The winnowing of the unwinnable — and the un-passable — continues in Olympia this week with the approach of the biggest deadline so far of the 2013 legislative session.
The deadline in question is March 13, the last day for consideration of bills in their chamber of origin. The date is the third in a series of deadlines that signify the ratcheting-up of the seriousness at the Legislature, as lawmakers narrow their focus to proposals with real potential to change state law. With each deadline, the chances for introducing new legislation have shrunk, while the work of sorting through what's left has mounted.
For those unfamiliar with the process, the date is one more milestone in a process where proposals are passed back and forth between the two parts — or chambers — of the state Legislature. By the end of it all, lawmakers in both the House and the Senate will have had a chance to argue over, make changes to, and finally vote on every bill proposed by the opposite side. Or, they can just choose to ignore something passed by the other body.
Last week saw the beginning of some of the longest days yet at the Capitol. Lawmakers moved last Monday from spending most of their time in committees, arguing over which bills should be sent on for a vote, to the House and Senate chambers under the big dome to vote on the bills that make it out of committe to a floor vote. As of Friday, workdays stretching well into the evening have been the norm.
This Wednesday at 5 p.m. is the last chance to begin that debate in the chamber that a bill was originally submitted in. Both houses have set aside almost all of Monday and Tuesday to vote on legislation, with possible evening sessions on the calendar for both days. Most of Wednesday is set aside as well for possible voting. By the end of the day, any debates must be concluded, and the last bills from each side sent over to the other for a second big round of committee work and voting.
In that respect, Thursday morning will be a break of sorts. The tempo will be higher than at the start of the session, when a legislator might well have gotten away with sneaking in late for an 8 a.m. committee hearing on, say, regulations on Christmas tree farms. But much of the focus will shift back from the floor action in each chamber to committees, as lawmakers hear bills from the opposite chamber before deciding whether to send them on for a larger vote.
The week also marks the final one before the shadow of the $6 billion budget question gains enough clarity to push — presumably — legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee to become more serious about balancing the two-year budget that must be adopted this year. From the governor down, most politicians have been obfuscating madly about how to deal with the state Supreme Court order of more money for education, not to mention the state's aging transportation system. But since a revised economic forecast for the state is due out March 20, this might be the last of the more flagrant claims of being able to make a third dollar appear by rubbing two together.
And of course, lurking in that shadow is everyone's favorite newly legal inebriant and supposed budget cure-all. Enumclaw Democrat Rep. Chris Hurst has been talking about an amendment to the state's Initiative 502 (legal marijuana) since the start of the session. Two weeks ago he hinted it would be out soon. At the end of this past week he hinted even harder. We'll see.
For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.