EYE ON OLYMPIA: Lawmakers start extra session today for operating budget, education funding

OLYMPIA — Don’t hold your breath if you’re waiting for state lawmakers to finish up work on the budget.

The state Legislature finished out its 105-day session Sunday without completing work on a two-year operating budget and court-mandated McCleary funding for public education.

Lawmakers broke for the weekend Friday, leaving a few on hand to officially close out the session Sunday.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday that legislators will return to the capitol building today to start an extra session.

“Both sides will have to move toward the other,” said Inslee in a press conference Friday where he announced today’s extra session. He did not see the Senate Republicans as being willing to negotiate.

“The legislators have some responsibility here,” he added. “By necessity, they’re going to have to compromise. The Senate has not accepted that responsibility.”

Still, he said that the House, as well as the Senate, will “have to drop” some of its ideas.

He said that while he still has other action he would like to see from the Legislature, the two-year budget with funding for public education has to be the priority. He was unwilling to discuss other priorities.

The two sides are still far apart.

In short, the GOP-majority Senate has argued that the Democratic majority in the House has not yet passed their tax bills so it’s impossible for them to understand what would be negotiated.

The Democratic majority in the House has argued that the Senate’s plan is dependent on a voter referendum in November, which could be overturned.

It’s not unusual for the Washington Legislature to return for a special session, according to an official list of session dates from the Legislature at www.leg.wa.gov.

Last year, lawmakers returned for 20 days, March 10-29. In 2015, the Legislature returned for three extra sessions — a total of 73 days ending July 10.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, represents the 24th District in the Senate. He is joined by Rep. Mike Chapman and Rep. Steve Tharinger in the House. The 24th District covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

On Friday, Van De Wege voiced some frustration.

“I’m not naive,” said Van De Wege via email. “Everyone knew going in that McCleary would be the biggest and most difficult challenge we face this year and that it might entail more time than the regular session.”

Pointing to the Senate Republicans, he said that what “no one anticipated was that a key segment of the Legislature would spend precious weeks and months ignoring that challenge.”

Like Inslee, Van De Wege said the “Senate’s Republican majority flat-out refuses to negotiate a solution.”

Chapman, D-Port Angeles, said House members have been told not to report back until Tuesday, May 2, to consider some bills.

If legislators don’t work out a budget agreement in the coming weeks, Chapman said it’s possible they’ll wait for new state revenue projections in June. With the state’s economy growing, he said it’s possible that improving tax revenue projections could reduce the bottom line needed for the operating budget and public education proposals.

On local matters, Chapman is pleased that the transportation budget, which is separate from the state’s operating budget, has passed both houses and that it contains language for the complete replacement of the U.S. Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha River west of Port Angeles.

Chapman sits on the House Transportation Committee and Van De Wege sits on same committee in the Senate. The representative also thanked Tharinger, D-Sequim, for his support of the bridge project on the Capital Budget Committee.

Chapman said he has spoken with state Department of Transportation officials and was told that they will be ready to start the bridge project as soon as the transportation budget is signed. Construction could start in about a year and include keeping the current bridge open while the new one is built, he said.

Caring for dogs

Ever worried about a neighbor’s dog tethered to a line outdoors in all kinds of weather?

A new law signed by Inslee last Wednesday sets penalties for dog owners who leave their dogs tethered without providing access to food, water and shelter.

The bill spells out rules and regulations designed to reduce dogs’ injuries as a result of being tethered. Before this law, Washington state had no animal cruelty standards or penalties for when dogs are left tied up or tethered.

The new statute will allow animal control officers to issue warnings and infractions for inhumane tethering.

Chapman, Tharinger and Van De Wege all voted in favor of SB 5356.

Distracted driving

Inslee was expected to sign a new law regarding distracted driving penalties which was delivered to his desk Friday.

Both houses passed SB 5289, which would prohibit holding an electronic device while driving — including sitting in traffic or at red lights.

It would allow the “minimal use of a finger” to activate, deactivate or initiate a function of a personal electronic device while driving.

Fines would be $136 for the first offense and $235 for the second.

The bill also prohibits “any activity not related to the actual operation of a vehicle,” such as running a stop sign because a driver is distracted with an additional fine of $100.

It does not prohibit other activities while driving, including eating, putting on makeup or having a pet in the vehicle unless those distractions cause a driver to drive dangerously.

Dialing 9-1-1 to contact emergency services while driving is exempt from the bill.

Chapman, Tharinger and Van De Wege all voted in favor of SB 5289.

Hat in the ring

Danille A. Turissini of Port Ludlow has registered with the state as a candidate for the 24th District Senate seat in the November 2020 election. Turissini would run as an Independent GOP candidate.

She ran unsuccessfully against Van De Wege last November.

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