Homeless, vets wait, but bills get passed

Staff writersMarch 13, 2014 

College-bound veterans and the homeless waited until the very end of the 60-day legislative session Thursday to learn their fates.

But lawmakers reached deals to pass both of the proposals in question as they prepared to leave Olympia.

One disagreement was simply over who would get the credit for a popular policy: letting military veterans pay in-state tuition rates for college.

The other dispute was over the details of extending a temporary $40 fee on real estate sales that funds housing for the homeless and was set to gradually decrease starting in July 2015.

After GOP housing committee co-Chairwoman Jan Angel squashed Democrats’ attempt to make the fee permanent, Senate Republicans countered by proposing a one-year extension. The Legislature ended up approving a compromise four-year extension. An audit would examine spending under the program before it expires.

"Until then, our homeless are cared for," said Angel, R-Port Orchard, "and we will work together through this bill to come up with some very strong permanent solutions."

The House sent the bill to Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it, on a 74-22 vote Thursday night after it passed the Senate on a 41-8 vote.

Homelessness has fallen 19 percent or 29 percent since 2006, depending how it is counted. Democrats say the fee-funded programs are a big reason why.

“I’ve never still been able to figure out this session why this bill has taken us so long to pass,” said Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, noting that more than 30,000 students are homeless.

Republicans, though, said not enough of the money has gone to private, for-profit landlords, and they secured a quota for landlords’ share in the deal.

The bill concerning veterans would automatically provide current and past members of the military with in-state tuition at Washington colleges and universities. Typically, a person has to live in the state for a year to meet residency requirements for in-state tuition.

The legislation had long been a priority of Gov. Jay Inslee and leaders in both the House and Senate. But even though both chambers unanimously passed identical versions of the bill, for several days neither would take up the legislation sent over by the opposite body.

The debate over who would get credit for the bill ended Thursday when the House took up the Senate’s version of the legislation and passed it unanimously.

“I will sleep well knowing we valued this policy for our veterans more than we did the politics,” said Rep. Sherry Appleton, a Poulsbo Democrat who sponsored the House version of the veteran legislation.

Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, expressed a similar sentiment. Her veteran tuition bill was the one that ultimately passed the Legislature Thursday night.

“I am very pleased that we did the right thing,” Bailey said.

The in-state tuition benefit would also extend to the families of current or past military members.

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