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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Three issues at forefront of session

State’s budget, roads and harsher DUI penalties are focus of special session

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee has shortened his top priorities on the Legislature’s “to do” list for the special session to three things: Pass an operating budget. Pass a new package for transportation projects. Toughen penalties for those who drive drunk or high.

Three other things he listed as priorities two weeks ago might not get done, Inslee said Monday, the opening day of the 30-day special session.

Tougher gun-control legislation, the Reproductive Parity Act and the Washington Dream Act – which would allow children who entered the United States illegally but were raised in the country to qualify for some financial aid at state colleges – all deserved a vote, Inslee said on April 28 when calling for a special session.

At the time, he contended all three could pass if given a chance for a floor vote. Monday he said that while he and legislative allies will look for opportunities to pass them, those chances may not arise.

“It’s a fact of life we need to focus on the most important things first,” Inslee said.

In the two weeks since the regular session ended, negotiators have agreed on “some fundamental assumptions about the budget,” Inslee said. But he and leaders of the majority caucus in the Senate were tight-lipped about any details, insisting at press conferences called to discuss the special session that they weren’t going to negotiate in the news media.

After saying all sides need to work to reach a consensus, Inslee wouldn’t answer whether he’d accept a scaled-down version of his plan to close some tax preferences and extend some temporary taxes on professional services and beer.

“The budget I have proposed is a great one… but I am going to be agreeing to something different,” he said.

Sen. Rodney Tom, the Medina Democrat who heads up the predominantly Republican Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate, wouldn’t say that members of his caucus would budge from their “no-new-taxes” approach to the budget.

“We’ve made a lot of compromises already,” Tom said. That included agreeing to expand Medicaid in the state under the federal Affordable Care Act, which some Senate Republicans oppose.

Tom and Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, the Senate Republican leader, also said there are significant reforms in education and the state workers’ compensation program that their members hope to get out during the special session.

But Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, the House majority leader, told the Associated Press the focus of the special session needs to be on the budget.

“The public expects us to get our work done, and that needs to be our primary focus,” he said. “The sooner the better.”

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