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School Funding Lawsuit Prompts Hearing On Separation Of Powers

Elaine Thompson
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The Washington Supreme Court could hold state lawmakers in contempt over school funding. But is the high court overstepping its bounds? A Republican-led legislative panel held a hearing Monday on separation of powers.

The three branches of government is something you learn about in school. But now some Washington state lawmakers are getting a refresher course. Separation of powers was on the agenda for a special meeting of Washington’s Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Committee chair Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, posed this question to a representative from the attorney general’s office: “Do you think the court is aware that one Legislature cannot bind a future Legislature?” 

Yes, replied Dave Stolier from the attorney general’s office, but he noted it was the Legislature, not the court that defined what constitutes a basic education.

“When you decide what it takes to meet the constitutional duty, what basic education is going to look like, you can’t back track,” Stolier said.

The Washington Supreme Court has retained jurisdiction in the McCleary school funding case. The court is clearly not happy with the Legislature’s progress toward full funding. Just last week, the chief justice ordered the “state” to a contempt hearing in September.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.