Politics & Government

So goes the special session in Olympia: Lawmakers are redoing work they’ve already done

The Legislative Building (left) and the Insurance Building are shown in November 2016. Lawmakers are in the second week of a 30-day special session as they work toward a deal on a state budget. That means redoing some of the work they did in their first 105 days.
The Legislative Building (left) and the Insurance Building are shown in November 2016. Lawmakers are in the second week of a 30-day special session as they work toward a deal on a state budget. That means redoing some of the work they did in their first 105 days. sbloom@theolympian.com

The Legislature’s extended game of chicken entered a new phase Tuesday, with each chamber re-approving several bills it already passed.

The likely next step: Lawmakers across the Capitol rotunda will keep ignoring those measures for the next several weeks.

So goes the game of special sessions in Olympia, in which lawmakers redo work they’ve already done while waiting for leaders to come to a deal on a state budget.

Because of procedural rules, bills that passed one chamber but not the other during the Legislature’s regular 105-day session must be re-approved when lawmakers reconvene in overtime.

Lawmakers began a 30-day special session April 24 after they were unable to agree on a two-year spending plan.

Lawmakers began a 30-day special session April 24, after they were unable to agree on a new state budget within 105 days.

That meant some of the Republicans’ and Democrats’ dueling priorities were back on the agenda Tuesday, even if lawmakers seemed to be only going through the motions during their quicker-than-normal floor debates.

The Senate, which is controlled by a conservative majority of 24 Republicans and one Democrat, re-approved two measures to rein in Sound Transit, which has been criticized for how it handled a $54 billion transit package.

A majority of affected voters in the Puget Sound region approved the Sound Transit 3 package in November.

Since then, taxpayers and lawmakers alike have balked at how much ST3 has increased their car tab fees, with many saying they’d like to change the outdated method Sound Transit uses to assess vehicles’ value. That formula, which dates to the 1990s, significantly overestimates vehicles’ value in their first 10 years of life.

A measure that would switch to using Kelley Blue Book values to calculate car-tab fees passed the Senate for a second time Tuesday. That bill, Senate Bill 5893, also would reduce Sound Transit’s car-tab taxes by more than half.

Additionally, the Senate re-approved a measure that would replace Sound Transit’s governing board with members who are directly elected. Now, local elected officials — including mayors and county executives from Sound Transit’s taxing district — are appointed to the board.

Democrats control the state House 50-48, while Republicans — joined by a conservative Democrat — have a one-vote advantage in the state Senate.

“This is a body that doesn’t get it … they need to be directly elected,” Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, said of the transit agency board.

The House, meanwhile, again passed other Democratic priority bills that have languished in the Senate.

They included one dealing with internet privacy and another that would remove passing statewide standardized tests as a high-school graduation requirement. Both have been a tough sell with Republican Senate leaders.

Democrats have a 50-48 majority in the House.

The internet privacy bill, House Bill 2200, would require internet service providers to get permission from users before selling personal information such as geographic location, internet history and app usage to marketers.

State lawmakers introduced the measure after Congress recently voted to halt similar regulations that were to go into effect nationwide.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said some of the bills are a long shot to get through the Legislature before lawmakers’ special session ends May 23.

“With some of these bills, I don’t have a lot of hope,” Sullivan said. “But I think they’re important enough that they’re at least worth a conversation.”

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, was more hopeful about the measures that came out of the Senate on Tuesday.

“I’m confident many of these can and will be passed,” he said.

Lawmakers are working to comply with a 2012 court order requiring them to fix how the state pays for schools.

Agreeing on a budget that tackles the problems outlined in the McCleary case is expected to take lawmakers several more weeks, if not months, of negotiations.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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