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Capitol Week Ahead: We’re in the big leagues now, boys

Credit: Tom James/Crosscut

Listen closely, and a rustling sound can be heard around Olympia.

Distinct but faint, it can easily be missed beneath the flapping of flags and the swishing of Evergreen students' beards. Approach the grassy capitol campus, however, and it grows louder. Climb the stairs to lawmakers offices and it grows louder still.

It's the girding of legislative loins.

After two deadlines that amount mostly to a winnowing of unpopular and un-passable ideas at the state Capitol, the tempo changes Monday with the beginning of a schedule dominated by big debates and whole-chamber votes. After a month and a half of arguing in committee, this week Senators and Representatives will venture forth from offices and dour hearing rooms to the floors of their respective chambers, gilded light fixtures and all, to get down to the business of arguing in much larger groups.

The stage for the week is set by the policy and budget cut-offs. The policy deadline was the cut-off for securing committee approval of bills that change law, but don't affect the budget. The budget cut-off was for approval of bills that negatively changed the budget — bills that cost money but don't generate any.

The first deadline passed Feb 15; the second last Friday.

Now that the two deadlines are past, the only bills that can be introduced are those that either cut costs or raise new money. This week, you can expect to see the introduction of some bills that do just that  some of which will propose sweeping policy changes, too.

Tuesday, for example, will play host to an 8:30 a.m. public hearing of a bill that aims to cut criminal justice costs by eliminating the death penalty.

Enumclaw Democrat Rep. Chris Hurst has also said he will unveil a proposal to amend the state's recreational marijuana law, initiative 502, likely sometime this week. Since pot will raise significant tax revenue for the state, a proposal to amend rules about its sale and regulation could realistically still be shoehorned in. 

Hurst is also convening an alcohol work group next Monday, likely to take on the issue of alcohol shoplifting and inventory control after the privatization of Washington's liquor market last year.

Nonetheless, Monday, March 4th marks a shift in focus from committees — where bills are introduced — to the floors of the two chambers. There lawmakers will begin a marathon of debating and voting on the bills passed out of committees before yet another deadline: March 13, the last day for debate to begin on any bill in its house of origin.

Days that stretch well beyond normal business hours will likely be the norm this week, as lawmakers race to move bills down the line before the next deadline. Bills that make it from one chamber to the next before then will have a chance to be voted on in the second chamber. Bills that don't, won't.

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