The Sunday Observer: The Legislature's cutoff chaos, explained
Minority's clock-milking capability meant many bills were doomed from the start
There’s an underappreciated tactical element of football known as clock management. The most archetypical example works like this: Your team has the ball and a two-point lead with two minutes to play. On the other sideline is a star quarterback eminently capable of driving down the field for a game-winning field goal. The objective: Bleed the clock to zero so he never touches the ball.
Every football fan has watched helplessly as this plays out, and most people who played the game have heard this taunt from across the line of scrimmage: “Tick-tock, boys.1 Tick-tock.”
We evoke this sports metaphor to open an explanation of what really happened last week in the Washington Legislature before a whole slate of bills that a great many people cared about died at a procedural deadline.
If you were following Washington Legislature Twitter2 early in the week, you saw an immense amount of progressive agita over bills dying at the house-of-origin deadline, which was Tuesday at 5 p.m. That’s the time by which Senate bills must pass the Senate, and more importantly in this case, House bills pass the House.
Environmentalists were upset because a key part of Gov. Jay Inlsee’s green-buildings push died. Low-income housing advocates mourned the demise of a proposal to increase residential density in cities around the state. And in a really awkward optical problem for allegedly labor-friendly majority Democrats, a bill that would have allowed the Legislature’s own staff to unionize died, prompting a widespread sick-out and an outpouring of online solidarity.
In all, more than 50 measures died on the House calendar when the gavel fell at the deadline, including protections against big rent increases, making it easier to get your electronic devices fixed, and allowing ranked-choice voting in local elections.
Copious online scolding ensued. Here’s a typical example from the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a left-leaning think tank:
But here’s the thing: Most of that stuff was always going to die. The only question was which few bills might slip through before the gate came crashing down. Welcome to legislative clock management, which is way more subtle, and if you’re our kind of nerd, more interesting than its football counterpart.
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