Do good end results on bills justify bad process?

Mar 3, 2016

With the deadline to save charter schools just a week away, several "title only" bills have been introduced to serve as a "vehicle" in case a last minute deal can be reached by lawmakers. Amazingly, one of those "title only" bills, SB 6670 was actually adopted by a committee today without changes and sent to the Rules Committee as a blank bill. This means the blank bill could potentially be pulled directly to the floor if a deal is reached and voted on without any public comment on the actual details. 

Those who have followed this blog know that we're no fans of "title only" bills. But now that they are being used as a "vehicle" to possibly save charter schools which we are strong supporters of, surely the ends justify the means, right? No.

Now SB 6670 (or HB 3000) may end up being the greatest charter school bill ever but the process is a direct end-run around Article 2, Section 36 of the state constitution. As described by the Tri-City Herald today:

The Washington Constitution includes a provision to prevent legislators from considering bills introduced at the last minute. The provision is designed to make sure the public has a chance to learn about the legislation and provide comment.

Article 2, Section 36 of the constitution says “No bill shall be considered in either house unless the time of its introduction shall have been at least ten days before the final adjournment of the legislature, unless the legislature shall otherwise direct by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house.”

But the crafters of that language underestimated the cleverness of the members of our state legislators and their proclivity for finding ways to avoid public scrutiny.

The constitution fails to spell out that a bill, submitted by a legislator for consideration in the House or Senate, must actually say something when it’s submitted.

Though it may seem trivial, following a transparent process for adopting bills is very important. Let's say a different legislature down the road decides to put a blank title only bill "relating to revenue" directly on the floor and then filled it in with various tax increases on the last day of session with no time for public input. This would be a very bad process.

As my colleague Liv Finne, as well as various editorial boards across the state have pointed out, there is a "vehicle" already available to save charter schools. The Senate approved SB 6194 back on January 20 but the House Education Committee refused to act on. Rather than resort to blank bills to save charter schools House leadership should allow SB 6194 to come to the floor. If it fails to receive 50 votes then fall back to Plan B but don't make Plan A be a blank bill rushed to the floor hours before Sine Die the public hasn't seen before.