Democrats not out of ‘Woods’

OLYMPIA — Like all Republican legislators in the 2005-06 biennium, Rep. Bev Woods (R-Kingston) is having to face the fact that on virtually every issue, she is an underdog.

In a state legislature dominated by Democrats, who have a 55-43 advantage in the house — a 26-23 margin in the senate and occupy the governor’s mansion — passing GOP-backed legislation is a rarity. But Woods, a second term representative, has found solace in two areas: finding compromise with the Democrats on many issues and showing to her constituency that an alternative exists to the current majority.

“In a lot of cases, we can work across the aisle,” she said. “But in some cases, the bill’s a bad bill and (the Democrats) aren’t willing to fix it. But it also gives us a chance to say, ‘If we were in charge, this is how we would solve the problem.’”

Woods, the ranking Republican on the House transportation committee, said that subject has been the highlight of the session thus far. Together with the committee’s chairman, Rep. Edward Murray (D-Seattle), she has led a bipartisan effort to create numerous reforms, which include: aligning state transportation agencies for better efficiency; discovering funding sources for capital projects such as the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the 520 Bridge replacement; studying the idea of toll discounts on the yet-to-be-completed new Tacoma Narrows Bridge; and re-starting passenger-only ferry service between Bremerton and Seattle. The last two are also backed by her 23rd District counterpart Sherry Appleton.

“We’re moving forward in those areas,” Woods said. “So that’s probably the good thing (of the session).”

However, much Republican-based legislation that aims to encourage business growth in the state by lightening the load of state regulations, has not even made it to the house floor, which has made the session a frustrating one for Woods and other GOP representatives.

“The most disappointing to me is the number of Republican bills that have been killed in committee, that have not passed,” Woods said. “That are good bills that are needed to move our economy forward.”

Those that have passed have been “watered down,” including a bill that Woods advocated to help streamline each state agency’s rule-writing abilities.

“Why the rules bill is so important is that we have agencies in this state that are out of control,” she said. “They’re writing rules without any legislative intent. And we feel that if an agency is going to write a rule, that rule will be reviewed by the legislature or by the governor and have the governor sign off on it before it becomes law.”

“I know that’s an ominous task here,” she added, “But it has to do with accountability.”

Woods cited ergonomics regulations created by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries three years ago that would have required employers to examine repetitious and potentially hazardous employee jobs and take steps to lower the risks. But the rule was heavily criticized and garnered enough support against it that Initiative 841 made and passed by voters in 2003 to repeal it.

“It was a bad rule, and we finally had to get rid of it by taking a referendum to the people. And the people overturned it,” Woods said of the ergonomics regulations. “If we had rule-writing restrictions, we would have never had to go through that.”

Legislative crossroads

In a time when the state of Washington faces a $2.2 billion shortfall, Republican and Democratic legislators alike are faced with the dilemma of how to cover the deficit. Woods has her own stern advice for Gov. Christine Gregoire on how to solve the problem.

“I think she should have a no-new revenue government,” she said. “One that looks at what the government can do without. What cuts can be made? And take it a step further — how do we best deliver services in the most cost effective way?”

Woods said she believes that cuts would be best made at the top of the bureaucratic ladder, whereas state services at the end of the line, such as basic education, should be preserved, and even bolstered if possible.

“I’m a great believer in the local level,” Woods said. “(Preserve funding) in the most vulnerable places, like schools. And then let’s look at the upper bureaucracy for cuts.”

Despite the apparent parity between the Democrats and Republicans, Woods said she believes they each want to get to the same place. It’s the journey that’s disputed.

“If you ask each of us what we’d say are the key issues (of this biennium), we’d say affordable health care, insurance and all the same ones,” she said. “It’s just that we’re taking different routes to get there.”

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