The fine tension straining the relationship between the Court and the Legislature

From the day the state Supreme Court handed down the McCleary decision (January 5, 2012 for those keeping score) there’s been tension between the some members of the state Legislature and the court. When earlier this month the court imposed sanctions on the state for failing to come up with a plan for full funding of basic education, the tension increased. The $100,000 per day fine so far has failed to produce visible movement toward a legislative consensus.

It has, however, led to a backlash from some members of the majority coalition caucus. Nineteen members of the state Senate – 18 Republicans and one Democrat – sent an open letter to other legislative leaders contending the court overstepped its bounds. 

The Associated Press and Seattle Times report

[The letter] argues that the court’s order last week that the state set aside $100,000 a day in a segregated education account violates not only the state constitution, but the federal constitution as well.

The letter urges lawmakers to consider the “political, legal, and constitutional responses” to what it says it a challenge to the legislative role.

The governor and Democratic leaders dismiss the notion that the state faces a “constitutional crisis.”

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement saying that the lawmakers “should not be looking for a constitutional crisis, they should be looking for an education solution.”

…Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, also posted a response on his website, saying: “If Republicans want to change the system to avoid this kind of conflict they can either remove the ability to have the court enforce the basic tenets of the constitution, or they can remove the paramount duty clause. I don’t support either, and neither will the voters.”

Crosscut reports,

[Senate Minority Leader Sharon] Nelson said in a press release: “I don’t care what Senate Republicans think of the court’s order.”

The governor’s statement added,

…I asked all four caucuses to appoint members to work in a bipartisan group to find a solution that fully funds education, complies with the court order, and removes the contempt order and sanctions that have been imposed upon the state. 

“Not all of the caucuses agreed to do so.

Melissa Santos points out that not all Republican senators signed the letter

Leaving their names off the letter were Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn; Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma; Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup; Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way; Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond; Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island; and Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic.

Fain said he and other Republican senators are still working to solve the state’s education funding issues, even if some disagree with the court’s actions. 

Hill chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Litzow chairs the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. Fain is the Republican Floor Leader.

McCleary compliance remains a key challenge for lawmakers heading into the 2016 session. The current flap shows that lawmakers remain deeply divided on how to resolve the issue. 

As an addendum, we point to another AP story documenting additional unpaid fines the state is incurring.