OLYMPIA — The Legislature seemed like a ghost town Monday, after gavels fell in the House and Senate on Sunday night.
Several legislators from Clark County have headed home to prepare for the overtime special session needed to finish several policy debates, including one over the state’s operating budget. That special session begins May 13.
“I’m heading home to spend time with family, which I’ve missed,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.
Cleveland, a first-term senator, is not on any fiscal committees and will likely not be involved in negotiations over the budget.
Same with Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, who also has left Olympia. Pike says she does not plan on returning until she is called back to the Legislature on May 13.
In the meantime, Pike said she is trying to coordinate a “kitchen cabinet” group of administrators from the different schools in her district to come up with better ways to educate students. Pike said she’s also planning on creating a similar group focused on business in Southwest Washington.
State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, is also heading home, but she’ll partake in long-distance budget discussions, she said.
“Because I’m on the leadership team, I will be involved, doing conference calls and so forth,” Rivers said.
During the two-week break in lawmaking, Rivers said she also will work on a new bill to alter the state’s guardian ad litem policy, which addresses legal representation for children or incapacitated citizens. Rivers said she’s received “so many calls” about the policy from “people having very frustrating experiences that harm families, so we’re going to work on that.”
The senator said while she will focus primarily on the budget during the special session, she also will introduce the guardian ad litem bill, so it can be considered in the 2014 regular legislative session.
After the Legislature adjourned Sunday night, Gov. Jay Inslee gave a press conference outlining his plans for the budget negotiations in the coming weeks. Inslee wants there to be a focus not only on the operating budget, but also a transportation revenue package, a vote on the Reproductive Parity Act, the Dream Act, and a gun control bill, all of which were blocked by the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate.
Republicans largely want the budget to be the main focus, with policy issues taking a backseat.
“The two budgets are so far apart, I think we have a long way to go,” Rivers said. “We won’t just show up for a few days and vote.”
Pike said she predicts that the special session will go all the way to the end of its 30-day period.
“I’m disappointed that we are in a logjam over taxes when we have $2 billion more in revenue than we had last budget cycle,” Pike said. “It’s never a good time to raise taxes, but these are the worst of times to do it.”
Cleveland said she wants the budget differences to be resolved quickly.
“I hope there will be a willingness to compromise,” she said. Cleveland agreed with Inslee’s statement that the parties are currently “light years away from each other,” and she said a quick resolution will depend on how negotiations go.
Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said he will be spending the time until the special session doing some fundraising and focusing on the Columbia River Crossing.
Moeller said he hopes Inslee will come to Vancouver to talk to businesses about the CRC.
The Democrat said he is not currently involved in budget negotiations. “As far as I know, there’s only four people in a room, and I’m not included,” Moeller said.
Moeller said he thinks the special session will focus on the budget, but he expects plenty of policy issues to come up as well.