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Gov. Jay Inslee wades into legislative fray for the first time

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Feb. 6, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
February 6, 2013 5:18 pm

In his first extended comments Wednesday on the 24-day-old legislative session, Gov. Jay Inslee took aim at some of the ideas put forward by the Republican-dominated majority in the state Senate.photo

“I’m very concerned that the Senate already has gone backwards on two areas,” said the Democratic governor, citing proposed changes to the state’s worker-compensation system that was last overhauled in 2011 and the voter-approved green-power law Inslee helped champion in 2006. He later added another Senate Republican measure to his list of those going in the wrong direction, this one requiring notification of parents of teenagers obtaining abortions.

Inslee stopped short of a veto threat. “I’m developing what I hope will be good working relationship with legislators, and the third week of the session is probably a little early, too early, to start waving around red pens real vocally,” he said.

Inslee took office Jan. 16, two days after a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats took power in the Senate and elevated one of the Democrats, Medina fiscal conservative Rodney Tom, as leader of their business-friendly majority.

“I had some businesspeople in here last week,” Tom said in his office after Inslee’s news conference, “and they were talking about it’s funny that Washington’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t recognize hydro as a renewable power resource, when we are kind of the front-runners on that.”

Initiative 937 requires utilities to produce a growing share of their power by renewable means or buy credits from those who do. Wind turbines are counted as green, but hydroelectric dams that provide most of Washington’s power are not, with exceptions for certain upgrades at those dams. Measures introduced by the new Republican chairman of the Senate energy committee, Doug Ericksen, would in various ways make hydropower count as renewable.

Since they would reward an existing power source, Inslee said those bills would “gut” I-937’s goal of encouraging new clean energy — unless they were coupled with higher standards requiring as much as 90 percent of utilities’ power to be renewable, up from the current goal of 15 percent in 2020.

“The need climatically to deal with greenhouse gases and pollution is growing dramatically. And that’s why I’m saying, 937 should not be the ceiling, it needs to be looked at as a floor,” Inslee said.

Republican Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center told reporters that would prevent businesses from paying a stable price for a stable power supply.

Repeating the arguments of unions and their allies among Senate Democrats, Inslee also said the workers’ comp measures passed by the Senate Monday were unnecessary changes to a 2011 compromise. That deal brokered by Gov. Chris Gregoire gave the business lobby part of what it wanted including settlements that older workers could take instead of lifelong pensions to settle their injury claims. But business groups and Republicans say a larger share of workers need to be able to accept those deals to save enough money to stave off future rate increases.

Inslee also pressed legislators to accept federal funding from President Barack Obama’s health law, which he said would allow the state to redirect $142 million it is spending now on low-income patients who would be covered in 2014 under the expansion of Medicaid.

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