Tensions between the new Republican-controlled coalition and their Democratic counterparts in the Senate boiled over again Wednesday after Democrats proposed restructuring the chamber’s Facilities and Operations Committee. The proposal would have put three members of each party on the committee, with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen serving as the non-voting chair.
The committee is charged with administrative tasks, and is currently handling an investigation on how documents detailing complaints of verbal abuse brought against Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn) were leaked to the Associated Press.
Members of the majority coalition blocked the measure on a 25-24 vote.
Democratic Minority Leader Ed Murray (D-Seattle) said the committee should be focused on the safety of employees, not the leak. He said the investigation has had a “chilling effect on employees who want to bring complaints.”
Sanctions against Roach stemming from allegations she had mistreated staff in 2010 were lifted last week and she is seen as a key vote in the new majority coalition.
Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom (D-Medina) has said he will lead the leak investigation himself. The report from the Associated Press concluded Roach violated Senate policy last March by verbally attacking a staffer.
Sen. Karen Fraser (D-Olympia) who serves on the Facilities and Operations Committee, said the Senate deserves better leadership.
“We need to find a way for this committee to function the way it has in the past,” she said.
The impromptu debate on the Senate floor came minutes before Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen was set to deliver the 2013 State of the Judiciary Address.