Solving or At Least Understanding the Gridlock in Olympia

The mainstream media have done such a terrible job of describing the challenges in Olympia that it is time for a more accurate analysis. We will look at two bills both of which require a super majority to pass. These are the $16 Billion Transportation Budget Bond bill (Senate Bill 5989) and the bill to delay (and kill) the Class Size Initiative 1351 (House Bill 2266).

For the transportation bill, bonding bills have always required a 60% majority due to the fact that is it long term debt. The Initiative 1351 delay bill requires two thirds because this is a provision in our state constitution.

The Transportation bond bill is supposedly being blocked by Republicans in the House and the bill to kill the Class Size Lowering Initiative 1351 is supposedly being blocked by Democrats in the Senate. Neither bill was able to pass during the early morning hours of July 1st leading both the House and Senate to suspend the voting for a one week cooling off period.

We can assume that this week off is being used to threaten or otherwise manipulate rebelling legislators to cave into the House Democratic Leadership and/or the Senate Republican leadership proposals. However, having spent 20 years teaching courses in Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution at Bellevue College, I would like to explain the underlying causes of these two conflicts and propose that the best way to break the gridlock in Olympia is to listen to the concerns of those who voted against the agreements made by the House and Senate leaders.

Underlying Cause #1: There are more than just two groups in the legislature!
The common assumption that all Republicans are the same and all Democrats are the same is false. The deal on killing the class size initiative and the deal on the transportation bond was made between House Democrats and Senate Republicans. This left out two crucial groups – House Republicans and Senate Democrats. This works as long as just a simple majority vote is needed to pass a bill. However, it does not work when a super majority vote is needed. We have known during the entire session that a 60% majority would be needed on the Transportation Bond (59 votes in the House) and that a 67% majority would be needed in the Senate to delay or kill Initiative 1351 (Two thirds means 33 Senators would need to vote yes on House Bill 2266 to kill Initiative 1351).

Here are the current breakdowns in the Washington State House and Senate:


Obviously, the House Democrats needed at least 8 House Republicans to pass Senate Bill 5989 and the Senate Republicans needed at least 7 Senate Democrats to pass House Bill 2266. Each bill failed to achieve a super majority by about 5 votes. This should serve as a warning to all Washington voters that a super majority is almost impossible to obtain in Olympia. It is hard enough just to get a simple majority on any bill. Requiring a super majority to pass any legislation would lead to certain gridlock in Olympia and completely paralyze our state government.

Nevertheless, everyone knew at the beginning of the session way back in January that there would be a need for super majority votes this year – but the House and Senate leaders then proceeded to ignore the very people whose votes would be needed. Senate Republican leaders assumed that Senate Democrats would go along with House Democrats. And House Democrat leaders assumed that House Republicans would go along with Senate Republicans. These were bad assumptions. Here is the issue: The Senate is completely different from the House!


So the negotiations on each of these bills should not have been between two groups of people but at the very least between four groups of people. Democratic Senator Hargrove complained on the Senate floor at 5 am on Wednesday morning that he followed the instructions he had been given by Senate Democrats and he felt betrayed when they failed to vote for House Bill 2266. But the truth of the matter, as Senator Frockt said moments later, was there had been no real discussion on how to fund Initiative 1351 during the entire session. There should have been a discussion about Initiative 1351 or at least a hearing on bills that would have funded 1351, such as Senate Bill 6093, and perhaps this impasse could have been avoided.

In the same manner, House Democrat leaders failed to consider how much House Republicans did not like the Transportation bill, Senate Bill 5989, which raised gas taxes in Washington state to among the highest in the nation at nearly 50 cents a gallon. Had more House Republicans been more involved, perhaps a more acceptable Transportation bill could have been agreed to.

Underlying Cause #2: There are more than just four groups in the legislature!
In reality, the situation is more complex than merely Republicans and Democrats in the Senate being much different from Republicans and Democrats in the House. The truth of the matter is that even within each of the four caucuses, there are dramatically different groups of people.


What this means is that instead of having four groups involved in the negotiations, what was really needed were at least 8 groups to represent the various factions within the four caucuses. To see why this was so important, let’s first look at the failure to pass the Senate Transportation Bond bill in the House. While the bond bill has yet to be brought to a vote, there was a related transportation bill brought to a vote that confirmed the House was several votes short of passing the bond bill.

Senate Bill 5987 passed the House 54-44 (failed by 5 votes). Here was the vote:

54 Voting Yea:Representative Appleton, Bergquist, Carlyle, Clibborn, Cody, Farrell, Fey, Goodman, Gregerson, Hudgins, S. Hunt, Hunter, Hurst, Jinkins, Johnson, Kagi, Kirby, Kochmar, Lytton, McBride, Moeller, Morris, Moscoso, Muri, Nealey, Ormsby, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Peterson, Pettigrew, Pollet, Reykdal, Riccelli, Robinson, Rodne, Ryu, Santos, Sawyer, Sells, Senn, Springer, Stambaugh, Stanford, Stokesbary, Sullivan, Takko, Tarleton, Tharinger, Walkinshaw, Walsh, Wilcox, Wylie, Zeiger, Mr. Speaker

44 Voting Nay:Representative Blake, Buys, Caldier, Chandler, Condotta, DeBolt, Dent, Dunshee, Dye, Fitzgibbon, Gregory, Griffey, Haler, Hansen, Hargrove, Harmsworth, Harris, Hawkins, Hayes, Holy, G. Hunt, Kilduff, Klippert, Kretz, Kristiansen, MacEwen, Magendanz, Manweller, McCabe, McCaslin, Orcutt, Parker, Pike, Schmick, Scott, Shea, Short, Smith, Taylor, Van De Wege, Van Werven, Vick, Wilson, Young

The 7 bold names in the Nay vote are all Democrats. The primary reason 7 Democrats joined the Republicans in voting no was that the bill contained a “poison pill” preventing Governor Inslee from dealing with the Climate Change issue. Many Democrats and even some Republicans believe that Climate Change is a major issue that must be addressed. Just look at the drought affecting California and even affecting parts of Washington state. While the Republican Senators got the leaders of the House Democrats to cave on the Climate Change issue, what they failed to understand was that the Poison Pill was just too much for many House Democrats to swallow. These House Democrats should have had a seat at the table and maybe a compromise could have been found to allow the bill to pass. It is completely wrong for the main stream press to blame the Republicans in the House for failing to pass the $16 B Transportation bill. What really happened was that not all voices were considered during the negotiation and thus the “deal” fell apart during the actual vote in the House at 3 am in the morning of July 1st.

A similar problem occurred with the Initiative 1351 killer bill (House Bill 2266) in the State Senate a couple of hours later at 5 am in the morning of July 1st. Here is the vote on House Bill 2266:

27 Voting Yea: Senator Angel, Bailey, Baumgartner, Becker, Benton, Brown, Dammeier, Dansel, Darneille, Hargrove, Hatfield, Hewitt, Hill, Hobbs, Honeyford, King, Litzow, Miloscia, Mullet, O’Ban, Padden, Parlette, Pearson, Rivers, Schoesler, Sheldon, Warnick

17 Voting Nay: Senator Billig, Chase, Cleveland, Conway, Fain, Fraser, Frockt, Habib, Hasegawa, Keiser, Kohl-Welles, McAuliffe, McCoy, Nelson, Pedersen, Ranker, Roach

5 Excused: Senator Braun, Ericksen, Jayapal, Liias, Rolfes

The names in bold above are all Republicans. So it is not just Democrats who voted against House Bill 2266. It appears from the above that House Bill 2266 failed to get the 33 super majority needed by 6 votes. But in fact, Senator Fain voted No just to preserve the right for a re-vote on this bill next week. So the actual vote was 28 yes, 16 no and 5 excused. This was still 5 votes away from the 33 votes needed to pass this bill.

Was the cause of the Rebellion in the Senate House Bill 2214 or Initiative 1351?
Senator Nelson stated that the reason she voted against House Bill 2266 was to protest the failure of the Senate to pass House Bill 2214- which Nelson and the main stream media claim is a bill to help 2000 more students graduate in 2015 – but is in fact a bill to accelerate the SBAC test monopoly – and thus place the graduation of 50,000 students at risk in June 2016. However, if you listen to the 5 am Floor Speeches of the Senators who voted No on this bill, you will reach an entirely different conclusion. Every Senator who gave a speech on why they were voting no stated clearly that the reason was the failure of the House and Senate leaders to even have a discussion about how to fund Initiative 1351. They all pointed out that there were more than 20 days left in the 3rd Special Session and they wanted at least one day to be used to have a discussion on how to at least partially fund Initiative 1351.

Here is a link to the debate:
Debate on EHB 2266 delaying 1351 debate begins at 4:18 to 5 hours.

Here are summaries of quotes from the floor speeches offive Senators who voted to oppose delaying Initiative 1351:

Senator Chase: “We have the third highest class sizes in the nation at our elementary schools. Our middle schools have the second highest class sizes and our high schools have the second highest class sizes. At the same time, Washington is number one in the US for the most unfair tax structure. We were sent here by the voters to fix tax system or lower class sizes. But we did not fix the tax system and we did not fix the class size problem.”

Senator Hasegawa: “We have cut $12 billion out of maintenance level of the budget since 2008. There are loopholes we can look at. If we can pass a $9 billion tax break in 2 days for Boeing, we can eliminate $9 billion in tax breaks in 2 days for lower class sizes for one million students.”

Senator McAuliffe: “This is not about budgets. It is about one million children who are already in crowded classes. Large class sizes lead to more children failing end of course exams. This session is supposed to go 30 days. We have time to talk about a solution. We should at least phase in the initiative by lowering class sizes down to 5th grade.”

Senator Habib: “I want to touch on three issues. First, after 3rd grade, small classes still make a difference. If Lakeside can have smaller classes in all grades, then all kids should have smaller classes in all grades. Small classes allow more individualize learning. Second, I oppose four years of delay and not even trying to find the funding for Initiative 1351. Third, Initiative 3151 was the will of the people. The will of the people should be the first thing we consider – not the very last thing we consider. Instead, we congregate here at 5:30 am, when no one is watching us, to take away the will of the people.”

Senator Frockt: “We never even had a discussion about 1351 at any point during this legislative session. My daughter has 35 kids in her 6th grade math class. We should at least have a discussion about how to fund lower class sizes for all grades.”

Not one of these five Senators mentioned House Bill 2214 during their floor speech. Instead, they all mentioned the importance of lowering class sizes, and honoring the will of the voters to at least have a discussion about how to fund Initiative 1351. So one way to resolve this impasse is for Senate Republican leaders to allow a hearing on bills that could fund Initiative 1351 such as Senate Bill 6093. The hearings could occur in this 3rd Special Session or heard in a later special session or even heard in the 2016 legislative session. It could be that the Supreme Court will force the legislature to increase funding by ordering the legislature back into session. So education funding bills should be on the table – especially since Washington state has near the lowest school funding in the nation as a percent of income.

Alternately, the Republican caucus could let the 2,000 biology EOC kids graduate from high school this year – but not pass the rest of House Bill 2214 – by passing a simple Biology test waiver bill. This appears to be what Republican Senators offered to do at 3 am on July 1st: Here is a quote from Senator Nelson:

“At around 3 a.m. Senate Republicans finally said they would essentially grant a waiver for the 2,000 kids who failed the biology test, but only on the condition of yet another onerous change to the testing system.”


However, Senate Republicans described the impasse in a much different manner. Here is a quote from Senator Schoesler in a Crosscut article: On Tuesday, the Senate Democrats told the Republicans some of them might vote to delay I-1351 if they could get the stalled assessment bill passed. That infuriated the Republicans. “An ultimatum on the final day of the session is not the way to get a surgical fix,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. Schoesler contended the Republicans were ambushed with the proposed vote swap, and they should have received more time to figure out how to tweak the assessments bill. Schoesler called the Democrats’ proposed bill swap “extortion.” At 3:15 a.m. today, the Republicans offered one tweak on the assessments bill to enable the 2,000 kids who failed biology to graduate. http://crosscut.com/2015/07/legislature-stumbles-on-classroom-size-initiative/

So apparently, there may be room for a possible deal on killing Initiative 1351 in trade for short simple bill to let 2,000 more kids graduate this year. Or maybe there isn’t enough votes for this and they will need to allow Democrats to have a hearing or a committee or something on options to fund Initiative 1351. We will find out more about this when the Senate reconvenes on Wednesday July 8th.

In the House, Republicans may also have to yield on the Poison Pill issue. Either that or they are going to have to find about 5 more Republicans to vote to increase the gas tax to the highest in the nation. Given the opposition of House Republicans to the Gas Tax and the opposition of House Democrats to the Poison Pill, this could be an even harder challenge than killing Initiative 1351. If there is no deal, there might not be a transportation package. We will find out more about this when the House reconvenes on Wednesday July 8th.

My hope is that House and Senate leaders learn from these two impasses that it is important to listen to and consider the views of all Senators and all Representatives when a super majority of votes is needed to pass important legislation. It is not enough for the leaders of the House and Senate to agree on a bill. What is needed is a bill that even the minority can accept.


Originally published at Coalition to Protect our Public Schools

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