OLYMPIA — State lawmakers are busy in Olympia’s version of “March Madness,” as members of the House and Senate continue to pass dozens of bills during lengthy floor sessions this week. Following last week’s cut-off deadline for committee action, only 1,046 measures, of more than 2,150 introduced are still alive for this session.

Lawmakers now have until next Wednesday, March 13, to pass legislation out of its house of origin. Thereafter, either house can only act on bills that have been passed by the other house.

With the scheduled 105-day session at its mid-point, some 300 measures have passed at least one chamber so far (156 in the House, 153 in the Senate). Three bills have cleared both houses, and the governor has signed one bill into law.

On Monday, the House passed SB 5273, to move the date of Washington’s presidential primary election from May to March. The bill passed along a party-line 54-42 vote, with all but two Democrats and only one Republican voting for it.

Under this bill, voters who do not select a party affiliation would not be allowed to vote in the primary and, unlike past presidential primaries in Washington, they would not have an option of casting an “unaffiliated” ballot. Washington voters have not registered by party since the 1930’s and all other primary elections in this state send the two candidates receiving the most votes to the general election, regardless of party.

Democratic Party national rules require some statement of party affiliation by voters in order for primary results to be used to award national convention delegates. In the past, even with a presidential primary, Washington state Democrats continued to use a caucus process to select delegates to their nominating convention. Republicans have used different combinations of caucus and voter primary results.

During debate on the bill, Republicans said that “Washington is an independent state,” and urged fellow House members to “give the voters of Washington what they want, the ability to vote in the presidential primary without declaring a party.”

The bill was approved by the Senate earlier this year and now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Also on a close-party-line vote, the Senate on Monday passed SB 5811, to impose California’s automobile emission rules on vehicle owners in Washington. Under the bill, car makers would be assigned credits based on the kind of fuel-efficient cars they bring into the state. Those credits would then be used to set quotas for how many zero-emission vehicles manufacturers must ship into the state and for dealers to offer for sale, regardless of whether consumers want them or not. The stated goal of the bill is to have about 2.5 percent of all cars brought into Washington be the equivalent of zero-emission vehicles.

The bill passed 26-22. Opposition was bi-partisan, with all Republicans and three Democrats voting against it. It was sent to the House Energy and Environment Committee for further consideration.

Keep up with the second-half action in this year’s legislative session by visiting washingtonvotes.org and follow them on Facebook and Twitter #waleg.

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