OLYMPIA -- Some years the closing days of a legislative session is a mad dash to get bills passed before the clock runs out.
Not this year. Many people have assumed -- correctly as it turns out -- the Legislature would not finish its work in the 105 days allotted. Now that a special session is a fait accompli, the pace has slowed to rival a glacier before global warming.
Gov. Jay Inslee said he would be meeting with Republican leaders Thursday afternoon to finalize a schedule for a special session, but the consensus was that lawmakers would finish work on whatever bills on which they can agree by Friday, and most will go home. A skeleton crew will show up Saturday and Sunday, Days 104 and 105, for pro forma sessions, and the 2017 regular session will end not with a bang, or even with a whimper, with sine die -- the Latin term for the end of the session, pronounced Sie-nee-die --Sunday.
Maybe it should be called tiny die. Or whiny die. Or phony die.
The special session likely will start on Monday, although most legislators won't be in Olympia then, either. The group negotiating policies for public schools, to satisfy the state Supreme Court's order, will probably meet daily. But there's no schedule right now for formal budget negotiations.
That last point drew fire from Democratic leaders at their weekly press conference, and from Inslee when he fielded questions from reporters after the day's bill signings. Both discounted a Republican demand that House Democrats pass the taxes connected to their budget proposal as a precondition to budget negotiations.
And before the Legislature can go home for good, it must pass a compromise budget in both chambers that can be signed by the governor. Some other things, like changing the state's driver's license system to satisfy federal mandates and figuring out a way that property owners in suburban and rural areas can drill wells, would be nice and figuring out a way to protect residents' data from being hawked by internet providers would be a bonus.
But without a budget by June 30, the state faces a partial government shutdown.
"The key thing is that we actually need to start budget negotiations," Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said. "The only votes that count are the ones that give us a go-home, middle-of-the-road, compromise budget."
Inslee said he would encourage Republicans to give up their precondition and start negotiations with Democrats. With control of the Legislature split between Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the House, both sides will have to compromise that solves the state's public education problems, he added.
"The kids can't eat votes in the Legislature. They need a budget," Inslee said.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, insisted Republicans were not stonewalling on the budget but said education policies, and the amount of money needed to pay for them, should be settled before formal budget negotiations begin. Some 53 percent of the Senate budget goes to education, and a change in school policies or programs could have a big impact on the overall budget.
With a fairly light work load Thursday morning the Capitol campus was quieter than usual for a final week of special session. That meant NARAL didn't have many folks around to see the photo op/protest calling for moderate Republican Sens. Joe Fain and Dino Rossi to support funding for Planned Parenthood. Neither did the tax chicken, who is hectoring Democrats to vote on their tax package.