OLYMPIA – Republicans in the Washington Senate kept the prospect of state funds for charter schools alive as lawmakers maneuvered to complete a budget deal before the session ends next Thursday.
With no debate, they moved a bill with no text through the Senate budget committee, hoping to have a vehicle to keep the schools functioning next year with state dollars.
Over objections from Senate Democrats, they also approved a controversial change to two of the state’s oldest pension systems: a proposed merger of the fund for law enforcement and firefighters with a separate fund for school employees. The projected savings could provide long-term budget relief, although retired police officers denounced the plan Wednesday.
The committee also approved a bill with programs and policies to keep wildfires from happening and to fight them more effectively when they occur.
The charter school legislation is what’s known as a “title only” bill, onto which a plan that sets up a source of money can be grafted on the Senate floor. The practice is criticized by supporters of open government who argue the public is shut out of discussions on a title-only bill’s topic. But it is common in the closing days of most legislative sessions as a way to get around deadlines for committees to hear and vote on bills tied to the budget.
On the proposed pension merger, Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, argued it should be delayed until the effects can be studied by the legislative committee that oversees pensions.
“This is not the way we should be trying to balance the budget,” Conway said. His amendment failed and the bill to combine the pensions was sent to the full Senate.