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UPDATE – Senate Democrats say GOP coalition getting ahead of itself

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on Feb. 1, 2013 at 11:18 am with No Comments »
February 5, 2013 5:13 pm

Whether it’s new bills seeking reforms to K-12 schools or the worker compensation system, Senate Democrats complained today [Friday] that the Republican-dominated Senate majority is getting ahead of itself. Democratic Leader Ed Murray of Seattle and other members of his caucus met with reporters, suggesting that school reform bills recently heard in committee were based on legislation from other states like Florida and Louisiana, and they even tried to draw links the Tea Party and conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

Sen. Nick Harper of Everett posted a diatribe about the bills, including a proposal to hold back 8-year-olds who struggle with reading. But Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, who joined Murray, said the answer is to provide more resources to classrooms to help students who are not meeting reading goals by third grade.

Billig said he would be seeking changes to the reading bill, Senate Bill 5237, in order to put money into the proposal. But he said the other bills, including one to give letter grades to schools, were getting ahead of reforms that haven’t had time to get results – or even to take effect, which he said is the case for accountability rules still being drafted by the State Board of Education.

Republicans have said that to answer the Supreme Court’s ruling in the McCleary case that said the state was failing to do enough to fund K-12 schools, they want to be sure any new money put into the system gets better results. Democrats haven’t disagreed, but Billig said many reforms have already been adopted since 2009 and now is the time for revenue. He quoted a GOP refrain of recent years about “reform before revenue’’ and said the time now is to provide the revenue.

The Democrats also have been accusing the Majority Coalition Caucus, which has 23 Republican and two Democratic members, of rushing new changes to the workers compensation system- less than two year after lawmakers agreed on a hard-fought reform.

A package of five bills came out of the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee Monday but planned floor votes as soon as Wednesday have been delayed – with Republicans saying they want to give Democrats more time, and Democrats suggesting that even some coalition members are not supportive.

Sen. Rodney Tom, the Medina Democrat who leads the coalition, said Wednesday in a meeting with reporters that earlier worker comp reforms adopted in 2011 have not paid out large enough savings for businesses. Sen. Mark Schoesler, the Republican leader from Ritzville, said additional steps to lower costs are important to Boeing and the small business lobby.

And House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt claimed this week that no structured settlements – agreements that give cash payouts to certain injured workers rather than keeping them in the medical insurance system for their injuries – had made their way past a review board set up by the 2011 reforms. UPDATE: The Department of Labor and Industries said Monday that 27 settlements have been approved out of 60 proposed.

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said that DeBolt’s claim was untrue and that about half of the 57 proposed settlements did get an OK.

Whatever the actual number of approved settlement, it says something about the point lawmakers are in their session that such basic facts are in dispute.

And it appears the workers comp bills won’t be moving today – because Democrats won’t give the go-ahead to skip the waiting period on moving bills to final passage. But at least three of the bills have been moved to the floor calendar for possible debate on amendments.  Murray indicated there may be amendments offered today.

In their press event this morning, Frockt, Murray and Billig took other questions. Murray said he thinks the Reproductive Parity Act, which requires health insurers to cover abortion if they cover maternity, should be pushed to a Senate floor vote as soon as it comes over from the House. But he said it is “early” and he does not yet know how it can get around possible objections that Republicans may have.

“There are people on the other side of the aisle who believe this should be the law,’’ Murray said.

They also made clear they think new revenue is needed for public schools and to answer the Supreme Court’s ruling from 2011. Billig said he sees it as “a $1.4b investment in basic ed.’’ Murray said he doubts lawmakers can get away with doing just $400 million to $500 million.

Murray announced a week ago he is drafting an excise tax proposal on capital gains but it is still getting reworked. He said he wants funds from that to target areas of K-12 spending that could produce larger improvements in students achievement.

Tom and his coalition partners have been chilly to talk of tax increases, but Murray said he thinks revenue ideas like his will get onto the table once the Republican-backed coalition gets to the actual details of writing a budget that improves K-12 education funding and considers what it might want to put on the ballot.

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