- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Senate Democrats said Monday they don’t believe the Legislature needs to move this year to address a class-size initiative with a multibillion-dollar price tag that has put the new state operating budget out of balance.

However, they said they are willing to negotiate with majority Republicans to find an agreement that ends the longest single-year legislative session on record.

Washington state lawmakers, after barely averting a government shutdown last week, were still in the midst of a triple overtime legislative session because the $38.2 billion budget signed by Gov. Jay Inslee with moments to spare assumed savings of $2 billion for the next two years from the suspension of the voter-approved Initiative 1351.

The Democrat-led House voted to suspend the initiative for four years on a bipartisan vote, but the Republican-led Senate did not have enough votes to get the required two-thirds majority to suspend the initiative.

Democrats have pushed to cut a deal that would bring them a vote on the initiative suspension in exchange for a vote on a bill that would let high school seniors who didn’t pass the required statewide science exam earn a diploma anyway.

“Nobody wants to be here. I certainly don’t,” Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said at a meeting with reporters. “But at this point in time it is clear that we are going to work on trying to resolve the 1351 issue and also address high-stakes testing.”

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, insisted that his caucus was left out of the discussions of what to do with the initiative, even though Senate Democrats stood with Gov. Jay Inlsee and other legislative leaders to announce the framework of the budget deal.

“This is ultimately about helping kids and about helping students in Washington,” Billig said.

Billig and Nelson said there are several other versions of the bill that Senate Democrats would be more comfortable with, including a shorter timeframe for the delay.

“It’s not that unreasonable to say until we can get a plan that has the votes to pass, we’re going to keep working on it and we’ll address it at the time we can come up with that consensus plan,” he said.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said the governor has been clear that he wants this fixed sooner than later.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Joe Fain, R-Auburn, said he has met with Nelson to reopen the lines of communications between the two caucuses.

“We don’t believe that there is anything that is required for the Democrats to hold up their end of the bargain, but we’re willing to sit down and listen to their ideas because we believe that getting done with our business is important,” he said.

Several other loose ends remain before the Legislature, including a spending bill that lists projects tied to a transportation revenue package passed last week that raises the gas tax over the next two years; a bonding bill tied to the transportation package; and a bonding bill tied to a $3.9 billion construction budget signed by Inslee last week.

Nelson said she wants to see the construction budget and transportation package resolved this year, but she stressed that she believes action on the initiative can be delayed until next year’s legislative session.

“This is a problem, it is not a crisis,” she said. “Government did not shut down. We were careening toward a fiscal cliff, and that was halted.”

Lawmakers on Monday were in their 172nd day of session. They adjourned their regular 105-day session two days early after encountering their first budget obstacles.

The third overtime session started on June 28 and could run through July 27. The secretary of state’s office said the session surpassed the previous record of 163 days in 2001 as the longest single-year session on record.

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