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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

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Inslee wants session to be productive, comprehensive

Governor wants legislators to get serious about more than just education funding

By , Columbian Political Writer

OLYMPIA — In a legislative session sure to be dominated by education funding, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday he hopes lawmakers address other pressing issues facing the state, including safety concerns surrounding oil-by-rail transport.

“We’re going to have a vigorous effort to bring a greater margin of safety in the oil trains that are now criss-crossing our state,” Inslee said at The Associated Press legislative forum in Olympia.

Some of those trains pass through Clark County, and an oil-by-rail terminal capable of handling as much as 360,000 barrels of crude oil a day has been proposed for the Port of Vancouver.

The governor said he will push for a multipronged approach that includes additional training and spill prevention.

“I think this is extremely important given the volatility of this fuel,” the governor said, adding it’s important to get it done this year.

Lawmakers will convene Monday for the 2015 legislative session, scheduled to last 105 days.

The governor struck an optimistic tone when it came to a possible transportation package passing this legislative session.

“I think it’s very important, and I will urge legislators from both chambers to pass a transportation bill,” Inslee said.

Legislative leaders also spoke at the forum, highlighting the many difficult issues facing them.

Lawmakers in key budget-writing positions could not agree how much money the state needs to meet its responsibilities. While Democrats have called for increased revenue, or tax increases, Republicans on the panel repeatedly said they would not vote in favor of tax hikes.

In September, the state’s Supreme Court ruled to hold the Legislature in contempt for not adequately funding the state’s public schools.

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said she asked her caucus to keep “their minds open on many revenue options.”

Then she blasted her counterparts across the aisle for raising the idea of amending the state constitution to require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes.

“We want to be collaborative,” Nelson said of Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he’s in favor of the idea of amending the state constitution, which he plans to discuss with his party this session.

Lawmakers also must tackle the passage of Initiative 1351, which mandates smaller class sizes in public schools across the state, and it comes with a hefty price tag.

Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said “it was passed by the voters and we need to look how to implement it as best we can.”

Legislative leaders said it’s unclear how they would pay for the measure, but noted they would need a two-thirds vote to suspend it.

The governor’s budget proposed a capital gains tax and cap-and-trade proposals for polluters, which Republican lawmakers said they could not support.

In addition, Inslee said this session would be key in aligning the state’s recreational and medical marijuana systems.

As one possible avenue, the governor mentioned a bill by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, that proposes licensing medical marijuana dispensaries. Rivers’ measure would ensure that medical marijuana dispensaries were regulated and the product tested. The stores would not be able to sell actual marijuana buds but only edibles and other products made from the buds.

The governor and lawmakers also touched upon a wide range of other issues, including helping the state’s homeless student population and whether state lawmakers should make more of their records, such as emails, available through the state’s public records law.

“What I’m hopeful is going to happen is we are all going to come to this session looking for solutions,” Inslee said.

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Columbian Political Writer