OLYMPIA — State lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday for what is expected to be a short but not so sweet election-year legislative session.
House Democrats set the session’s tone with a rare first-day floor vote to offer college financial aid to students illegally brought to the United States as children and a contentious committee hearing on a bill to require health-insurance plans to cover abortion.
Both proposals surfaced last year and are sure to inflame partisan passions. Neither has much chance in the Republican-run Senate, leaders of that chamber said.
It’s a pattern likely to be repeated for both Democrat- and Republican-priority bills because lawmakers are still worn out from last year’s three special sessions and eager to fire up their supporters ahead of November’s elections.
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Plus, it is only a 60-day session and the state is not facing a budget shortfall.
“Let’s put it this way,” said Brian Enslow, a lobbyist for the Washington State Association of Counties. “I think we all have modest expectations for the session.”
Instead, Enslow said, expect a lot of talk and a lot of fighting by lobbyists over the small amount of surplus money that might be available.
Monday featured its share of festivities, with the traditional lawmaker entrance, speech by House Speaker Frank Chopp and swearing-in of several new senators.
Gov. Jay Inslee is scheduled to give his state of the state address Tuesday.
But in many ways, 2014 so far feels just like 2013.
The financial-aid bill, also called the Washington Dream Act or House Bill 1817, passed off the House floor on Monday on a 71-23 vote — similar to last year’s 77-20 split.
“This bill is not about ‘those children,’ ” said Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, in a speech of support. “This bill is about our children.”
The House was able to pass the bill on the first day of the session because it went through committee last year and at the end of last year’s session was returned, along with all other bills, to its house of origin.
Chief Clerk Barbara Baker said it was the first floor vote on the opening day of a session “in recent history, or maybe ever.”
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, called the bill “unfinished business” and noted the early passage would give the Senate time to consider it.
But, like last year, Senate Republicans signaled they are not inclined to do so.
“I think we have a lot of things that take priority over this,” said Barbara Bailey, the Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman.
Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, argued the bill does not make sense because more than 30,000 students applied for state financial aid last year and didn’t get it.
At the hearing on the abortion bill, meanwhile, both sides reiterated familiar talking points.
The Reproductive Parity Act, House Bill 2148, is taking its third swing through the Legislature after passing the House and not getting a Senate vote last year.
Supporters said the coverage is deserved, while opponents noted most state health-care plans already offer it.
House health-care chairwoman Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, said she hopes to get the bill through the Senate this time.
But Senate GOP leader Mark Schoesler said he expects his caucus to stay focused on core issues of jobs, education and the budget.
Schoesler, of Ritzville, said Republicans also plan to bring up some “unfinished business” of their own, including proposals for changes to workers’ compensation laws. “We haven’t changed,” he said.
Staff reporters Andrew Garber and Ashley Stewart contributed to this report.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.