This post has been updated with comments from the Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler.
Senate Democrats plan to ask for a new rule calling for “fair and balanced” hearings, after raising concerns about equity in hearings in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee, Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said Monday.
Nelson spoke at a Democratic leadership press availability on Monday morning. The rule could be introduced later this week.
Nelson said Democrats are concerned that representatives on both sides on an issue have been unable to testify at committee hearings, particularly in the Commerce and Labor committee, headed by Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.
“We feel that it’s important that both sides of an issue be heard. In particular, in Commerce and Labor, that’s not happening,” Nelson said.
Nelson said that Democratic leadership has approached the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus leadership regarding the fairness issue.
“Only one side is pretty much being allowed to testify and the others are cut short,” Nelson said. “That’s not what the public expects from this institution.”
Baumgartner declined to comment on the question of whether Commerce and Labor is being run fairly.
However, Majority Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Monday that he has reminded the committee chairs to “pay attention the needs of the minority.”
“The Labor committee has always been contentious,” Schoesler said. “Let’s be real, they didn’t propose any fairness doctrine when they were in the majority.”
Schoesler said the Republicans did not try to propose a similar rule when they were the minority party.
“We understood the majority controlled the agenda,” Schoesler said.
A fairness rule would be patterned after a House of Representatives rule that lawmakers say has been in place for several years.
Under Rule 24, second D, 11, the House rules state, “Insofar as practicable, testimony in public hearings should be balanced between those in support of and in opposition to proposed legislation, with consideration given to providing an opportunity for members of the public to testify within available time.”
The simple majority of Senators would have to approve the rule change.
The Senate rules have seen a change this year; the first day of session, Senate Majority Coalition Caucus introduced a rule that any new taxes would have to be approved by two-thirds of the chamber. The rule was approved by a majority, but later overturned by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen.
TVW taped the press conference. We will post it here when it is available.