Chopp waives 5-day notice requirement for budget hearing

April 2, 2011

At long last the House will propose its 2011-13 budget. If you are lucky you may even have time to read it before the House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to take executive action on it and any pending amendments on April 6. You definitely won't have time to read it before the public hearing scheduled this Monday (April 4) at 3:30 unless you are the most accomplished of speed readers.

This should not be the case for this session's most important bill, the budget, and proves once again the Legislature's rules requiring 5-day notice for public hearings are insufficient to ensure to the public has an opportunity to participate in a meaningful way.

According to the House's rules:

"Rule 24 - Duties of Committees House committees shall operate as follows: (A) NOTICE OF COMMITTEE MEETING. The chief clerk shall make public the time, place and subjects to be discussed at committee meetings. All public hearings held by committees shall be scheduled at least five (5) days in advance and shall be given adequate publicity: PROVIDED, That when less than eight (8) days remain for action on a bill, the Speaker may authorize a reduction of the five-day notice period when required by the circumstances, including but not limited to the time remaining for action on the bill, the nature of the subject, and the number of prior hearings on the subject."

This means the only way the House can hold a hearing on a bill without first providing the required 5-days notice is if the Speaker waives the rule. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened for Monday's budget hearing.

When I received notice at 4:14 p.m. yesterday that the Ways and Means Committee would be holding a public hearing at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, on a yet to be released substitute budget proposal, I asked the Chief Clerk if the Speaker waived Rule 24.

Here was the response:

"The Speaker has authorized the Ways and Means committee to hear the bill on 4/4/11 and possibly hold executive session on 4/6/11. Copies of the amendment will be made available as soon as possible, probably early Monday afternoon."

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the budget wouldn't be available for public review for an extended period of time based on the comments made by the House's top budget writer at a lunch event on Thursday.

Here is how the Association of Washington Business (AWB) described those comments:

"Regarding when the House will unveil its budget, Hunter said it probably will not occur on a Friday because that would give potential critics a whole weekend to pick it apart. It will probably be released on a Monday or Tuesday and acted on the same week, he said."

At that same AWB event both House and Senate budget Chairs defended the use of "title only" bills:

"Regarding the practice of using title-only bills -- something that critics have called out as lacking in transparency -- Murray said that staff members told him it must be done in order make sure lawmakers don't get stuck at the end of the session without the ability to pass a budget.

He added that it didn't seem to be an issue when Republicans did the same thing, and he said that if any of the title-only bills that he sponsored actually move forward, they will receive a public hearing."

We can only hope the public hearings on those "title only" bills doesn't follow the same model as Monday's budget hearing and that the public instead is actually provided with meaningful details to review long before the hearing starts.