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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The big six: Washington

Secretary of State Sam Reed will help lead a task force that will hold election reform hearings across Washington. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokesman-Review

Tracking the top issues of the session:

Election reform

In the wake of Washington state’s closest-ever governor’s race, Secretary of State Sam Reed and several lawmakers are proposing a laundry list of changes to the state’s election system. Among them: shifting Washington’s September primary back to May, so that election officials would have more time to prepare for close primary races and recounts.

Where things stand: Gov. Christine Gregoire said this week that she’s sending out a task force – co-chaired by Reed – that will hold election reform hearings across the state. The Senate’s election committee is also meeting Monday with Reed and other election officials to discuss reforms.


Teachers and other school staff are hoping lawmakers will reinstate Initiatives 728 and 732, which were suspended two years ago to save money. The measures were supposed to steer hundreds of millions of dollars more into teacher salaries and shrinking class sizes.

Where things stand: Boosting teacher pay seems popular – Democrats cheered when Gregoire said Wednesday that “we need to fund cost-of-living pay increases to teachers.” But how to come up with the cash? Gregoire also pledged to revamp middle- and high school education to spur student success and lower the dropout rate.

Taxes and fees

New taxes are critical to avoid lasting damage to the state’s schools, colleges and social services, lame-duck Gov. Gary Locke said as he was preparing to leave Olympia. No way, say Republicans, who maintain that virtually any new taxes would hurt the economy.

Where things stand: Gregoire’s been coy on the issue, saying over and over that “now is not the time to talk about taxes.” She’s said she first wants to see what a budget looks like without new taxes and see if it’s bearable. But she’s also calling for some costly changes: more health care, cost-of-living raises for teachers and state workers, and more student slots at colleges. Two influential Democrats on Thursday proposed increasing taxes on beer, wine and liquor.

Liability reforms

Everyone seems to agree that liability insurance costs much more than it used to and that something should be done. Agreement ends there. There are dueling initiatives to the Legislature, one favoring doctors’ solution – a cap on jury awards for pain and suffering in liability cases – and the other leaning toward lawyers’ proposal, which includes better discipline of bad doctors.

Where things stand: The two initiatives will go head to head Monday, with back-to-back public hearings in a Senate committee. Good luck finding a seat.


Business groups want an overhaul of the workers’ compensation program for injured employees. They say it’s too expensive and biased toward employees’ versions of what happened. Some industries will also likely seek tax breaks – or try to stave off efforts to toss out old tax breaks.

Where things stand: First tax breaks out of the gate: incentives for solar energy systems and other renewable energy projects.

Health care

Democrats want to expand the state’s low-cost insurance program for children. They’re also considering proposals designed to increase Medicaid reimbursements to doctors who treat the poor and to help small businesses afford to offer health insurance to their employees.

Where things stand: Too early to say, but the new governor’s clearly supportive. “When half a million people (in Washington) have no health insurance, we have work to do,” Gregoire said in her inaugural speech Wednesday.