Washington State Legislature

Washington prisons would stay open, but much of the state would not if there’s a government shutdown. Governor Jay Inslee met with his cabinet Wednesday to begin contingency planning if there’s no budget by the end of the month. That’s the start of the new fiscal year.

“We’re not talking about opening the prison doors because there are clear federal mandates from the federal constitution and federal laws to provide for folks that are in our care and custody,” says Nick Brown, the Governor’s attorney.

There were dramatic developments in Olympia overnight. Governor Jay Inslee held a midnight bill signing to amend Washington’s estate tax. The move means the Department of Revenue will not begin to issue refund checks Friday morning to the heirs of some multi-million dollar estates.

The state of Washington was about to embark on a months-long process of refunding an estimated $140 million to more than 100 estates. This was the result of a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year. The money would have come out of a fund dedicated to public schools.

The opening gavel has once again fallen in the Washington legislature.

"The second extraordinary session of the 63rd legislature will now be in order,” said a deadpan Lt. Governor Brad Owen Wednesday morning in the state Senate.

The second overtime session is necessary because lawmakers have yet to find agreement on a budget for the next two years. Taxes and controversial policy measures are the chief hang ups.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee will call lawmakers back into a second special session beginning at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday. He’s also beginning preparations for a government shutdown on July 1 if there’s no deal by then.

The moves come as the 30th and final day of the first overtime session comes and goes with still no budget deal.

At a news conference, Democrat Inslee blamed the stalemate on the mostly Republican Senate Majority for insisting on several controversial policy measures he says are unrelated to the budget.

Washington’s overtime legislative session ends at midnight on Tuesday. But there’s still no agreement on a state budget for the next two years.

Over the weekend, the mostly Republican senate majority passed a revised version of its own spending plan, along with a trio of controversial policy measures.

The three policy bills are not new, the Senate passed them during the regular session. The difference is two of them now have referendum clauses, meaning voters would get the final say.

The Washington Senate’s coalition caucus has reclaimed its majority status. Republican Steve O’Ban was sworn in Wednesday. He fills the seat of the late Mike Carrell who died last week during treatment of a pre-leukemia condition.

O’Ban’s appointment was fast-tracked in order to restore the mostly Republican coalition’s one vote majority during final budget negotiations.

mathteacherguy / Flickr

There’s one week left in Washington’s special legislative session and still no budget deal. Gov. Jay Inslee and the Senate majority caucus held dueling news conferences Tuesday, complete with plenty of finger-pointing.

The governor went first. Inslee, a Democrat, blasted the mostly-Republican senate majority for an estate tax measure that passed out of committee late last week. Inslee called it a new tax break for more than 200 wealthy Washingtonians at the expense of public schools.

tsparks / Flickr

With just over a week left in an overtime legislative session, negotiations between key lawmakers are set to continue, but there's still no budget deal in sight and limited activity at the Capitol.

A floor session in the Senate was scheduled for Monday afternoon, but it was uncertain what action might be taken.

mathteacherguy / Flickr

A public radio investigation into lobbyist-paid meals has prompted an ethics complaint against three state lawmakers.

The complaint was filed this week by an open government advocate named Arthur West, who alleges the two Republicans and one Democrat violated the rule that states lawmakers can accept free meals only on an “infrequent” basis.

Meanwhile, some legislators say they’re the victims of flaws in the system used by lobbyists report entertainment expenses.

mathteacherguy / Flickr

Washington state lawmakers are barred from accepting gifts intended to influence their vote. But there’s an exception to that rule. Members of the Legislature are allowed to accept free food and drinks if it’s related to their official duties, but only on an “infrequent” basis.

However, a public radio investigation, conducted in cooperation with the Associated Press, reveals that dozens of state legislators frequently accept meals from lobbyists. And many of them do so even while collecting taxpayer-funded per diem payments.

Pressure is mounting on Washington state lawmakers to approve a gas tax increase to fund road projects. Backers of the 10-cents-per-gallon tax proposal rallied at the state Capitol Monday to push for a vote during the current 30-day overtime session.

Dozens in hard hats gathered on the steps of the Capitol, holding signs and chanting: “Pass it now! Pass it now!”

As lawmakers wrap up their first week of a special legislative session, Senate majority leaders have asked that more than 30 bills be considered as part of the budget discussions.

A list of 33 measures, obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, was submitted during a private meeting Thursday, including bills dealing with changes to the workers' compensation system, education bills and other bills tied to the budget, including funding for state parks and higher education. Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler declined to comment on the list Friday.

Rachel La Corte / Associated Press

With the state Legislature back in session for a 30-day extra inning, Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday narrowed his agenda to three key items: the budget, a roads-and-transit funding package, and a crackdown on impaired drivers.

Two Washington state lawmakers are defending their frequent dinners with lobbyists. The meals show up in monthly reports filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

State Rep. Marcus Riccelli is a freshman Democrat from Spokane. On four occasions from January through March, he dined out with Michael Temple, a lobbyist for the state’s powerful trial lawyers association.

When asked Riccelli about those dinners, Riccelli joked, “I’m an Italian kid. I have a big appetite.”

Austin Jenkins

In the first three months of this year, lobbyists in Washington state spent more than $200,000 on entertainment. Much of that money was spent to wine and dine state lawmakers during the just-concluded 105-day session.

The spending begs the question: What are lobbyists and their clients getting in exchange for picking up the tab?

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