WashingtonVotes NEWS:Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Senate rejects confirmation of state transportation secretary. Other major department heads quit Governor Inslee’s administration, as 2016 Legislative Session reaches halfway point.
In a surprise move that dominated media headlines statewide over the weekend, the state Senate on Friday turned down the confirmation of Ms. Lynn Peterson as Secretary of Transportation by a 21-25 vote. Governor Inslee appointed Ms. Peterson to an interim position in 2013, but the Senate did not take up her confirmation until last week.
Friday’s action was the first time in 18 years that the Senate had voted not to confirm a governor’s cabinet appointee. Such appointments are routine when the Senate takes up its confirmation calendar, which can list dozens or, in the case of a new administration, hundreds of appointees.
On Tuesday, the Senate quickly approved former House budget writer Ross Hunter as the head of the Department of Early Learning by a 45-1 vote. Governor Inslee’s Department of Revenue director, Ms.Vikki Smith, was unanimously confirmed, along with members of the State Board of Education and the University of Washington Board of Regents.
The move to reject Ms. Peterson’s confirmation came as a result of growing public frustration with management at the State Department of Transportation, including a petition signed by more than 30,000 people to remove the unpopular tolls on Interstate 405; mounting problems on the Alaskan Way tunneling project; and cost overruns on the new 520 Bridge. Cost overruns on 520 have used up the $250 million contingency budget, and required an additional $170 million to fix problems with the bridge pontoons.
In other news, state Department of Corrections chief, Dan Pacholke, resigned on Saturday, citing the Senate’s investigation into the mistaken early release of more than 3,000 prisoners. Also, Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Kevin Quigley has announced he will leave the department at the end of this month.
This leaves the state’s three largest agencies, employing more than half the workforce of 60,000 state employees, without their top leadership, as this year’s regular legislative session reaches the halfway point.
So far, lawmakers have introduced some 1,200 new bills, in addition to nearly 2,500 measures carried over from the 2015 sessions. With last Friday’s cut off deadline for committee action on non-fiscal legislation, the number of bills still active this session is considerably smaller. The last day for fiscal committees to pass legislation in their originating chamber was yesterday.
No bills have passed both chambers, but the House has passed 20 bills, while the Senate passed 34 bills so far. More than 300 bills are currently scheduled (151 in the House, 178 in the Senate) for floor action in their respective chambers. The deadline for passing bills in their house of origin is next Wednesday, February 17th.
Major policy issues, such as state funding of basic education, and state capital and transportation budgets, will likely not see action until near the end of this session, now scheduled for March 10th.
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