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Legislature stalled over Initiative 1351 debate

by caprecord

The state Legislature is stalled over a bill that would delay implementation of Initiative 1351, leaving a $2 billion hole in the budget signed Tuesday night by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Voters approved Initiative 1351 last year requiring smaller class sizes in K-12 grades, but the measure did not come with a funding source attached. It is estimated to cost $2 billion in the first two-year budget cycle, and billions more in subsequent years.

House Bill 2266 suspends the initiative, delaying its implementation by four years until 2019. It passed out of the House with a vote of 72-26, with supporters noting that the operating budget funds smaller class sizes in grades K-3 when it is shown to have the most impact.

Because it alters an initiative, the bill requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers to pass.

The bill reached the Senate floor around 5 a.m. Wednesday after lawmakers in the chamber pulled an all-nighter.

Several Senate Democrats spoke in opposition to the bill, saying they believe the Legislature should phase-in Initiative 1351 rather than suspend it.

“We’re completely punting,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. He said if the Legislature doesn’t do anything about the initiative this year, he has “serious doubts” it will ever be implemented.

Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, also spoke against the bill, saying the Senate was meeting at 5:30 a.m. to “undo the will of the people.”

Budget writers argued that the bill is necessary to balance the budget approved after six months of negotiations by both chambers.

“If we can’t pass this bill, we have a $2 billion hole we have to fill,” said Sen. Andy Hill, the lead Republican budget writer. Failing to pass the bill puts the budget at risk, he said, and it is “not the way we do things around here.”

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said a failure to pass the bill threatens other services. “You are playing Russian roulette with the social safety net next session,” he told members.

The Senate voted 27-17 on the bill, failing to garner the necessary two-thirds majority required for it to pass. The Senate adjourned until noon Friday.

The Spokesman-Review reported that some Democratic members may consider changing their votes if the Senate Republican majority approves a bill passed by the House that eases a rule requiring high school students to pass a biology test in order to graduate. About 2,000 students have failed the test this year and are not expected to graduate. It’s the first year the test has been required.

Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement Wednesday praising the budget, and urging lawmakers to finish their work.

“There is one important operating budget item to resolve – when and how to implement last year’s Initiative 1351, which would cost an additional $2 billion that was not provided in the budget the Legislature passed,” he wrote. “I believe it is important for the Legislature to find a solution that results in a balanced budget sooner rather than later. We are so close. I encourage legislators to complete their work.”

Watch the Senate floor debate on the bill below: