- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - The Legislature on Thursday approved the final component of a $38.2 billion state operating budget signed by Gov. Jay Inslee last week as the Senate passed a measure delaying full implementation of an expensive class-size initiative.

The chamber passed House Bill 2266 on a 33-11 vote Thursday after a weeklong standoff threatened to blow a hole in that budget. The vote clears the way for lawmakers to adjourn their third legislative session by Friday. While the state operating budget pays for reduction of class sizes from kindergarten through third grade, the bill delays implementation for grades 4-12.

“K-3, we know that is the place we will get the best impact for our children,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup. “It is the place we need to implement first and make sure it’s successful. Then we can decide how to proceed four years from now.”

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, said that he was voting against the measure because he believed that the Legislature wrongly considers class sizes a luxury.

“In reality, I think small class sizes are like the pencils, they’re like the chairs in the school,” he said. “They’re an essential element to our children getting a world class education.”

The new, two-year operating budget signed by Inslee last week assumed savings of $2 billion for the next two years from the suspension of the voter-approved Initiative 1351, but a two-thirds vote of each chamber was required. The House easily passed the measure, but Senate Democrats, who were pushing for a bill dealing with a delay of a graduation requirement, initially withheld their support and the measure failed on the Senate floor last week.

After negotiations, Republican and Democratic senators reached agreement on the graduation requirement delay, and passed that measure Thursday as well. Senate Bill 6145, which passed on a 39-5 vote, delays a requirement for high school students to pass a high school biology exam for this year and 2016, which helps about 2,000 students at risk of not getting diplomas. Students who did not walk with their graduating class this year, the first year the assessment was required, would still receive a diploma under the measure.

That measure now heads to the House, which is expected to vote on it Friday. The Senate also passed a final component of a $3.9 billion state construction budget. A bonding bill tied to that budget passed the chamber on a 43-1 vote and now heads to the governor.

A few other loose ends remain before the Legislature, including a bonding bill and a spending bill that pays for projects tied to a transportation revenue package passed last week that raises the gas tax over the next two years. Following those final votes, both chambers are expected to adjourn for the year on Friday.

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