'Special sessions' in Olympia tiresome -- and inefficient


It looks as if lawmakers won’t come to an agreement on a two-year state spending before Sunday, the end of the scheduled 105-day session of the Legislature.

Wow, that’s a shock — to people who moved to Washington state yesterday.

The rest of us know the Legislature’s two-decade history of dysfunction in which nearly every regular legislative sessions is followed by one (or more) 30-day overtime sessions. A lot of folks in Olympia call these “special sessions,” but the special wore off long ago.

Why can’t the Legislature take care of our businesses in the allotted time?

Frankly, it shouldn’t be this difficult to address the budget and other most pressing concerns and adjourn on time. Lawmakers knew what it was they had to accomplish and they knew exactly how long they had to finish.

Unfortunately, many lawmakers seem to look at the deadline as a mere recommendation because the extra sessions have become so common.

This is a problem for two clear reasons. First, it’s expensive to keep lawmakers and the staff required for a legislative session in Olympia.

But that’s a relatively minor concern compared to the uncertainty it causes to state government. Planning for the various agencies is delayed, causing anxiety everywhere from the Department of Corrections to public schools. Employees worry they will lose their jobs or have their pay reduced through furloughs.

And the sooner decisions on spending reductions are made, the quicker they can be implemented, which allows agencies more time and flexibility to hopefully allocate resources more efficiently.

At this point, Gov. Jay Inslee is not optimistic lawmakers will finish by midnight Sunday.

Inslee said that before lawmakers go home, he wants them to pass measures to toughen the state’s impaired driving laws, pass a transportation package and to keep other measures in the mix, including gun control bills and a bill to make young immigrants living in the country without legal permission eligible for college financial aid.

And that’s in addition to the required actions such a patching a projected budget shortfall of more than $1.2 billion and come up with an extra $2 billion or so to fulfill a court mandate to increase funding to basic education.

If the Legislature fails to meet the Sunday deadline, Inslee should send all lawmakers home except party leadership and budget writers. They then can hash out the details, come to a consensus and then bring lawmakers back for final approval — and adjournment.


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