The Legislature moves on a unique calendar, with a series of deadlines for bills to achieve a certain status by a certain date or be relegated to the slag heap of legislation. Last Wednesday was one such cutoff day, which required any bill to pass the chamber in which it was proposed or be considered dead, or at least on life support.
The cutoff is generally described as 5 p.m., but rules actually say the chamber must start debating it by 5 p.m., so a bill introduced with minutes or seconds to go can, in theory, be debated for hours. This sometimes creates high drama with a controversial topic and denizens of the Capitol wonder: What will the 4:59 bill be?
Admittedly, this is not something that keeps normal people on the edge of their seat. But political reporters at mid-session are easily distracted and Senate Republicans kept us guessing. Would it be a GOP version of the Voting Rights Act, or maybe a ban on sex-selection abortions? The caucus sent out multiple lists of bills, but no one could be sure. It certainly wouldn’t be a tightening of the campaign finance rules proposed by Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, because a move by Democrats to make that the 4:59 bill was squelched earlier in the day. Majority Republicans insisted it was their prerogative to call the final bill that might be sent to the House.
With minutes to spare, Republicans showed their hand. They would debate SB 5915, which requires dynamic fiscal notes on legislation that affect the budget, a bill that had passed 49-0 last year.
Budget geek stuff? Possibly the worst 4:59 bill ever. No serious debate, no fireworks of any kind. It passed by the same count. Thankfully the House was at least debating whether to call a constitutional convention to overturn the Citizens United ruling on campaign financing, which barely passed on a partisan 50-48 count.