Olympia: The day of the dead bills. And the living.
by John Stang
Washington State Capitol Credit: Washington State House Democratic Caucus/Flickr
There's a stereotypical horror movie character known as "the final girl." She's the sole survivor after the film's monster kills off everyone else one by one.
Think Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. Battered, but strong and savvy.
Today is when we find out which statehouse bills will become the final girls — at least until the next installment of deadline decision making rolls around. Today (Friday) is the cut-off date for policy bills to pass out of their Senate and House committees — or they die. Most will die.
Meanwhile, budget bills can supposedly stay alive until this session is over. The definition of a bill "necessary to implement the budget" is pretty flexible — boiling down to dollars being somewhere in it.
Here are examples of the two types of bills. Mukilteo Democrat Rep. Marko Liias' bill to have a task force looking into gay-to-straight conversion therapy is a policy bill and will die today because it never had a public hearing in a House committee. Meanwhile, La Center Republican Sen. Ann River's bill to provide tax exemptions for clay pigeons bought by nonprofit shooting clubs could be considered "necessary to implement the budget" because it involves tax revenue and will survive this week in its search for a public hearing and a committee vote.
Actually, there are esoteric parliamentary ways to bring policy bills back from the dead — sort of like Jason Voorhees when a Friday The 13th sequel is planned.
So, which policy bills are gonna live, and which are gonna die?
Education — the top priority this session — is a good place to look at all this. Democrats and Republicans have radically different approaches on how to meet a Washington Supreme Court ruling to significantly improve K-12 education.
Democrats believe $1.4 billion is needed, saying the right systems are more or less in place but need cash to put everything into action. A good chunk of that cash could increase teachers' salaries. So the Dems will publicly concentrate on education budget legislation a few weeks from now. Meanwhile, Republicans believe reform, not money, is the key upgrade schools. So the GOP's primary education bills must be out of committee as of today. Republicans believe $900 million or possibly less is needed to meet the Supreme Court's mandates.
Several Republican education reform bills have made it through Senate committees and await probable passage by narrow margins in the full Senate. One of the highest-profile bills out of committee is Mercer Island Sen. Steve Litzow's legislation to grade schools on an A-to-F scale with improving schools and "A" schools getting extra money. Another is Puyallup Sen. Bruce Dammeier's bill to retain students in the third grade if they cannot read at a certain level.
But one Republican education reform bill ended up with too many problems to be fixed. That was Lakewood Sen. Mike Carrell's bill to provide bonuses to science and math teachers. It turned out that there is no shortage of math and science teachers, plus senators learned that it would cost $60 million to $80 million every two years to pay those bonuses. "That's going to stall. It had a huge price tag," said Litzow, chairman of the Senate K-12 Education Committee.
Despite the introduction of that now-dead bill, Republican leaders now say there is no good correlation between teacher's pay and success for students — a major factor in Republicans being reluctant to raise teachers' salaries to help meet the state Supreme Court's mandates.
One group of bills will become final girls or mad slasher victims today. That's a group of conflicting mandatory sick leave and Family Medical Leave Act bills.
Everything depends on which party is in the majority, which means that party appoints the committee chairpersons who decide what bills get chances to move on from their committees. That translates to a lot of Democrat "final girl” bills among the skewered GOP legislation in the House, and lots of Republican "final girl" bills among the massacred Dems in the Senate.
In the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee today, chairwoman Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, has scheduled votes on two Republican bills that would revoke Seattle's mandatory sick leave law and ensure other cities cannot install similar laws. These bills are sure things because Republicans outnumber Democrats on this committee.
Meanwhile, Holmquist Newbry — as her prerogative as chairwoman — has not scheduled votes today on Democrat bills to set up a statewide mandatory sick leave system and to expand the Family Medical Leave Act, which Republicans want to eliminate instead. After today, those Senate Democrat bills become officially dead.
Now, the House Democrats and Senate Republicans are piling up stacks of policy bills to ship to the other chamber. And each side doesn't like much of what the other party as lined up.
Senate Republicans have a stockpile of education reform, workers compensation, less-than-minimum-wage-for-trainees, sick leave and management-labor bills that House Democrats cannot wait to send nowhere. And House Democrats have stocked up on gun legislation and sick leave bills that go against what most Senate Republicans believe in.
Our mad slasher movie motif now switches to Japanese monster flick mode. Think 1962's King Kong Versus Godzilla.
Irresistible force meets immovable object. Super stalemate.
It is possible that the two chambers could be deadlocked on policy bills until they reach similar impasses on budget bills to be put together by two parties with radically different philosophies on taxes and cutting programs. And that budget battle won't even begin until late March. That's because the state's quarterly revenue forecast, which will plug income figures into the Democrats' and Republicans' financial equations, won't be released until March 20. Shortly afterward, the Senate's 23-Republican-2-Democrat majority coalition will unveil its proposed budget, with the House Democrat plan coming a few days later.
Then the two sides will fight like hell over revenue sources, expenses, cuts, taxes and anything else with a dollar sign in front of it. So the fates of workers comp reforms, new education approaches, and stricter gun regulations could be held up until the end of this session as chits to be traded to get a 2013-2015 state operating budget passed.
For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.