- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - After a weeklong standoff that threatened to blow a hole in the state’s two-year operating budget, Senate Republicans and Democrats reached an agreement Wednesday to delay a class-size initiative, which now clears the way for lawmakers to adjourn this year’s record-setting legislative session by as early as the end of the week.

A joint statement released by both caucuses says they’ve reached agreement on a separate bill that will delay 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. The Senate will be on the floor Thursday to take votes both on that measure, and the bill delaying Initiative 1351 for four years.

The $38.2 billion two-year state operating budget that was signed by Gov. Jay 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 initially withheld their support and the measure failed on the Senate floor last week.

After more than a day of negotiations, Senate Bill 6145 was introduced Wednesday. It delays by two years, but does not eliminate, the requirement that students must meet the state standard on the science assessment. An offer initially made by Senate Republicans last week during overnight negotiations would have delayed the graduation requirement by a year. 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.

Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said that “what needed to be done is done.”

“We had to plug a $2 billion hole in our budget,” he said. “If we didn’t, we were jeopardizing the historic work we did this session.”

The state budget spends an estimated $1.3 billion on K-12 basic education, and it phases in tuition cuts at the state’s universities and colleges, as well as at community and technical colleges.

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said that securing the extra year delay on the science assessment assures that students next year “won’t be facing the same dilemma our kids in 2015 did.”

“A student is more than one day and one test,” she said.

Gov. Jay Inslee lauded the agreement on the graduation requirement delay, saying it brings “short-term clarity to an issue that will need further work in the future.”

“I appreciate the work of Senate Republican leaders in agreeing to a compromise that clears the path for final legislative action,” he said in a written statement.

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 and a bonding bill tied to the transportation package that both need to be passed by the House, and a bonding bill tied to a $3.9 billion construction budget signed by Inslee last week that still must be passed by the Senate. The House was expected to return to the floor on Friday to pass its remaining bills so that both chambers could adjourn what has turned into the longest single-year session on record.

Lawmakers on Wednesday were in their 174th day of session. They adjourned their regular 105-day session two days early after encountering their first budget obstacles, and now are in the midst of their third overtime session, which started on June 28 and could run through July 27. The secretary of state’s office said the session has surpassed the previous record of 163 days in 2001.


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