“We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages.” — from Lord of the Flies, by William Golding.
State House members heeded that advice today and adopted rules for the rest of the 105-day legislative session, but not before a long debate over the specifics, in which Republicans invoked a different scene from Lord of the Flies to push for more power for their minority caucus.
The GOP called for giving each lawmaker the right to have one piece of proposed legislation aired in public. Rep. Matt Manweller noted that even the bullied, portly Piggy from the novel, stranded with other boys on an island, was allowed to speak when it was his turn to hold the conch shell.
“When Piggy got the conch, everybody had to listen to him,” said Manweller, a freshman Republican and a political science professor at Central Washington University. “Don’t we all deserve to get a chance to hold the conch?”
He didn’t mention Piggy’s gruesome fate, but the proposal was not destined to fare much better. Although the House holds public hearings on hundreds of measures, Democrats said it would take too long to let each of the 98 House members force a committee to take public testimony on one bill of their choosing. Instead, committee chairmen will continue to be able to block disfavored bills from ever seeing the light of day.
House Democrats voted along party lines to oppose that proposal and a couple of other familiar Republican demands: approving taxes only with a two-thirds majority, and writing a separate budget for schools:
- Voters have repeatedly called for tax supermajorities by approving Tim Eyman-sponsored initiatives, but Republicans are worried the state Supreme Court will strike down that idea as violating the state Constitution, so they hoped to embed it in the House procedures. They pointed to the idea’s popularity among voters, while Seattle Democrat Reuven Carlyle responded that by the same logic, it should require a supermajority to scale back women’s reproductive rights, change the definition of green energy to include hydroelectric power, or reduce spending on home health-care workers — all changes to ballot measures approved by voters. Simple majority rule works just fine for all of those, he said.
- Republicans said breaking off education spending from the main budget and approving it first would fulfill the Supreme Court’s directive to fund education, while Democratic budget chairman Ross Hunter said it’s a process change that would keep the Legislature in session practically full-time while not doing anything to actually put more money in schools.
While Democrats all joined hands, among those absent were one of their most conservative members, Chris Hurst, and two of their newest members, Cyrus Habib and Monica Stonier. Republicans Larry Crouse and Steve O’Ban were also gone.
Democrats did agree on one Republican proposal for the rules, requiring committee hearings to include “an opportunity for members of the public” — as opposed to paid lobbyists and bureaucrats, they said — “to testify within available time.”