On the opening day of session, lawmakers adopt the rules they will operate under for the next two years. It's usually an unremarkable moment, but this year there is reason to pay attention.
A change senators are expected to make in their rules will give Republicans and moderate Democrats more of a voice on the budget this year.
Conservative Democratic Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch proposes allowing state budgets to be amended on the floor of the Senate with a simple majority vote. Democratic leaders are backing the change, a spokesman said this morning.
In past sessions, it has required a 60 percent supermajority to amend budgets on the floor, making it tough to change them once they leave the Ways and Means Committee. And Democrats tend to place more liberal members on Ways and Means.
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If the change is approved, Republicans will need only three Democratic votes to amend a budget on the floor.
Not only will they have more pull on the floor, moderate Democrats also are expected to have more votes in Ways and Means than they did before, allowing them to affect budgets before they ever get to the floor.
New Democrats on the committee are Sen. Derek Kilmer, Jim Kastama, Steve Conway, Brian Hatfield and Lisa Brown. They represent a mix of philosophies, but overall are less liberal than the five they replace, Sens. Margarita Prentice, Darlene Fairley, Adam Kline, Eric Oemig and Steve Hobbs.
By the way, the addition of Kilmer of Gig Harbor, Kastama of Puyallup and Conway of Tacoma also represent a greater voice for Pierce County in assembling the Senate budget -- even though Republican Sen. Mike Carrell is no longer a member of Ways and Means.