OLYMPIA -- The Senate may pass its first bill today, a pace criticized by Democrats Wednesday morning before the chamber recessed until mid afternoon.
The bill that could be put to a vote is a big one, the Republicans' overhaul of the way the state raises and spends money on public schools. It came out of the Ways and Means Committee Tuesday on a party-line vote and may get the same treatment in the full Senate.
And there-in lies the rub, because the Republicans have been down a couple of bodies for the last 10 days, after Sen. Brian Dansel of Republic resigned to take a full-time job with the U.S. Agriculture Department and Sen. Doug Ericksen has a temporary gig for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for which he hasn't resigned but has been spending much of the time in Washington, D.C.
That was supposed to be remedied Wednesday morning, with Shelly Short sworn in to replace Dansel, and Ericksen due back after a Tuesday night flight. He had scheduled a morning press conference to "discuss a dual role as a member of the Washington State Senate and as a member of the federal transition team."
But then the flight, and the press conference, were cancelled, and Ericksen wasn't due in until the afternoon.
With nothing else pressing, Democrats took to the floor to complain about how Ericksen's peripatetic schedule was causing problems like cancelled meetings of the Environment Committee which he chairs and a slowdown in Senate business. The Legislature was in its 24th day and had yet to pass a bill, Sen. Marko Liias said, and was falling behind the House.
People drive across the state to testify at committee hearings, only to find the hearings cancelled," Sen. Reuven Carlyle said. "The majority party is sending us down the pathway of the potential of extra time."
Republican Floor Leader Joe Fain countered: "The House has passed exactly one piece of legislation, so we are exactly one bill behind."
(That was true at that particular moment, because the House had only passed one bill -- albeit a big one -- a one-year delay to the required drop in taxing authority for school districts. Shortly after the Senate went on break, however, the House took up and quickly passed 20 noncontroversial bills.)
Whether the Senate votes on the education overhaul bill later today will depend on the head count at 3:30 p.m.