EYE ON OLYMPIA: Voting on budget, final legislation may not start till month's end

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — As the state Legislature moves to the start of a special session next Monday, May 13, the North Olympic Peninsula's representatives in the state House agree most legislators won't start to vote on a final suite of legislation and the state's final budget until at least Memorial Day.

However, 24th District State Sen. Jim Hargrove said he has a full day of meetings Tuesday in Olympia to continue the long march toward a finalized state 2013-2015 operating budget.

Hargrove, along with State Reps. and Sequim Democrats Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege, serves the 24th which comprises Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.

Hargrove is part of what's called in Olympia the “five corners,” made of ranking legislators and budget writers from each chamber, both Democrat and Republican, and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

Over the past few weeks, this group has been working with legislative staff members to review the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget and determine where compromises need to be made.

“Tuesday will be a five corners meeting, to look at the work staff has done to line up all the assumptions in the two budgets,” Hargrove said.

After budget negotiators determine much money the operating budget has to spend — often referred to as “the size of the box” — Hargrove said the more difficult job of reconciling $1.2 billion difference between the two budgets can begin.

“It's probably the biggest divide I've seen in 29 years, and — yippy skippy — I get to be a part of trying to fix it,” Hargrove said.

The Senate majority coalition, formed before the regular session began and made up of two Democrats and the Senate's 23 Republicans, is a potential reason budget negotiations have been relatively slow this session and why a special session is needed this year, Tharinger said.

“I don't expect a lot of action until the first day of June,” Tharinger said.

Tharinger said it seems the two Senate Democrats, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, crossing the aisle to make the Republican minority effectively a majority has led to a Senate with little unity, and more important, little agreement on key issues.

“Everyone [in Olympia] said it has been one of the oddest sessions they can remember and I think it's just because of the lack of cohesion in the Senate.”

Van De Wege echoed Tharinger's sentiment, saying that from early on in the session no one seemed to know what was going to happen in Senate.

“Odd or weird are words we commonly used to describe this session,” Van De Wege said. “There were lots of really interesting personalities at play, which makes it entertaining at times.”

On a personal level, Van De Wege said he's glad the piece of legislation he's been championing all session that would make CPR classes and training with automated defibrillators has been delivered to the governor's desk and will likely be signed into law this week.

However, Van De Wege's long-fought-for toxics bill, which would ban a certain type of carcinogenic flame retardants from use in most children's products, appears to be dead after members of the Republican-controlled Senate refused to convene what's called a concurrence conference.

Such a meeting would have been needed to reconcile the changes to the bill the Senate made with the House version.

The major Senate change, Van De Wege has said, was the removal of a provision that would have allowed the state Department of Ecology to review potentially harmful flame retardants before they could be used in Washington.

Van De Wege said he and colleagues tried during the last week of the regular session to propose compromises on the bill to Republican Senators, but to no avail.

“They refused to have any official meetings, and they refused to consider any of our ideas,” Van De Wege said.

The toxics bill could be brought up again in the special session starting May 13, though Van De Wege said this is far from certain.

“It might be part of the special session, but that's not a sure thing by any means,” Van De Wege said.

Tharinger said he's still working on getting into the final a budget a number of what are called budget provisos that started off this session as Tharinger-sponsored bills.

These include a provision that would give more money from the state to sole community hospitals, which include Olympic Medical Center, and a language that would provide money for a special committee to meet and study over the next two years the needs of the state's growing older-than-65 population.

“I'm hopeful that those will get done,” Tharinger said.

“But all that is up in the air until probably the first of June.”

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 06. 2013 6:46AM
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