Several heated bills die as Legislature's deadline passes

Other proposals, such as serving alcohol in small theaters, go forth

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Proposals to make it possible for teachers to arm themselves, to change graduation requirements, and to require parental notifications for abortions have fizzled in the Legislature as a bill cutoff deadline passed Friday.

Meanwhile, bills to allow alcohol service in Kiggins Theatre and to create a new tax credit for business startups were one step closer to becoming law.

A measure by Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, aimed to replace some traditional high school course requirements with classes specific to a student's career of choice failed to make it out of the House Education Committee. It had bipartisan support and was on track to pass, Stonier said, but some key Republicans on the committee pulled their support at the last minute.

"I'm disappointed that it didn't get out of committee," Stonier said. "I expressed deep interest in working with them to see if we can't get an amendment on another bill on the same topic so we can still see it through."

Her bill would have replaced the requirement that high school students take nearly six elective credits with a requirement that they take six "career concentration" credits. Those career-focused credits would need to relate to a specific career, trade program or post-secondary education the student plans to embark upon after graduation.

Stonier said her bill could reduce dropout rates by helping students who are not university-bound see the value in staying in school to prepare for a specific job after graduation.

Friday was the deadline for bills to advance out of policy committees in the chamber where they were introduced.

Bill cutoff rules are somewhat loose. Legislation impacting the budgetary process are exempt from the deadline, and bills that seem dead now can be resurrected or amended onto other legislation later.

A controversial bill regarding abortion also missed the cutoff. That proposal, introduced by Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, would have required abortion providers to notify parents when their daughters, age 17 and younger, were seeking an abortion.

The public hearing on Benton's bill drew dozens from multiple sides of the issue, many delivering emotional testimony.

Still moving

A bill allowing single-screen movie houses to serve alcohol in their auditoriums, even when children are present, passed out of committee late last month. Small theaters, including Kiggins in Vancouver, testified that the bill would create a boost to business.

Large theaters in the state have the luxury of serving alcohol in designated theaters where minors are not allowed. Kiggins and the Liberty Theatre in Camas are struggling to compete with those larger venues, Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said last month while testifying on his proposal, House Bill 1001, before the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

A plan by Benton to create a business and occupancy tax credit for new businesses has passed through the Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee. The tax reduction of 50 percent would apply to businesses that have at least four full-time employees and have invested at least $50,000 in capital investments.

Business and occupancy taxes are based on a company's gross receipts instead of net earnings, making it "tough for a startup business to survive," Benton said in a statement on Senate Bill 5382. "This tax credit would help new employers see a return on their investment sooner and give them incentive to plow any early profits back into their companies through hiring or more capital improvements."

Bills that pass out of their initial committee either head to a fiscal committee or to a rules committee, which decides if and when each bill will get a vote on the chamber floor.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, received a Senate-wide floor vote Friday for her bill to ease the burden on local governments faced with acquiring environmentally friendly vehicles. In 2007, the Legislature mandated that by 2015, local governments, including fire and school districts, must replace their gas and diesel vehicles with those that run on electricity or biofuel.

Under Senate Bill 5099, the state's Department of Commerce would be required to create an advisory committee to take a closer look at those requirements. The committee would include representatives from local government.

The bill also states that a gas or diesel vehicle should not be replaced with eco-friendly one until "the end of its useful life." Rivers' bill passed out of the Senate on a vote of 46-2. One senator was absent.

Arming teachers

A bill by Liz Pike, R-Camas, to allow teachers to carry guns in school did not make the bill cutoff. Pike said the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, made it clear to her he was not receptive to the proposal.

The bill would have let school boards create policies that allow teachers to bring their own guns and ammunition on school grounds, only after being trained to use the guns. Pike proposed the idea as a way to protect students against school shootings.

Pike said she might push the bill again next session.

"I'm looking for solutions, and until we have something that prevents gun violence in our schools, I will continue to look for solutions," Pike said. "Whether that be this bill or another one."

Meanwhile, a bill in the Senate to ban so-called assault weapons proved too divisive for passage and withered in that chamber. The Senate has a conservative majority.

Columbia River Crossing

Bills that would affect the Columbia River Crossing project technically are still on the table. Bills in transportation committees have a later deadline than Friday.

An idea by Moeller to get CRC builders to use steel manufactured in the Pacific Northwest passed out of the House Transportation Committee earlier this month.

That proposal, House Bill 1288, would require the state's Department of Transportation to charge a fee when its inspectors travel more than 300 miles from Olympia to examine steel for a boundary bridge. The minimum fee would be $5,000; if the steel fabricator is more than 3,000 miles away from Olympia, that minimum increases to $8,000.

The CRC would replace the I-5 Bridge over the Columbia River, rebuild five miles of freeway interchanges on both sides of the bridge, and extend a light-rail line from Portland into Vancouver. Paying for the $3.5 billion project is divided into three parts: federal money, tolling, and $450 million each from Washington and Oregon.

Other bills that could affect the CRC remained in their transportation committees Friday.

The 105-day legislative session ends April 28.

Lucas Wiseman contributed to this report.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.