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Spin Control: For some lawmakers, ’tis the season to be filing

If the last Thanksgiving leftovers have been thrown out and at least one radio station is playing “Jingle Bell Rock,” it can only mean it’s that magical time of the year, when some people believe wishes – no matter how unrealistic others might say they are – can come true.

No. Not Christmas. Legislative Bill Prefiling Month.

Government reporters work on a different calendar than most people. We also refer to next month as “Legislature Starts” rather than “January.”

Before Legislature Starts some eager beaver lawmakers feel they can’t wait for everyone to come back to Olympia to share their great ideas. They submit proposals early, or prefile bills in December, either to give their colleagues fair warning or to entice bored reporters to write about them.

Well, the joke’s on them because we’re rarely bored and there are usually too many prefilings to give each one the attention the sponsor probably thinks it deserves. But in keeping with the season, here are a few that may not have a chance without help from a jolly fat guy in red who can make reindeer fly.

Three separate proposals want to get rid of “title only” bills.

One of the most annoying – and sometimes most devious – strategies in legislating is to introduce bills early in the session that have no text, just a vague title like “regarding revenue” or “making appropriations.” Such fill-in-the blank bills can be used later as vehicles for last-minute legislation, even a full budget, by dropping in text that is pushed through with little time for hearings, or even reading.

The House has a prefiled bill to ban title only bills and require any bill to wait at least three days after it is introduced or amended before a mandatory public hearing. The Senate has a bill and a proposed constitutional amendment to outright ban title only bills. Admittedly, this discussion may make the average person fall into a catatonic stupor, but the proposals have good government types nearly giddy that one of their least favorite maneuvers could be outlawed.

They’ll need more than a little help from Santa or some other magical being, however, because the party in control always uses title only bills to break legislative logjams and get stuff done in the final days of a session.

Another wish that might be hard to fulfill would be a proposed constitutional amendment in the Senate for term limits for governors. It would limit a governor to no more than two four-year terms and to as few as five years and a day should he or she be put in office to fill the unexpired term of a predecessor, then be elected to a full term.

The prime sponsor is Sen. Phil Fortunato, who is running for governor next year. It wouldn’t keep his potential opponent, Jay Inslee, from seeking a third term or even a fourth because he’d be grandfathered in should it get a supermajority in both chambers and voter approval next fall.

But it seems unlikely to get that far. Republicans, who have been shut out of the governor’s office since 1984, might be more likely to support a limit of one term, period, to give them more chances to run for an open seat. Democrats have no shortage of people with designs on the office down the road, so they might not be willing to close off their option for longer tenure.

Term limits have been popular with the public in the past. A 1992 initiative slapped them on the governor, lieutenant governor, legislators and members of Congress from Washington. The state Supreme Court said no to state offices, and the U.S. Supreme Court said no to federal offices. In both cases they need constitutional amendments, not just an initiative, the courts said.

The current proposal only would limit a governor’s stay in office, which is interesting from a historical perspective. Only two governors, Republicans Arthur Langlie and Dan Evans, have served three terms, and only Evans did it consecutively. Democrat Albert Rosellini tried but failed, first for a third consecutive term in 1964 and then with an unsuccessful comeback bid in 1972.

Since Evans, no two-term governor has wanted a third until Inslee. Legislators are much more likely to serve multiple terms, including the proposed amendment’s co-sponsor, Democrat Tim Sheldon, first elected to the Senate in 1997. Even more likely to stay long in office are lieutenant governors, with Vic Meyers holding the job for 20 years, John Cherberg for 22 and Brad Owen for 20.

A prefiled bill that could get some discussion wants to use sales tax from car and truck sales for transportation projects. An answer to the pending rollback in taxes and fees from Initiative 976, it would gradually ramp up the sales tax collected on new and used vehicle sales out of the general fund, at 10 percent a year, starting next year.

The bill is a variation on a proposal in the 2019 session, that the entire take in vehicle sales taxes be used for transportation in 2019 through 2023. The state currently collects about $2.3 billion every two years on vehicle sales taxes.

If the court order keeping the state from lowering the license tab fees were to be struck down, that might give this and other transportation revenue plans a boost. But the legal battle will eventually be sent to the state Supreme Court, so it’s unlikely the issue will be settled in a way that will force lawmakers to act before the Legislature goes home for the year.

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