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Spin Control: Mumm left speechless at hearing on Baumgartner bill

Relations between the Legislature and city governments are often touchy, and between one Spokane legislator and the Spokane City Council they are particularly so.

Not terribly surprising, considering Republican Sen. Mike Baumgartner drafted a bill that would have undone a Spokane ordinance requiring many businesses to offer limited family and sick leave. Baumgartner filed the bill shortly after the City Council overrode Mayor David Condon’s veto of that ordinance.

The Baumgartner bill got a quick hearing, also not terribly surprising, considering it was assigned to the Commerce and Labor Committee, of which Baumgartner is chairman. But it had to share the agenda with several other controversial pieces of legislation as a deadline for all such bills was fast approaching. Baumgartner set aside a half-hour for talking about his bill along with another that involved raising the state minimum wage, and limited testimony to 90 seconds per witness.

Time quickly ran down before everyone who wanted to speak got the chance. Among those waiting when the bell tolled was Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, who had made the trip west to stick up for the leave ordinance in particular and the cities’ rights to pass such things in general.

“I felt like I was stood up on a blind date,” Mumm said later in the hallway, adding the council had to step up to the issue of family leave because the Legislature hadn’t.

The city also put out a news release in which Mumm criticized Baumgartner for “giving priority” to lobbyists over local folks. “Cities and citizens should have an opportunity to speak at our State Capitol on issues that will affect them.”

Baumgartner said later he didn’t know Mumm was going to be in the audience, and if she had let his office know she was coming, he might have been able to accommodate her. But there were about 15 other people who also wanted to speak but didn’t, and they could all submit written testimony.

He also said there was “some irony” in criticism from a member of the council about limiting testimony, considering the council itself has come under fire for that at its meetings.

To be fair, the council’s new rule involves a once-a-month limit on speaking at the public free-for-all, er, open forum, before and after official business, not on ordinances under consideration. Legislative committees as a rule do not let witnesses pop off on any subject at any time. There is at least one committee, however, where the chairwoman regularly does.

The amended version of the bill, passed by the committee later in the week, grandfathered in existing laws like the Spokane leave ordinance, something Baumgartner said he expected all along.

Handwriting that’s not on the wall

The Legislature is debating many important issues about education, including teacher shortages, funding formulas and testing students to make sure they’ve learned what they should.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, had one more she thought the state should address: cursive writing. Or rather, the lack of it.

“Something happened when we weren’t looking,” she told the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. “They took cursive writing out of schools. Nobody voted to take that out.”

Time-strapped schools apparently have abandoned it, and she worried that without a knowledge of cursive, grandchildren won’t be able to read letters from their grandmothers. It’s like “taking away half a language,” she said.

Unfortunately, the good penmanship industry has no lobbyist in Olympia. Roach’s bill didn’t get voted out of committee by Friday’s deadline, so it’s likely dead.

Good rhetoric = questionable math

House Democrats are pushing a bill that would allow college students who drop out with only a semester or less to go before earning a degree to come back and finish for free.

There would be limits to this largesse: They’d have to have been gone from the classroom for at least three years, so no dropping out in December and having the state pick up the tuition tab in January. They unveiled the proposal with several college presidents in tow, and the “Free to Finish” bill made it out of committee before Friday’s deadline.

It faces some tough financial questions from budget minders. There was one bit of questionable math at the unveiling that involved the proposal’s value, not its cost.

“A partial degree is infinitely less valuable than a full degree,” said Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, D-Seattle.

It may be dangerous for a reporter – a profession notoriously bad at math – to pick a bone with Walkinshaw, who is a Fulbright scholar, but something can’t be infinitely less valuable. It can be very, significantly, extremely or, if one channels Donald Trump, hugely less valuable. But to be infinitely less, whatever value it had would have to be stripped away and taken down into the realm of negative unreal numbers.

The value of a partial college education may not be what it used to be, but somewhere there are stats that show it ain’t less than nothing.

Spin Controlo appears online at http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/spincontrol/.

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