The strong unwritten rule in the Washington Legislature is people are supposed to vote their consciences on bills, but toe the party line on procedural matters.
That rule got tested and stretched Tuesday. Legislative party decorum won over individual beliefs.
The Majority Coalition Caucus voted down 25-23 a Democratic attempt to revive two dead bills — the DREAM Act and the Reproductive Parity Act.
The showdown had Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, voting down the attempt, despite their support of the two bills. Tom is leader of the Majority Coalition Caucus.
Tuesday's attempt involved the so-called "Ninth Order" in which 25 senators can put a bill to a full floor vote after that legislation has died in committee. The House passed both bills, but the measures never got out of the appropriate Senate committees because two conservative chairwomen — Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville — opposed the legislation and have the power to keep bills from leaving their committees. Many House Republicans supported the DREAM Act and none supported the Reproductive Parity Act.
Tom opposed the Ninth Order move because, he said, it would lead to other senators bringing up dead bills during that Ninth Order legislative segment. "The Ninth Order is about control of the floor," he said. He contended the Ninth Order segment could have lasted hours or days with senators constantly reviving bills before the segment was closed.
"I would have to defeat 30 Roach bills and 40 Benton bills," Tom said. Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, and Don Benton, R-Vancouver are among the 23-Republican-two-Democrat coalition's most conservative members, and have many bills stalled in committee or in the Rules Committee, which is the majority-coalition-controlled gateway between committees and full floor votes. Benton's dead bills include requiring a teen girl to notify her parents before getting an abortion, and requiring proof of citizenship before someone can get a Washington driver's license — a bill aimed at undocumented immigrants.
Last year, Tom, Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, and then-Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, split with the Democratic majority on a Ninth Order vote to bring a Republican budget to the full Senate floor and pass it. Tom and Sheldon are the two Democrats in the majority coalition, which has a 25-24 advantage over the minority Democrats.
Tom said the 2012 budget Ninth Order maneuver was different because it was limited to the budget.
However, Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, called for the Ninth Order to be used Tuesday only for the DREAM Act and Reproductive Parity Act. Murray said that he believed he had at least 25 votes — including those of Tom and Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island — for the Reproductive Parity Act. He believed he had at least 30 votes — including Tom's — for the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act provides possible financial aid to children of undocumented immigrants who graduate from state high schools and want to apply to college. The Reproductive Parity Act would order insurance companies who provide maternity-related insurance to also cover abortions.
Murray contended the Ninth Order vote showed that bipartisanship, which the Majority Coalition Caucus has preached since when it was formed last December, does not exist in the Senate. "We just were looking for a little bipartisanship here — just one or two (majority coalition members to cross the aisle,)" Murray said.
Murray made his remarks on the same day that Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and legislators of both parties announced the introduction of a last-minute bill to toughen penalties for driving under the influence convictions.
Theoretically, the minority Democrats could still try to attach the Reproductive Parity and DREAM bills as amendments to other bills on the floor, hoping to pick up a couple OF coalition crossover votes.
Tuesday's 25-23 Ninth Order vote included Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, crossing party lines to vote with the Majority Coalition Caucus. Murray said Hargrove supported the DREAM Act, but opposed the Reproductive Parity Act.
Hargrove has been consistently opposed to abortion for years, and Murray said he expected and respected Hargrove's stance on the Ninth Order to oppose reviving the Reproductive Parity Act because of his longtime beliefs.
Also, Hargrove was the designated Democrat to vote in place of missing Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood who is dealing with blood disease. Another strong unwritten Washington Legislature tradition is when a member is too ill to vote on a close, important matter, a member of the opposing party will vote for the sick legislator's stance in his or her place.