It is day 29 of the 30 day special legislative session and lawmakers are back in Olympia after a one day break for the Easter holiday.
Late last week on Friday lawmakers inched closer to a deal after tense debate in the Senate Ways and Means committee and on the Senate floor. Ways & Means moved two “reform” bills (SB 5940 and SB 6636) thought to be the key issues determining whether the legislature will end on time. A third reform bill (SB 6378) was moved from the Rules committee to the Senate floor for possible action.
The three big reform bills are:
- SB 5940: Legislation aimed at equalizing health insurance premiums for teachers and school district employees
- SB 6636: An amendment to the state constitution requiring a balanced budget
- SB 6378: Ending special early retirement incentives for state employees.
After moving out of Ways & Means the bills went to the Senate floor. There they both passed and were sent to the House Ways & Means Committee. SB 6378 did not have the votes to get off of the Senate floor Saturday but is scheduled for a vote today, Monday.
The House Ways & Means committee is scheduled to meet at 3pm today to consider their versions of the first two bills above. They are:
- HB 2827- Improving state budgeting and planning by requiring a balanced state operating budget for the current biennium and developing a process for balancing the budget over a two-biennium period.
- HB 2829 – Addressing public school employees’ insurance benefits.
In terms of the state budget, it looks like the Democrats and Republicans are inching closer to an agreement. According to The Washington State Wire, “Senate Republican budget-writer Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, and House Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, said legislative players are only $22 million apart – really nothing in a $31 billion budget.
However, on Saturday the Olympian questioned whether there are the votes to pass a budget. “There still are questions about whether Senate Republicans, who are demanding passage of reform bills before they vote on the budget, have votes for their ideas in the House. “I’m a farmer and I’m a Republican; I’ve got to be an optimist,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, the GOP’s floor leader, as he headed out the door for Ritzville for the Easter holiday. “We certainly have structurally gotten ourselves pretty close – as far as mechanically moving stuff through” the process, Senate Ways and Means chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said of the prospect of finishing by Tuesday night. “We have some agreements that have to be struck. Hopefully we can get there.”
Lawmakers have until midnight tomorrow, Tuesday, April 10 to pass a budget. If they cannot come to agreement Governor Gregoire has two options. She can call them back into another special session, or implement across the board cuts.