60-day state legislative session begins on Monday. Short session likely to focus on must-pass bills, due to closely divided legislature and coming November elections.

By FRANZ GREGORY  | 
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Jan 8, 2016

The Washington State Legislature will convene this year’s session at noon, Monday, January 11, 2016. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn by March 10, 2016. This 60-day session is the so-called “short” session of the two-year legislative cycle. A full 105-day Regular Session is held in odd-numbered years.

With looming statewide elections, including a contested race for the governor’s office,  lawmakers will take on unfinished business and new issues in what is likely to be a politically charged, fast-paced environment. Following GOP gains in the last election, the House is now closely divided, with 50 Democrats and 48 Republicans, while the Senate has increased its Republican-led majority to 26 (25 Republicans and one crossover Democrat) and 23 Democrats.

New members of the House include Rep. Teri Hickel (R-30th District), replacing Rep. Carol Gregory (D), Rep. Patricia Kuderer (D-48th District) replacing Rep. Ross Hunter (D), Rep. JD Rossetti (D-19th District) replacing Rep. Dean Takko (D), who moved to the Senate. Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36th District) also moved to the Senate and will be replaced by Rep. Noel Frame (D).  This latest round of changes resulted in a one-seat pick-up for Republicans.

More than 100 new measures have been pre-filed and will be formally introduced on Monday, including SB 6163, co-sponsored by Republican Senator Michael Baumgartner and Democratic Senator Andy Billig, to keep charter schools open following a September supreme court ruling that called for their closure.

About 2,400 bills introduced during the 2015 session will continue in 2016 at the most advanced legislative stage they achieved in their originating chamber.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee will hold a hearing on Monday at 1:30 p.m. to examine executive branch mistakes that led to the early release of 3,200 state prison inmates. The House will also hold a hearing next week to look into the technical computer failures that tripped the early releases.

Lawmakers will work to finalize a state education funding plan in response to the State supreme court’s first-ever contempt order against lawmakers. A bi-partisan work group convened to gather more data, including how levy dollars are spent between education and teacher compensation in each school district. There is no agreement on a dollar amount needed to fully fund basic education, but Democrats have said it should be at least $ 3.5 billion, though they have not identified a funding source.  Some liberal advocates are calling for a state income tax to provide more money for schools.

The Senate began offering remote testimony for citizens on the east side of the state last year. Strongly advocated by the Washington Policy Center, opportunities for remote testimony will be greatly expanded this session, with all five Senate hearing rooms in the John A. Cherberg building equipped for two-way video conferencing.

As it has since 2001, WashingtonVotes.org will provide thorough coverage of all bills and amendments introduced and of all votes taken by lawmakers. Visit www.washingtonvotes.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter and use #waleg.