What? No public comment? Dems call Senate GOP bluff

Sen. Sharon Nelson Credit: John Stang

A tiff has begun in Olympia over how some Washington Senate Republican bills are routed to committee.

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said the 24-Republican-two-Democrat Majority Coalition Caucus has sent some bills directly to the Senate Ways & Means Committee — which handles budget matters — instead of first to policy-oriented committees.

Democrats contend public feedback is being shortchanged by this process, while Republicans counter that it's a longstanding practice by whichever party is in power.

"There is an end run around the policy committees. You can't hear from citizens about policy matters," Nelson said. 

"We're going to continue to object [about this practice]."

Nelson cited four bills as examples. One, a bill by Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, would require a legislative hearing on any state legal settlements of $1 million or more. It was introduced Monday and referred directly to the Ways and Means Committee, which he chairs.

Hill also introduced another bill Monday that would allow county governments to create "cultural access authorities" — bodies designed to supervise science and art institutions such as museums and zoos, but with the authority to levy sales and property taxes if approved by voters. A bill that would forbid campaign fundraising by state legislators in budget years until they have successfully passed a budget was introduced by Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, on January 7.

Both bills went directly to the Ways & Means Committee. Fain's bill was passed through the committee and now faces a full Senate vote. 

A fourth example raised by Nelson, a bill from Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, that addresses landlord-tenant matters, was actually referred to the Senate's Law & Justice Committee.

Senate Republican Caucus Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, seemed unconcerned about the conflict. "I've been here for 21 years," he said, "and there's always been complaints in both bodies by both sides about referrals [of bills to committees]."

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