The 2015 Legislature will adjourn in two weeks, and lawmakers should be wrapping up their business. They’ve got a lot of business to wrap up.
Their overriding constitutional responsibility is to send a balanced two-year budget to the governor. This year, the Washington Constitution calls for something more: complying with the state Supreme Court’s order to fully fund public education.
Oddly enough, the Republicans and Democrats are more or less marching in step toward this goal. The Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House are close — $1.3 billion vs. $1.4 billion — in the total amounts they’d add to existing school funding.
They’d get that money from very different sources. The House, for example, proposes tax increases; the Senate proposes none, but it would raid money earmarked for discouraging youth from using marijuana. Still, the bottom lines are close, which is most of the battle, and the policy differences look amenable to compromise.
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Other crucial issues remain unsettled:
• The Senate has passed a strong transportation package that promises to uncork traffic bottlenecks in the state’s worst congestion points. The House should approve it, too — but let Sound Transit ask voters for a $15 billion expansion of mass transit in the urban Puget Sound region instead of the $11.2 billion authorized by the Senate.
• Both Republicans and Democrats have shown impressive support for higher education. The Senate proposes to cut tuition by 25 percent with a corresponding increase of funding for Washington’s public colleges. The House proposes a large expansion of financial aid for needy students. Their hearts are in the right place, and compromise shouldn’t be hard to come by.
• Both chambers have authorized the creation of a second state medical school, to be run by Washington State University. But the Senate appears to be losing interest in the existing M.D. program the University of Washington already runs in Spokane.
A new WSU medical school — which has yet to begin seeking accreditation — could take eight or 10 years before its graduates start hanging out their shingles in this state. Given Washington’s shortage of physicians, the UW’s Spokane program must be expanded, not strangled financially.
• Washington’s experiment with legalized, regulated marijuana is close to foundering because local governments — including Tacoma — have tolerated a jungle of illegal and unregulated pseudo-medical dope dispensaries.
The Senate has approved a well-crafted bill that would fold genuine medical marijuana into the legal, licensed stores. If the House doesn’t do likewise, the black market will continue to thrive, undercutting half the rationale for legalization.
• Slowly dying in the Senate is a measure designed to protect Pierce County from becoming a dumping ground for sex predators released from the Special Treatment Center on McNeil Island.
Eight years ago, lawmakers forbade corrections officials from resettling an undue number of felons from conventional prisons in Tacoma and Lakewood. The law didn’t apply to McNeil Island, though, and a News Tribune analysis last summer found that Pierce County had been getting far more than its share of sexual psychopaths.
A corrective bill has cleared the House with overwhelming bipartisan support; Senate leaders should pull it out of committee for a floor vote.
The session ends on April 26. Politics being what it is, some lawmakers are holding key bills and provisions hostage until late in the session in order to squeeze concessions out of the other side on unrelated issues.
That game gets repugnant when it threatens the passage of critically important legislation. The measures above are — or should be — nonpartisan. Let’s get them to the governor’s desk.