Washington lawmakers return, divide remains

Rare opening day vote by House quickly swatted down by Senate

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Updated: January 13, 2014, 7:15 PM

 

Legislators in the House act swiftly

One of the first substantive actions of the 2014 Legislature took place in the House, where members on Monday approved the Washington Dream Act. The bill would allow college students who live in the state illegally to apply for financial aid. The bill passed 71-23, with two members excused from voting. Votes from House members representing Clark County were mixed.

Those voting in favor of the bill:

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver.

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver.

Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis.

Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima.

Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches.

Those voting no:

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver.

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas.

Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama.

The session is in an off-budget year and is scheduled to last 60 days. Legislators from Clark County said big topics debated this session could include transportation, education spending, marijuana, health care and reforming business regulations.

Last year, legislators couldn’t reach an agreement on a $10 billion transportation plan, which would have raised the gas tax by more than 10 cents a gallon and would have paid for a number of transportation projects across the state. That plan initially included $450 million for the Columbia River Crossing, but money for the CRC has since been stripped.

With the CRC left out, some legislators want to see the revised transportation plan pass this session. Others wonder whether there’s enough political will to do so.

In the House, Moeller, Pike and Ed Orcutt serve on the transportation committee.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, was named to the Senate Transportation Committee on Monday, but Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, is off the committee this year. The transportation committee is co-chaired by Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima. King represents the 14th Legislative District, which includes portions of eastern Clark County.

For information on how to contact legislators, see the Jan. 12 issue of The Columbian or read the story online.

— Stevie Mathieu, The Columbian

OLYMPIA — Washington’s Legislature began its latest session Monday much the way the last one ended — with little agreement on how to proceed on several policy issues.

In a rare opening day vote, House lawmakers approved a bill that would expand state financial aid to students who are living in the country illegally. It was swiftly swatted down by leaders in the Senate, however, who also didn’t give the bill a vote a year ago.

Without a major budget shortfall to deal with this year, lawmakers are pushing a variety of policy bills for the 60-day session, but the wide philosophical chasm between the House and Senate means many of those proposals have uncertain fates.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, the Democratic leader of the predominantly Republican Majority Coalition Caucus, said that while he thinks the financial aid measure is an “important bill,” his caucus is focused on other issues.

“What we’re focused on in the Senate is moving this economy forward, and those are the issues that we’re going to really focus on this session — jobs, education, making sure we have a sustainable budget,” he said. Last year, the Senate approved a measure that would make changes to the state workers’ compensation system, but that didn’t get a hearing in the House.

Financial aid proposal

House Speaker Frank Chopp called on his colleagues to take action. He dedicated much of his opening message to the financial aid proposal, saying the state constitution calls on lawmakers to provide an education to all students who reside in the state.

“It is fundamental to our state and nation,” Chopp said.

Democrats in the House also began immediate committee consideration of a bill that would require Washington insurers to cover abortions, in addition to the maternity care they’re already mandated to provide. That’s another bill the Senate declined to consider last year.

Many of the issues on the agenda this year were also discussed in 2013 but didn’t make progress. That includes a proposal to raise the state’s gas tax to pay for transportation projects.

Some lawmakers also want to continue talks on how to grow spending for the state education system, whether to overhaul the state’s medical marijuana laws to bring them in line with the new legal recreational system, and whether to take action on competing gun initiatives that would otherwise appear on the ballot for voters to consider.

House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen gave a message of unity in his first floor speech of the session, saying both sides are concerned about education and the vulnerable. He said while there are going to be differences, he expects lawmakers to work together and finish the job on time — unlike last year.

“We will debate the issues,” Kristiansen said. “We will do it in a respectful fashion.”

The financial aid bill passed the chamber by a 71-23 margin after a brief debate.

Clark County State Legislative Map