When COVID-19 precautions forced the Legislature into a “virtual” session, several leaders contended that would result in fewer bills being introduced, heard and debated with a focus on top priorities like the pandemic and the economy.
That was clearly wishful thinking, as the 147 legislators have at least 147 different ideas about what constitutes a top priority. It also provided fodder for any critic who wanted to question what legislators were doing and why they were doing it on that particular day in that particular way.
Along with limited time to consider bills in committees, there are added requests to testify from people Zooming in from Clarkston to Blaine and Ilwaco to Curlew.
Some bills are easy targets. Take the bill to designate a state dinosaur, the Suciasaurus, back again after failing to make its way through the 2019-20 session. It’s one of those bills that come with a cute story: a class of fourth-graders learning how government works thought it would be great to add a state dinosaur to the many other state symbols like the state flower, bird, song, waltz, flag, fossil, fish, marine mammal, oyster, amphibian, sandwich, waterfall and tree. (Yes, I made one of those up, but you’ll have to figure out which one.)
The dinosaur in question isn’t much to look at, just a few fossilized bones found on a beach in the San Juans. One problem with claiming it for Washington is that when the Suciasaurus was running around the Cretaceous Period chomping on herbivores, it was doing it in an area where California now is. Thanks to tectonic shifts, the area where the dino died and fossilized was gradually pushed north until it ended up on the beach.
Such efforts are designed to teach youngsters how their government works. When the Parkland fourth graders came up with the idea in the spring of 2019 and contacted one of their legislators, Rep. Melanie Morgan, it was too late to get it through the session. Lesson 1: Timing is everything, especially in a part-time Legislature.
Last year they got a 91-7 vote in the House, but not even a hearing in the Senate. Lesson 2: It’s a bicameral Legislature, so you have to keep pushing.
This year they have again cleared the House State Government Committee. But if the bill doesn’t make it all the way to the end, there’s a possible third lesson for the students, who are now sixth graders: Your priorities don’t always align with other people’s.
Statue swap proposed
Another proposal likely to be criticized by legislative scolds wondering why their pet bill isn’t getting the attention they think it deserves is one to swap out one of Washington’s statues in the U.S. Capitol. Each state gets two people to commemorate in Statuary Hall, and Washington has for some 50 years honored pioneer missionary Marcus Whitman and Mother Joseph, the head of the order of nuns who opened some of the first hospitals in the state.
The House and Senate both have bills to replace the Whitman statue with a statue of Billy Frank Jr., the late Native American rights activist. The swap would cost the state some staff time to oversee but private groups would have to raise about $300,000 to select and pay a sculptor, and crate up and send the new statue to Washington, D.C., as well as crate up and return the Whitman statue to the state.
Not clear where the Whitman statue, which looks sort of like Davy Crockett with a Bible, would be housed. There’s already a copy in the domed Legislative Building, just inside the north entrance.
Two years ago, Sen. Reuven Carlyle had a proposal to seek input on whether it was time to change out the statues in the U.S. Capitol. That bill didn’t go anywhere, either, but when Spin Control mentioned the Seattle Democrat’s idea, we got lots of suggestions and Chief Seattle was among the most popular.
Billy Frank Jr. may be a better choice, considering many of the people being asked to make the decision actually knew Frank before he died in 2014. For decades, Frank fought for the treaty rights of Native Americans, sometimes getting arrested for “fish-ins” to defy state laws that were later overturned in the courts. Erecting a statue to someone the state once threw in jail for exercising his rights seems like sweet justice.