Archive for WA Senate

Senate Democrats to seek new rule on ‘fairness and balance’

By | March 16, 2015 | 0 Comments

This post has been updated with comments from the Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler.

Senate Democrats plan to ask for a new rule calling for “fair and balanced” hearings, after raising concerns about equity in hearings in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee, Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said Monday.

Sen. Sharon Nelson

Sen. Sharon Nelson

Nelson spoke at a Democratic leadership press availability on Monday morning. The rule could be introduced later this week.

Nelson said Democrats are concerned that representatives on both sides on an issue have been unable to testify at committee hearings, particularly in the Commerce and Labor committee, headed by Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

“We feel that it’s important that both sides of an issue be heard. In particular, in Commerce and Labor, that’s not happening,” Nelson said.

Nelson said that Democratic leadership has approached the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus leadership regarding the fairness issue.

“Only one side is pretty much being allowed to testify and the others are cut short,” Nelson said. “That’s not what the public expects from this institution.”

Baumgartner declined to comment on the question of whether Commerce and Labor is being run fairly.

However, Majority Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Monday that he has reminded the committee chairs to “pay attention the needs of the minority.”

“The Labor committee has always been contentious,” Schoesler said. “Let’s be real, they didn’t propose any fairness doctrine when they were in the majority.”

Schoesler said the Republicans did not try to propose a similar rule when they were the minority party.

“We understood the majority controlled the agenda,” Schoesler said.

A fairness rule would be patterned after a House of Representatives rule that lawmakers say has been in place for several years.

Under Rule 24, second D, 11, the House rules state, “Insofar as practicable, testimony in public hearings should be balanced between those in support of and in opposition to proposed legislation, with consideration given to providing an opportunity for members of the public to testify within available time.”

The simple majority of Senators would have to approve the rule change.

The Senate rules have seen a change this year; the first day of session, Senate Majority Coalition Caucus introduced a rule that any new taxes would have to be approved by two-thirds of the chamber. The rule was approved by a majority, but later overturned by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen.

TVW taped the press conference. We will post it here when it is available.

Bills fall by the wayside after mid-session cutoff

By | March 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

While some bills made it through the halfway point, and will continue to be considered, other bills have fallen by the wayside.

Gov. Jay Inslee told reporters on Thursday that he was disappointed that a bill limiting vaccination exemptions did not make it to the House floor for a vote. He said the Department of Health will find “new, creative ways” to get information about vaccines to parents this year, and he hoped to see the bill return next year.

Doug Reuter, the father of the namesake of Joel’s Law, told AP that he was hoping to see lawmakers pass House Bill 1450, which would have expand the criteria for involuntary treatment.

House Republicans posted a list of bills the caucus was following. Dead bills listed in the House Republicans’ “good” category include House Bill 1446, which would have permitted certain restaurant employers to pay 16- and 17-year olds less than minimum wage; and House Bill 1741, which would have allowed disabled people to enter state land without a Discover Pass.

Senate Democrats also released a listed of dead bills that its caucus had backed. The list included Senate Bill 5752, regarding creating statements of impact on ethnic and racial minorities for bills affecting criminal justice, human services, and education, and Senate Bill 5527, which would have extended the deadlines for voter registration.

We also asked on Twitter what bills people wished made it through.

Democrats challenge Senate transportation proposal over two-thirds supermajority rule

By | February 27, 2015 | 0 Comments

Those who were hoping to see a transportation package passed off the floor on Friday were left with a cliffhanger. Senators will return to the debate on Monday following a surprise challenge from Democrats.

The state Senate on Friday began debate on a $15 billion dollar transportation package, which would pay for major road projects around the state by raising the gas tax by 11.5 cents per gallon. The package also includes conditions that many Democrats oppose — including what they call a “poison pill” that would shift money away from transit, bike and pedestrian paths if the governor institutes a clean fuel standard.

Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson urged members on the floor to adopt a “clean package” without the conditions. She said her version still provides tax money to fund transportation projects, but is “not linked to any other legislation which may be based on ideology from either party.”

That proposal failed along caucus lines. As the Senate prepared to debate the final transportation package that included the conditions, Democratic Sen. Annette Cleveland asked Lt. Gov. Brad Owen if the proposal to raise the gas tax requires approval of two-thirds of members based upon a rule change made on the first day of session.

The rule change, which was passed off the floor by the mostly Republican Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, includes a clause that would require bills with a new tax to get a two-thirds supermajority approval of the Senate before advancing to third reading.

Republican Sen. Curtis King responded to Cleveland’s question by saying he believes the gas taxes in the package are “existing taxes and therefore would not fall under that guideline.”

Following a break, Sen. Joe Fain told members the Senate will hold off on the transportation package until Monday to give Owen time to make his decision.

Before the challenge, the Senate debated several other bills related to the transportation package. One of the most contentious proposals, Senate Bill 5990, would shift sales tax money collected from building road projects away from the general fund, and use it for transportation.

Several Democrats spoke in opposition to the proposal, saying it will rob the general fund of education money.

“The fact is that taking a billion dollars, when we have no agreement around where those dollars are going to come from, means that we are saying, ‘We are going to fund concrete instead of our kids,'” said Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle.

Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane urged support, saying the transportation package will add money to the general fund for education in the long-term. “What those roads are going to do is allow our economy to grow and generate a tremendous amount of economic growth,” he said.

The bill passed along caucus lines with a vote of 26 to 23.

You can watch the full Senate floor debate in TVW archives. We’ll also have the highlights on Friday’s edition of “Legislative Review” at 6:30 and 11 p.m. (unless a committee is live).

Categories: transportation, WA Senate

Bills face first policy cutoff

By | February 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

It’s nearly half-way into the 105-day session and time’s up for Washington state lawmakers to pass non-budget bills out of committee.

Feb. 20 was the first policy cutoff of the session and the end for many of the more than 2,200 bills introduced so far this year.

Lawmakers are still considering an increase to the state’s minimum wage, a push to make it a crime to hold a phone while driving, a bill to require doctors to notify parents when a teen seeks an abortion, a push to remove personal belief as a vaccine exemption. The full list of bills that made out out of committee by the policy cutoff deadline is here.

Stalled bills include a push to discourage minors from vaping, an effort to abolish the state’s death penalty, a bill to make it a crime to secretly record video at a farm and a proposal to end Daylight Savings in Washington.

Gov. Jay Inslee last week signed the first bill of the session, adding nearly $218 million to the 2013-2015 operating budget for natural disasters, court payouts and other unexpected costs.

Bills with a fiscal note have until Friday to receive a committee reading. The next deadline for bills to pass out of their house of origin is March 11.

Categories: Olympia, WA House, WA Senate

Senate, House Democratic leaders respond to MCC energy proposal

By | February 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

State Democratic leaders on Thursday responded to Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen‘s new proposal to address climate change and reduce statewide carbon emissions.

Ericksen and Senate Majority Coalition members on Wednesday introduced an energy plan they say focuses on incentives over penalties. Democratic Sen. Maralyn Chase was also part of the rollout and spoke in support of the proposal, which allows utilities to meet green energy targets through alternative measures, such as installing electric car chargers.

Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson said the mostly-Republican proposal is a start. “I’m pleased as far as climate change that we are actually hearing Republicans say there may be human impacts that are affecting climate change,” Nelson said. “That’s a major step forward.”

Over in the state House, Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan said his caucus plans to push Gov. Jay Inslee’s carbon reduction proposal through an environment committee next week. Inslee’s plan would set a cap on statewide emissions and require the state’s top 130 polluters to buy allowances above a certain limit. House Bill 1314, the governor’s proposal, is scheduled for a committee vote on Tuesday.

Ericksen, who chairs the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications committee, has said he will give Inslee’s plan a hearing in his committee if it passes off the House floor.

Although the MCC has not said whether its proposal is meant as an alternative to Inslee’s plan, Ericksen said in a statement that in the Senate “we’re about carrots, not sticks.” Instead of charging pollutors, the MCC plan would give power companies new ways to comply with voter-approved Initiative 937, which in 2006 required utilities to boost energy obtained from renewable resources.

Public utilities would be able to count as part of the initiative converting motor fleets and ferries to liquefied natural gas and creating more electric vehicle charging stations. Other bill includes tax incentives for expanding nuclear power with small modular reactors.

Senate Bill 5735 was heard Thursday in the committee, but has not been scheduled for a vote.

On ‘Legislative Review:’ Two-thirds vote to raise taxes, opening day activities

By | January 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

On Monday’s edition of “Legislative Review,” we have highlights from the Senate floor debate over changing the rules to make it harder to raise taxes. We also cover Sen. Pam Roach‘s election as president pro tem, House Speaker Frank Chopp‘s speech and other details from the first day of the 105-day session. Plus, transportation leaders discuss gas taxes during TVW’s opening day show.

Legislative Review” airs nightly at 6:30 and 11 p.m., recapping each day’s legislative activities.

Categories: WA House, WA Senate

Senate Democrats back Pam Roach for Senate President Pro Tem

By | January 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn)

Senate Democrats blocked the appointment of Majority Coalition Caucus-backed Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) to President Pro Tempore with the nomination of Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn).

Roach received 25 votes out of 49 — all 23 of the Democrats, and herself and Sen. Don Benton (R-Vancouver).

The Senate President Pro Tempore presides when Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is absent and also serves as the vice chair of the Committee on Rules.

Sheldon, who has been the President Pro Tempore for the past two years, crossed over with former Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue) from the Democrats to caucus with Republicans, creating the Majority Coalition Caucus.

Sen. Maralyn Chase (D-Shoreline) nominated Roach, citing her long service and seniority, after Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler nominated Sheldon. Then, Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn) nominated Democrat Sen. Karen Fraser (D-Olympia), citing Fraser’s long service.

Fraser joined the other Democrats and Roach and Benton in backing Roach. Sheldon received the other 24 votes.

“It is a tremendous honor to continue serving our legislative district and to take on the job of president pro tem,” said Roach in a prepared statement. “If you had told me in 1991 that I would become the first woman elected to seven terms in our state Senate, I would not have believed it – but the people keep hiring me for another four years.”

Categories: WA Senate

Lawmakers spar over proposed capital gains tax

By | January 8, 2015 | 0 Comments

The debate over Gov. Jay Inslee‘s proposed capital gains tax continued along party lines at Thursday’s Associated Press Legislative Preview event.

The tax was debated on a budget panel that included Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond) chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee; Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger), ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee; Sen. Karen Fraser (D-Olympia), member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Inslee last month proposed a $39 billion 2015-17 budget that ends a number of tax breaks, charges carbon polluting companies and raises $800 million over two years through a proposed capital gains tax. The proposed capital gains tax would be 7 percent on money made from the sale of stocks and bonds above $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for joint filers — which lawmakers say would affect the top 1 percent of earners in Washington state.

Inslee, in his Q&A session, defended his proposal of a capital gains tax, saying it gets the state closer to a system that can get the benefit of people earning more money without also increasing the tax burden on lower-income and middle-income earners.

“If we can tax higher income folks when they get capital gains, and not lower income folks when they buy a pair of shoes, that’s good,” he said.

“Whatever the concerns on the volatility of the capital gains tax, the alternative is zero,” Inslee said.

Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond)

Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond)

Hill criticized Inslee’s budget as perpetuating what he called a “deficit myth,” in which the only option was to raise taxes.

He said that because the state’s revenue has risen by more than 4 percent in each of the past two years, the state can continue its existing services and put an additional $1 billion in state education funding over two years.

“When I’m talking with business groups, I ask, ‘Would you like 4 percent growth year over year in this economy,’ ” he said. “I see nods. With some I see a little drool.”

“To say we have a huge budget problem, I think it’s meant to scare people,” Hill said. “The next step is you have to raise taxes.”

Hill also said that a capital gains tax is too unpredictable to be a reliable source of funding for school education, which was one of the requirements under the McCleary ruling. (more…)

Categories: Budget, WA House, WA Senate
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House, Senate leaders discuss priorities for 2015 session

By | January 8, 2015 | 0 Comments

The Washington State Legislature’s top priorities for the 2015 session should be education funding, mental health and tax reforms, state House and Senate leaders said Thursday.

Senate and House leaders at the AP Legislative Preview

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, House Speaker Frank Chopp and House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen discussed their agendas for the upcoming session at the Associated Press Legislative Preview.

Education is the top priority this year, they agreed. So do voters, as an Elway Poll revealed this week. The Legislature must meet the demands of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision to fully fund K-12 education.

Kristiansen said House Republicans will continue to push for ¨Fund Education First,” an approach first introduced by their caucus nine years ago that would restructure K-12 funding.

“We do need to make sure we’re prioritizing based on our constitutional responsibilities, and we just haven’t done that in the past,” Kristiansen said.

Nelson, D-Maury Island, criticized the proposal. ¨We keep hearing ‘fund education first’,” she said. ¨I say fund children and families first … This is not a simple solution, it’s not time for a slogan. It’s time to work together to find real solutions.”

Lawmakers will also have to decide how to implement Initiative 1351, a measure passed by voters in November that would reduce class sizes at an estimated cost of $2 billion for the first two years. Voters approved another class size reduction initiative in 2000, but it never received full funding from the Legislature. This year, lawmakers will decide whether to fulfill the new class size mandate or suspend it.

Initiative 1351 is expensive, but Chopp, D-Seattle, said they will have to address voters’ wishes. ¨It’s a very important step forward for people in Washington,¨ he said. ¨You can’t just ignore it.¨

Each of the legislative leaders also identified mental health as a priority.

(more…)

Categories: WA House, WA Senate

Senate Republicans propose rule change to require two-thirds majority for tax bills in chamber

By | January 7, 2015 | 0 Comments

Two state Senate Republicans want to change the chamber’s voting rules to require a two-thirds majority vote on bills that include tax increases.

Washington voters have approved initiatives requiring supermajorities five times between 1993 and 2012, but the state Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional.

Ferndale Sen. Doug Ericksen and Spokane Sen. Michael Baumgartner now want to use a procedural rule change to get around the court’s ruling.

“Voters demonstrated five times that they wanted this protection,” Baumgartner said in a news release. “What the Supreme Court took away, the Legislature can return – and it’s about time we did it. The Supreme Court can make its rulings in its chamber. The Senate makes its own rules in ours.”

The rule change would apply only to the Senate – not both chambers, like the initiative. But bills must still be approved by both chambers to become law, meaning any bills with a tax increase would have to clear the two-thirds majority in the Senate. Voter-approved referendums would be an exception to the rule change, requiring only a simple majority to pass, according to the statement.

To change the rules, the Senate only needs a simple majority — 25 of 49 Senators. The Majority Coalition Caucus controls the Senate with 25 Republicans and one Democrat.

Categories: Republicans, WA Senate