As hotels fill up for US Open, Washington lawmakers scramble to find alternate housing

Days before the start of the U.S. Open golf tournament that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to the region, some Washington state lawmakers whose temporary leases in the state capital have run out are scrambling to find places to stay as the current overtime legislative session continues.

Sen. Linda Evans Parlette raised concerns about lack of hotel rooms because of the tournament weeks ago. She said Friday that earlier this week, she asked Senate administrators to look into alternatives, including dorms at a nearby private university. She said she didn't want the tournament to be an excuse for further delay.

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"It makes it a little bit more challenging," said Parlette, a Republican from Wenatchee. "But you've got to be innovative. If there's a will, there's a way."

Lawmakers are in the midst of a second special session as they struggle over writing a new two-year operating budget for the state. Budget meetings between leaders and negotiators have continued, but a deal has been elusive. Parlette says that the housing accommodations may not be needed if the only activity on campus next week is a handful of lawmakers who are involved in budget negotiations, meaning that everyone else can stay home.

But if there's even a chance of a budget deal in the coming days, she said she wants to make sure that lack of housing doesn't delay votes at the Capitol. Secretary of the Senate Hunter Goodman said that they have been looking at traditional lodging, places of higher education and facilities that offer temporary residential options. Parlette said the dormitories at St. Martin's University in Lacey are one option being considered.

"Believe me, to get done, I'd be happy to be in a dorm," she said.

Officials from the governor's budget office have already released a contingency plan on what state offices may have to close completely if a budget isn't signed into law before July 1, when the current two-year budget ends.

House Deputy Chief Clerk Bernard Dean said that his office hasn't been asked to look into accommodations for House members for next week, when more than 200,000 people are expected to be in the region for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, north of Olympia. The tournament runs from June 18-21, though events will be taking place at the site earlier in the week.

Pierce County invited about 40 lawmakers to a free one-day admission to the event if they first attend a presentation to learn about developments to the site of the tournament; as of this week about a dozen have indicated they would attend late next week, according to county spokesman Hunter George.