Legislature starts with contentious vote on Dream Act

OLYMPIA — Everett Rep. June Robinson barely had time Monday to enjoy the pomp and ceremony of serving in Washington’s Legislature before the politics began.

Less than hour into the 2014 session, the newly appointed Democrat voted for a controversial bill known as the Dream Act to make illegal immigrants eligible to receive state financial aid for college.

“It’s big,” said the 54-year-old first-time office-holder. “I was pumped up all weekend knowing that I was going to do it.

“My son went to Everett High and has friends whom this bill will benefit if it passes,” Robinson said. “I was thinking of those young men while I was voting on it and I hope that they can take advantage of it.”

It passed 71-23 and was sent to the state Senate. The House passed the same bill last year but it never came up for a vote in the Senate because of opposition from conservative Republicans.

Though little has changed in the past few months, the decision by majority House Democrats to conduct a rare vote on a policy bill on opening day signaled a seriousness at getting a different outcome this time and maybe a desire to inject that effort into the fall election.

“I think it sends a message that it’s a very important issue for the state of Washington,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.

The move didn’t sit well with members of the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus, who found themselves defending their position on a day usually reserved for ceremony.

“If we were going to move something the first day, it would be on jobs and the economy,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

The fate of the Dream Act may again lie with Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, the chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

She kept it from being voted on in 2013 and indicated Monday her mind hasn’t changed.

“I think we have a lot of things that take priority,” she said.

She said one concern is that roughly 32,000 people eligible for financial aid are not receiving any today because the funding isn’t available. Enabling more people to become eligible doesn’t make sense, she said.

She also offered a political counter punch, saying the House should pass her bill allowing veterans and active members of the military to pay the lower in-state tuition rate regardless of how long they’ve lived in Washington. Existing law requires one to live in the state a year to establish residency and qualify for the lower rate.

Her bill passed the Senate 48-0 last year then died in the House. Bailey expected the Senate to “move it very quickly” and resend it to the other chamber.

Skirmishes over the Dream Act highlighted a generally busy start to the scheduled 60-day session.

In the afternoon an overflow crowd attended a House hearing on an abortion-rights bill known as the Reproductive Parity Act. The measure would require health insurance plans that cover maternity care or services to cover the voluntary termination of pregnancy starting Jan. 1, 2015.

Democrats pushed the bill through the House last year, but the Senate did not act on it.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said he personally supports the abortion bill but, as with the Dream Act, will defer to the chairman of the committee handling the bill on whether to proceed.

Washington would be the only state with such a law, he said. There are members of his caucus worried the state could lose some federal funding if it is approved, he said.

“I think we need to get back to the kitchen table issues of how do we move this economy forward, how do we make sure that we have a great jobs market out there,” he said.

Also Monday, roughly 100 public-school teachers and counselors came to Olympia in search of lawmakers willing to support a bill providing roughly $85 million for a cost-of-living-adjustment for the 2015 school year.

“It’s a few million out of a multibillion-dollar budget,” said Jenny Steele, a counselor at North Middle School in Everett. “I don’t really buy there is not revenue. They just gave a lot of money to Boeing.”

Tom seemed to put the kibosh on the effort.

“In a short, supplemental year, we’re not looking at those kinds of enhancements. We want to make sure to stay true to the budget that we passed” last year, he said.

Several Democratic lawmakers in Snohomish County agreed to back the request, including Mike Sells of Everett, Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, Cindy Ryu of Shoreline, Luis Moscoso of Mountlake Terrace, Derek Stanford of Bothell, Marko Liias of Everett and Robinson.

“It really wasn’t hard,” Robinson said. “Everybody deserves a COLA. Teachers in particular deserve a COLA.”

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

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