November 19, 2012

This Week in Olympia: Caucuses Elect Leaders

By Patrick Bell

Washington Senate Floor

Leaves falling on Red Square. And stirrings in Olympia. Fall has arrived in Washington State!

So when does the legislative action actually begin? Session doesn’t officially start until the second Monday in January. Our state has a two year legislative cycle – and since 2013 is an odd-year, we’ll have 105 days of regular session.

Next week, however, the legislative “season” gets kicked off with Committee “Assembly Days” in Olympia. The week long series of meetings allow legislators to regroup and receive updates on issues before the Legislature.

For Olympia watchers on campus, below are just a few of the stories driving buzz in Olympia this month.

House and Senate members met last week to elect their caucus leaders. House Democrats returned State Rep. Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) to his position as Speaker of the House, and House Republicans re-elected State Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis) as Minority Leader.

On the Democratic-side in the Senate, State Senator Ed Murray (D-Seattle) replaced retiring Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-Spokane).

The only shakeup happened in the Senate Republican caucus. Minority Leader Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla) announced he would be giving up his post. A number of GOP Senators have expressed interest in leading that caucus. Some have also speculated that a coalition approach might become a possibility. That could hinge on one Southwest Washington Senate seat — more on that below.

Nearly two weeks after Election Day, and the ballot counting continues in Vancouver:

The outcome of the unusually close 17th District Senate race between Republican incumbent Don Benton and his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, is being followed avidly by political parties at the state level, because it could impact the power balance in the Legislature.

Currently, Democrats hold a 27-22 majority in the Senate. If Benton wins, that Democratic majority would be knocked down to 26-23. There are also a couple of philosophically conservative Democrats in the Senate who could tip that balance by siding with Republicans on certain political issues.

In budget news, an updated four-year outlook released by the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council shows Washington faces a projected $900 million state budget shortfall for the 2013–15 biennium and an even larger shortfall of nearly $1.1 billion for the following biennium (2015–17). Read the Office of Planning and Budgeting’s initial take on what the new numbers mean here.

Stay tuned to the State Relations Blog for more updates, as we get set to kick off the legislative season and session!

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