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News / Clark County News

Legislative session could head into overtime

Funding schools, balancing budget among big tasks that remain

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: April 20, 2015, 5:00pm

It looks like the Washington Legislature could be heading into overtime.

“If you’re a legislator and there’s something you want to do next week, I wouldn’t plan on it,” said Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, a ranking Republican.

And the extra days in Olympia could come with a substantial price tag.

State lawmakers are nearing the end of the 105-day legislative session scheduled to wrap up Sunday. Yet the biggest tasks facing them — funding public schools to satisfy a court mandate and balancing the operating budget — have yet to be resolved.

“There is an outside chance we could still end on time,” said Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, but he added it’s “less than probable.”

Either the governor could call lawmakers into a special session or lawmakers could keep themselves in Olympia with a two-thirds vote from each chamber.

In Washington, special sessions don’t seem all that, well, special.

Since 2000, lawmakers held 18 special sessions; some years there was more than one. Some lasted only a couple of days.

Depending on how many days the special session lasts, how many lawmakers are called back to the Capitol and how many choose to accept their per diem, or daily stipend, the costs vary.

The state Senate’s administrative office came up with a “worst-case scenario” for an upcoming 30-day special session. If the entire Senate was called back to Olympia, as opposed to only key negotiators, and each member requested per diem, the tab is projected to be $270,000.

The price tag for the House would also vary. In 2012, the special sessions totaled $141,631 for the House.

The House and Senate often absorb the cost of special sessions by tapping into money already in their budgets or making cuts, so they don’t have to take additional money from the general fund.

Some lawmakers choose not to accept their stipend during special sessions.

“I made that decision early on in my legislative career,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver. “I feel we should get our work done in the time that has been constitutionally mandated to be in session.”

But that’s not always an easy choice, she said. She often has to pay some of her costs.

Cleveland said she’s not surprised or opposed to lawmakers going into a special session.

“It makes sense given the tremendous challenges,” she said. “We want to get this right.”

With five days to go, parties are negotiating a transportation package, the two-year operating budget and the capital budget.

Harris, who earlier said this legislative session felt more bipartisan than in years past, said it has now hit the “implosion stage.”

“Hopefully, things will simmer down and we can realize none of us are going to completely get our own way and we need to find some middle-of-the-road solutions here,” Harris said.

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