Friday, May 20, 2011

Legislative Special Session Update

With less than one week remaining in the 30-day special session, there seems to be new energy and momentum in the legislature for getting finished on time and avoiding the need for a second special session.

by Michael Transue, Governmental Affairs, Lobbying & Advocacy Services

Earlier this week and late last week, I thought a second special session was going to be necessary – Speaker Frank Chopp sent the House members home, except for the budget negotiators. Today however, it looks as if both parties and the House and Senate budget leaders are coming closer to compromise on the operating and capital budgets, the state’s debt limit (SJR 8215) and the bills necessary to implement the operating budget.

There are a multitude of bills necessary to implement the operating budget ranging through Medicaid Fraud reform, department mergers and consolidations, contracting out the state’s liquor warehouse and distribution system and college tuition increases. As of today, the House members have been called back into session and it appears that the legislature will work all weekend to meet the Wednesday (5/25/11) special session deadline to avoid a second special session.

An agreement on workers compensation reform is also being worked on by all four party caucuses and the Governor’s office in this special session. Workers Comp is being used as a bargaining and negotiating chip for budget votes, which makes the certainty around budget votes more questionable. The business community, Governor, House Republicans and Senate continue in their support for SB 5566 and HB 2109. House democratic leaders, however, are not.

The main sticking point is the proposed “voluntary settlement agreement” language contained in those bills. There have been several reports on this issue in the press of late. As of today, there have been recent meetings between the House, Senate and Governor’s office. I understand there was broad agreement on concepts that would be acceptable to all but details of those concepts aren’t public yet. More to come for sure as the next several days unfold.

Of the Chamber’s members’ interests, two issues are tied to the budgets. The first is the continued funding for State History Museum. The Museum is funded in the Senate budget. In the House, funding for the Museum is tied to HB 2033 which merges and consolidates several arts and heritage agencies and uses saving from the consolidation to operate the history museums in Tacoma, Spokane and Olympia.

The second issue is continued construction funding for the Bethel School District’s Pierce County Skills Center. The Skills Center was funded in both the House and Senate’s proposed capital budgets. Unless something unusual occurs, it seems likely this project will be funded and will continue its mission of offering career options for students leading to real jobs that mesh with workplace demands.

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