OLYMPIA -- With just one day before the end of session, Washington lawmakers slogged through a handful of lingering bills Saturday but appeared to make little progress toward the ultimate goal of a final budget agreement.
Leaders in both the House and Senate seemed to resign them
selves to the prospect of an overtime session, with the regular 105-day period coming to an end tonight. A spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee said that no decision had been made on when a special session may start.
Republican Sen. Don Benton, deputy majority leader in the Senate, said budget negotiations were moving "glacially slow." He said the two sides were struggling to agree on the general size of the budget and hadn't begun negotiating on the components that would be included.
Lawmakers are tasked with patching a projected budget deficit of more than $1.2 billion for the next two-year budget, not counting additional money needed for a court-ordered requirement that they increase funding to basic education.
The House and Senate have taken different approaches to balance state spending and increase funding for education, with the biggest difference centered around whether to raise revenue from extending taxes or eliminating tax breaks.
Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle, one of the House budget negotiators, said that while both sides may be far apart, he thinks a resolution could be swift.
"Things can get unstuck quickly," Carlyle said.
With the budget talks stalled, lawmakers worked for only a few hours Saturday. They passed some remaining bills, including:
• WOLF MANAGEMENT: Lawmakers want to compensate the owners of livestock who suffer losses due to wolf attacks. A bill now going to Inslee's desk would increase the cost of some specialized license plates to pay for the program. Lawmakers say it is one step in a broader strategy to manage concerns about wolves preying on cattle.
• SOCIAL NETWORKING: The Legislature wants to prevent employers from snooping in the social media accounts of workers. Under the measure, employers would be barred from requesting social media passwords, from forcing workers to log in while in the employer's presence or from using coercive friending. The bill does allow employers to investigate leaks of proprietary information or to comply with other laws. The measure followed an Associated Press report from last year that documented how some employers around the country were asking applicants for their social media information.
• MARIJUANA: Lawmakers are altering the voter-approved marijuana initiative in order to address concerns raised by prosecutors and crime lab scientists. A measure finalized by the Senate would make a technical fix needed to help police and prosecutors distinguish marijuana from industrial hemp, which is grown for its fiber.