Washington’s Senate plans to vote Thursday to delay both the implementation of Initiative 1351 and a biology-related gradation requirement on the states’ standardized tests.
The House is tentatively scheduled to return for its floor votes on Friday, the main one being to provide bonds for a $16 billion, 16-year transportation project package. Both chambers left unfinished business on July 1 when various deals stalled over some last-minute jockeying.
The Senate’s Republicans and Democrats have apparently reached a compromise in which the minority Democrats will provide enough votes to delay implementation of I-1351 for four years. In return, Republicans will approve a two-year delay in implementing a high school gradation requirement that students pass the biology portion of a standardized end-of-course exam.
Roughly 2,000 seniors failed this biology test in 2015, imperiling their ability to graduate.
Last fall, Washington’s voters passed I-1351, which mandates smaller class sizes in Grades 4-12 on top of the Washington Supreme Court’s 2102 call to improve teacher-student ratios in Grades K-3. That additional class-size reduction work would cost an extra $2 billion in 2015-2017, which the state doesn’t have.
Last week, the House passed a bill 72-26 to delay implementing I-1351 by four years. Two-thirds approval in each chamber is needed to change a public initiative’s language within two years of its passage. That translates to 67 House votes and 33 Senate votes.
But 17 minority Democrats had enough votes to stop the bill in the 49-member chamber — and they used that clout on June 30 and July 1 to demand action on the graduation measure. The House had supported the testing overhaul bill in overwhelming, bipartisan votes. The Senate GOP’s leaders would not agree to the graduation bill at that point, leaving the I-1351 $2-billion hole unresolved last week.
Each side accused the other of unfair gamesmanship over last week’s Senate breakdown. Now, a new agreement is apparently in effect, and is supposed to be voted on Thursday.
There’s a second issue also hanging up the Legislature. On June 30, the House Republicans tried to require that an 11.9 cents per gallon gas-tax hike be sent to a public referendum. That proposed amendment to a large transportation package was outside of a handshake agreement between the two parties. The House Democrats defeated the proposed amendment, but successfully installed their own amendment on allocating future Sound Transit tax money, which was also outside of the handshake agreement. The Senate accepted the Sound Transit amendment.
All this stretched out the House action by several hours — leaving an unresolved loose end: passage of a bill authorizing bonds to help put the 16-year, $16 billion transportation projects package into action.
That bonding bill still needs 59 votes — 60 percent of the House — to pass. And that means at least five of the Republicans who defied the handshake agreement to vote for the gas-tax referendum are now needed to support the bonds. But the Friday session will offer a chance to take the vote on the bonds.