Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill)

State Sen. minority leader Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill) made good today on his threat to try to force floor votes on the Reproductive Parity Act and the DREAM Act, two bills that Republican chairs in the Republican-controlled Majority Coalition Caucus had held in committee. (The RPA would guarantee that insurance companies that cover maternity care also cover abortions and the DREAM Act makes children of undocumented immigrants eligible for college aid.)

The Democrats believe a majority of senators support the bills—they have a letter with a majority of senators signed on in support of the RPA, including MCC leader Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina).

The parliamentary move to force the vote is known as the "Ninth Order." Step one: You need a majority to vote for a motion to move to the Ninth. Step two: Members vote to pull a bill from committee. Step three: There's a vote on the bill.

The motion failed 25-23 with Tom—alongside pro-choice Republican Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island) and Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-20, Hoquiam)—voting in place of his seriously ill friend, Sen. Mike Carrell (R-28, Lakewood)—casting 'No' votes on Murray's motion to move to the Ninth Order.

"Sen. Tom said he wanted the senate to operate under new rules of a philosophical majority," Murray said, referring to Tom's decision at the beginning of the session to join with the Republicans to form a new "bipartisan" majority to push a fiscally conservative budget. "Well, we have a philosophical majority in support of these bills, and he won't allow members to vote their conscience on them."

Murray noted that in the Democratic house, the DREAM Act passed with a lopsided bipartisan margin. "We just wanted a little bipartisanship over here," he said. "They formed their coalition because they said the senate wasn't bipartisan, but [Majority Leader Rep.] Frank [Chopp] got the biggest bipartisan vote of the session in the house when they passed the DREAM Act."

Murray estimated that the RPA would have passed the senate 25-24 (with Tom and Litzow)—and that the DREAM Act would have passed with an even bigger bipartisan margin.

"Let's debate them. Let's vote on them. Let's have democracy on the floor of this senate."—Ed Murray"Senators wanted to vote on these bills. The public wanted us to vote on these bills, but we weren't allowed to," Murray said, "because of [Tom's] caucus."

Murray echoed that point in his floor speech: "The majority leader said the only way to bring these forward was through the Ninth Order [because his committee chairs wouldn't move them.] Well, let's debate them. Let's vote on them. Let's have democracy on the floor of this senate."

Tom defended his decision to squash the Ninth Order, saying, "the problem with the Ninth is how do you get out of it? Once you go to the Ninth, senators can pull all sorts of bills. I'd have defeat all sorts of Roach bills and Benton bills," he said, referring to the two unpredictable, hardline conservatives in his caucus—Sens. Pam Roach (R-31, Auburn) and Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver).

Sen. Rodney Tom, photo by Josh Feit

He cited Benton's controversial drivers' license bill, which would make undocumented immigrants provide proof of citizenship to get licenses.

Asked if he felt uncomfortable about helping to tank two big Democratic priorities, Tom said he was focused "on the bigger picture," saying, "I know the paramount duty of the state is eduction. Without this coalition we wouldn't have major education reform."

I reminded Tom that the legislature passed a major bipartisan education reform bill in 2009—the bill that the Washington State Supreme Court based it's now-famous "paramount duty" McCleary K-12 funding decision on—and that he and Sen. Litzow had passed a teacher evaluation bill just last session.

He said the evaluation bill was "watered down" and that they weren't able to pass a charter bill.

Asked to respond to Murray's claim that he wasn't allowing the senate to vote on legislation that has broad public support, Tom said: "I disagree. We're continuing on with the people's business of passing a responsible budget and making reforms."

Was Murray's move simply a political ploy to embarrass Tom and make a point about the supposed Majority Coalition Caucus? "That's not how I operate," he said. "This was the only option left to us."

Cutoff for policy bills such as the RPA and the DREAM Act is tomorrow.