Worker comp needs vote; budget deal still in offing

The OlympianMay 23, 2011 

The deal announced last evening on worker compensation reforms cuts more than $1 billion in the insurance system's costs over four years, and it was a huge political lift for lawmakers. A floor vote could come later today in the House after House Democratic and Republican caucuses get briefed on details – and the Senate could follow.

But the even more gigantic lift for a two-year state budget deal is still waiting agreement.

Rep. Ross Hunter, the Medina Democrat heading up the House negotiations, said by phone this morning that he cannot yet say if a deal is reached. “We'll organize press” later, Hunter said, implying that an announcement is in the offing although some matters still apparently needed to be settled.

Even if they get a deal by noon, there is still a large logistical risk that lawmakers won't be able to finish their special session by the end of Wednesday, the session's 30th and final day. That is because so much paper work needs to be completed, rank-and-file lawmakers need to be briefed, amendments will be offered, and so on.

Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said yesterday afternoon he was "more worried” about the time-line for completing the deal than any one area of disagreement between the chambers and parties.

Melinda Ellis-McCrady of the House Democratic Caucus said this morning that budget negotiators were still at it as of 10 p.m. Sunday.

Budget watchdog Jason Mercier of the right-of-center Washington Policy Center said he has concerns that there could be drafting errors if lawmakers rush the workers comp bill to a floor vote today without hearings and sufficient oversight. That's apart from whether rank-and-file house Democrats will support it.

And there are still questions about reaching agreement on a debt limit bill, a merger of state agencies into a new Department of Enterprise Services, and a capital projects budget.

Senate Republican Caucus chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee said Sunday she had not met face-to-face with Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish since May 17.

And now that the apparent worker-comp agreement removes one GOP threat to block a bipartisan vote on the budget in the Senate, Parlette said her caucus also needs the agreement on a new debt limit before it will vote for the budget.

Stay tuned.

Whatever is announced, it should be a long day at the Capitol.

The House Ways and Means Committee has scheduled a long hearing starting at 5 p.m. that includes possible votes on a liquor warehouse privatization measure, a sales tax break for the film industry, two state agency consolidation measures, a measure reining in Medicaid fraud, and more.

UPDATE: The House budget hearing agenda is here.

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