Senate Democrats in Olympia could take advantage of an illness on the other side of the aisle, which will deprive Republicans of a crucial vote, to form a temporary Democratic majority and bring legislation to a floor vote this week so it doesn't die, according to sources familiar with the legislature's proceedings. Rumor has it that Republican Senator Barbara Bailey is going to be out for a while (nobody is answering the phone in her office), creating a potential window. During that time, the senate would be split 24-24. With moderate Democrat Lt. Governor Brad Owen positioned to break ties, any legislation with his support could break to the left. But more likely, according to sources, is the possibility that Democrats will attempt to pick off a GOP defector to join them in a clean majority. Republican Senator Michael Baumgartner may also be out later this week.
For two examples of the impact: A bill to repeal a tax on dancing and safe streets bill, which has been languishing in the senate after passing in the house, could get a vote. It's unclear what bills they might try to pass—or if this will happen at all. But what's remarkable is that Democrats are considering hardball at all.
Of course, if this actually happens, Republicans will whine "foul." But they've got no moral high ground here: Republicans popularized this tactic.
You might recall that Republicans took advantage of former Senator Cal Anderson's illness-caused-absence in 1995, when he had AIDS and developed cancer, to pass legislation. As the Seattle Times reported at the time, while Anderson "lay on a hospital bed, Anderson said, Senate Republicans did a 'pretty hateful thing' in amending a controversial government-agency reform bill that could have been defeated if he had been present to vote. Without Anderson, the Senate's one-vote Democratic majority is nullified."
But all is fair in war—and if this is how Republicans play ball, then I see no problem with Democrats doing the same thing right back.
Republicans did it last year, too, when they picked off the votes of two conservative Democrats in the final days of session to overtake the state budget process and ultimately kill progressive bills (then formed a so-called majority caucus this year to appoint committee chairs and stymie progressive legislation). And if what the GOP is doing is killing bills—being the party of no—then there is virtue in beating them at their own game, especially if it means getting something done.
UPDATE at 1:10 PM: Senator Bailey's office called back, acknowledging that "she is feeling under the weather. She's been sick all week, sick all last week. But she is here today."