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Politics Northwest

OLYMPIA — Struggling to respond to a state Supreme Court order to put more money into education, some Republican senators on Wednesday offered a proposal to save some dollars: reduce the size of the court.

Senate Bill 5867, introduced Wednesday morning, would trim the state’s highest court from nine members to five.

And how would the four out-of-luck justices be chosen?

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“On June 30, 2013, all existing judges of the state supreme court, shall meet in public to cast lots by drawing straws,” the bill requires. “Effective July 1, 2013, the positions of the four judges casting losing lots by drawing the shortest straws shall be terminated.”

The proposal comes less than a week after the court delivered a blow to Republicans by striking down a voter-imposed two-thirds requirement for lawmakers to raise taxes.

But bill sponsor Michael Baumgartner insisted the bill is a serious proposal that could save as much as $2 million in salary and administrative costs.

“We need to look at all areas of state government for savings,” said Baumgartner, a Spokane Valley Republican who serves as vice chairman of the Senate’s budget-writing committee. “We don’t need nine (justices). We just need an odd number.”

Five justices is the minimum allowable in the state constitution; lawmakers have the right to hire more, though.

In a news release, Baumgartner framed his argument for the bill using the court’s two major recent decisions.

Last January, the court decided in the McCleary case that the state was not fulfilling its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education. And last week, the court declared the two-thirds requirement unconstitutional.

“Every dollar we save by eliminating these four positions would be automatically funneled to K-12 education to help meet the guidelines the Supreme Court laid out in the McCleary decision,” Baumgartner said.

He added that, “based on their recent rulings on McCleary and their rationale behind the decision to throw out the will of the people regarding the two-thirds tax rule, I expect that the court will support this approach.”

The bill hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing.

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