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Tempers Flare, Bills Revived as WA Legislature Winds Down

Austin Jenkins
03/08/2006

The Washington legislature is less than 48-hours from adjournment. Partisan tempers are flaring. Some controversial issues remain in play. And lawmakers still need to pass the supplemental budget. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins takes us behind-the-scenes as the clock ticks down on the 2006 session.

TRANSCRIPT

IT WAS NO BENCH-CLEARING BRAWL. BUT THINGS DID GET A LITTLE TENSE IN THE HOUSE TUESDAY. IT ALL STARTED WHEN REPRESENTATIVE BRENDAN WILLIAMS, AN OLYMPIA DEMOCRAT, MUGGED FOR THE HOUSE FLOOR TV CAMERA WHILE REPUBLICAN MAUREEN WALSH WAS GIVING A FLOOR SPEECH.

SPEAKER: "Representative Walsh another member was out-of-line and you were in order. I was trying to get another member out of the camera line."

THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE GAVELED WILLIAMS DOWN. WITNESSES SAY MINUTES LATER WILLIAMS WAS CONFRONTED OFF CAMERA BY THE HOUSE REPUBLICAN LEADER. SENSING THE START OF A FIGHT SEVERAL BURLY MEMBERS FROM BOTH SIDES OF THE AISLE JOINED THE FRAY. BUT REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS CLAIMS IT NEVER CAME CLOSE TO BLOWS.

WILLIAMS: "We're not the Taiwanese Parliament here. We're not actually going to engage in a brawl."

BUT THE PARTISAN DUST-UP IS EVIDENCE OF TENSION, FRUSTRATION AND FATIGUE IN THE WANING HOURS OF THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION. THE SITUATION IS NO DOUBT AGGRAVATED BY ONE-PARTY RULE. THIS SESSION IT'S THE DEMOCRATS. THAT LEAVES MINORITY REPUBLICANS STUCK IN THE ROLE OF LOYAL OPPOSITION. TAKE THE BUDGET. DEMOCRATS HAVE AGREED ON A SUPPLEMENT TO THE STATE'S TWO-YEAR BUDGET. IT INCLUDES HALF-A-BILLION-DOLLARS IN NEW SPENDING AND SETS ASIDE NEARLY TWICE THAT MUCH FOR NEXT YEAR. DEMOCRATS CALL IT BALANCED. REPUBLICANS FEEL OTHERWISE.

ALEXANDER: "I think I would go as far as saying that this is not a fiscally responsible budget."

REPRESENTATIVE GARY ALEXANDER IS THE RANKING REPUBLICAN ON THE HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE.

ALEXANDER: "If Republicans were in the majority we'd be talking about a budget closer to two-hundred to two-hundred-and-fifty million dollars and we'd be bringing down to the real, true reserves somewhere between one-point-three and one-point-four billion dollars in the next biennium and that to me would be a fiscally responsible position to be in."

WHILE LAWMAKERS DOMINATE CENTER-STAGE, THERE ARE SEVERAL SIDESHOWS IN THE FINAL HOURS OF THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION. CASE IN POINT: A FIGHT OVER A TAX BREAK FOR: SODA-POP SYRUP. ON ONE SIDE: THE WASHINGTON RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION, WHICH SAYS ITS MEMBERS HAVE SOME OF THE LOWEST PROFIT MARGINS IN THE COUNTRY. ANTHONY ANTON IS VICE PRESIDENT.

ANTON: "On an hour by hour basis we're working with legislators - making sure they understand the impact on small business. There's about 250 restaurants in every district around the state - making sure this helps real people back home now. That message is playing well."

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SODA-POP SYRUP CONTROVERSY ARE HUMAN SERVICE ADVOCATES LIKE LONNIE JOHNS-BROWN. SHE SAYS THIS TAX BREAK WOULD TAKE NEARLY $10 MILLION A YEAR OUT OF THE STATE BUDGET.

JOHNS-BROWN: "When you think about the fact they give out free refills and you look at the fact that we still don't fund childcare workers well and we still don't fully fund children's healthcare and all of those others. I don't think that it pencils out well."

THESE FINAL MOMENTS ARE ALSO WHEN DEAD BILLS SUDDENLY COME BACK TO LIFE. A GOOD EXAMPLE: LEGISLATION THAT WOULD MAKE REPEAT DRUNK-DRIVING A FELONY. IT PASSED THE HOUSE, BUT DIED IN THE SENATE. NOW UNDER TREMENDOUS POLITICAL PRESSURE SENATE DEMOCRATS HAVE REVIVED IT. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN AHERN, A SPOKANE REPUBLICAN, IS CHIEF SPONSOR.

AHERN: "Well here's the thing. If this bill doesn't pass just think there might be several people that are killed by somebody with five DUIs or more. I'd hate to have that on my conscience because I held the bill up."

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER LISA BROWN, ALSO OF SPOKANE, SAYS SHE WANTS TO GET THE BILL PASSED. BUT TIME IS RUNNING OUT. LAWMAKERS ARE SCHEDULED TO ADJOURN ON THURSDAY IF NOT BEFORE. I'M AUSTIN JENKINS IN OLYMPIA.

© Copyright 2006, KPLU

04.20.18

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