As state lawmakers push forward into tough budget negotiations, they are proposing a stack of "title-only" bills relating to a wide range of budget issues.
Sen. Ed Murray, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, introduced 22 such bills, which contain only a brief – and often vague – description of what they would do.
The measures proposed by the Seattle Democrat cover a broad scope of budget provisions, relating to everything from "fiscal matters" and "state government" to "criminal justice" and "higher education."
Lawmakers say title-only bills provide flexibility while helping them to avoid missing deadlines.
But the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank, condemns title-only bills as a way lawmakers can slip bills through the hearing process without public disclosure or commentary.
As one of the lead budget writers, Murray disagrees, arguing the blank bills are necessary as the Senate enters into negotiations with the House without knowing exactly what measures they'll need to get the final budget passed.
"Every year, evidently, as they did this morning, staff brings a series of bills that are potentially needed to enact the budget, so that we can get out of here," he explained. "You start preparing vehicles that can accomplish whatever you're going to need in the end."
The title-only bills enable lawmakers to be prepared for whatever those final negotiations might look like, he said.
The center's Jason Mercier says four bills relating to the "creation of revenue and taxation acts" are the most troubling, as they could be used to increase taxes.
Still, under last year's Initiative 1053, any new taxes would require a vote of the people or a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature to pass.
"Last time I checked, we're involved in a bipartisan process, and there are no two-thirds votes for taxes," Murray said.