Political impasse stalls bill giving veterans college aid

OLYMPIA – A popular bill giving veterans a break on their college tuition is stalled because leaders of the House and Senate can’t resolve differences on whose version would become law.

Both chambers have unanimously passed legislation waiving residency rules for those in the military and National Guard, and their families, so they can pay the lower in-state tuition rate regardless of how long they’ve lived in Washington.

Yet the Senate version authored by Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, has been awaiting consideration in the House Appropriations Committee for a month. And the House bill sponsored by Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, has languished almost as long in the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Only one of them will be sent to the governor for signing. But without an agreement on which one goes forward, both continue gathering dust. And time is running out as the session ends March 13.

“It is an important policy and we should not go home without it,” said Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn.

Leaders of the Democrat- controlled House and Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate are tasked with sorting this out. It’s not crystal clear what’s causing the political impasse.

Some House members believe that since they passed Bailey’s Real Hope Act allowing undocumented immigrant college students to receive state aid then the Senate should reciprocate by approving the veteran’s legislation offered by Appleton.

House Speaker Frank Chopp said last week there was no agreement to do that. Rather, he said, he and his Senate counterparts intend to “sort out” which bills are House bills and which bills are Senate bills, and that’s not been done with this one.

He made no predictions on when, or if, an accord be reached.

Bailey said she’s under the impression the two bills are linked and Chopp is preventing her bill from getting passed.

“It should never have been put into a political dispute,” she said. “It’s the policy that all of us have been fighting for, for a long time.”

Democrats note Bailey is chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and chose to bottle up the Appleton bill, a sign she may be playing a bit of politics.

Bailey said she wants to pass the Senate bill because its original sponsors include Mike Carrell, a Pierce County senator who died last year, and Paull Shin, the Edmonds senator who recently retired. The men worked tirelessly on veterans issues, she said.

“This would be a nice thing to do,” she said. “I really think that this is a legacy bill.”

Appleton disagreed.

“This is not a legacy bill. This is about being fair to veterans,” she said. “In the end somebody has to be the adult in the room. I’ve told the speaker if my bill is dead, go ahead with the Senate one. It will be so good for veterans.”

She offered no predictions of how this will turn out.

“I’ve seen pigs fly and I’ve seen angels fly,” she referring to the good and bad bills that get acted on in the final days. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.comFrom Page XX

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