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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."

Governor Inslee Chalks Up Wins, Losses In First Session

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

Washington Governor Jay Inslee can claim some significant legislative wins, along with several losses now that the legislature has finally adjourned. The Democrat’s first dance with lawmakers was made more difficult when Republicans and two breakaway Democrats took control of the state senate.

Let’s go all the way back to January 16th and Governor Inslee’s inaugural address. One of his biggest applause lines was his call for the legislature to pass a bill that would require health insurance companies to cover abortion.

Inslee said it was a matter of freedom and privacy for Washington women. “That’s why I look forward to the legislature sending me the Reproductive Parity Act to my desk which I will sign," he said. "Let’s get this done.”

It was the only specific bill the new governor referred to in his speech. The measure passed the Democratically-controlled House, but died in the Senate. It was not for lack of trying on the Governor’s part. In a news conference to announce the first overtime session of the legislature, Inslee noted the abortion coverage bill had enough support to pass the Senate. “All we need is simple democracy to allow senators to vote on that measure.”

But the bill never made it out of committee. Put that in Inslee’s loss column.

There were two other controversial policy measures the governor wanted, but that died. Background checks for all gun sales and financial aid for college students who are not legal residents in the U.S.

Wins Inslee did chalk up: Medicaid expansion, a new drunk driving law and a climate change measure.

House Finance Chair Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat, offers this observation about Inslee’s first session: “I think that the governor is incredibly good at the outside game.”

Meaning talking to the public.

“In terms of the inside game.” -- meaning the state legislative process -- “It just took a little extra time.”

Carlyle says it didn’t help that Inslee was dealt a tough opening hand: a $1 billion plus budget shortfall, $1 billion down payment for schools to respond to a Supreme Court ruling and split control of the legislature.

In the end, the new budget balances and makes that down payment without further cuts to social services. But the Senate thwarted Inslee in his effort to close several tax exemptions.

With a straight face, Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom says his caucus helped Inslee fulfill a campaign pledge. “When we came in to this, we were very clear that we’re here to help the governor maintain that campaign promise of no new taxes. And guess what? We helped him do that.”

For his part, Inslee says his chief disappointment is that the Washington Senate did not allow a vote on a 10.5 cent gas increase for roads and transit. The measure had previously cleared the House.

“There are Republicans and Democrats who are both sitting in traffic. There are Republicans and Democrats who would be hired by the tens of thousands if we’d passed a transportation plan.”

This one goes in Inslee’s loss column for now. But clearly he’s not done fighting for it.

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."