State legislators pushing through final non-budget bills

  • Wednesday, February 28, 2018 1:30am
  • Opinion

The closing days of this year’s legislative session look like they will be every bit as dramatic as the “March Madness” of the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament.

The number of bills surviving legislative cutoffs continues to dwindle. After next Friday, March 2, only budget-related matters will be eligible for consideration.

The session is scheduled for final adjournment the following Thursday, March 8.

While most of the more than 3,600 bills introduced since this two-year legislative cycle began in January 2017 will end up in the legislative “X” files, lawmakers can always find last-minute ways to introduce new legislation or resurrect and act on measures once considered dead for this year.

Dozens of title-only bills — essentially blank pieces of paper — have been introduced prior to applicable deadlines to circumvent the state constitution’s prohibition on introducing new legislation during the last 10 days of session. These blank bills are available to be filled in later as legislators choose. Many policy issues can also be acted on as amendments added to budget measures considered right up to final adjournment.

Last week, lawmakers demonstrated how fast they can move non-budget legislation in the closing days of session. On Feb. 21, Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, and Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, introduced SB 6617, to exempt the legislature from the voter-approved Public Records Act.

Less than 24 hours after the bill’s introduction, House and Senate legislative leaders held a joint work session with limited opportunity for public input and moved the bill straight to the Senate floor. It passed the Senate, without debate, 41-7. Minutes later, House lawmakers approved it, 83-14.

Legislative leaders introduced the bill after a Thurston County court ruled in January that they had violated public disclosure laws by failing to disclose records. The legislature’s long-standing claim of an exemption from public records laws had been challenged by several news organizations, and the matter may still end up before the state supreme court.

House and Senate committees also passed a number of bills on school funding, property tax relief and other budget-related measures, for a possible vote by both chambers in the coming days. These include SB 6203, a new carbon emissions tax pushed by Governor Inslee; HB 2967, a proposed tax on capital gains income, also supported by the governor; and the 2017-19 supplemental operating budget, SB 6032 and HB 2299, which include differing proposals for property tax relief and school worker salary increases.

With the recent school shooting in Florida, attention has turned toward gun control legislation. These include SB 5992, to ban so-called bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly; SB 6298, to include the crime of “harassment” to domestic violence convictions that prohibit a person from possessing a firearm; HB 2519 to allow a person who is at least 18 years of age to be issued a concealed pistol license, if the person is an active duty member of the armed forces, or an honorably discharged veteran; and SB 5553, which is aimed at preventing suicide by allowing someone voluntarily to waive their rights to firearms when in crisis or having thoughts of suicide.

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