Would-be political foes Jan Angel, Nathan Schlicher face uphill battle for bills

Staff writerMarch 19, 2013 

Leaders of the Legislature — if they are thinking purely politically — have incentives to ignore many of the ideas coming out of the 26th Legislative District.

That stretch of peninsula running from Bremerton to the west side of the Tacoma Narrows bridges is represented by three lawmakers — two of whom could be pitted against each other this fall. One is a minority Republican in the House. Another is a minority Democrat in the Senate.

Those two, Rep. Jan Angel and Sen. Nathan Schlicher, are likely to be their parties’ choices in a special election in November with big implications for the balance of power in the Senate. And both parties can block the other’s candidate from achieving much to boast about back home.

Last week, both said they smelled politics in the air.

“There are games being played. I can’t say there isn’t,” Port Orchard Republican Angel said. Her rival, Gig Harbor Democrat Schlicher, similarly decried “stupid games” and concluded in frustration: “This is why people hate government.”

Proof that either is being targeted is elusive. Bills die for many reasons in the Legislature. Some run into opposition. Some run up a steep budget price tag. Some just run out of time.

Schlicher, an emergency-room doctor, was appointed in January to a yearlong stint in the seat vacated by Derek Kilmer’s election to Congress. Schlicher saw just one of his 15 proposed pieces of legislation advance through the Senate before a key deadline last week, despite unusual Democratic efforts to push his causes.

The House approved just three bills from Angel, a former real estate agent. Since she has never pushed more than four through the House in a year, that total doesn’t stand out.

Still, Angel sponsored a total of 18 bills this year. A third-term legislator and top minority member on a committee dealing with housing, veterans, parks and tribes could be expected to have a higher batting average.

Two of her proposals languishing in committee would have allowed the state to sell naming rights, raising the possibility of a Starbucks State Park, or perhaps a Bing Tacoma Narrows Bridge. One goal of those and another Angel idea was to hold down Narrows Bridge tolls.

One proposal — requiring State Parks to give local governments the chance to negotiate to take over a park scheduled for closure — won unanimous backing by a committee but never came up for a floor vote. “It should have sailed straight through,” Angel said.

Those that did advance out of the House included a unanimously passed measure letting corporate officers collect unemployment benefits without dissolving their companies.

Democrats denied any political motivations. “There are members who didn’t get three bills passed who would have appreciated it,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan of Covington.

Similar denials came from Senate leaders.

“I’m happy to listen to all my colleagues,” said Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn, the GOP floor leader who manages the schedule for the Senate floor. As the deadline approached, he promised every senator would see a vote on at least one bill.

Indeed, the Senate passed exactly one of Schlicher’s bills, making him one of six Senate Democrats limited so far to a single bill.

In contrast to the House picking fairly uncontroversial ideas from Angel, the Senate chose a Schlicher bill opposed by defense lawyers and mental health providers. It would put limits on the providers’ ability to refuse to detain a patient and would give doctors more say.

Democrats forced a committee vote on another Schlicher measure making state agencies work together to control diabetes and report on their efforts, but Republicans voted it down, arguing it could be accomplished without a law.

Another one, capping administrative expenses on the tolled Narrows bridge at 2 percent of its total spending in another effort to hold down tolls, passed a committee nearly unanimously before getting stuck. Democrats took advantage of a moment when a GOP senator was absent to try to bring the bill to the floor. The Republican-led governing coalition in the Senate holds its majority by a single vote.

But the missing lawmaker, Moses Lake Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, was nearby — breastfeeding her infant, and she returned in time to cast the decisive procedural vote against considering the bill.

The measure didn’t emerge again, whether because of recriminations from that dispute, opposition from the Department of Transportation or some other reason.

“This has been asked for six, seven, eight, nine times by our caucus,” Schlicher said. Republicans had “no problems with the bill, but they’re completely unwilling to move the bill.”

Angel said Schlicher is overreacting and that she dealt with the same uphill climb her freshman year, passing just one bill.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826

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