Democrats field questions at town hall

Pridemore, Moeller, Wylie talk about budget, teachers’ benefits, gay marriage at town hall meeting

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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Three lawmakers from the 49th Legislative District fielded questions from a crowd of about 40 people Saturday morning in the sixth-floor hearing room at the Clark County Public Service Center.

Attendees shared concerns and questions over a wide range of areas -- including the budget, economy, health care for teachers and the legislative special session that will begin in Olympia on Monday.

The district’s Democratic representatives, Sen. Craig Pridemore, Rep. Jim Moeller and Rep. Sharon Wylie opened the town hall by briefing attendees about the end of the last legislative session, the upcoming special session and issues facing the state.

Wylie and Moeller took a moment before opening up to public questions and comments to thank Pridemore for his service. He will not seek re-election for his current position and will instead run for state auditor in the fall. Saturday was his last 49th Legislative District town hall.

Attendees who signed up to ask a question were then called to speak directly to the three from a microphone.

One attendee asked the legislators what the special session to resolve the budget will be like.

Pridemore said he thinks things will be wrapped up within a few days, with the caveat that some legislators had plans following the regularly scheduled session. He thinks it may be a day or two for them to get back.

Wylie said the maximum length of the session will be 30 days, and that doesn’t mean people will be sitting around doing nothing.

“Most of the work has already been done,” Moeller said, the big deal will be sorting out the difference in philosophy.

Pridemore added there is an ideological debate over issues in Washington state.

“It’s not cheap, partisan politics,” he said.

Another hot-button issue for a few attendees was Senate Bill 6442, which would put all public school employees into a consolidated health care plan.

Lisa Lewison, a union organizer with the Washington Education Association said “this session had been particularly concerning” because the bill threatened teachers’ collective bargaining rights. In addition, she said it would take money to create a government body to oversee the plan.

Moeller said he will always support bargaining rights. Wylie said she won’t support a bill if it doesn’t save money and affects collective bargaining, but said she signed a House version to make sure all the options were looked at.

Vancouver resident Carolyn Crain said she was disappointed lawmakers spent time on things such as gay marriage that don’t impact everybody before dealing with things that do. The budget should have come first, she said.

“I want you to go back there and focus on what we need,” she said.

Pridemore said gay marriage didn’t delay the budget talks. Instead he suggested the delay in crafting a budget was because of big disagreements in philosophy.

Moeller said legislators were talking about the budget for months. Those discussions take time, even when the state has money, he said.