Fall elections hover, creating polarity

bshannon@theolympian.comFebruary 6, 2014 

Washington’s Legislature is suffering from election-year mood polarity. The Senate votes to the right, the House to the left — often on the same day and sometimes in the same moment at opposite ends of the state Capitol.

Friday was a rare departure from that script, as the Republican-steered Senate engineered a strong bipartisan vote to pass a major bill allowing financial aid for certain undocumented immigrant students — ending a more than a yearlong impasse with Senate Democrats and the House.

But on tax, health care, labor and business climate issues, the House and Senate are moving in dramatically opposite ways — with the Democrat-controlled House offering up a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour and the Senate offering to cut it below current levels for teens and workers in training.

“This is my sixth short session, and it’s this way every year. Every short session … you see bills that you know aren’t going anywhere,” House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen of Snohomish said recently, expressing distaste for the campaign overtones to some of the action but not singling out any particular bills. “Somebody is trying to get somebody hyped up back at home. They are trying to represent their constituents or their interest groups. It goes without saying that it’s going to happen.”

“It’s the extreme left and the extreme right … just yelling at each other through policy. That’s what’s happening right now,” Sen. Steve Hobbs, a moderate Democrat from Lake Forest Park, said a week ago after losing his bid to pass a more moderate version of a workers’ compensation bill.

On the same day a Republican-led Senate coalition passed its harder-edged workers’ compensation bill — to make more workers eligible to cash in disability pensions through what are called structured settlements — Democrats pushed a paid sick leave bill through the House.

The divergence in approaches played out again this week as the House and Senate voted Wednesday on controversial issues that have divided the Legislature before.

The House voted largely along party lines to approve a requirement that health insurers pay for abortions if they cover maternity care. It’s a bill that died in the Senate last year and might well face the same fate this year unless pressure on Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, who is a pro-choice Democrat, and on moderate Senate Republicans facing re-election this fall can change the outcome.

At the same time the abortion vote played out, the Senate was considering a constitutional amendment that would again ask voters to require a two-thirds vote for tax increases in the Legislature. Republican Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn led the fight for Senate Joint Resolution 8213.

Roach’s measure received only a simple majority of Senate votes. It needed a supermajority in the Senate and House to make its way to the ballot.

Things may calm down after this week’s deadlines for measures to move out of policy committees. Despite the partisan tone on many votes, Republican leaders in the Senate Majority Caucus Coalition and House Democratic leaders say that’s not the whole story.

“This is no different than any other session in some regards,” House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said. “There are policy bills not likely to pass that we send over, and there are policy bills not likely to pass that they send over. But there are a whole bunch of bills in the middle that will be (approved and) sent over to the governor’s office.”

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville and Republican Floor Leader Joe Fain of Auburn also downplayed the disunity or the idea there’s been a pull to the right in the Senate.

Schoesler said he expects “a ton of bills” to die and, like every year, “lobbyists and members will be unhappy because they didn’t get their bills out.” But Schoesler said a lot of little bills will survive — and they will matter to someone.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com theolympian.com/politicsblog

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