PubliCola is excited to welcome Niki Reading to our news team. Reading has covered state government and politics in Washington for five years at The News Tribune and TVW, where she wrote the excellent nerdy news blog, The Capitol Record. She has also worked for The Associated Press covering state government in Oregon. Reading will be posting a regular preview of the week's action in Olympia and a regular re-cap featuring her pick for Olympia's newsmaker of the week.  

Full disclosure: Reading is married to the state senate Democrats' Deputy Chief of Staff, Jeff Reading. —Eds.   

Today marks the first day of the 105-day legislative session (although session hasn’t ended on time since 2009). This year, the projected budget shortfall may be smaller, but lawmakers have perhaps more variables than at any time in the last eight years, including a new governor, new coalition caucus controlling the Senate and a $1 billion question mark in the form of the Supreme Court's McCleary decision. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Here’s a look at what’s scheduled this week:

This morning—Monday, January 14—the showdown begins: Opening ceremonies for the Senate are scheduled to start at noon. senator Rodney Tom and his coalition caucus will square off against the Democratic caucus over proposed rule changes to allow the coalition caucus to formally take over. You can watch live on TVW, which has set aside several hours for it. The House will also hold opening ceremonies, but there’s been no hint of shenanigans on Speaker Frank Chopp’s side of the building.

On Tuesday, both houses convene for Gregoire’s farewell address—an opportunity for her to make one last push for her proposal to make a $900 million down payment on the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.While Senate committee structure is still up in the air, the House is getting straight to work: Public hearings on governor Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget are scheduled to start Monday at 3:30, when the focus will be on pensions, corrections, health and human services and general government. If you can't make it to Olympia for the action, you can watch on TVW.

On Tuesday, January 15, at 11:30 a.m., both houses convene for Gregoire’s farewell address—an opportunity for her to put the last eight years into perspective and, likely, make one last push for her proposal to make a $900 million down payment on the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Gregoire's lameduck proposal includes a batch of new taxes including $430 million in oil taxes, a half-billion in B&O surcharges on doctors, lawyers, accountants, and others, and $100 million in beer taxes.

That afternoon at 1:30, the House Appropriations committee will continue the public hearing on Gregoire’s budget—this time focusing on K-12, higher education and natural resources.

On Wednesday, January 16, govorner-elect Jay Inslee will be sworn in and deliver his first address at 11:30 a.m. in the House chambers. Inslee has resisted the idea of taxes so far and in last week’s AP Forum, stuck to his campaign promise to raise the state out of recession via job growth. Republican response will follow.

Later that night, his black-tie inaugural ball will be held on the capitol campus. Tickets are still available at $100 a pop.

On Thursday, January 17, the Senate Health Care committee is scheduled to get an update on the state’s efforts to implement a healthcare exchange, which is part of the Affordable Healthcare Act. Washington has been a leader in setting up the exchange—and Thursday’s work session will be a chance to see how the Senate’s new majority will respond to that effort. At issue for the Republicans is whether the state can ultimately pick up part of the cost for expanding Medicaid and paying for the health care exchange.

On Friday, January 18, after what looks like a dramatic week in the Senate, staffers may want to take note of a hearing in the Senate Law and Justice Committee. The topic: binge drinking.