This Washington

Legislative Session: Week Five Preview

What to watch for this week in Olympia.

By Niki Reading February 11, 2013

The House and Senate committees have less than two weeks to finish up working on policy bills before cut-off next Friday, so expect to see an emptying of the cupboards—from bills aimed at reducing gun violence to changing Initiative 937 to a range of education efforts—there’s a little of everything this week.

Today—Monday, February 11—the House Finance committee is holding a work session on the biggest question so far this session: How to fund basic education under the McCleary decision.

The work session will be an overview of work done by the Joint Task Force on Education Funding. So far this session, Democrats have emphasized the need for new revenue for K-12 education, while Republicans have focused on additional reforms to help get the job done.

After the presentation, the committee will take public comment on the report. That all starts at 1:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, February 12, the Senate transportation committee will hear what the public has to say about whether companies should be able to buy naming rights to bridges, state highways, rest stops, toll booths and any other transportation facility you can imagine.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver) and a companion version is sponsored in the House by Rep. Jan Angel (R-26, Port Orchard)—both of whom live in close proximity to big, expensive bridges. How much would it cost to rename the Tacoma Narrows Bridge? No one knows; the bill stipulates the state must charge more than what it would cost to rename the facility. It puts the decision-making and cost-setting authority in the hands of the state transportation commission.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on several gun bills—including Rep. Jamie Pedersen’s bill to close the gun show loophole.

Of course, obscene and political names would be banned. That hearing starts at 3:30 p.m.
At 1:30, the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications committee will consider several bills that would affect Initiative 937, which voters passed in 2006 and which sets renewable energy targets for utilities in the state. The initiative doesn’t count hydroelectric power as renewable, but instead requires utilities to invest in wind and solar power. Critics have said the initiative means Washington power companies are forced to purchase expensive and inconsistent wind power, for example, while selling our hyrdropower to California, where it counts as a renewable source of energy for requirements there. They urge for greater flexibility of conservation requirements.

Meanwhile, supporters of the initiative say that changing the law would only slow progress toward renewable power, and that changing the law now could be unfair to utilities that have already made big investments in renewable power. In the past, former Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) tried unsuccessfully to alter the initiative—now it’s majority Republicans’ turn.

New Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who was a major advocate of I-937, was skeptical of making changes at his most recent press conference.
The House Appropriations Committee is considering a bill on differential tuition—the bill has already passed the House Higher Education Committee. Background: The Legislature voted to allow universities to set their own tuition last year—that includes the ability to price specific majors and programs differently. For example, the UW could decide to tack an extra $5,000 per year for undergraduate engineering tuition. The problem: The state’s prepaid tuition program is pegged to the highest undergraduate tuition at a state university, meaning that jacking up the cost of even one program could dramatically alter the value of Guaranteed Education Tuition credits.

The GET program has already been the target of Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina) and others, who say it’s in financial danger and should be scrapped altogether. Two other proposals aimed at ensuring GET’s solvency would hold tuition at today’s levels for two years and set a goal to fund half of the cost of public higher education by 2020. The hearing begins at 3:30 – the bill is scheduled to be voted out of the committee at 3:30 the following day.
On Wednesday, February 13, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on several gun bills—including Rep. Jamie Pedersen’s (D-43, Capitol Hill) bill to close the gun show loophole and require universal background checks for anyone purchasing a firearm in the state. That bill has more than 30 co-sponsors now, including some Republicans. There’s another bill to “encourage safe storage” of firearms. Any bill involving firearms generally draws a crowd, so show up early to the 8 a.m. hearing.
The House Government Operations Committee will hear what the public has to say about a bill to create what looks like mini-ranked choice voting—voters could pick their top two candidates for statewide nonpartisan offices.

The committee is also considering a joint resolution to request a U.S. Constitutional amendment to go back to the good old days, when Congress and state governments could control campaign contributions.  Both bills are sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill) and co-sponsored by Republican Mike Hope (R-44, Lake Stevens). That hearing starts at 1:30.

On Thursday, February 14, the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss whether people who depend on state assistance should be tested for drug use. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver), would require certain recipients of TANF—Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—to undergo regular drug testing.

Proponents say giving a cash grant of, on average, around $400 a month, to drug addicts is a poor use of state money. But opponents say there is already a system in place to for TANF recipients hooked on drugs – they’re referred to treatment and can lose their benefits. Reps. Jan Angel (R-26, Port Orchard), sponsor of the House version of the bill, and Ruth Kagi (D-32, Shoreline) talked about the issue on TVW’s The Impact last week.
At 3:30, the Senate budget writing committee will hold a public hearing on a handful of tax bills—all proposed by Democrats. Does the hearing mean the Democrats are getting some Valentine’s Day love from the Majority Coalition Caucus?

Doubtful. The bills range from implementing an income tax to taxing plastic bags to narrowing B&O tax exemptions and most have one or two sponsors, including three by left wing Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D-11, Renton).  In other words, most don’t appear to even be popular proposals among the minority. One, however, is request legislation from former Gov. Chris Gregoire to tax fuel to pay for school transportation.
On Friday, February 15, the Senate K-12 committee will hold a hearing on whether science, math and special education teachers should be paid more than PE teachers (at least, in districts where PE teachers still exist). The bill is sponsored by Sen. Mike Carrell (R-28, Lakewood), a former math and science teacher himself and is co-sponsored by a handful of other MCC members, including K-12 chairman, Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island).

It would require the state to pay a 10 percent bonus to “expert” teachers in those three fields and prohibit school districts from using the cash for anything other than those bonuses. The hearing starts at 8 a.m.

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