Senate GOP claims Democrats stymied levy breakthrough

Adam Wilson and Brad Shannon
The Olympian

March 15, 2007

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.

Democrats in the Senate and House alike said they had reached most of their major goals as they neared the two-thirds mark of the 105-day session.

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.
It also meant leaving behind measures such as controlling gun show weapons sales or granting a property-tax exemption to homeowners. Most surprising to Republicans was that the Democrats didn’t want to vote on a bill making it easier to pass school levies, which Republicans tried to bring up through a procedural motion that appeared to confuse the Democrats.

“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.

Bills alive
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, itemized the accomplishments he said his caucus had made — including passage of a bill signed by the governor this week to ensure that all children in the state are covered with health insurance by 2010; bills authorizing more full-day kindergarten classes; simple-majority requirements for school levies; creating a Puget Sound cleanup partnership; expanding health-insurance coverage for mental illness in more insurance plans; cutting taxes for agriculture; and bills addressing school dropouts and college opportunities.

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.
“I think they know they are overreaching,” said House Deputy Minority Leader Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale. “The floodgates to big government are open.”

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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