GOP ploy changes the field of play

Some bills are shoved aside as legislators face option of special session

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor



The Republican takeover of the state Senate on Friday and early Saturday morning caused many measures to miss a crucial bill cutoff deadline, and some lawmakers say the coup means legislators will need a special session to finish the budget.

A proposal to create a beer and wine license for single-screen movie houses such as downtown Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre was one bill to miss the cutoff.

“I do not understand this at all,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. “This is the worst abuse of power that I’ve ever seen happen up here in the 10 years I’ve been here.”

Moeller said his proposal to create a voluntary alert program for disabled drivers also died. So did his bill to suspend the licenses of health care professionals who are being investigated for neglect or abuse of a vulnerable adult.

Friday afternoon, Senate Republicans gained support from three right-leaning Senate Democrats and used an uncommon procedural move to introduce a different budget. The Republican budget introduced was spearheaded by state Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield.

“If the Legislature is to have any chance of adjourning March 8, the Senate needed to reach agreement on a budget as soon as possible, because we still have to negotiate with the House of Representatives,” Zarelli said. “There was no assurance that the Senate majority party would have enough votes for its plan; in my mind, bringing an alternative forward became the responsible thing to do.”

Even before Friday’s shake-up, a bill to protect sport-shooting ranges from noise complaints appeared dead.

The proposal would have prevented residents near gun ranges, such as the Vancouver Trap and Gun Club and the English Pit Shooting Range, from filing nuisance lawsuits against existing ranges. Residents would have still been able to file suit if they alleged the ranges’ practices were negligent or dangerous, or if there had been a substantial change in how the range was used since the resident moved in.

A technical bill by Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, to make sure pharmacists are included in the Legend Drug Act did not make the Friday cutoff deadline. The Legend Drug Act makes it illegal to sell or possess prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription, but the act doesn’t currently permit medications prescribed by a licensed pharmacist.

Bills moving on

A bill to give state transportation officials the authority to establish tolls on a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River made headway during week eight of the 60-day legislative session, as did a measure to reform punishments for high school athletes if the team breaks eligibility rules.

A proposal to forgive overpayments made by the Department of Health and Human Services passed out of the Legislature on Saturday, heading to the governor for a signature. The bill was prompted by the case of Vancouver single mother Sarah Remington, who was slapped with a $3,000 bill for overpayment in child care subsidies after an agency mistake.

A bill proposed by Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, passed out of the state Senate before Friday’s deadline for bills to leave their opposite house.

The bill would set better guidelines that all state agencies must follow when choosing a government contract and create a website to make it easier for small businesses to bid on contracts.

A bill by Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, that would make the state adopt the federal Uniform Interstate Depositions and Discovery Act, has made it out of the state Senate. The legislation makes it easier for legal parties outside Washington to obtain discovery information in a court case.

Lawmakers respond

On Friday night, 17th District Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, called the Republican takeover “a slap in the face to public transparency” because the budget passed by Senate Republicans did not go through the same public hearing process as the Democrats’ proposed budgets.

“The Senate Republicans have taken lemonade, and made lemons,” Probst said.

On Saturday morning, Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, stopped by a Republican precinct caucus in Battle Ground to announce the Senate’s use of a rare rule to overthrow the Democrats. Caucus voters erupted with applause.

“They couldn’t get 25 votes for their budget, but we could get 25 votes for our budget,” he said, prompting more cheers.

Republican lawmakers have been critical this session of the Democrats’ budget proposals for delaying state spending rather than making more cuts now. Lawmakers have been tasked with figuring out how to fix a $1.1 billion hole in the budget.

Benton acknowledged that the budget Senate Republicans passed wouldn’t survive the rest of the lawmaking process, because it would still have to go through the Democrat-controlled House and need a signature from Gov. Chris Gregoire. But Benton said Republican voters can change Olympia’s political climate by participating in the upcoming election.

“We go to the polls,” Benton said. “We’re going to make sure (a Republican budget) is permanent.”

Benton told the crowd it’s vital that he gets reelected because Republicans are just a few seats shy of controlling the state Senate. He also said he hopes to raise $500,000 for his campaign, and he encouraged caucus attendees to sign up to volunteer for his campaign through his website.

Moeller said he was upset that it didn’t look like lawmakers would accomplish all they need to before the end of the 60-day session, which is scheduled to end on Thursday.

He also said he was frustrated because the constituents counting on his dead bills would have to wait another year to get what they need.

“I personally called the citizens involved to give them the bad news,” Moeller said. “Those were hard calls to make and there is no excuse for the actions of the Senate Republicans.”

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523;;;

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