The “short session” ended March 13, pretty much as predicted by legislative leaders and observers. The short session (60 days) historically works on supplemental budget requests. This means that the second session of a biennial budget responds to actual rather than estimated revenue and expenditures used in the first session which runs for 120 days, and sometimes requires an extraordinary or “special session” called by the governor.
A supplemental budget was passed this session. For the first time in a long time, if ever, no capitol project budget was produced. No transportation funding package passed.
2014 Session Priorities
Neither of the two top priorities by the Environmental Priorities Coalition of which Washington Audubon is a member passed.
The Big Tax Loophole was not closed. It did pass in the House. Sponsored by Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), his bill not only sought to close an unintended loop hole dating back to 1949, before there were any refineries in Washington State. His bill also committed the $59 million created by closing the loophole to Kindergarten-Grade 12 classroom purposes. There are legislators and interests who like the idea of closing the loophole but want the new revenue used for other purposes. The “oil industry” prefers no change.
The Oil Transportation Safety Act (HB 2347/SB 6262), sponsored by Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) and Senator Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), began life somewhat drafting behind legislation pertaining to plans to build coal export terminals in Washington State.
Awareness surfaced last year of increased transportation of oil via pipelines and trains through the state for export. That export would be via more marine vessels on the Columbia River, along our Pacific Ocean coastline and in Puget Sound. There is no doubt about certainty of oil train derailments and spills from pipelines and water transport. Oil train explosions in Canada and the US this past year fuel our concerns.
There is no way at present for our state agencies, in particular the Department of Ecology, to assess the risks of increases in oil transportation. They do not know what could be needed in way of oil spill prevention and cleanup plans. They should know how much, from where and when the oil comes through the state. Also, there is a need to decide whether tug escorts are needed for barges and other vessels on the Columbia River and in Grays Harbor, where there is now no such requirement.
The oil industry says that is proprietary information and therefore confidential.
Farrell’s bill passed the House. Rolfes’ bill received no hearing in the Senate. Instead, a Senate bill was introduced by Senator Doug Ericksen (Ferndale) who chairs the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. His bill sought a study and grants to the Department of Ecology and other emergency responders, to assist oil spill cleanup. In closing days of the legislative session, there was bipartisan effort in the Senate to get an oil-by-rail bill but could not reach agreement.
Not all bad news here. There was bipartisan agreement in the final hours of the session, to include in the supplemental budget $300,000 for a study by the DOE. The DOE will conduct some degree of statewide risks and possibilities to increase public safety, improve oil response and preparedness. DOE is to submit to the Legislature a progress report by December 1, 2014, and a final report by March 1, 2015.
Look for both of these priorities to be worked on from now to the next legislative session, and probably surface in some campaigns this general election year.
Legislative Elections in Snohomish County
The 2014 primary and general elections will be busier than usual for voters. Two Senate positions and all House positions will be up for election.
Rep. Mike Hope (R-Mill Creek) and Rep. Mary Helen Roberts (D-Lynnwood) announced recently they will not seek reelection. Some people have announced their intent to run for these offices.
Senators Marko Liias (D-Mukilteo) and John McCoy (D-Tulalip) were appointed by the Snohomish County Council to fill out the vacancies created when, respectively, Paull Shin (D-Edmonds) resigned for health reasons in January 2014 and Nick Harper (D-Marysville) resigned November 2013 for personal reasons.
Liias and McCoy moved up from their House seats, which left two House vacancies. Liias’ House seat was filled by Snohomish County Council appointment by Lillian Ortiz-Self (Mukilteo) and McCoy’s House seat was filled by June Robinson (D-Everett).
All have said they will run for reelection.