Rushing to the doors, lawmakers help homeless, take chance on losing school aid
by John Stang
Washington's Capitol seen from across Capitol Lake. Credit: Photo: Aidan Wakely-Mulroney
As a host of bills died as the Legislature rushed to adjournment, lawmakers approved a hotly fought measure to help the homeless.
Large majorities in the Senate and House voted late Thursday to extend a $40 home-sales record fee, which is used to help low-income and homeless people with rent in public and private housing.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, keeps the $40 fee to 2019, guaranteeing the funds through most of the decade. The fee had been scheduled to be phased out over four years, dropping in $10 steps annually beginning next year to disappear in 2018.
Besides extending the $40 fee, the bill requires 45 percent of the proceeds to be spent on private rentals, and an audit of the program by July 1, 2015. Also, the state Commerce Department is to convene a stakeholders group to make recommendations on long-term funding of the program by Dec. 1, 2017.
"When you look at this $40, it seems so small compared to a $380,000 home," said Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island. Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, said, "I've never figured out why it took so long for this bill to pass. … This issue of homelessness is something we cannot turn our backs on."
Thursday's bill passage settled a brouhaha that began Feb. 27, when Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard and co-chair of the Senate Financial Institutions Committee, blocked a House bill to protect the home-sales recording fee. She did not explain her reasons at that time.
Faced with bipartisan anger, Angel last week 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. Inslee said Commerce had provided the appropriate data, that a task force was not needed and that the bill can be revived. Angel voted for the revised bill on Thursday.
Among the other hits and misses on Thursday:
- The Senate never voted on a teacher-evaluation system needed to protect the state from the possible loss of federal funding a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Senate Majority Caucus Coalition leaders did a vote count and had only 19 supporters — the same number they had when conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats combined to defeat an earlier version of the bill 30-19. The Washington Education Association hated the proposed evaluation system. Inslee wanted the second attempt at passing the bill because the feds could block the $40 million in aid under the No Child Left Behind Act.
"This is an absolute rejection of what the governor said we needed to get the waiver" from the No Child Left Behind requirements, said Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island. Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, contended that there is a chance that Washington can convince the feds to provide that waiver anyway. "We still have one of the best evaluation systems in the nation," she said.
This leaves everyone wondering: What will the feds do? Gov.Jay Inslee will make another attempt to get the the federal goverment to cut Washington some slack on this matter, but he was pessimistic at midnight about the state's chances of doing so.l
- House Democrats and the Senate failed in a joint effort to mesh the medical and recreational marijuana regulatory systems into one network. House Republicans stopped the effort because it lacked provisions to send some marijuana tax revenue to local governments to deal with pot-related issues. House Democrats contended the data did not exist yet to map out such allocations in state where marijuana is newly legal. The House Republicans, who make up more than a third of that chamber, held a trump card since recreational marijuana became legal under an initiative. A two-thirds majority in each chamber is needed to change any part of the recreational marijuana initiative during the first two years after the referendum passing.
Medical marijuana is largely unregulated in Washington. The feds want Colorado and Washington to regulate both types of marijuana to show enough good faith in controlling pot. Rep. Eileen Cody, D- Seattle and House Democratic point person on the issue, said it is now unknown how the feds will react to a lack of medical marijuana regulations.
"I have to express both surprise and disappointment at this. … I'm taken aback by the last minute resistance that popped up," inslee said.
- In a 26-23 vote along party lines, the Senate rejected the House's $166.5 million supplemental capital budget, which had attached to it a plan to borrow $700 million against future lottery revenue to build classrooms. Democrats argued that classroom construction would created jobs and help the state comply with a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling to improve teacher-student rations in grades K-3. This means there is no supplemental capital budget for 2014-2015.
"This is the first time in my short career where we refused to invest in job creation," said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo. The majority coalition did not like the cost in the bill of a new $82 million Washington State Patrol building to be constructed near the Capitol campus in Olympia. "Hotel California. Palace. Whatever you call it. We don't need it," said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
- The House passed a Senate bill to grant in-state tuition to veterans from Washington military bases. Identical house and Senate bills on this topic passed unanimously. But the Republican-oriented Senate and Democrat-controlled House clashed over which party will get credit for the law.
- The Senate revived a bill by Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, D-Mukilteo, to extend foster care for young people up to 21 years old if they are employed at least 80 hours a month or have medical conditions that require extended foster care. The Senate then passed the measure unanimously, sending it to Inslee for his signature.