Yes, the Legislature did get a lot done

Last week, Sonics fans were up in arms about the failure of the state Legislature to act on a last-second request for state funding to upgrade Key Arena. Much grumbling about a "legislature that doesn't do anything!" ensued on sports talk airwaves, not normally an arena for political analysis.

And talk about sore losers! You'd think, after giving up 168 points in one game last week and having the second-worst record in the league so far this year, that they'd be used to losing. But I digress.

Thing is, in any legislative session, whether 60 days (as in this, and all, election years) or 90 days (in the odd years, when budgets are passed), Olympia does a lot.

Thousands of bills are proposed each year; in 2008, "only" 329 passed, or more than five per day. Hardly a "do-nothing" session. The way that most of the rest of them got winnowed out was not because they lacked necessary support, but because they weren't a high enough state policy priority to get attention in an overcrowded calendar.

As Sonics fans learned, or should have learned.

Regardless of the fate of that bill, a lot of other things happened in the 2008 session: bills that passed that should have, bills that passed that shouldn't have, and bills that died, only some of which didn't deserve that fate. Here's a brief overview:

Bills that passed included a sweeping effort to steer state and local governments to deal with the threat of global warming.

Local governments also won the opportunity to institute public financing for local campaigns. One of the first places that law will be tested is Seattle, where Mayor Greg Nickels and the city council wasted no time in establishing a task force to explore potential legislation, with an eye toward a city-wide referendum as early as November.

Local governments are also now able to offer greater relocation assistance to renters displaced by condo conversion, a bill fought for by affordable housing advocates.

Chehalis and Lewis County got $83 million in state funds to deal with the damage from last fall's floods.

Gay and lesbian couples won a comprehensive set of 170 new rights, with an eye toward the eventual legalization of gay marriage.

And after eight years of spiraling health insurance costs, the legislature reinstated (over industry objections) the ability of the Insurance Commissioner to regulate insurance price increases.

Sound like an accomplishment-free session?

There were only a few bad points among passed bills. A flurry of bills in the wake of a critical Port of Seattle performance audit in December resulted in one unified reform bill that had some improvements. However, it failed to provide adequate oversight for the Ports and rejected a provision that would have opened closed-door government executive meetings.

And in a craven election-year effort to curry favor with editorial boards, legislators passed a bill giving newspapers a huge tax break in online advertising revenues - a break no other online publications enjoy.

A number of notable bills also failed this year, most of them thankfully.

In addition to the Sonics bill, a bid for state financing to upgrade Husky Stadium also went nowhere.

Tim Eyman fended off an attempted defunding of I-900, the initiative that made the performance audits of (among other things) the Port of Seattle possible. Eyman also helped beat back a bill that would have made initiative signature-gathering more difficult.

A group of high-tech companies led by Microsoft failed to win a Gregoire-backed bill for a staggering $1 billion in tax breaks - for server farms that literally employ a few dozen people.

Gregoire also lost out in an effort to legalize random field sobriety checkpoints for drivers, a proposal that alarmed civil libertarians.

One of the stupidest ideas of the session - a special color license plate for cars whose drivers get DUI convictions - was also mercifully euthanized, as was an equally idiotic effort to outlaw smoking in cars with children present.

Think about it: who drives kids around? Their parents. So what is second-hand smoke in a car, especially with the windows down, compared to the ubiquitous smoke in a smoker's home?

Democrats' intra-party disputes killed a proposed Homeowner's Bill of Rights and an effort to allow child care workers (who are staggeringly underpaid, given that we entrust them with the most precious of charges) to unionize.

Legislators failed to halt environmentally destructive mining on Maury Island.

And a few major needs went unattended: the session ended without any clear resolution to the SR 520 or Alaskan Way Viaduct impasses, and there's still no financing in place for a pricey paid family leave program that starts in 2008.

And a resolution to impeach George Bush, again, went nowhere. Surprised?

All in all, it was a conservative (but not inactive) session, with lawmakers, after an expensive 2007 session, tucking away $835 million in reserves for what is expected to be an operating shortfall and poor economy in 2009. And a lot of electioneering in between.

Seattleite Geov Parrish may be reached via the addresses listed below.[[In-content Ad]]