Sen. Sharon Nelson Credit: John Stang
Senate Democrats took a doomed crack at passing a bill to help the homeless and a veterans tuition bill Tuesday — pieces of legislation that have stalled in recent weeks amid convoluted partisan maneuvers.
The Democrats went to the "Ninth Order" — a parliamentary procedure in which some legislators move to get a majority vote of the full chamber to bring a stalled bill to a final vote by the entire Senate. This is generally used by the minority party and usually fails. An unwritten rule of the Legislature is that regardless of individual feelings about a bill, everyone is supposed to vote with his or her caucus on "procedural " matters such as whether to consider bills that the majority leadership has blocked from consideration.
Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, reminded the Majority Coalition Caucus twice before the vote on whether to consider the veterans tuition and and homeless bills was a "procedural" matter.
The Senate rejected the Ninth Order measure in 26-23, with senators voting along caucus lines.
"The [procedural] argument is so frustrating. We have three days left. It's time to take care of these important bills," said Sen. Andy Billig, D- Spokane, who made the Ninth Order motion. The legislative session ends Thursday.
Billig's motion called for taking Tacoma Democrat Rep. David Sawyer's fee-for-homeless bill and Poulsbo Democrat Sherry Appleton's veterans tuition bill to full Senate votes. A while ago these bills plus another Republican veterans tuition bill appeared to be slam-dunks for passage. Now they are caught up in political game playing.
On Feb. 27, Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard and co-chair of the Senate Financial Institutions Committee, blocked Sawyer's bill, which stop the scheduled phase-out of a $40 home-sales recording fee, which is used to help low-income and homeless people with rent on public and private housing. The fee is scheduled to drop from $40 to $30 in 2015, then down to $20 in 2016 and to $10 in 2017, until finally zeroing out in 2018.
Over the protests of Senate Financial Institutions Committee members from both parties, Angel abruptly closed a committee meeting just before a vote on that bipartisan funding-for-homeless bill. She did not explain her reasons at that time. Real estate interests oppose the bill, and Angel has worked in the real estate business.
However, Angel had supported the same bill when Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, introduced it almost a month earlier. On Feb. 6, the entire Senate Financial Institutions Committee, including Angel, recommended that the Senate pass Darneille's bill. Since then, Darneille's bill has stalled in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
Last Thursday, Angel expressed concern about a lack of appropriate data from the state Department of Commerce and asked Gov. Jay Inslee to appoint a task force to study homeless funding. On Friday, Inslee said Commerce had provided the appropriate data, that a task force was not needed and that the bill can be revived.
Meanwhile, Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, set up a replacement bill to push back the beginning of the phase-out to 2015 to give legislators a chance to ponder the issue. The Senate Ways & Means Committee, with half-hearted Democratic support, recommended the Senate pass Hill's bill. Tuesday's Ninth Order maneuver involved Sawyer's original bill. In the Ways & Means Committee, Democrats tried extend the $40-home-sale-fee-for-homeless-housing program to 2020 or to make it permanent. Those attempted amendments died 12-10 in committee along party lines.
Schoesler pointed to Hill's bill as the probable solution to the current brouhaha. Also, he noted that the majority coalition and House Democrat leaders have agreed to get the homeless housing and veterans tuition bills passed this week.
Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, criticized the situation. "The most unfortunate thing about the document recording fee debate is that it’s a completely manufactured problem.
“In less than two weeks, Senate Republicans have managed to create a problem, generate a striking amount of negative press for doing so and then attempt to fix a problem that didn’t exist with a half-baked solution. It’s stunning," Nelson said.
Meanwhile, identical bills by Appleton and Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, to grant in-state tuition to veterans from Washington military bases have passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. But the two bills have stalled in the opposite chambers amid a squabble over which party will get credit for the law.
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