Lawmakers end session by passing tuition discount for veterans

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers concluded their 2014 session Thursday after a marathon final day highlighted by passage of a revised state budget, a break on college tuition for veterans and extension of a fee used to fund homeless assistance programs.

The House approved a Senate bill allowing active military personnel and veterans to pay the lower in-state tuition rate regardless of how long they had lived in Washington. The bill headed to the governor’s desk waives the requirement that a person live in the state for a year to establish residency before they are eligible to pay the lower rate.

“This has been a long time coming for our veterans. We have been able to put politics aside and focus on good policy to give veterans the support in accessing higher education they need and deserve,” said Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, the bill’s sponsor.

Lawmakers also agreed to a four-year extension of a $40 real estate document recording fee that funds homeless assistance programs. The fee was to be phased out beginning July 1, 2015.

Democrats wanted to make the fee permanent but the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus resisted. The GOP agreed on the extension in exchange for language directing a portion of the money go directly to private landlords rather than funneled to them through a nonprofit or government entity.

Legislators did adjourn the 60-day session without agreeing on changes to the teacher evaluation program considered necessary to retain a federal education waiver. As a result millions of federal dollars could be diverted from classrooms and hundreds of schools labeled as failing by the United State Department of Education.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee pushed for the change but most Democrats and many conservative Republican lawmakers opposed the revision.

So too did the Washington Education Association, the powerful statewide union of public school teachers that deployed members to meet with lawmakers every day.

When it appeared certain the changes would not occur, the leader of the Everett local worried that blame would be directed at teachers.

“We’re projecting in the next couple weeks teachers are going to get beat up over this,” said Jared Kink, president of the Everett Education Association, who was in Olympia Thursday

In a post-session news conference, Inslee called the outcome “regrettable” but still held out hope for securing a waiver.

He sounded far less optimistic on the subject of transportation after lawmakers adjourned without approving a proposal to raise billions of dollars for improvements to roads, bridges, highways and ferries in the next 12 years.

Without additional revenue, the Department of Transportation “is going to have to do triage” on what it can undertake, he said.

As a result, Inslee predicted there would be reductions in ferry and bus service and less highway maintenance.

Inslee put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus for not passing a proposal. He suggested its mostly Republican members spent the session coming up with reasons not to reach agreement

“If excuses were money, the Majority Coalition would be multimillionaires,” he said.

Republican senators made the same allegations of Democrats.

“They want to point their fingers at us,” began Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima. But it was obvious House and Senate Democrats “were not interested in getting a revenue package out of this session. They didn’t want to get there.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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