By: Mike Schwisow, Government Relations Director, Columbia Basin Development League

With the 2018 elections in the rear-view mirror, legislators and all the others who participate in policymaking are getting geared up for the 2019 Legislative Session which will start on January 14th. The odd year session is scheduled to run for 105 days to allow time to enact the 2019-2021 biennial budget that will take effect on July 1st. History shows that it takes the full allotted time to get the job done.

The election increased the Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, going from 50-48 to 57-41 and 25-24 to 28-21, respectively. All four caucuses have completed their organizational meetings where they select their leadership team which will guide them through the session. The only change from current leadership was in the Senate Democratic Caucus where the retiring Majority Leader was replaced by Sen. Andy Billig, (D-3rd, Spokane). Senate Republicans retained Sen. Mark Schoesler, (R-9th, Ritzville) as did House Republicans who selected Rep. J.T. Wilcox (R-2nd, Roy) for another term. Speaker of the House Frank Chopp was designated by House Democrats as their choice to be elected Speaker by the House on the first day of the Session.

There will be 22 new members in the House of Representatives when the session convenes. One of the organizational tasks underway is to examine the structure and subject matter jurisdiction of the policy committees that hear and vote on bills that are introduced. Committee assignments are also being determined with legislators vying for assignment to committees that consider legislation that matches their interests. The majority party in each body controls the committee structure and appoints committee chairpersons.

Legislative proposals are starting to be circulated and prefiling bills will provide for a fast start for the process. December also marks when Governor Inslee submits his Operating and Capital Budget proposals to the Legislature for their consideration. The long-term reality is that the budget enacted by the Legislature is usually within 2% + or – of what the Governor submits. Based on the November 20th revenue forecast the Legislature will have just over $50 billion available to meet the State’s needs which is a 9.2% increase over the current biennium.

Meanwhile, the Department of Ecology’s request to the Office of Financial Management included $40 million for the Office of Columbia River’s water management program, a significant portion of which would be directed to the Odessa Ground Water Replacement Program. As the new year kicks off, the League will be working hard to introduce new policymakers to the Columbia Basin Project and advocate for Ecology’s budget request. The League is set for a trip to Olympia in late January.

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