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Washington state’s 63rd Legislature

OLYMPIA — The 63rd Washington Legislature opened Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, after a political ‘coup’ was staged in the state Senate. On Jan. 10, 2013, the 23 Senate Republicans in the chamber announced they had formally reached a deal with conservative Democrats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon to form a “Senate Majority Coalition Caucus” to run the state Senate. Technically, there are  26 Democrats in the Senate and 23 Republicans, but with Tom and Sheldon’s maneuver, the Republicans hold a working majority. The Democrats will be in the minority for the first time since the 2006 session.

In the state House, Democrats held a 55-43 seat advantage over Republicans.

The Legislature was called into special session on Nov. 7 by Gov. Jay Inslee to work on a transportation funding bill, including a package that includes extensions of tax incentives for the Boeing Co. so that it will build its new 777X airliner in the Puget Sound region.

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State Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, is the Senate’s chief budget writer.

OLYMPIA — The Senate passed a Republican-favored state budget plan late Friday that provides $1 billion more to education, does not raise taxes, and cuts child care and social services.

The vote was 30-18, with nine Democrats joining with 21 Republicans.

Republicans control the state Senate with the aid of two conservative Democrats.

The Democratic-controlled House is expected to unveil its budget plan next week.

Gov. Jay Inslee presented his proposed budget for the state last week and it is a very different blueprint from the Senate version – meaning a showdown is likely in the coming weeks to bring the two sides together before the legislative session ends April 28.

The plan from Senate leaders calls for $1 billion more for public schools to fulfill the state Supreme Court mandate. That’s lower than the governor’s proposed $1.2 billion.

But the big difference is that Inslee relies on new revenue, whereas the Senate budget holds the line on any new taxes.

Unlike the governor’s plan, the Senate’s proposed budget does not rely on closing tax loopholes for money and would let expire taxes on beer and professional services that are set to sunset in July.

To generate $1 billion in new money for public schools and another $1.2 billion to fill the state’s budget hole, the Senate plan relies on a number of savings.  Those include moving some government employees off the state’s health plan as they move to a federal exchange plan under the new national health care law, and a $180 million cut to child care and social services.

In a statement issued Friday night, Inslee said, “The vote today in the Senate produced a budget that would move our state in the wrong direction. The short-term and short-sighted budget tricks in this plan would hamper our economic recovery and do further damage to vital services for seniors and children. And, as key education leaders across the state have made clear, this budget would harm our ability to provide a quality education to our children.

“I was heartened by comments from some who voted for this budget that they recognize the significant problems with the Senate plan and see the value of my proposal for a responsible and sustainable budget. I will work with them in the coming days on a budget that rebuilds our economy, supports our children’s education and protects vital services.”

By Steve Kiggins

Q13 FOX News

LITTLEROCK, Wash. — State lawmakers are used to verbal slings and arrows from their opponents. But on Thursday, some legislators turned to guns to see who would finish on top.

State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, hosted the Washington Sportsman’s Caucus Legislative Shootout in in southern Thurston County to celebrate shooting sports.

Roach squeezed off a few rounds on an AR-15 during the event, where lawmakers and their family members competed for the title of ‘Best Shot.’

Among those attending was Lt. Gov. Brad Owen – a Democrat who also serves as president of the Senate.

“See, I’m used to throwing arrows,” Owen, who is a hunter, joked after firing off a round. “I’m not used to throwing bullets. Oh, you don’t throw bullets, do you?”

The states of Maryland and Connecticut have adopted some of the country’s toughest gun control laws. The Washington Legislature does not appear ready to do the same.

“The rationale is that individuals who own firearms do so in a safe way,” Roach said. “We put our weapons in a safe. We make sure we have trigger-lock devices, we make sure they’re unloaded. And the things that we do are seen to be not noticed when a tragedy occurs.”

While strict gun control measures might not be approved in Washington state this year, Owen said he believes change is coming.

“I don’t know if we’ll see anything here, but nationally we might see things that do with more, you know, maybe security checks, or maybe mental health issues or something like that,” Owen said. “But I believe that the fear of losing your gun is overstated.”

This tournament has been going on since 1988, but Thursday’s competition was the first in nearly 10 years. Roach said she hopes to continue the event next year.

OLYMPIA — The conservative-led Senate proposed a state budget Wednesday that would increase K-12 education by $1 billion without raising taxes, but would move some government employees off the state’s health plan and cut child care and social services.

“We want to have a budget that promotes this fragile economy and keeps our recovery going,” said state Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, the Senate’s chief budget writer.

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State Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, is the Senate’s chief budget writer.

Gov. Jay Inslee presented his proposed budget for the state last week and it is a very different blueprint – meaning a showdown is likely in the coming weeks to bring the two sides together before the session ends April 28.

The plan from Senate leaders calls for $1 billion more for public schools to fulfill the state Supreme Court mandate. That’s lower than the governor’s proposed $1.2 billion.

But the big difference is that Inslee relies on new revenue, whereas the Senate budget holds the line on any new taxes.

“It’s going to keep money in the pockets of our working families and our small business owners,” Hill said of the Senate plan.

Unlike the governor’s plan, the Senate’s proposed budget does not rely on closing tax loopholes for money and would let expire taxes on beer and professional services that are set to sunset in July.

To generate $1 billion in new money for public schools and another $1.2 billion to fill the state’s budget hole, the Senate plan relies on a number of savings.  Those include moving some government employees off the state’s health plan as they move to a federal exchange plan under the new national health care law, and a $180 million cut to child care and social services.

“Every time the Legislature has shown up here in January, they have been facing a multibillion(-dollar) deficit,” said Hill. “My goal is not to have that happen next January.”

Two Democrats appeared at Wednesday’s event, saying they helped craft the Senate plan. But others, including Inslee, deny that it’s a bipartisan blueprint.

In a statement released afterward, Inslee said the Senate’s plan is “deeply flawed” and would set the state “backward.”

In a news release, UW President Michael Young said, “Today’s Senate Majority Coalition Caucus budget proposal comes up woefully short for the UW and higher education. Of the $100 million in ‘new’ funding for higher education, the majority is derived from a 20 percent tax on our international students that we believe will price students out of their education and result in a loss of high-quality talent for our state.

“Even with this tax on international students, the caucus budget and its 3 percent tuition reduction provides less funding per student in the next biennium and several hundred dollars less than what was provided over two decades ago.

“Washington already ranks second to last in the nation — 49th — in funding per student in higher education. A budget like this will not allow us to maintain the excellence of the UW and meet the needs of our students,” Young said.

The activist group Statewide Poverty Action Network also said the budget “cuts vital services to low-income children, families, elderly adults, and people with disabilities. Anti-poverty advocates are disappointed by the proposal, saying the cuts would be devastating to people in Washington.”

The next stop for the budget train is the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, which is set to release its budget next week.

State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, chairman of the House Revenue Committee, rejected the Senate plan as unworkable.

“It’s completely unsustainable,” Carlyle said. “We would have a disaster on our hands” in two years. “Real services impacting real people living real lives are impacted by this gimmicky budget.”

After the House presents its proposed state budget, it will be time for all three players – the governor, Senate and House – to find some common ground before the legislative session ends April 28.

SchoolsOLYMPIA — Charter schools were approved by voters last fall and many supporters had hoped they would start as soon as this fall.

But, it’s now clear things are moving slower than planned. In fact, the first charter schools won’t open until the fall of 2014 at the earliest.

“I know we’re all eager to see this get moving,” said Shannon Campion, who led last fall’s charter schools initiative. “The focus on getting it right is more important to many people than just moving quickly.”

On Tuesday, the State Board of Education met to adopt some preliminary timelines for charter school authorizations. One attentive listener was State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn. He intends to throw a big wrench in the planning when he files a suit alleging the charter schools initiative is illegal.

“It’s clear in the constitution that it says the Superintendent of Public Instruction oversees all public schools,” Dorn said.

Dorn objects to the having charters under the purview of a newly established board. “If I don’t win, the 9-member un-elected commission goes forward,” he said.

Dorn says he doesn’t object to the concept of charters, just how they are structured under the voter approved initiative.

“I don’t believe the constitution of the State of Washington and my oath of office is a technicality,” Dorn said. “That’s what we have the Supreme Court for, and I’m just asking them to do their job.”

Campion believes that initiative stands on solid legal ground.

“We continue to feel confident about the role of the commission in authorizing public charter schools,” Campion said. “Having that sole focus of the commission that is set up to do that exclusively we believe will wind up being a good thing.”

School Funding

The schools chief is also fired up about the state of funding for public education. That’s the single biggest issue during this session, fulfilling the demand from the State Supreme Court to add billions to schools over the next several years.

Dorn said the numbers he’s hearing from lawmakers for next year’s budget aren’t encouraging.

“If they hit $1.4 billion they will get a B, B+,” Dorn said. “But if they don’t hit that it would not be a good grade.”

Some lawmakers are talking about redefining basic education to reduce the state’s funding obligation. Dorn is clear about what he thinks of that strategy.

“I’d hold them in contempt of court,” he said.

Dorn argued that Olympia still doesn’t have its priorities right.

“Let me get this straight, roads before kids, a tax package for roads before kids,” Dorn said. “When did the paramount duty switch to roads from education?”

That’s a clear dig at lawmakers who last week unveiled a big roads package, but still no clear proposal on the table yet about how to fulfill this court demand for school funding.

gastaxOLYMPIA — Drivers across Washington could soon be paying a lot more to get around. Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled a huge $10 billion transportation package that they say is necessary to keep up with the state’s growing backlog of road and bridge repair projects.

The centerpiece of the package is a steep hike in the gas tax, taking it from 37.5 cents a gallon to 47.5 cents. The leaders pushing this plan argue the state’s economy depends on stepping up and investing more in transportation.

“If we do nothing, we will watch the infrastructure crumble,” said state Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. “It will become more difficult. We will not have the jobs or the connectivity.”

Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, is hoping to get lawmakers from both parties to step up to a 10-year, $10 billion package of transportation projects across the state.

The two biggest sources of money in the package are the gas tax increase and a new car tab fee of .7% of a vehicle’s value.

“I don’t feel that with all the (gas price) fluctuations that we get naturally that people are going to feel a 10-cent big push all at once” at the pump, Clibborn said.

The project list in the package includes SR-167, I-405, I-5 and I-90. There will also be money for maintenance and safety improvements.

Gov. Jay Inslee pledged his support for the package Wednesday.

“If we’re going to create jobs in this state,” Inslee said, “this is the place to start — jobs not only for construction workers to build these roads, bridges and trains, but allow us to move freight.”

State Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, ranking member of the Transportation Committee, opposes any new taxes during these tough times.

“The higher the tax gets, the greater the hardship is,” he said. “We need to make our tax dollars go further before we go further into the taxpayer’s pocket.”

Orcutt is troubled by a recent report that compared the cost of  Washington’s road projects with those of other states.

“Every single case they looked at, Washington was higher,” he said.

Inslee on Wednesday pledged more efficiencies going forward.

“We’re going to embrace very, very vigorous and comprehensive lean management systems,” he said. “We expect performance for our taxpayer dollars. That’s going to happen.”

For the first time, under this proposal, the state would be adding a tax for bicycles: $25 for any bike purchased over $500. That would raise about $1 million and would go to help fund bike lanes and bike improvements that are part of the plan.

To pass the package, supporters would need a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature, or a simple majority vote of lawmakers to place the plan on the ballot this November.

inslee5OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee, a day after an inaugural address that critics said lacked specifics, gave a much fuller picture Thursday of where he intends to take the state over the next four years.

“It is not in the interest of health or safety or personal fulfillment to have to have ammunition capacity of 30 or 100 rounds,” Inslee said at this first news conference, referring to gun legislation to reduce violence.

In addition to favoring a limit on ammunition magazines, Inslee reiterated his support of the federal assault-weapons ban he voted for as a member of Congress in 1994. Recognizing the passion around the issue, he said his approach with state legislators will be to nudge more than push.

“I hope to bring a listening attitude to this, to listen to my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans,” he said.

Inslee, a Democrat, also gave a much clearer picture about where he stands on taxes to shore up the state’s deep budget hole. Inslee pledged during the campaign not to raise taxes.

The governor, however, he didn’t rule out continuing two taxes that are set to expire in June, one on beer and one on business services, including lawyers, doctors, and accountants.

“I do not believe that we would be increasing taxes if we extend the existing tax rates in that regard,” Inslee said. “I’m not proposing or advocating to do that today, but I want to make sure that I allow the legislators room to discuss this potential.”

Finally, the governor made clear that he will do all he can to promote clean energy, including taking a hard look at the plan to allow coal trains through the state for coal export to China.

“Every single ton of coal that’s burned anywhere on the planet Earth in some ways ends up in Puget Sound,” he said. “This is not just about the polar bears, it is about business opportunities in our state that are today being damaged.”

Inslee will, no doubt, face opposition on all these issues, especially policies around climate change.

“You don’t have agreement from all the scientists in the world that says that this is happening,” said state Rep. Richard DeBolt of Chehalis, the House Republican leader. “We do support the concept of a greener government, but one of the things we have to understand is that the science is not exact and it’s not over.”

The governor and Legislature have until the session ends in April to find some kind of common ground on these issues.

photoOLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire marked her last full day in office Tuesday with a final, farewell speech to state lawmakers.

Gregoire didn’t ask for it, but it’s likely that history will remember her mostly as the leader who oversaw and managed the state during one of its biggest economic downturns in history.

“You were tested, I was tested. This is not what I expected,” she said. “It wasn’t what anyone expected. But we stepped up. And together we guided the state of Washington through the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression.”

Despite the tough economy, the governor said she’s pleased to have made progress on some key fronts:  funding for a new Alaskan Way Tunnel and 520 Bridge; creation of a Department of Early Learning; reforms in health care; and on one social issue particularly close to her heart.

“I’m proud that our citizens passed marriage equality by the widest margin of any state,” she said.

One low point of the governor’s two terms in office was the ruling by the Washington Supreme Court that the state is significantly shortchanging kids in public schools.

On Tuesday, the governor urged the room of captive lawmakers to increase revenue for education.

“We cannot cut our way out of this, we cannot save our way out of this,” she said. “To meet our responsibility, we need at least a $1 billion down payment in the next biennium and $3.4 billion by 2018.”

Gregoire’s tears welled up as she ended her address with the story of the unlikely journey she has taken as the daughter of a single mom who was a short-order cook in Auburn.

“We still live in the greatest state in the nation, in the greatest country in the world,” she said. “Thank you, people of Washington state, for the pleasure of serving you.”

Fellow Democrats complimented the governor for her service.

“She’s just so wonderful to work with,” said state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.  “There wasn’t a day that she didn’t get up where her personal sense of conviction about public service didn’t come through.”

Republicans, who were at odds with the governor on many major issues during her tenure, were also gracious in their praise.

“She did a good job,” said state Sen. Linda Parlette, R-Wenatchee, chairwoman of the Senate Republican Caucus.  “That straight talk and her ability to grasp things quickly, and then lead.”

Jay Inslee will be sworn in as governor Wednesday and give his inaugural address.

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Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina, a Democrat who crossed party lines to give the GOP control in the Senate, is shown during the opening session of the Legislature.

OLYMPIA — A Republican-led coalition formally took over control of the state Senate as the new Legislature opened its session Monday.

It was a very tense first day in the Legislature.  Even though Democrats won more seats in the state Senate in November, they will not be the majority.  That`s because two conservative Democrats decided to join Republicans, effectively giving the GOP control of the Senate.

It’s been a controversial move that will effectively give Republicans control of legislation and key committees. They will decide what bills get considered and which will make it to the floor for a vote. The so-called “Majority Coalition Caucus” did offer to let Democrats chair some less-powerful committees. But they weren’t having any of it.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, told her fellow senators in the chamber, “What we are seeing here I believe is form over substance, talk of bipartisanship but not true bipartisanship.”

One of the defecting Democrats, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who is set to lead the Senate, said the proposal he and the Republicans offered to the other side was fair.

“This is not about power, it is not about control, this is about listening to the citizens of Washington state. They want us to work together.  I think we have a much better option.”

The other Democrat who switched sides said concerns about Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, and other liberal Democrats who would have run the Senate caused him to jump sides.

“We need to have more representation outside of Seattle,” Sen Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said. “It`s not about Seattle, it’s more representation outside. And when you look at the geographic representative of committee chairs under their proposal, it would be very Seattle-centric.”

A frustrated Murray worried about the fate of progressive agenda items now that the conservatives have taken control.

“If I care about reproductive parity for women, my bill is dead under their scenario,” Murray said. “If I care about assault weapons ban, which I do, which I`m going to sponsor, my bill is dead under their process.”

The House of Representatives remains under Democratic control.

On Wednesday, Democrat Jay Inslee will be sworn in as governor.

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State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in Olympia.

SEATTLE — The new Legislature opens Monday in Olympia. Democrats, who generally favor tougher gun laws, control most of the power in the state, including the governor’s office and the House of Representatives. So, how much of a chance do the three big gun-control measures talked about in other states have here?

The big three measures are a ban on assault weapons, a limit on ammunition clips and a closing of the gun show loophole.

“It’s not likely that we’re going to have some great leap forward in this session just because there has been a tragedy,” said state Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which hears all gun legislation. “On the other side, you have people who have very passionate and very different beliefs about how to reduce gun violence.”

One of those people on the other side of Pedersen is state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.

“The fact is that law-abiding citizens are not the ones committing the crimes,” Roach said. “The people who are committing the crimes have mental health issues and they should have those issues taken care of. That’s not a situation where we should be losing our rights because other people, in fact, have these problems.”

Though Democrats control the House, Pedersen said a number of Democrats come from moderate districts where gun rights are strongly supported. Therefore, it’s difficult for him to garner 50 votes in the House. He also points to the recent “coup” in the state Senate, which has put Republican Sen. Mike Padden of Spokane Valley in charge of the Law & Justice Committee.

“None of those bills get a hearing with Republicans in control,” said Pedersen.

Roach said she hopes that lawmakers will consider more armed security at schools.  he believes that could eliminate or reduce innocent casualties in an incident.

“Rather than have five people perish, wouldn’t it be, although terrible, a better situation to only have lost one and have four people saved?” asked Roach.  “Do the math.”

Pederson opposes armed guards as schools, but predicted there could be common ground on stiffening penalties for juveniles who illegally possess firearms.

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