Budget will dominate upcoming session

The state's budget deficit, projected to be as high as

$6 billion, will dominate the 2009 session of the Washington State Legislature that begins Monday, Jan. 12, said Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam.

"This is going to be such a session about the budget. It's going to be a session driven by economy," she said.

Legislators also will write a capital projects budget and transportation budget during the 105-day session that is scheduled to adjourn April 26.

Kessler, along with Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, represent the 24th District that includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and one-third of Grays Harbor County.

"My focus is going to be getting the budget written and setting priorities for the state and the district. I'm going to try staying away from a lot of bills," Kessler said.

Two issues she will look at fixing are an unintended consequence of a foreclosure rescue bill and maintaining school district levy equalization funding.

Legislators passed a bill last session to help people who got behind on their mortgages or got loans they couldn't repay, but it had an unintended consequence for people with reverse mortgages, Kessler said.

So she's going to draft a bill to fix that.

"Another thing I'm going to be watching very carefully is the governor has proposed a huge cut in levy equalization and our whole district relies heavily on levy equalization," Kessler said.

She wants to look at whether such a cut would affect rural and low income areas disproportionately, Kessler said.

Because of her leadership duties as House Majority Leader, both Kessler's committee assignments and legislative activity are less than the other two legislators.

She will serve only on the Appropriations Committee and the Rules Committee.

Kessler has pre-filed only House Bill 1017, which creates a committee to study creation of a 13-member board to deal with alleged violations of the state's public records law and open public meetings law.

During the 2008 session, Kessler pushed hard to pass a bill allowing the taping of local governments' executive sessions.

Under the bill, if someone presented credible evidence that a violation of the state's open meetings act occurred during a meeting, a judge would listen to the tape. If the judge discovered a violation of the open public meetings act, then only that portion of the tape would be released publicly.

The bill fell victim to intense last-minute lobbying from numerous local governments but Kessler vowed to bring the bill back again this session, and future sessions if necessary, until it passes.

Van De Wege said one of his priorities for the upcoming session will be giving utilities more authority to conduct vegetation management along their power lines to prevent power outages.

Utilities already can trim trees in their rights of way but many outages are caused by trees on private property that break and fall into power lines.

Van De Wege said another priority will be establishing some kind of oil spill response tax on barrels of crude oil or petroleum products received at a marine terminal from a tanker or barge.

The money would help fund such items as the oil spill response tugboat stationed at Neah Bay.

"I'll definitely be working on that. I don't know what it will look like," he said.

Van De Wege said he looks forward to working on the legislation with Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Mount Vernon, a former member of the oil spill advisory council.

Ranker was elected to the Legislature in November 2008 to represent the 40th District, which includes the San Juan Islands and the western third of Whatcom and Skagit counties.

"The capital budget going to be big because there's some needs in the district. Obviously there's huge needs in the district with the ferries and U.S. Highway 101," Van De Wege said.

His proposal from last session to reimburse school districts for the mileage school buses actually travel, rather than "as the crow flies," would help rural school districts immensely, Van De Wege said.

"But it probably has a pretty slim chance because it didn't pass when we had a surplus," he said.

Van De Wege isn't the primary sponsor on any pre-filed bills. He is co-sponsor on House Bill 1049, which expands definitions for National Guard and armed forces reserve benefits; and House Bill 1038 which improves permitting for specialized forest products.

Van De Wege's committees are rules; agriculture and natural resources; technology, energy and communications; and the subcommittee on general government and audit review.

Hargrove wasn't available to discuss his priorities for the upcoming session. But the five-term state senator usually sponsors as many as two dozen bills during the legislative session.

He also usually works all session on a large omnibus bill covering many parts of a broad topic. Previous such bills have dealt with methamphetamine, sex offenders, mental health and substance abuse treatment and preventing released criminals from re-offending.

Hargrove's committees are human services and corrections of which he is chairman; judiciary; and natural resources, ocean and recreation.

Hargrove has pre-filed Senate Bill 5013, which establishes a $20 fee for filing various legal documents with a county clerk. The money would be put in the state's public safety and education account.

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