Senate GOP claims Democrats stymied levy breakthrough
Olympia, WA - Senate Republicans were stunned Wednesday afternoon when majority Democrats ended the day’s debate rather than engage in a floor maneuver to bring back a controversial bill.
“Frankly, we were done,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.
Wednesday was the deadline for getting key bills approved by at least one chamber of the Legislature, and in the Senate, that meant approving a bill clarifying the legality of medicinal marijuana and another bill to create a paid family leave program for workers.
“We were absolutely shocked when they came back out (of caucus) and adjourned,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla. Hewitt said his party was ready to vote in favor of a bill letting operations levies pass on a simple majority, or 50 percent vote, something his caucus had refused to do previously.
Brown said her caucus did not want to engage in a tussle with Republicans at the end of the day. She said the Senate instead plans to take up a House version of the bill that is working its way to the Senate floor.
In the House, Democrats also ended things early at the bill cutoff, saying they advanced the bills they wanted, including sweeping health care changes and promoting “energy freedom” through more use of alternative fuels.
Brown issued a similar list of 31 bills covering domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, sweeping health care changes and warranties for new homes. She identified three bills as the most emblematic of her caucus’ efforts: education measures that include delaying the math graduation requirement with the Washington Assessment of Student Learning; boosting health-insurance coverage for children; and creating a rainy-day fund to lock up surplus taxes for use when the economy goes bad.
Examples of bills left behind were the property-tax changes aimed at exempting $75,000 of value from state taxes for residential property in the state. Business interests had been gearing up to fight it.
Republicans had little good to say. House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said Democrats made “paybacks” to organized labor with their approval of such bills as family leave or last week’s vote on the use of union dues for political purposes.
Property tax measure
Hewitt complained the Democrats had failed to re-enact the 1 percent cap on yearly property-tax increases.
DeBolt said, however, that all the bills passed so far don’t matter.
“What matters is the size of the budget. That budget is the big, bad thing. … It’s going to be so big,” he said.
Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed a general-fund budget of about $30 billion, and House Democratic budget writer Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, says she expects to spend a little more than Gregoire when she rolls out her proposal Tuesday.
With her party in control of both chambers of the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion, House Democratic Leader Lynn Kessler said she is confident most of the major bills will pass in some form.
“Many of those will be mutually agreed upon,” she said. “We do meet each week to talk about how to make this place run well, and what do we what to accomplish, and how do we get that accomplished. And we work with the governor.”
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