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Spin Control: Some bills make the cut and others move closer to legislative oblivion

OLYMPIA – Friday was a cutoff day for the Legislature. That’s not to say the weather has been so good that we can shed our raincoats and don jeans that have been shortened by scissors.

Rather, it is a term for deadlines the Legislature imposes on itself to pare down the hundreds of bills that get introduced, directing more attention to some while pushing others toward oblivion. Many people refer to the latter as dead, although veteran legislators will tell you that nothing is truly dead until the honorables adjourn for good and go home. Like Lazarus a few have been restored to life over the years. They are, more accurately, on life support and the hand that could pull the plug is hovering.

Bills that involve policy without significantly affecting the budget faced such a deadline Friday. They needed to get voted out of their first committee or be put in that precarious position. There may be some bills you’ve heard about in recent weeks and are wondering “what ever happened to …?” Here are some updates:

Efforts to repeal Initiative 594, the expansion of background checks on gun sales: At least three bills were introduced in the House; none got a hearing. A Senate committee approved some bills to narrow the background check provisions for law enforcement, the military and a few other professions, and moved them to the full Senate.

Splitting Washington into two states: Two bills and a memorial to Congress to accomplish that in one form or another were introduced. None got a hearing.

Abolishing the death penalty: Got a hearing in the House; didn’t get a committee vote.

Restrictions on using small parcels of state land to access streams, rivers and lakes: Generated lots of heat in the outdoors community and got a hearing in a House committee. The reaction was bad and the sponsor planned to rewrite it to address concerns; a new version never surfaced for a vote.

Getting rid of daylight saving time: Got hearings in the Senate and House, but no vote in either.

Criminalizing “agricultural production interference,” sometimes called the ag-gag bill: Got a House hearing; no vote.

Changing the way the state Supreme Court is elected: This was popular among some legislators, due in no small part to the court holding them in contempt for not spending enough on public schools. At least seven different ideas were proposed – six to elect them by district and one to make them partisan positions because, as the bill says, “the Supreme Court has decided to act like the Legislature and has thus violated the separation of powers.” Some are bills; others are proposed constitutional amendments. One proposed amendment on district elections got a hearing in the Senate Law and Justice Committee and was passed out on a partisan 4-3 vote. So it’s alive, but supporters may want to get the defibrillator panels charged because a constitutional amendment takes a supermajority in both chambers, and the committee vote suggests that’s not likely. The others didn’t get hearings.

2016 presidential election season officially begins

In Iowa, a presidential election season begins when candidates start showing up at county fairs. In Washington, it begins with an effort to get the two major parties to award at least some of their national convention delegates based on the results of the state’s presidential primary. Voters approved the primary in 1989, but the parties prefer caucuses and the initiative couldn’t force them to use the primary even though elections officials point out that a bazillion times more people vote than attend caucuses. OK, you know all this because we go through it every four years as the presidential election approaches.

The starting gun sounded last week, with a bill on the primary getting a hearing in a Senate committee and another getting introduced in the House. Getting rid of it would save the state $11.5 million, so it’s not subject to cut-off.

Next up in the countdown of harbingers of a presidential election: Someone will suggest a plan to eliminate the Electoral College.

Say what?

Washington State University President Elson Floyd, arguing why a state law dating to 1917 that gives a monopoly on medical education to the University of Washington should change: “Our society has changed dramatically since 1917. Women can vote now, could not vote in 1917.”

Actually, not quite. True for the nation as a whole, but Washington voters changed the constitution to allow women to vote in 1910, almost a decade before the United States. Can’t blame this one strictly on the guys.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia correspondent Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at www.spokesman.com/blogs/spincontrol.
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