Lawmakers look to dorms and a convent for lodging during U.S. Open

As state lawmakers continue budget negotiations in Olympia, legislative staff members are seeking out emergency places to house lawmakers during next week’s U.S. Open golf championship — including, potentially, college dorm rooms.

Senate staff began searching this week for affordable lodging for lawmakers should they need to return to Olympia next week to vote on a budget deal, said Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee.

One option they’re considering: Student housing at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.

Another possibility? Staying down the street at the St. Placid Priory, a Benedictine convent with a retreat center that rents rooms.

Driving lawmakers’ concerns about lodging is a recent analysis by Senate staff that found that during the week of the U.S. Open, many hotel rooms in the Olympia area were either unavailable or going for two to three times their normal rates. The weeklong golf tournament is being held June 15-21 at Chambers Bay golf course in University Place.

While state lawmakers can claim per diem payments of $120 per day to cover their food and lodging costs, legislative staff found that most Olympia-area hotel rooms during the U.S. Open cost far more than that, if they are even available.

At Parlette’s direction, Senate administrators this week reached out to St. Martin’s University in Lacey to see if the university might have dorm rooms available for rent. The Senate has also looked at St. Placid Priory for rooms that would be friendly to lawmakers’ budgets.

While both locations would require a contract for lawmakers to stay there, they have some rooms available for much lower prices than nearby hotels.

Parlette said none of the rooms had been booked for legislators as of Friday. But she said she wanted to have options available in case a budget deal is reached during the week of the U.S. Open and rank-and-file lawmakers are called back to Olympia to vote.

“There’s still no agreement, but I just wanted to think ahead and be prepared, because I don’t think lack of lodging is an excuse,” Parlette said.

To avoid issues with traffic and lodging, several lawmakers had expressed hope the Legislature would finalize a budget before the U.S. Open began, but that looked increasingly unlikely Friday.

Lawmakers are now in the middle of a second 30-day special session to finalize a new two-year operating budget, after failing to reach a deal during their regularly scheduled session between January and April. Legislators face the prospect of a partial state-government shutdown if they don’t approve a budget before July 1.

During the overtime budget negotiations, leaders and top budget writers have been in Olympia most days, but other rank-and-file lawmakers have largely been at home or in their districts, coming to the Capitol less frequently.

That will change if a deal is reached and members need to quickly return to Olympia to vote on the budget.

Should that happen during the U.S. Open and the rooms at the priory or at St. Martin’s don’t work out, many lawmakers will still be able to find lodging with friends and colleagues, said state Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm.

In a text message, Wilcox said he could put up several lawmakers at his family farm, if it came to that. Other lawmakers are willing to get creative to make sure they’re able to show up to vote, he said.

“Our House Republican members are determined enough to sleep on the ground in tents if that’s what it takes to finish our work,” Wilcox wrote. “You can quote me on that.”

Democrats would also be welcome to stay at Wilcox’s farm, he added.