadership.”
A spokesman for Inslee called the criticism “utter nonsense” and a sign that those leaders are feeling the heat from constituents and business groups for their own inaction.
David Postman said staff from the governor's office has been in contact with the Curtis King, the Senate Republican working on the package, on a daily basis. The governor convened a dozen meetings on transportation with legislative leaders last year. They broke up in December with King saying it would be up to the Senate to come up with a package as a counter to the proposal House Democrats passed in that chamber, Postman said. According to some recent reports, that package might not be ready until a “lame duck” session after the November elections.
Tom and Schoesler parried questions about whether they had the votes to pass a transportation package by questioning whether House Democrats have the votes to approve the bonds needed for their proposal. Although a list of projects and taxes can pass with a simple majority, the bonds needed to build some of those projects by using the tax money require a three-fifths majority, 60 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate.
“To get to 30, the governor needs to get us in the room. Maybe then you can start meeting everybody's needs,” Tom said.
Inslee and House Democrats can't negotiate with Senate Republicans unless they have the votes to pass their package and get their members to agree to changes they sign off on. “The people who need to be locked in a room is the coalition,” Postman said.
“We have done hard things. And we can do more,” the Democratic governor told a joint legislative session in his annual state of the state address.
Legislative Republicans and a Democrat who joined them to form the Senates ruling coalition were quick to criticize the speech as long on ideas but short on specifics. . .
OLYMPIA — The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus is telling its members a deal has been struck over the state's 2013-15 budget.
Gov. Jay Inslee's staff cautions, however, that there is no final agreement.
Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, in an e-mail to members, describes it as “truly a compromise budget”. in which no one got everything they wanted but “in the end I think we arrived at a balanced approach that everyone can live with and that brings us closer to the education-first budget many of us envisioned. ”
It may not be a fully cooked deal, however, Sen. Joe Fain, the coalitions floor leader, told reporters there are still some issues to be worked out, just before leaving the House wings with Rep. Reuven Carlyle, the House Finance Committee Chairman.
David Postman, the governor's spokesman, said talk of a deal is premature: No one has reported to the governor or his budget director that there is an agreement. And, in fact, the House has told us that it is still negotiating with the Senate at this hour. We believe we are close, but as of now there is more work to be done. I’ll take it as a good sign that the Senate is anxious to make an announcement, but it is premature for anyone to say at this point that a deal has been struck.
Inslee has a noon meeting with his cabinet to discuss contingencies in case there's a partial government shutdown next week. His staff is scheduled to give an update when that meeting ends around 1 p.m.
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”. . .
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OLYMPIA – Among the bromides passed off as great wisdom during this special session of the Legislature is that budget negotiators should not – nay, absolutely must not, and therefore do not – negotiate a budget in the media.
This has been mentioned at various times by players, from the governor to the leadership of the Senate and House to the negotiators themselves as though the admonition were cast in stone, or at least referenced through an asterisk on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai and clear for anyone who read the next few verses in Deuteronomy.
Let’s get the office Bible down and check. Ah yes, here it is …Shalt not covet thy neighbor’s whatever. Shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. Shalt not negotiate budgets in the media.
The media, it should surprise no one, thinks this is a silly commandment… ,
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OLYMPIA — Leaders of the coalition that controls the Senate say they have made a counter offer on the budget to the House Democrats, who yesterday announced a $33.6 billion spending plan for 2013-15.
It's a “comprehensive” offer, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina said. It spends more than $1 billion extra on public schools.
So what's in it and how is it different from House Bill 1057?
“We're not going to negotiate in the press,” Tom said at a press conference the Majority Coalition Caucus called, ostensibly to say they had countered on the budget.
Told that the House Democrats plan to spend about $1 billion extra for schools, too, Tom said the budget really only has $700 million. It relies on closing a list of tax credits to raise money beyond that level for schools, and that's not a reliable solution.
“It needs to be dependable funding,” Tom said. “Going out to the voters, by nature is not a dependable source.”
There's no guarantee the voters will say yes, he added. “This is not the Soviet Union where you can guarantee a vote.”
But the House tax package does not have a referendum clause, its author, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said. It is expected to have an emergency clause, making it unlikely the taxes could be placed on the ballot by a signature campaign.
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the House Democrats chief budget negotiator, declined to say whether the Senate Majority Caucus, which includes 23 Republicans and two Democrats, had presented a comprehensive counter offer.
“We're moving a budget so we have a vehicle,” Hunter said. That process is public, but negotiations are in private. “I'm not going to characterize those private offers.”
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.
OLYMPIA — The Legislature might still finish on time Sunday, even though the House and Senate have two very different budget proposals and disagreements on some key policy issues, Republican leaders of the Legislature and the Democrat who heads up the Senate's majority coalition said today.
“Logjams can be broken,” Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said. “We've seen it before. We could see it again.”
“This place is amazing in the miracles that can transpire,” Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said.
Speaking less than two hours after Gov. Jay Inslee said a special session will likely be needed to reach agreement on several budgets and other policy measures, Tom, who leads the mostly Republican Majority Coalition, and GOP members of the House and Senate, said they believed it might not be necessary.
The dynamite needed to break the logjam, however, would seem to be House Democrats agreeing to a budget with no new taxes, similar to the one the Senate passed two weeks ago. The House is scheduled to vote this afternoon on a tax package that would generate an extra $900 million over the next two years by eliminating or reducing certain tax exemptions, credits and preferences.
Until that tax package passes, negotiations are difficult because the two sides don't have firm budgets in place for starting points, Sen. Andy Hill, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said.
Tom and legislative Republican leaders made clear that if a special session is needed, they will put the lion's share of the blame on Inslee for not doing enough to help negotiate a settlement.
“He's not as active as his predecessor,” Schoesler said, a reference to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who often would mediate discussions and keep legislators in a room until they'd reach a compromise.
Inslee said earlier in the morning he and his staff have had regular meetings with legislative leadership and individual legislators to try to reach compromises, but he can't impose a solution on the different sides.
“I was elected governor, not dictator,” he said. “I think people are acting in good faith.”
OLYMPIA — Supporters of the controversial Reproductive Parity Act say they have enough votes to pass it in the Senate, but they may not get the chance.
The chairwoman of the committee that held a two-hour hearing on the bill said Monady afternoon she will not schedule a vote on it, meaning the bill will die without further parliamentary maneuvering.
Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville and the chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee, said some four hours after the hearing she will not schedule a vote on the bill. Becker, who refused to hear a Senate version of the bill earlier in the year, said she fulfilled a pledge to hold a hearing on the House version after the bill passed the other chamber.
Some people consider the bill unnecessary because all health insurance companies offer abortion coverage, Becker said. Others, including U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, say it could jeopardize federal health care funds by violating a law that protects some groups from being forced to buy insurance that violates their religious principles.
The bill mentions exemptions for what's known as the conscience clause in three different places, but opponents said it contradicts those exemptions with other language that says an employee cannot be denied abortion coverage.
“The fact is that at this point, House Bill 1044 is a solution in search of a problem,” Becker said in a prepared statement to announce she wouldn't schedule a committee vote on the bill. Wednesday is a deadline for the bill to get voted out of the committee to continue moving through the regular process.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens and a sponsor of the bill, told the committee Monday he had 25 signatures on a letter saying they would vote for it if it came to the Senate floor. That would be enough to pass it and send it to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has said he would sign it.
To do that, however, they'd have to hold together and try bringing the bill to the floor through a parliamentary procedure. Among the 25 signers to the letter is Sen. Rodney Tom, of Medina, the Democrat who leads the mostly Republican majority coalition that controls the chamber and opposes the bill.
Cadet honor guard carries the state flag to the Senate rostrum during joint session to honor Gardner.
OLYMPIA – With his family in the gallery and flags outside lowered to half-staff, Booth Gardner was eulogized Friday in the Senate chamber where he once served, as a champion of children, education and personal choice . . .
Gov. Jay Inslee explains his Working Washington Agenda Wednesday.
OLYMPIA — A hearing on a proposal to require insurance companies to cover abortion services if they cover live births was cancelled this morning, a few days after the committee chairman said he would hear the bill even though he didn't support it.
The Reproductive Parity bill was among several proposals on the schedule for the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which earlier this week held a two-hour hearing on a bill on the other side of the abortion issue which would require parental notification for any minor seeking an abortion.
Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, announced on Monday he was scheduling the Friday morning hearing, adding that didn't mean he supported it. Padden is a longtime opponent of abortion and a co-sponsor of the parental notification bill. At the time he said the Reproductive Parity bill had problems that would become clear in the hearing.
The committee did meet, discussing bills on boating safety, adding judges in the Tri-Cities and defining subpoena power for the state auditor.
Abortion bills have the potential for splitting the coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats who form the majority in the Senate. Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who supports abortion rights, said earlier this week that he didn't support the parental notification bill, but the hearing was the first on the oft-proposed measure in 10 years. Holding a hearing on that measure showed the coaltion was willing to debate issues that had been “bottled up” by the previous Democratic majority, he said.
At the time, Tom also noted that the Reproductive Parity bill had been scheduled for today's hearing, and said the hearings would “get us away from demonization” of the two sides on the issue.
“Let's have that debate,” he said.
Padden said this morning he decided to cancel the Reproductive Parity bill because he believes it would jeopardize federal funding and invite lawsuits if it became law. An identical bill has been referred to the Health Care Committee
“I never was a fan of the bill to begin with and I worked hard to defeat it last year,” Padden said of a similar measure that died when time ran out for a deadline to pass bills.
After the bill was abruptly pulled from the Law and Justice hearing calendar, Tom reportedly told the Associated Press it was not determined when or where the bill might be heard. An identical bill is before the Senate Health Committee, but is not expected to get a hearing there, either. A similar bill has been heard in the House and is expected to pass that chamber.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, the sponsor of the Reproductive Parity bill that was pulled from Friday's hearing schedule, said he was frustrated by Padden's refusal to hear the bill.
But Hobbs said Tom has “given me his word that we're going to hear it. I'm going to give him the opportunity to get it right.”
One Democratic source said an option could be for Senate leaders to reassign the bill to the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, because it involves a regulation for insurance companies.
The chairman of that committee is Hobbs.
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee thinks the Legislature should leave the state's workers compensation system alone and work through the reforms approved in 2011.
House Republicans and the GOP-dominated Senate majority think the state needs to reform the reforms.
Although not terribly surprising, they managed to highlight their disagreement rather pointedly Wednesday.To read more about it or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — A bill that would require parental notification when a woman under 18 seeks an abortion in Washington could divide the Senate's “majority coalition” intent on passing bills on jobs, budget and education.
The notification bill, with strong support from Senate Republicans opposed to abortion, is likely to get a hearing in the next few weeks in the Law and Justice Committee, whose chairman Mike Padden of the Spokane Valley is a strong supporter. It would be the first bill dealing with parental notification on abortions to receive a Senate hearing in years, and support on the committee makes it likely to clear the panel.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who serves as the leader of the coalition of all 23 Republicans and two Democrats, wants to doesn't support bringing such a divisive issue before the full Senate. Although the coalition will have to discuss whether to bring an abortion bill to the floor, he believes they should focus on three things: increasing jobs, getting a balanced and sustainable budget, and improving education.
“We will not divide our caucus on issues that are going to be divisive,” Tom said as a press conference Thursday. At a later meeting with a delegation of local business and civic leaders from Spokane, Tom described himself as “100 percent pro-choice.”
Sen. Mark Schoesler, the leader of the 23 Republicans in the caucus, said there's a wide range of issues addressed in bills being proposed because “members are free to introduce anything they want.” Whether to bring the parental notification bill to the floor, if it gets out of committee, “is yet to be determined,” he said.
Inslee shows off the decorating changes in the governor's office, which include a portrait of Abraham Lincoln given to him by his father-in-law, a Republican.
OLYMPIA — State officials are trying to convince the federal government they can keep legally grown pot from making its way over the border to Oregon, Idaho or other states at they try to avoid a legal fight over the new marijuana law.
“It is our responsiblilty to show the federal government we will be a responsible entity,” Gov. Jay Inslee said today/
One of the key issues the state is trying to get more information to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is “leakage”, or the movement of some legally grown and licensed marijuana from being diverted into the black market. It is compiling information about the state patrol's highway interdiction program to send to Washington, D.C.
OLYMPIA — A Senate proposal that would result in the Legislature rejecting contracts negotiated between the governor's office and state employees' unions will likely face opposition from Democratic leaders in that chamber.
“It does not make sense to me,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said of the proposal. “I think it's a distraction from the bigger problems we have.”
SB 5870, introduced this week, would essentially refuse to provide the funds needed for the contracts that have been negotiated and “encourage the parties … to reconven to reach an agreement that takes into account the Legislature's concerns and better recognizes the state's fiscal situation.” It was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled.
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said it is simply an attempt to get new contracts in light of the state's declining revenue picture.
“It's not Wisconsin. It doesn't eliminate collective bargaining,” he said, referring to the controversy in that Midwestern state over a bill recently passed by Republicans that did strip many bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees.
Brown said, however, state employees have already agreed to lower wages, furloughs and higher benefit costs, as well as staff reductions from the closure of state facilities. To arguments by some Republicans that state workers have better pay and benefits than their counterparts in private industry, Brown countered that the studies are mixed: “I don't know there's really clear evidence of that.”
But the bill could wind up costing the state more money, she said. It would force contract negotiations to resume, but there's no guarantee when an agreement would be reached. That could mean the existing contract, with higher pay and benefits, would remain in place for the first year of the biennium, she said.