Capitol Outlook: Legislature moving into tricky areas
by Tom James
When Washington Republicans made their move to took control of the state Senate last Monday, they talked a lot about their willingness to work with Democrats to get things done. After the Republican effort succeeded, the Democrats called even more loudly for the same.
Throughout the process, Democrat Sens. Rodney Tom (Medina) and Tim Sheldon (Potlatch), whose votes were crucial to the success of the Republican-dominated coalition takeover, talked perhaps loudest of all.
The legislative committee agendas for this coming week look set to test those promises.
Monday, the Republican-controlled Senate Commerce and Labor committee will take up a measure that would repeal a never-funded, never-implemented act mandating paid family leave for Washington workers. The bill, originally passed in 2007, has been postponed twice, and has yet to go into effect.
Since the original act was never funded, repealing it could be viewed as only a symbolic blow to Washington workers or even as a practical step that could be an opportunity for the two parties to ease into working together. In the meantime, however, the original sponsor of the family leave bill, Sen. Karen Keiser, has introduced her own legislation calling for the expansion of the act — and finally funding it.
Tuesday, the Senate will hear about wolves in the state — likely to be presented as a problem. A hearing is later expected for a bill from Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, that would be hard to describe as bipartisan. Instead, after years of work by environmentalists in the state to restore and protect wolf packs in the eastern part of the state, Kretz's bill proposes relocating wolves to the Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands.
Kretz said in a release that he and members of his districts feel "greedy" for "hoarding the ecological benefits of wolf packs." The purpose of relocating wolves, Kretz said in the same release, would be "so all Washingtonians can enjoy them."
In the past, conservative advocates in the eastern part of the state have advocated destroying wolves to protect cattle, portraying the large predators as dangerous and economically costly, casting some question about the strength of Kretz's enthusiam for the enjoyment of wolves.
Thursday, the House of Representatives will hold a hearing on how to preserve the state's Guaranteed Education Tuition program, or GET. Sen. Tom, given the lead position in the Senate by Republicans last week, has said he favors an end to the GET program. The hearing could be a chance to see how intent both parties are on their promises to reach across the aisle — or how much they want to draw battle lines and hunker down.
Friday might be the most honest day of the week. Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, convenes then the meeting of the House Finance Committee he chairs. The Joint Task Force on Education Funding is scheduled to present its suggestions for funding the McCleary decision requiring the state to improve public education. Republicans have so far insisted that funding education ahead of other state needs is the key to meeting the mandates of the state Supreme Court decision.