Legislators tackling ‘a lot of little stuff’ during quick 60-day session

OLYMPIA — A new legislative session gets under way Monday with public school funding poised to again garner much of state lawmakers’ attention.

But it won’t be the only flashpoint.

Anger at the mistaken early release of convicted criminals, frustration with a legal threat to charter schools and concerns about the budget impacts of a carbon tax initiative will incite debate, and maybe action.

The 60-day session promises a hectic pace. Ending on time will be an unspoken goal of lawmakers who in 2015 labored through three extra sessions into July before finishing.

“Everyone is coming in with a commitment to get things done in 60 days,” said Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton. “It is a short session. There is no reason for us to stay late.”

Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, will be a key figure as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. In this job, he’ll craft the supplemental budget proposal for the majority House Democrats.

“There will be a lot of energy about getting something done and we’ll end up doing a lot of little stuff,” he said. “Most people are saying let’s just cobble together a budget and get out of here.”

Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate each arrive with a relatively short list of matters they said need addressing in the 60-day session.

Among them are:

  • Agreeing on a path to fully fund public schools by the 2018 deadline set by the state Supreme Court in the McCleary case. A bipartisan work group released a bill Friday intended to be the vehicle. It sets up a task force to gather data on how each school district spends its local levy dollars and what are each district’s need in terms of new classrooms and schools. It vows that by the end of the 2017 session, lawmakers will act to relieve districts of their reliance on local levies to pay salaries.
  • Adopting a supplemental budget that covers costs of fighting last summer’s wildfires and enables the state to comply with a federal court mandate to reduce wait times for evaluating mentally ill offenders locked up in county jails.
  • Amending the voter-approved charter school law to solve constitutional problems cited by the state Supreme Court. Bills with bipartisan support will be introduced to make fixes and assure existing schools continue operating.
  • Requiring that the Department of Corrections adopt redundant procedures for determining prison sentences to prevent a recurrence of inmates getting mistakenly released early due to a software error.

There are a number of other simmering issues.

Voters passed Initiative 1366 in November but lawmakers will likely ignore it until a legal challenge to the measure is resolved.

Under I-1366, the state portion of the sales tax will drop by a penny in April unless lawmakers put a constitutional amendment on the ballot requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass new or higher taxes.

While Republicans embrace the constitutional amendment, Democratic leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee view the initiative as unconstitutional and are content to wait on the Supreme Court to decide its fate.

House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, cautioned that if the court doesn’t act by April and state revenues begin falling, lawmakers will be summoned into special session.

“We cannot overlook this,” he said Thursday at the annual Associated Press Legislative Preview. “We do need to prepare.”

In education, many districts require money to build classrooms after the state expanded all-day kindergarten and reduced class sizes in elementary grades. Dunshee and Smith said they will be looking for ways to free up some dollars.

There’s a shortage of teachers, too. Inslee wants to close some tax breaks and use the money to give teachers a pay hike. Legislative leaders aren’t warm to that idea.

House Speaker Frank Chopp said Thursday he thinks it is better to deal with it in 2017 as part of the overall solution in the McCleary case.

While legislative leaders keep watch on the major issues, their members will arrive with their own agendas.

Brace for bills on impeaching the state auditor, banning fireworks and regulating pay-to-play fantasy sports.

There could be hearings on legislation to revamp the new express toll lanes on I-405, bar the use of “Redskins” for school athletic team names and overturn a state rule ensuring transgender people can use the public bathroom of the gender they identify with.

Expect a steady stream of news conferences and acts of partisan gamesmanship in the next two months.

This is, after all, an election year with all 98 seats in the House and roughly half of the 49 in the Senate on the ballot in November.

Power is evenly divided in the Legislature. Democrats hold a 50-48 edge in the House while Republicans own a 26-23 advantage in the Senate. Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, caucuses with Republicans.

With such equal numbers, neither party wants to cede any advantage to the other, be it rhetorical, philosophical or political.

But party leaders sounded optimistic Thursday that electioneering won’t be an impediment anymore than it ever is.

“We have a lot of work together ahead of us,” Kristiansen said. “Yes, this is still a political place. But if we bear down, focus and stay focused I think we cannot only do the things in the supplemental budget that is intended to be done this year but also I think we can be successful in dealing with some of the other huge issues.”

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

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Everett Fire Department and Everett Police on scene of a multiple vehicle collision with injuries in the 1400 block of 41st Street. (Photo provided by Everett Fire Department)
1 seriously injured in crash with box truck, semi truck in Everett

Police closed 41st Street between Rucker and Colby avenues on Wednesday afternoon, right before rush hour.

The Arlington Public Schools Administration Building is pictured on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
$2.5M deficit in Arlington schools could mean dozens of cut positions

The state funding model and inflation have led to Arlington’s money problems, school finance director Gina Zeutenhorst said Tuesday.

Lily Gladstone poses at the premiere of the Hulu miniseries "Under the Bridge" at the DGA Theatre, Monday, April 15, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Mountlake Terrace’s Lily Gladstone plays cop in Hulu’s ‘Under the Bridge’

The true-crime drama started streaming Wednesday. It’s Gladstone’s first part since her star turn in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Jesse L. Hartman (Photo provided by Everett Police Department)
Everett man who fled to Mexico given 22 years for fatal shooting

Jesse Hartman crashed into Wyatt Powell’s car and shot him to death. He fled but was arrested on the Mexican border.

Snow is visible along the top of Mount Pilchuck from bank of the Snohomish River on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Washington issues statewide drought declaration, including Snohomish County

Drought is declared when there is less than 75% of normal water supply and “there is the risk of undue hardship.”

Boeing Quality Engineer Sam Salehpour, right, takes his seat before testifying at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs - Subcommittee on Investigations hearing to examine Boeing's broken safety culture with Ed Pierson, and Joe Jacobsen, right, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Everett Boeing whistleblower: ‘They are putting out defective airplanes’

Dual Senate hearings Wednesday examined allegations of major safety failures at the aircraft maker.

An Alaska Airline plane lands at Paine Field Saturday on January 23, 2021. (Kevin Clark/The Herald)
Alaska Airlines back in the air after all flights grounded for an hour

Alaska Airlines flights, including those from Paine Field, were grounded Wednesday morning. The FAA lifted the ban around 9 a.m.

A Mukilteo firefighter waves out of a fire truck. (Photo provided by Mukilteo Fire Department)
EMS levy lift would increase tax bill $200 for average Mukilteo house

A measure rejected by voters in 2023 is back. “We’re getting further and further behind as we go through the days,” Fire Chief Glen Albright said.

An emergency overdose kit with naloxone located next to an emergency defibrillator at Mountain View student housing at Everett Community College on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
To combat fentanyl, Snohomish County trickles out cash to recovery groups

The latest dispersal, $77,800 in total, is a wafer-thin slice of the state’s $1.1 billion in opioid lawsuit settlements.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.