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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Supreme Court To Hold Contempt Hearing On Wednesday

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

The state of Washington will go before the state Supreme Court Wednesday to explain why it should not be held in contempt.

The historic hearing stems from the ongoing McCleary case where the court found the state is not adequately funding public schools.

This is the legal equivalent of being hauled to the principal’s office and having to make the case for why you shouldn’t be suspended. In this case, the legislature is in trouble with the Supreme Court for submitting an incomplete plan in April for how it intends to fully fund public education by 2018.

The first question for the court is whether to hold the state in contempt. If the answer is “yes,” then the next question is whether to impose sanctions.

Sanctions could include ordering additional spending on education to prohibiting non-education-related spending. It’s also possible the court could ask legislators to impose a tax increase or adopting some sort of judicial line-item veto, although how those could options be enforced is a big question.

Tom Ahearne, the attorney who represents the coalition that sued the state over school funding, wants the Supreme Court to find the state in contempt and impose sanctions in January if the legislature doesn’t meet in special session this fall to address the school funding crisis.

“When the legislature wants to do something, they can,” Ahearne said. “I mean when somebody important like Boeing or the Mariners or something like that ask for something, the legislature will meet in special session to do what they want.”

In court filings, the state argued it should not be held in contempt and there should be no sanctions. But if there are, the state said the sanctions should be deferred until next spring to give the legislature more time to act in the 2015 regular session.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."