In an email to a constituent, Sen. Ann Rivers said lawmakers will vote this week on a bill to immediately move the state to Phase 2 of the Governor’s reopening plan. WA STATE LEGISLATURE
In their ongoing effort to waste a bunch of time that nobody has, it looks like lawmakers led by Republicans in the state Senate might invoke a rarely used parliamentary move called the “Ninth Order of Business” this week to force a vote on a technically bipartisan bill allowing businesses immediately to enter Phase 2 of the state’s new Healthy Washington plan.
Majority Floor Leader Sen. Marko Liias said he’s “heard rumors” about the GOP pulling such a move, but he thinks “the bill and the policy need a public hearing and shouldn’t be rushed.”
Rumors presumably started to spread last week, after Senate Republican caucus chair Ann Rivers hit “reply all” to an email a frustrated Vancouver restaurant owner sent to every single lawmaker in the Legislature.
In response to an email with the subject line, “FW: Crickets Today…… Does any elected official who supports the Governors actions want to take a stab at the Questions?? Educate me. [Name of Restaurant Owner-Dude],” last Thursday Rivers wrote, “We dropped a bill today that will be voted on either Monday or Wednesday of next week that would allow you to immediately open. We need some Democrats to help us….”
I asked Rivers to clarify what she meant in her email to the constituent, but she didn’t respond by deadline. I will update this post if I hear back.
But until then… Last Thursday Senate Minority Leader John Braun did drop Senate Bill 5114, which would allow the frustrated business owner immediately to reopen, and Monday or Wednesday happen to be the only two days the Senate will vote on the floor this week. The bill has been referred to the State Government & Elections Committee, but they didn’t discuss it this morning. Since the Senate didn’t address the bill on the floor on Monday, then they might do so today.
Aside from introducing title-only bills, the only way for the Senate to vote on a bill without first sending it through the extensive committee process is for a majority of the members to affirm a move to the Ninth Order of Business. In the Ninth Order, the Senate can decide to hear any bill they want, or to reconsider a bill they recently declined to pass.
The Ninth Order has been invoked a couple times in the not-too-distant past. Senate Democrats pulled the move in 2013 to put Republicans on the record for voting against a couple good bills. Back then, the whole procedure lasted for six minutes. But if lawmakers end up pulling this nonsense today, then it might take much longer, especially with all the new weird COVID-19 protocols in place.
Finding a majority in the Senate to invoke the Ninth Order today would be tough for the GOP, as the chamber’s current partisan divide sits at 29 Democrats and 20 Republicans. That said, Sens. Tim Sheldon and Mark Mullet are basically Republicans, and they’re already cosponsoring the bill. Sen. Steve Hobbs is a chaotic-neutral conservative Democrat who signed onto Mullet’s effort to keep restaurants open last fall, but he didn’t respond to my text message, so I don’t know what he’s thinking, but I assume he’d be down. If the GOP could find two more Dems, then they might have a stew goin’. But even if they DO get that stew going, and even if the Senate ultimately did pass the bill, the proposal would still need to make it through the state House, where the Democratic majority is even larger.
However, Senators could add to Braun’s bill amendments blocking some of the governor’s proclamations, and they might find some sympathetic Democrats to go along with some of those amendments. Conservative Senators might also try to block some proclamations via amendments to a resolution in support of the Governor’s proclamations that Democrats plan to pass today. In general, they’re going to try to pull some shenanigans to push the state into Phase 2 before public health officials say it’s safe.
From a messaging perspective, initiating this tricky parliamentary move makes sense for Republicans. Since Democrats are talking about passing a COVID-19 relief package within the first two weeks of the session, Republicans will get to say they didn’t fight for government handouts—they fought for giving people back their jobs. They will conveniently leave out the fact that reopening right now would likely lead to many more sad and painful deaths than we’d otherwise have, but the people who vote for them don’t believe the public health officials anyway.
That said, given the fact that the GOP spent all day Monday groaning about the need for transparency and public input on bills, suddenly demanding a vote on a bill that hasn’t gone through the committee process would count as a major act of hypocrisy. Luckily for Republicans, hypocrisy in politics doesn’t matter anymore. As we’ve all learned in the last 20 years, the only thing that matters is raw power and the guts to use it.
So the GOP only stands to gain from using a weird procedural tactic to waste time on an extreme bill that’s unlikely to pass during a remote session where every moment counts. But as for their allies in the Democratic party? Who’s to say? After all, Sen. Mullet clobbered his progressive challenger last November by 58 whole votes.