Washington lawmakers returned to the Capitol Monday for a 60-day legislative session, tasked with passing a supplemental budget and expediting the final piece of an education funding mandate.
The Legislature convened at noon to a new political composition following a Senate special election in November. Democrats are back in charge of both legislative chambers for the first time in five years, holding a slim 25-24 majority in the Senate and a 50-48 edge in the House. The Senate’s new narrow majority was highlighted as Democratic leadership had to initially table an effort to pass operating rules for the chamber that included longer waiting periods for a floor vote on the budget and notice of amendments after two Democrats – Sens. Steve Hobbs and Bob Hasegawa – expressed concerns with elements of the proposed changes. Senators ultimately returned to the floor about an hour later and passed the rules with some revisions.
One dynamic remains the same as last year though: Lawmakers are still working to comply with a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling requiring them to fully fund the state’s basic education system. The court has told them that while a plan passed last year – a phased in property tax shift – was in compliance, lawmakers are still not on track to meet this year’s fall deadline of full funding because full implementation doesn’t occur until the 2019-2020 school year. The court has given lawmakers this session to expedite that timeframe for putting about another $1 billion to fully pay for the teacher and staff salary portion of the plan.
Lawmakers also still need to address a roughly $4 billion capital budget that has been held up by a dispute over water rights and well permits. A Senate proposal related to the water rights bill had a public hearing Monday, and the House had already scheduled a floor vote for the capital budget and companion bonds bill for later in the week.
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More than 80 committee hearings were scheduled for this week on bills ranging from gender pay equity to measures seeking to stem opioid abuse.
On Tuesday, before his annual state-of-the-state speech to a joint session of the Legislature, Gov. Jay Inslee is set to unveil the details of a carbon tax that was raised as part of his supplemental budget proposal.
Climate change activists gathered outside of the Capitol Monday holding signs like “Orcas & Oil Don’t Mix” and “Protect Our Children’s Water, and briefly disrupted both chambers’ opening ceremonies. In the Senate, security made protesters leave during the Senate swearings-in after one side of the public gallery stood up and chanted “We have a climate crisis” to which the other side of the chamber responded “You need to act now.”