Concerns about state Sen. Doug Ericksen’s temporary job at the Environmental Protection Agency spilled onto the Senate floor Wednesday morning when a state lawmaker said his absence was hampering the work of an environmental committee.
Ericksen, chairman of the Senate’s Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, hadn’t been to a committee meeting in more than two weeks, the Bellingham Herald reported Tuesday.
The Republican from Ferndale is communications director for the EPA’s transition under President Donald Trump and has been spending time in Washington, D.C.
Ericksen has said he can manage both jobs. He had scheduled a press conference Wednesday morning to explain how, but had to put it off until Thursday morning when his flight from D.C. was canceled.
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“I’m on top of everything,” he told the Herald. “I’m working on my committee, on my bills, on sponsoring legislation. I’m doing all my duties as a senator.”
State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat from Seattle who is the ranking minority member of Ericksen’s committee, disagreed. On the Senate floor, he said Ericksen’s absence has caused cancellations of public hearings and slowed work.
No bills had been approved by the full committee Wednesday morning when Carlyle was speaking.
“We have had a number of substantive changes to our schedule, and we have not seen any executive action,” Carlyle said on the floor.
Ericksen, who arrived back at the state Capitol in the afternoon, held a committee meeting late in the evening to vote eight pieces of legislation out of his committee.
Carlyle and state Sen. Marko Liias, the Democratic floor leader, also criticized Senate Republicans for having to work around Ericksen’s schedule to pass legislation in the chamber.
A majority-GOP coalition leads the Senate 25-24. So when Ericksen is working in Washington, D.C., Republicans can’t pass bills in the tied Senate.
The House Environment Committee, which is operating at full strength, has not forwarded any bills as of Wednesday. Legislation that doesn’t affect the budget must clear policy committees by Feb. 17 to stay alive this year.
Ericksen told The Herald that he will continue to collect his full salary while holding both jobs, but will not take his $120-a-day per diem when he’s not in Olympia.
Bellingham Democratic Precinct Committee Officer Michael Shepard has filed a complaint against Ericksen with the Legislative Ethics Board, contending Ericksen can’t properly do both jobs simultaneously.
The Bellingham Herald contributed to this report.