State Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Seattle) insisted at a press conference today that there are enough votes in the senate to pass both the DREAM Act and the Reproductive Parity Act, adding that the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus' refusal to pass these Democratic priorities gives him no other option but to call for a parliamentary move known as the “Ninth Order,” which pulls stalled bills to the full senate floor for a vote.
Legislators need a majority vote to advance to the Ninth Order—and then they get to the business of voting to bring the bill to the floor and voting on the bill itself. The Democrats don't have the numbers to pull this off because Sens. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island) and Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), two of the 'Yea' votes, say the bills need to move through the normal committee process.
(Editorial note: This line of reasoning is rich coming from Litzow and Tom—both of them helped advance the senate to the Ninth Order last year to move the Republican budget out of committee and to the floor in the now famous Repubblican budget coup of 2012. It's also a bit grating coming from Tom, who said the MCC would not stall the Democratic agenda, but then let his Republican-appointed chairs call the shots.)
“The point that we need to make is that we have a majority of members that want these bills to pass," Murray said, "but they aren’t being allowed to bring these bills forward.”
The Reproductive Parity Act, which would require insurers that cover maternity care to cover abortions, is backed by a majority of 25 senators—including key MCC votes, Sens. Tom and Litzow— who signed a letter to the senate Health Care Committee supporting the bill. (Tom also appeared at a rally to support the RPA earlier this session.) However, Republican health care committee chair Sen. Randi Becker (R-2, Eatonville) refused to hold a vote on the bill in committee. Sen. Mike Padden's (R-4, Spokane Valley) also refused the move the bill in his law and justice committee.
The DREAM Act, which would make children of undocumented immigrants eligible for college aid, passed with overwhelming support in the house, including 22 Republican house members. But it never moved out of Sen. Barbara Bailey’s (R-10, Oak Harbor) higher education committee. A move to attach the DREAM Act to a larger bill earlier this session failed in the senate, but Murray insists there is support for a bill of its own.
"I don’t think you can go out on the steps and say this is something I believe in and then turn around and say, 'but procedurally I can’t vote with you.'"—Sen. Ed Murray about Sen. Tom's refusal to move the DREAM Act or the Reproductive Parity Act
“It’s time to vote on these bills. I don’t think you can go out on the steps and say this is something I believe in and then turn around and say, 'but procedurally I can’t vote with you,'" Murray said. "Either you there or you’re not, and the ninth order is a vote at that point, in my opinion, on the DREAM Act and on the Reproductive Parity Act."
The clock is ticking. Wednesday is policy cutoff day—and while there's a case to be made that the DREAM Act could be considered part of the budget, and so could still be in play in the final days of the session as part of budget negotiations, sources say it's unlikely and things would look "pretty grim" for these bills if aren't voted on in the next 48 hours.
Asked about the possibility that the Democrats wouldn't get enough votes if and when the bills go to the floor, Murray shifted the spotlight to the Majority Coalition Caucus. “If the Republican controlled majority is going to engage in retribution, I think that’s a higher risk for them than it is for us [to come up short].”
The issue puts MCC leader Sen. Tom, the leader of the MCC, in a tough political spot. While his suburban Seattle district may actually be with him on fiscal issues—he likes to point out that his district supported Tim Eyman's anti-tax I-1185 last year—if his coup ends up sabotaging popular aspects of the Democratic agenda, such as women's reproductive rights and immigration rights, he will face a steep climb at the polls. However, if he goes for it, he could face retribution from his caucus, losing the credibility he needs to cut a budget deal.
Sen. Litzow will face similar hostility at the polls.
Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-40, Orcas Island), who claims to have turned down a chair position because of the MCC’s decision to bar certain bills from committee, also took a hit at the Caucus’ iffy hold on the senate. “I think there’s a fundamental flaw when a majority of Washingtonians support these bills and these bills have the support on the senate floor and yet they are not moving because of the need to keep a caucus together that only has 25 votes, so everybody is the 25th vote.”
“We’re going to have to go to the ninth order if we can’t come up with some other arrangement,” Murray said. Otherwise, both the Reproductive Parity Act and the DREAM Act will die in the senate on Wednesday.
We have calls in to Sens. Litzow and Tom.