Budget talks gain speed; COVID may shift state into reverse

Here’s what’s happening on Day 87 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112

2021 Washington Legislature, Day 87 of 105

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, April 7, 2021 — Good morning. It’s Wednesday and there are worrisome trends on the COVID-19 front.

New infections and hospitalizations are climbing again. Across the state, civic leaders and public health officers are bracing for their communities to move back to Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan, which means re-imposing restrictions on the private sector and public life.

Monday is when Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Health are supposed to release the first evaluations of counties. If any must move down a phase, it would occur April 16 — a day after everyone 16 and older becomes eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

In the Legislature, negotiations between the House and Senate on a final operating budget will “start in earnest probably Thursday,” said Democratic Sen. Christine Rolfes, chief architect of the Senate spending plan. Negotiators expect to get data today that will allow them to begin ironing out their differences line-by-line.

Meanwhile, lawmakers face a Sunday deadline to pass bills from the opposite chamber. Marathon voting sessions are set for the week and into the weekend.

Watching the clock

Is time running out on a cap-and-trade legislation? It is in the Senate. The longer it stays there, the less time House members will have to read, discuss and put their imprint on it, Speaker Laurie Jinkins said Tuesday. “It’s hard to consider a really big bill” if you don’t have a lot of time to consider it, she said.

And she suggested questions on the subject of a “grand bargain” be directed to the Senate. At this point, Senate Democrats have linked cap-and-trade and a low-carbon fuel standard bills to passage of a transportation package. That’s not a House position as of yet.

“To me the bills can stand together or they can stand apart,” Jinkins said.

Caught on Zoom

Democratic Sen. Rebecca Saldana joined a virtual Senate hearing Tuesday morning while seated in her car. That’s fine. Until it became clear she was driving at the time. That’s not fine. Chris Sullivan, a reporter well-versed in the state’s distracted driving statutes, pointed it out here.

Saldana, the deputy majority leader, owned it in a statement. “I have supported legislation about penalties for distracted driving, and like all drivers in Washington state, I must be subject and accountable to that law and all traffic laws. Accordingly, if I receive a citation for this driving infraction, I will pay the fine.”

Difference of opinion

A Senate Democratic leader on Tuesday offered an explanation as to why the low-carbon fuel standard bill did not get sent to the Transportation Committee — a place it went and died the past two years.

It had hearings in the environment and budget panels and, “due to timing, the chair of transportation thought that was fine, he didn’t need to rehear it,” Rolfes told reporters, adding that she was not among those making the decision. “In addition, it’s not a transportation bill. It’s a regulatory bill.”

Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, the chairman, said he thinks the bill is necessary to implement the budget, so timing wasn’t an issue.

“I have a disagreement with leadership. I think it should have been heard in my committee. It would have gotten out,” he said, quickly adding, “with amendments.”

Hobbs iterated communication is fine with leadership as talks continue on a “Grand Bargain” knitting together a carbon reduction policy and new multibillion-dollar transportation package.

BTW, Hobbs held a hearing Tuesday morning (the one Saldana attended) on his 16-year, $18 billion package. It is funded with a 9.8-cent gas tax hike, cap-and-trade receipts and 32 other taxes and fees. You can see them all here.

A monument for a monumental man

Washington will send a statue honoring the late Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal member who championed treaty rights and protecting the environment, to the U.S. Capitol.

Senators approved a bill Monday to begin the process of replacing the state’s Marcus Whitman statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection with one of Frank. House Bill 1372, which passed the House last month, now goes to the governor.

The National Statuary Hall Collection features 100 statues, with each state contributing statues of two notable deceased residents. Whitman’s statue has been in the hall since 1953. The statue of Mother Joseph is in the Capitol Visitor Center. It was sent by the state in 1980.

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