Washington State HOUSE HIGHLIGHTS
Legislative Update: February 25 , 2005
Session’s first deadline approaches
Week seven was a relatively quiet week in the House chamber, with only two significant votes taken. One was to pass House Joint Resolution 4205, which would do away with the 60 percent “supermajority” to pass school levies and require a simple majority instead. The second was to pass House Bill 1168, which would authorize the state board of pharmacy to license Canadian pharmacies that sell drugs to Washington residents.
We’re not convinced the state can legitimately license pharmacies outside Washington, much less outside the United States. How would the state take disciplinary action against a pharmacy in a country where it has no legal jurisdiction? But every member of the House majority party voted for the bill, making it the fourth prescription-drug bill they’ve pushed through in the past two weeks.
Seven weeks of the 15-week regular session now have passed. The session’s first deadline is just ahead: Wednesday, the last day for House policy committees to take executive action on House bills. Bills that aren’t reported out of the policy committees by the end of business that day are considered “dead,” although as legislators know, no bill is truly dead until the session ends – and even then, it’s just dead until next year.
As of today 1,245 bills, 20 joint memorials, 13 joint resolutions, 5 concurrent resolutions, two initiatives and 16 senate measures had been referred to House committees. The 15 standing policy committees, one select policy committee and three fiscal committees have taken action on 382 House bills, four Senate bills, three joint resolutions, three joint memorials and two concurrent resolutions. Those numbers should increase notably next week.
The House has passed 36 of the 394 measures reported out of committees. The rest were referred to other House committees or to the House Rules Committee, which selects the measures that will go before the entire House.
Going after government’s mid-section bulge
For several years House Republicans have tried to put the brakes on growth of middle management in state government. House Bill 1877, our latest effort to limit the number of middle-management positions covered by the Washington Management System, was heard today by the House State Government Operations and Accountability Committee.
WMS is an executive-branch personnel system that straddles the gap between the top managers of state agencies, whose jobs are exempt from civil service protections, and the front-line agency positions that are part of civil service and therefore provide protection from political winds.
Created in 1993 to give state agencies flexibility in managing personnel, WMS has turned into a means for hiding new full-time employees outside the civil service system. It has grown from 400 managerial positions to covering approximately 5,500 positions in state agencies.
A study by a joint legislative audit committee showed WMS positions increased 38 percent over a three-year period from 1998 to 2001. Nearly half were new positions, not FTEs converted from the civil service system. So much middle-management growth has siphoned away resources from front-line positions that are needed to deliver services to citizens.
HB 1877 would require WMS positions to be limited to those that direct work in an agency or agency subdivision, administer at least one statewide policy or program, and have substantial personnel, legislative, public information, or budget responsibilities. Most importantly, our measure would prohibit more than 7 percent of an agency's state-funded work force from being in WMS positions.
In addition to being a good-government bill that slows the expansion of the bureaucracy, we see the WMS limit as an important step that would help us stretch taxpayer dollars while protecting core public services.
Washington’s forest products industry, which has been through its ups and downs over the past couple of decades, received an encouraging sign this week. One of the 30 bills reported out by the Natural Resources, Ecology and Parks Committee so far includes a measure that would create the Future of Washington Forests Review Council, to evaluate the forest products industry and develop policy recommendations to improve its long-term growth.
The council’s long-term focus would be on helping foresters and wood, pulp and paper producers maintain economic stability and position the industry for continued competitiveness into the future.
The work of the high-profile panel, which would be composed of state elected officials, fiscal analysts and Department of Natural Resources staff, would include comparing Washington’s forest products industry with those in other states, such as how Washington stacks up in terms of taxes and the cost of regulations. It also would commission an update of the Timber Supply Study produced by the University of Washington in 1992.
The bill cleared the committee with a unanimous vote, indicating a bipartisan commitment to protect the viability of Washington’s wood products industry.
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For more news and information about the House Republican Caucus, visit http://hrc.leg.wa.gov
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