Washington State Legislative Update, Feb. 28, 2013
By Jim Jesernig, WAWG lobbyist
Hundreds of bills died recently when the 2013 Legislature moved past the “House of Origin - Policy Committee” cutoff deadline. Bills that are not “Necessary to Implement the Budget”, (NTIB), are “dead” after that cutoff deadline if they have not been voted out of their original Policy Committee. This cutoff deadline killed approximately 60% of the 2000 bills that have been introduced thus far this session.
The next major cutoff deadline, was the “House of Origin - Fiscal Committee” cutoff deadline. An additional 10% of the total bills that have been introduced will be “dead” after that deadline, because they cost money to implement, and the relevant Fiscal Committee has not agreed to move them forward.
The last major milepost for the first half of the 2013 Session is the “House of Origin” cutoff deadline, which will occur this year on March 13th. Any House bills that are not passed by the House, or Senate bills that are not passed by the Senate, (excluding NTIB bills), will be “dead” after that cutoff deadline. At that time roughly 80% of the bills that have been introduced so far this Session will be “dead”.
The stunning news that broke on Thursday was that the Washington State Supreme Court actually decided the case challenging the constitutionality of the two-thirds vote requirement for taxes implemented by Initiative 1053. The Court ruled by a 6-3 margin, that this super majority requirement for tax increases was unconstitutional. Accordingly, the legislature can now raise new taxes, or repeal existing tax preferences, with a simple majority vote.
Reaction to the Court’s decision was predictable. Spending advocates, and many of the House Democrats that were plaintiffs in the case, applauded the ruling because they believe the state needs to raise roughly $2B in new taxes to balance the existing budget, and increase funding to the K-12 system. Conservative legislators in the Senate that make up the Majority Coalition, and business interest that would end up paying the new taxes, criticized the decision, but also indicated that it made no difference to the Senate, since they have never intended to raise new taxes. In fact, Senate Republicans are moving forward a constitutional amendment that would put the 2/3 vote requirement for new taxes into the State Constitution. However, this move is largely symbolic, since it has no chance of passing the House or Senate by the 2/3 vote required of any constitutional amendment being sent to the voters for their approval.
The most important “dead” Senate bill killed by the policy committee cutoff deadline was not even a bill, it was Initiative-522. Unlike the House, the Senate enforces cutoff deadlines on Initiatives. Accordingly, when I-522 failed to move out of the Senate Agriculture, Water & Rural Economic Development Committee by last Friday’s cutoff deadline, it was “dead” in the Senate. Unfortunately, the House does not apply cutoff deadlines to Initiatives, so I-522 will still be “alive” when it receives a joint Public Hearing in front of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and the House Technology & Economic Development Committee this coming Wednesday, March 6th.
Both the House (HB 1407) and Senate (SB 5167) versions of a bill that would clearly give local legislative authorities the ability to regulate genetically modified organisms also died when they failed to move forward before last Friday’s cutoff deadline. The same fate awaited SB 5073, which is a Senate bill that mirrors the disclosure of foods produced through genetic engineering found in I-522.
A group of us that include Jackie Tee with Co-Ag, Tom Dooley, (the lobbyist for Central Washington Grain Growers), and Eric Maier, are looking at the possibility of putting together a “Short Line Rail Day” in Olympia sometime in late March or early April. The idea would be for representatives from all of the PCC lines to meet with WSDOT, (to make sure we’re all on the same song sheet), and then meet with transportation committee members to impress on them the importance of short line rail to Eastern Washington. It’s too early to tell if we can actually pull it off, but if there is going to be a transportation revenue package that the legislature sends to the voters this fall, we believe having a strong funding package for short line rail should be something that should be included.