On Wednesday’s “Legislative Review,” we’ve got highlights from the House floor debate over a controversial tax package. On a vote of 50 to 47, the House approved a $900 million tax package, which eliminates some tax breaks and extends a business tax surcharge, to pay for basic education spending. Plus, we have details from Gov. Jay Inslee‘s press conference in which he talked about the end of session, as well as a recap of a Senate energy committee with testimony from former Former Oklahoma congressman and NFL Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent.
State lawmakers acknowledged on Wednesday that a special session may be needed to find a compromise on the state’s budget and other key issues.
“There’s much work to be done, we’d have to draw into an inside straight to be done by Sunday,” Gov. Jay Inslee said during a press conference.
Inslee said that many issues remain unresolved, including an agreement on the operating budget, capital budget and transportation package. He also said it would be a disappointment if lawmakers left Olympia without taking action on a number of key issues — gun control, DUI legislation, the abortion insurance bill, and the Washington Dream Act.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders reserved some hope that the Legislature can finish its business by Sunday, when the 105-day session is scheduled to end.
“This place is amazing in the miracles that can transpire if everybody gets together,” Senate Majority Leader Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Medina) said.
Lawmakers will have to find a compromise between the Senate’s no-tax budget and a House proposal calling for $900 million in new revenue. If a special session is called, it could last up to 30 days.
“It is still very much in the mechanics of the institution to finish on Sunday,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler (R-Ritsville). “I am a farmer, so I have to be an optimist.”
Former Oklahoma congressman and NFL Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent testified in front of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee on Wednesday to talk about the growth potential of the wireless industry in Washington state.
Largent is now the president and CEO of CTIA, an advocacy group for wireless companies.
“A lot of people don’t think about this, but our industry accounts for almost three percent of all U.S. employment in the country,” Largent said.
Committee chair Sen. Doug Ericksen, (R-Ferndale) called the work session to look at the “things we can be doing better to encourage job growth” of the wireless industry.
The House Public Safety Committee delayed a vote Wednesday on a proposed legislation that takes aim at repeat drunken driving offenders.
The bill was scaled back from the original House proposal, but committee chair Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) said a vote would have to wait due to lack of support.
“I am not willing to wait too much longer. We are not going to let up but we are not going to be voting on this morning,” he said.
The revised bill calls for the mandatory arrest of drivers suspected of a repeat offense, rather than all drivers suspected of driving under the influence. It also requires an ignition interlock device to be installed as a pretrial condition and a condition of release. The original proposal, the required that the device be installed before it was released from the impound lot.
Read the revised bill here.
Other parts of the original bill have been removed, including a provision that would ban repeat offender from purchasing alcohol for 10 year.
Member from both parties on the committee questioned the timing of legislation, saying lawmakers were rushing the bill to the House floor.
“We are not going to stop the carnage,” said Rep. Jeff Holy (R-Cheney). “To pass this out of committee today appears to be reacting to tragedy. We can do better.”
A bi-partisan group of lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee have proposed changes to the state’s impaired driving laws after two recent cases in the Seattle area left three people dead.
Watch the hearing below:
A proposal calling for $900 million in tax increases was approved by Democrats in the House Finance Committee on Tuesday.
Supporters say the tax package is necessary to funnel more money into the state’s public schools, but Republicans who voted against the measure say the plan will hurt businesses and the state’s economy.
House Bill 2038 passed on an 8-5 vote along party lines. The measure ends certain business tax exemptions and extends some taxes set to expire this year. Parts of the original proposal were dropped, including tax extensions on the beer industry, janitors, insurance agents and stevedores.
“Asking everyone to contribute to our quality of life, our quality of education for 1 million students in every community in our state is hard work. It’s tough to do. Closing just a few is hard, but investing in education is essential,” said committee chair Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle).
Republicans in the committee said the Legislature does not need new taxes to meet a court mandate to fully fund the state’s education system.
“We don’t need new taxes to balance our budget,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama). “We’ve got plenty of money for education. If there is any courage needed, it’s the courage to fund education first and to say no to some other people.”
The tax measure will now head to the House floor for a vote.
On Monday’s “Legislative Review” show: Teachers and school employees ask the Legislature to protect the cost of living pay raises that voters promised them more than a decade ago with Initiative 732. The House wants to continue suspending the initiative, while the Senate has proposed repealing it altogether.
Plus, we have highlights from a debate on the Senate floor over a bill that would make changes to healthcare coverage for part-time state workers. As part of the Senate’s budget proposal, part-time workers at state agencies, schools and colleges would no longer receive state health care — instead, they’d be moved into the new Health Benefit Exchange created by the Affordable Care Act.
If lawmakers can’t find a way to pay for it, a program giving parents five weeks paid time off to be with a new child will be eliminated under a measure passed Monday in the Senate.
Washington’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act was adopted in 2007 and gives new parents paid leave of up to $250 a week for five weeks. The program was slated to start in 2009, but a lack of funding has delayed the implementation date twice.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), said the program was a good idea, but without funding it’s an “empty promise.”
The measure was amended to include the creation of a task force to find a funding solution for the program. If a source isn’t found, parents would still be eligible for five weeks of unpaid leave. The author of the amendment, Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), said he plans to introduce a bill that will provide funding.
Under federal law, businesses with 50 or more employees are required to give workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical leave or to take care of a new child.
The measure passed on a 27 to 21 vote. It now head to the Democratic-controlled House.
A transportation spending package calling for a 10-cent gas tax increase cleared its first hurdle on Monday, clearing the way for a debate and vote on the House floor with less than a week remaining in the 105-day legislative session.
The House Transportation Committee approved the $8.4 billion package by a 16-13 vote along party lines. In addition to raising the gas tax, the proposal would increase various weight fees and call for higher vehicle registration and title transfer fees.
“We are going to be moving forward and making sure the economy is creating jobs,” said committee chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island). “I think it’s a perfect time. Even though it does raise taxes and does raise fees, there are going to be places where people can point and say this made a difference in our lives.”
Voter initiative activist Tim Eyman released plans Monday for another attempt to require a two-thirds majority for the Legislature to raise taxes. This time he wants to change the state’s constitution.
In February the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that initiative 1185, which required the Legislature to have a two-thirds supermajority to implement any new tax hikes, was unconstitutional.
“When we tried to do it with 1185, they said we would need to make an amendment to the constitution to make it happen. So that’s what we’re doing,” Eyman said Monday.
Under the proposal, sent in an email to the governor, legislators and Eyman supporters throughout the state, the new initiative would mandate:
Advisory votes every November asking voters if they support a two-thirds majority to raise taxes as a constitutional amendment.
Any new tax increases the Legislature adopts would be limited to one year.
Voters’ pamphlets would be required to include information about the governor’s and legislators’ voting records on tax increases under their picture.
The initiative also includes an escape clause to nullify these three policies if state legislators put a two-thirds constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on.
Eyman said he expects the difficulty of getting the more than 300,000 signatures required to get the proposal on a ballot by November will likely depend a great deal on what legislators do at the end of the current session.
“If they go nuts with tax increases over the next couple weeks, that will probably make it easier,” Eyman said. “If you don’t want the beehive to get upset, don’t kick it.”
Several local brewers spoke at the rally, along with a few lawmakers, about the importance of the industry to the state.
“I know your margins are small – no one’s going to get rich making beer,” said Joe Korbuszewski, a home brewer and bartender in Tacoma who helped organize the protest. “But you know what? You can support your kids and pay your mortgage doing it. And I don’t want them to take that away.”
A temporary beer tax, which is set to expire this June, was levied on breweries in 2010. Under the current law, smaller brewers are exempt. But legislation proposed by both Gov. Jay Inslee and House Democrats would remove that exemption for smaller brewers, and extend those taxes permanently.
The proposals from Inslee and the House differ – Inslee’s plan would increase taxes to $.50 per gallon for all breweries, while the House’s proposal would increase tax on large brewers by $.25 and small brewers by $.15 – but either way means more taxes on small brewers.
Republican Senators Doug Ericksen and Michael Baumgartner showed their support for the brewers by carrying beer steins.
“You folks have an industry that is growing, that is employing people. It’s serving a need, and we have to make sure that the actions taken inside these chambers do not put you out of work,” said Ericksen (R – Ferndale) told the crowd.
Supporters of the tax say it would bring in millions of dollars for K-12 education — as much as $128 million under Inslee’s plan and $59 million under the House’s proposal. But opponents say it will take away jobs, and could ruin an industry for which Washington has become known.
“With over 200 breweries, Washington is second only to California in number of breweries,” said Dick Cantwell of Elysian Brewing in Seattle. “That number will decline substantially if taxes are increased to the levels being discussed.”
The Senate’s budget does not include the tax extension. Budget writers from the House and Senate are working to negotiate a final budget.
“Together we’re not going to let this beer tax happen, because it’s about jobs, it’s about helping this economy,” said Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R – Spokane).
The Senate on Friday unanimously passed what budget writers call a “bare bones” transportation spending package that includes $8.7 billion to fund existing projects around the state.
The vote comes a day after a compromise was reached on the Interstate 5 bridge bridge project over the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver. Senate Republicans have voiced concerns over the project – specifically the proposed height of the bridge and a built-in light rail component.
The agreement calls for withholding about $82 million for the project in the budget until the U.S. Coast Guard decides whether to issue an important project permit. The Coast Guard, which has expressed concern over the bridge’s height, is expected to make a decision on the permit in September. The deal also calls for an audit of the Columbia River Crossing project by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee.
On Wednesday’s edition of “Legislative Review,” we have highlights from a busy cutoff day — including a floor speech from House Republican Minority Leader Richard DeBolt in which he resigned his leadership post for health reasons, and heated debate on the Senate floor when Democrats attempted to revive an abortion insurance bill. Plus, floor debate over a flame retardant bill and a social networking measure.
Wednesday marked another key legislative deadline in Olympia as lawmakers faced a 5 p.m. cut-off to move bills out of the opposite chamber. Here’s a roundup of key bills that made the cut and those that are likely dead this year.
Firearm offender registry: House Bill 1612 would require the Washington State Patrol to create the database of felony firearm offenders. Offenders would be required to register with the sheriff in their county of residence. The database would not be available to the public and the offender’s name would be removed after four years if no other firearm offenses are committed. It is one of the few bills dealing with gun control approved by both chambers during the 2013 legislative session. A number of proposals, including a bill that would require background checks for private gun sales, never made it to the floor for a vote.
Social networking passwords: A bill that makes it illegal for any employer to request a password for any social networking site maintained by an employee was approved by the House. Supporters say Senate Bill 5211 is about protecting privacy rights.
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis) has announced he is stepping down from his leadership role due to an illness.
“Two years ago I had some severe health challenges and now I am going to face some new challenges and I know I’m going to be fine, but it’s time for me to step aside as leader,” DeBolt said on the House floor Wednesday morning.
DeBolt, who was first elected in 1996, has missed key votes in recent days after he had a medical emergency at his home on April 10. He has been under the care of doctors since then, according to a statement. He plans to serve out the remaining two years of his term.
“It will be hard leaving a job I love and have done for so long, but there comes a time that you must change your priorities in life. I really appreciate the love and support my colleagues have shown me. It speaks volumes about them and their compassion,” he said.
Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) will be acting House Republican Leader until the caucus formally names a new leader.
Update: Senate Democrats made another attempt to revive the Reproductive Parity Act on Wednesday. Sen Karen Keiser (D-Kent) proposed to add the abortion insurance bill to House Bill 1638 during a special order of business at 4:59 p.m. today. The motion failed by a 25-23 vote. Wednesday marks a key legislative deadline for bills to be considered by the opposite house.
Members of the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus blocked a Democratic attempt to revive two key bills on Tuesday.
Senate Democrats attempted to use a parliamentary tactic called the Ninth Order to force a vote the Washington Dream Act and an abortion insurance bill known as the Reproductive Parity Act.
The attempt was voted down 25-23, with Sens. Rodney Tom (D-Medina) and Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) voting against the effort, despite their support for the measures.
Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam) voted with the Republican-led majority to block the bill. He had previously said he would offer a proxy vote in the place of ailing Sen. Mike Carrell (R-Lakewood) if he is unable to be in Olympia for a close vote. Carrell is home battling a pre-leukemia blood condition.
The Washington Dream Act would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for state financial aid to help pay for college. The Reproductive Parity Act would require all insurance companies in the state to provide coverage for abortions if they also cover maternity care. Both bills passed out of the House, but never received committee votes in the Senate.
After the vote, Senate Democrats released a statement criticizing the majority coalition.
“A vote against the Ninth Order is a vote against the Reproductive Parity Act. It’s a slap back and forth across the face of Democracy in our state to continually block a vote that would ensure access to reproductive health care. With 25 votes waiting to vote the RPA off the Senate floor, strong public support, and Gov. Inslee waiting pen in hand to sign the RPA into law, this is anything but self-proclaimed bipartisanship,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), ranking member on the Senate Health Care Committee.
Watch the debate on the Senate floor below:
Those who are arrested for drunken driving would face stiffer sentences and see more barriers preventing them from driving impaired again under a pair of identical bills introduced this week.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers at a news conference to discuss the proposals, which come on the heels of two recent DUI cases in Seattle that left three dead.
Inslee called the legislation the most aggressive program to reduce drunken driving in the history of the state.
“It is the right thing to do in the light of the terrible tragedies of the kind we have experienced recently in Washington state,” Inslee said.
- The bills call for the creation of a new statewide program to combat alcohol and substance abuse called the 24/7 sobriety program. It is modeled after a similar program in South Dakota and would be administered by the Office of the Attorney General.
- Repeat offenders would spend more time in jail and courts would be not be allowed to grant deferred sentences.
- The installation of ignition interlock devices would be required on vehicles impounded after a DUI arrest.
- Law enforcement would be required to arrest anyone suspected of DUI. The approach is modeled after current domestic violence laws.
- The new restrictions would prohibit people with three or more DUI offenses from purchasing or being served alcohol for ten years. Offenders would be required to use a specially designed driver’s licenses.
- Driving the wrong way to the normal flow of traffic may be considered as an aggravating circumstance for sentencing.
A hearing is scheduled for the two bills on Thursday morning at 8 a.m.
House Democrats have narrowed a transportation tax proposal that would pump $8.4 billion dollars into new projects around the state.
The plan is about $1.6 billion less than a package unveiled in February, but still relies on a 10 cent a gallon increase on the state’s gasoline tax. Other revenue-generating plans have been dropped from the new package, including a car tab tax and a fee on bicycle purchases.
Read a summary of the revised proposal here.
The package targets improvements to State Route 167, funding for the Interstate 5 Columbia River Crossing project and the state ferry system. Last week, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood urged lawmakers to fund the CRC project or risk losing federal funding. Some Republicans in the Senate take issue with design elements in the bridge project and have vowed to stop it.
In a statement released Tuesday, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima) said he was willing to discuss the House proposal.
“Members of both parties can agree to the critical need to invest in our transportation system and though I don’t agree with everything in this package, I agree that we need to have this conversation,” King said.
With less than two weeks remaining in the 105-day legislative session, backers of the proposal are running out of time to get the plan approved. It must first be approved in the House Transportation Committee before it reaches the floor.
On Monday’s “Legislative Review,” we have details from a floor debate in the House over three alcohol-related bills, including measures that would loosen restrictions for serving alcohol at day spas, dinner theaters and grocery stores. We also have highlights from a press conference in which Senate Democrats say they are willing to use the Ninth Order to bring the Washington Dream Act and Reproductive Parity Act to the floor for a vote. Plus, details from Friday night’s budget debate in the House.
Senate Democrats said they are willing to use a parliamentary tactic called the Ninth Order to force a vote on two bills on the Senate floor. Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray said he believes there are enough votes to pass the Washington Dream Act and an abortion insurance bill known as the Reproductive Parity Act.
“We have a majority of members who want these bills to pass, but the philosophical majority is not being allowed to bring these bills forward,” Murray said. He said “eventually we’re going to have to go to Ninth Order” if the Majority Coalition Caucus won’t move the bills.
The Washington Dream Act would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for state Need Grants to help pay for college. The Reproductive Parity Act would require all insurance companies in the state to provide coverage for abortions if they also cover maternity care. Both bills passed out of the House, but never received committee votes in the Senate.
Murray said by calling a press conference about the issue on Monday, he is hoping to “avoid the theater that sometimes happens around the Ninth Order.” Last year, Republicans and conservative Democrats used the Ninth Order to force a vote on GOP-backed budget.
Democrats would have to use the tactic before the end of the day Wednesday, which marks a key cutoff deadline.
“The votes are there,” Murray said. “There is no reason not to pass the legislation.”
Watch the press conference below:
Three measures that would loosen restrictions on alcohol sales and sampling were approved by lawmakers on Monday.
The legislation that won approval in the state House would allow alcohol service in day spas and dinner theaters and expand sampling at liquor stores.
Two other measures — one that expands beer and wine sampling at farmers markets and a bill that allows culinary and viticulture students between the ages of 18 and 21 to taste, but not consume alcohol — cleared both chambers of the Legislature last week.
The legislation comes amid a debate among lawmakers about passing stricter penalties for drunken driving after two high- profile cases in Seattle left three dead. Gov. Jay Inslee has called a press conference Tuesday to discuss a proposal that would tighten regulations surrounding the use of interlock devices on cars for people charged with DUIs.
Here is a look at the measures passed by the House on Monday:
- Day spa drinks: A measure introduced by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) would allow day spa owners to offer a complimentary glass of wine or beer to clients. The measure limits the amount to 12 ounces of beer or 6 ounces of wine.
- Spirits sampling: Allows stores with a spirits retail license to provide customers with single-serving samples of 0.5 ounce or less of spirits for the purpose of sales promotion.
- Theater licenses: Allows theaters that serves meals and have no more than 120 seats per screen to sell spirits, beer, and wine.