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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington Senate proposes public vote on policy shifts

Mike Baker Associated Press

OLYMPIA – The Washington Senate proposed Sunday to have statewide votes on policies that would alter how lawmakers manage the budget and how school principals manage their teachers.

Republican Sen. Steve Litzow said leaders had decided to put the ideas to a referendum as a concession in budget negotiations. The Senate wants three major reform bills passed as part of a final budget compromise, but the House has not approved the policy ideas.

One of the Senate proposals would give principals the option of rejecting teachers appointed to their schools.

Another would place limits on the rate of growth for noneducation spending in the state budget.

Litzow said he was confident that both would pass a ballot campaign.

“I’m happy to have that conversation all day long with parents,” Litzow said.

Along with those two plans considered for a ballot vote, the Senate also wants lawmakers to directly approve an overhaul to how the state settles workers’ compensation claims.

All three bills passed out of the Senate on Sunday afternoon.

Lawmakers have struggled to find common ground in budget negotiations over the past week, and they are now just a couple days away from the end of an overtime session. The House has been pushing new ways to raise revenue – something the Senate opposes – while the Senate has been pushing its policy shifts.

Democrats have broadly opposed the policy changes promoted by the Senate majority coalition. Democratic Sen. David Frockt also said he opposed a public vote, given the complexity of the bills, and said the Legislature should be making the decisions outright.

“It’s our responsibility to govern and make the tough decisions,” Frockt said.

The education proposal would give principals the option of declining to accept teachers who are assigned to their schools. Supporters said the bill would give principals more ability to manage their staffs, while opponents said lawmakers should focus on improving schools in other ways – such as by lowering class sizes.

On the budget plan, Senate leaders seek to cap noneducation spending growth at a rate equal to the population growth rate plus the inflation rate. Supporters believe that plan would ensure that growing revenues would go toward education instead of other parts of the budget, while opponents are concerned that the rules would arbitrarily restrict spending on programs that would help children or keep the public safe.

The workers’ compensation bill lowers the age of those eligible for settlements. That would expand changes made in 2011 that were designed to rein in the system’s costs to prevent rate increases for businesses. Supporters believe the plan would put the system on firmer financial footing, while opponents expressed concern that injured workers may end up accepting less money in the settlements than they are entitled to receive.