Legislature apparently letting clock run out on session

By Rachel La Corte

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — The political rancor at the state Legislature is likely to go right to the bitter end, as the possibility arose that lawmakers wouldn’t even officially adjourn and would instead just let the clock run out at midnight Thursday on the third special session.

Legislative leaders had previously said they were likely to adjourn earlier in the day after negotiations broke down Wednesday on a water rights bill that was tied to passage of a new construction budget for the state.

But House Republican leader Dan Kristiansen said once he told Democratic leaders that his caucus planned a procedural move to try and pull the water bill to the floor to force a vote, the Democrats have refused to take to the floor and would instead wait for the clock to run out.

Gov. Jay Inslee has previously said he would only call the Legislature back to town for another session if they reach a deal that allows a vote on the two-year, $4 billion capital budget that has already been agreed to by all four caucuses.

Kristiansen said that the procedural move was a “last ditch effort” because he was certain enough Democrats in the House supported the bill that it would pass if brought to the floor.

“Just allow the bill to come to the floor of the House and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.

Democratic leaders said they won’t allow a vote on something that hasn’t been agreed to as part of negotiations.

“We’re not going to allow games to be played out here,” Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said.

Lawmakers have been in session for more than 190 days this year on what was scheduled to be a 105-day session, first because of a delay on approving a state operating budget to avert a partial government shutdown, then by a dispute over legislation aimed at overturning a recent state Supreme Court ruling known as the Hirst decision.

That ruling effectively limited the use of new domestic wells in certain rural areas when it harms senior water rights.

It does not affect Sequim-area residents under the Dungeness Water rule, according to Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, who represents the 24th Legislative District.

Democrats argued that new money for local water and sewer projects, school construction, mental health facilities and other construction across the state remains in limbo, and state employees who are currently being paid by existing agency funds ultimately face layoffs without a new budget enacted.

Republicans said that they also want a capital budget but that they needed leverage to ensure the water rights issue was addressed this year.

In October, the state Supreme Court ruled that Whatcom County failed to protect water resources by allowing new wells to reduce flow in streams for fish and other uses.

The court said counties must ensure, independently of the state, that water is physically and legally available before they issue building permits in certain areas.

In the wake of that ruling, some counties temporarily halted certain rural development, while others changed criteria for obtaining building permits.

Frustrated property owners told lawmakers they spent thousands of dollars to prepare building lots only to discover they now can’t get a building permit. County officials say they don’t have the resources to do hydrological studies that would be required under the ruling.

Several tribes across the state have urged Inslee to oppose efforts to overturn the court decision and reject proposals that don’t protect tribal treaty rights. They say the ruling correctly requires local governments to plan ahead so new water withdrawals don’t harm those with senior water rights, including tribes, municipalities and farmers.

Lawmakers have proposed various bills in response, and negotiations were ongoing until they stalled Wednesday.

Inslee on Wednesday supported House Democrats’ latest offer allowing property owners impacted by the Hirst ruling to obtain building permits for 24 months. It would also create a legislative task force to work on long-term solutions.

But Republicans in the House and Senate argue that a permanent fix is needed now and instead want to pass a bill previously passed four times by the Senate aimed at reversing key elements of the Hirst decision.

An amendment offered up by Republican Rep. David Taylor and Democratic Rep. Brian Blake makes several changes to that bill, including giving some input to tribes regarding development.

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