Lawmakers adjourn for the weekend after committee hearings and reactions to State of the State address set the stage for contentious actions to come

By FRANZ WIECHERS-GREGORY  | 
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Jan 15, 2016

House and Senate legislators introduced more than 500 new bills during the first week of this year’s 60-day regular session, and they began a round of committee hearings on prominent issues such as charter school funding, the mistaken early release of state prisoners and the new Interstate 405 toll lanes.

Among the measures introduced this week are the 2016 supplemental operating budget (HB 2376/SB 6246); the supplemental transportation budget (HB 2524/ SB 6307); and the supplemental capital construction budget (HB 2380/SB 6201).

The governor, in his State of the State address, set raising salaries for teachers as a priority, and Democrats introduced HB 2472/SB 6241 to raise minimum pay for beginning teachers to $40,000, and increase salaries of all other teachers by at least one percent. To pay for these increases, the governor has proposed eliminating several tax breaks.

Republicans expressed serious reservations about supplemental teacher pay increases over levels set in the 2015-16 budget. “It is totally predictable that every budget, the governor starts with taxes,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville). “For the governor it is a first resort. For us, it is a last resort, and we mean it.”

SB 6306, to create a new tax on fuel, one of the governor’s other stated priorities, was introduced by Senator Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) this week.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee held a hearing Monday about the ongoing state investigation into the mistaken early release of state prisoners over a 13-year period. The committee’s chairman, Senator Mike Padden (R-Spokane), joined Senators Steve O’Ban (R-Tacoma) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler at a news conference Tuesday to express their doubts about the independence of the investigators hired by Governor Inslee. The Senators announced that they are seeking subpoena power to conduct their own investigation.

“Let’s be clear about what is going on here. This is a case of the governor as chief executive of our state who oversees the Department of Corrections investigating himself, “ said O’Ban. “We are in this unfortunate position as a co-equal branch of government that has the duty, the responsibility to provide accountability to the administrative branch.”

SB 6194, to restore funding for charter schools was passed by the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee this week and was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. A hearing by the Ways and Means Committee is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Monday, January 18th.

At a hearing on SB 6152 drivers who use Interstate 405 between Lynnwood and Bellevue voiced their frustration with the new express toll lanes and urged lawmakers to improve or get rid of them. SB 6152 would reduce the number of toll lanes, open them to all drivers at night for free and erase the double white lines to enable easier access. “Right now it is not working, and anyone who drives that corridor will tell you that,” said Senator Andy Hill (R-Redmond), the bill’s sponsor. “I think we need to fix it.”

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