Loose ends in Olympia: Corrections scandal, state budget

OLYMPIA — Time to catch up on a couple pieces of unfinished business around here.

Let’s begin with Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

He is trying to figure out how an attorney in the office could advise a staffer in the Department of Corrections not to get too worked up about the state mistakenly releasing inmates early.

That now infamous Dec. 7, 2012, email from a now-resigned assistant A.G. is a linchpin in the bureaucratic malfunction that allowed the error to go uncorrected for three years. Two inmates released early now stand accused of killing others at a time when they should have been behind bars.

On Dec. 30, 2015, Ferguson called the legal advice “deeply flawed” and launched a “thorough review of the internal processes that produced that advice and failed to raise such a critical issue to the highest levels of our office.”

Two-and-a-half months later, the self-evaluation is continuing. Ferguson isn’t revealing much about it, even declining to say how it is being conducted or by whom.

He pledged to check records from the tenure of his predecessors — Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Christine Gregoire — for other potentially relevant legal advice the department gave to the Department of Corrections. But Ferguson hasn’t said whether either of those former attorneys general — one of whom went on to become governor — was or will be questioned.

In the meantime, the author of the 2012 email, Ronda Larson, has resigned. The higher-up she copied on that email, however, remains employed.

In response to an email this week, Peter Lavallee, Ferguson’s spokesman, wrote: “We expect the report will be complete and made public by the end of the month. It should address the specifics of most of your questions.”

In other words, stay tuned.

Now on to the 2016 Legislature.

When the 60-day regular session ended March 10, lawmakers were debating how much more they want to spend in the current two-year budget cycle. A week into the special session, this debate continues.

Those in the majority — that’s Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate — do agree reserves should be tapped to pay last year’s bill for fighting wildfires.

The two caucuses butt heads on the sums they want to spend to retain teachers, treat mentally ill and help the homeless.

A wisp of hope drifted through the Capitol on March 11, the first day of extra session. That day Senate Republicans put out a revamped budget proposal. It did not contain a couple items Democrats detested most about what the GOP originally proposed.

House Democrats, caught off-guard by the maneuver, claimed if the GOP had brought it to them privately in negotiations three days earlier a deal might have been reached in time to avert special session. But now, a week later, there’s still no deal.

Back in May 2015, as budget talks stagnated behind closed doors, House Democratic leaders said if Senate Republicans made their next offer public, they pledged to make their counter-offer public as well. It didn’t happen.

A year later, with talks inching along in similar fashion, the Senate GOP didn’t wait to be asked. They showed us theirs.

What do you say House Democrats, will you show us yours?

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos.

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