Guest opinion: Washington Democrats are active following shift in power

There’s been a noticeable climate change in the state Senate since Democrats regained the majority.

A victory in a special election last fall put them in charge and ended the five-year reign of a Republican-led coalition.

Although Democrats’ advantage is but a single vote, 25-24, they are not letting this numeric minimum impede them in completing their to-do list for the 2018 session.

Here are five notable developments of the evolving clime.

Filling the cabinet

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee began 2018 — the second year of his second term — with eight cabinet members still not confirmed by the Senate. Democrats made it a priority to remedy the situation. Six had been confirmed as of Monday with a seventh calendared for possible action Wednesday. By comparison, under Republican control, the Senate confirmed six cabinet members in 2013 then a total of seven in the ensuing four years, according to a tally from the governor’s office. The GOP fired one as well, former transportation secretary Lynn Peterson.

Keep carbon tax alive

Since taking office, Inslee has implored lawmakers to enact a carbon-pricing scheme. In that time, the Democrat-controlled House didn’t move his proposals and Republicans in the Senate didn’t try.

Then last week the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee passed Inslee’s latest proposal. It got slimmed down and massaged by the panel’s Democrats. This carbon tax bill is more alive and well than any of its legislative predecessors in the governor’s tenure with plenty of time to go.

Guns and butter

Policies stymied by the GOP in the past and opposed today are now moving rapidly. Democrats have passed bills to ban bump stocks, require health insurance plans that cover maternity care to also cover abortions, and allow qualified undocumented immigrant students — aka Dreamers — to obtain state financial aid for college.

They’ve also approved legislation to ban conversion therapy, enable voters to register on the same day as an election, and establish the Washington Voting Rights Act which could spur district voting in more communities in the future. (The House has passed the latter bill several times only to see it lapse in the Senate.)

Silent answer

A subject Democratic senators are not talking about is the future of the express toll lanes on I-405 between Lynnwood and Bellevue.

Those lanes opened in September 2015 as a two-year pilot project. Some Republicans say they should go away. They point out vehicles that are not assured of traveling at least 45 mph 90 percent of the time in the commute as demanded in the state law establishing them. At the least, a public hearing should be held but Democrats have yet to schedule one, which speaks volumes about their intent to preserve rather than remove them.

New majority coalitions

One of the bigger surprises is Democrats haven’t had to muscle through any policy bill solely by themselves. As of Wednesday morning, every bill passed by the Senate had one or more Republicans voting for it

One voted for the abortion services bill, four supported the bump stock ban, six backed the ban on conversion therapy and 12 voted for enabling Dreamers to access college financial aid. Alliances of conscience are forming on every piece of legislation.

Maybe this trend reveals climate change isn’t as great as some in the political class feared.

Then again, with half a session to go and an election season to follow it’s probably too soon for such a forecast.

Reach The Herald (Everett) columnist Jerry Cornfield at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@herald, or on Twitter, @dospueblos.

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