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Gang bill still has life, say 15th District lawmakers

State's budget problems continue

It may be on life support, but a proposed bill that targets criminal gangs still has a chance during the current state legislative session in Olympia.

That's according to a phone interview yesterday, Wednesday, with 15th District lawmakers in Olympia.

Rep. Bruce Chandler says there might be a possibility of movement on the gang bill. He says there was a lot of resistance initially to the bill because it lacked funding.

Chandler (R-Granger) says the attorney general's office might be bringing some funds to back the legislation, which means it might progress through the legislature.

"We'll keep fighting to get that to the floor (of the House)," Chandler said of the bill.

Chandler says about 2,000 bills have been introduced between the House and the Senate, and that's a low number.

"That's the lowest since I've been here," he said. "It shows most people didn't do their customary requests for bills that require money."

That's because the state is fighting its way through a $1.2 billion deficit.

The amount has been whittled down to a $350 million shortfall after three supplemental budgets. Chandler warned, though, that each budget vote is getting more difficult.

Sen. Jim Honeyford joked that state lawmakers might be in extra sessions until July 4. The current legislative session is supposed to end on April 24.

"I think we're going to have several special sessions," says Honeyford (R-Sunnyside).

Both lawmakers agree the Democratic majority in both houses still are not facing budget realities.

Chandler noted that some lawmakers are looking to make up the $350 million shortfall by not making payments to school districts scheduled for this June. Instead some are looking to make the payments in July so the expenditure can be listed on next year's budget.

Chandler said lawmakers tried this back in the 1980s and that it took four or five years to pay the money back to school districts.

The wrangling over this year's budget shortfall concerns Honeyford, because next year the shortfall is expected to be upwards to $6 billion.

"If we can't agree on $350 million, how can we agree on $5 or $6 billion?" he asked.

The lawmakers said a potential source of budget debate is a move toward doing away with or limiting levy equalization. Such a move would be a big financial blow to Sunnyside and other eastern Washington school districts.

Honeyford warns there could be a big disagreement over a move towards one large bill that would assess $500 million in additional fees. They could include a $40 annual fee just to park on state lands and large surcharges on drilling new wells.

While the budget is understandably front and center in discussions right now, Honeyford and Chandler have also been busy working on getting legislation to the floor of their respective houses.

They include bills regarding:

- Requiring those who receive a driver's license without proof of residency have the words "not for identification purposes" stamped in red on the license.

- Overcoming Medicaid cuts for eyeglasses by allowing optometrists to purchase them at state cost from prison industries.

- Requiring the Department of Ecology to fine those who dump illegally instead of putting the penalty on the landowner.

- Making it a felony for a sex offender to be on a public school campus without permission.

- Improved Medicaid reimbursements for nursing homes and rural health clinics.

- Improving cooperation between fire districts and those who live in unincorporated areas not protected by fire districts.

At the end of the day, Chandler said the goal of the current legislative session is to help spark jobs and the economy. That, in turn, will help the state's bottom line.

"Our priority is to get people back to work and help small businesses create jobs," he said.

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