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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."

Heated Moments Before Washington Legislature Adjourns Special Session

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington state Senators watch their vote tally screens on Tuesday night as the roll call is taken on the bill updating the state's two-year budget.

The Washington legislature adjourned its special session late Tuesday night after approving an update to the state’s two-year budget. But before the final gavels fell there were some fiery moments on the floor of the state Senate.

First, a couple of conservative Republicans decried a provision in the budget that allows the Department of Corrections to provide a college degree program for select prison inmates. State Sen. Brian Dansel from northeast Washington said it sends the wrong message to law-abiding kids who want to go to college.

“When the kid asks: ‘hey, how can I afford to go to school, what are you going to do for me,’ I guess from now on I’ll just tell him ‘hey go stab a guy seven or nine times,’” Dansel said before voting ‘no’ on the budget.

A few Democrats were also incensed, but over a different issue: the fact the budget doesn’t extend current levy authority for local school districts that’s set to expire in 2018.

“We’ve created a mess for ourselves and we’ve created no certainty and we’ve certainly built no trust with the local school districts that are supposed to be our partners,” Sen. Christine Rolfes said.

Democrats like Rolfes warned that school districts may have to send lay-off notices to teachers because of the uncertainty. But Republicans countered there’s plenty of time to extend the levy capacity next year if necessary. The budget pledges that the legislature will act by April 30 of next year to end the reliance on local school levies to fund basic education. If the legislature doesn’t act, then the budget says lawmakers will extend the higher levy authority for another year.

Despite these voices of opposition, the supplemental budget cleared both chambers and is now headed to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature. The budget update calls for a net increase in spending of about $190 million in the current two-year budget cycle with a focus on paying for last summer’s wildfires, increasing funding for state mental hospitals and beginning to address the state’s teacher shortage.

Also Tuesday night, the Washington House followed the lead of the state Senate and voted to override more than two dozen bipartisan bills previously vetoed by Inslee.

The vetoes were punishment for the legislature not getting a budget deal by the end of the 60 day regular session. The last time the Washington legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto was the Defense of Marriage Act in 1998. A two-thirds votes of each chamber is required to override a veto.

It took House Democrats and Senate Republicans 20 extra days to hammer out a bipartisan budget deal and pass it off each floor.