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Eye On Olympia

Archive for March 2003

And then the governor weighed in…

Gov. Gary Locke on Tuesday launched his own transportation tax proposal, which is very similar to what House Democrats are proposing. Locke’s suggesting:
-a 4-cent gas tax hike,
-a fee of 1/2 of 1 percent of a vehicle’s value when the title is tranferred,
-15 percent higher trucking fees,
-and — sure to be contentious — additional fees for motorhomes.
Grand total: $3.2 billion over 10 years.

Spending:
Unlike the House Democrats’ plan, Locke’s proposal includes $89 million to build four North Spokane Corridor lanes between Farwell Road and Wandermere. Both plans, however, would add a lane in each direction of the Moscow-Pullman Road (SR 270), and widen I-90 from Argonne to Sullivan Road.

What’s next: Yet a third plan is being crafted by Senate Republicans. It’s the largest of the three plans, raising about $4.1 billion and including a five-cent gas tax, plus other as-yet-undisclosed taxes.

If there is some agreement, it probably won’t be for weeks, because transportation proposals have a tendency to get tangled up in the final big fight over the state budget. Any new taxes would likely kick in quickly, with motorists feeling the extra pinch at the pumps as early as July.

Numbers…

After a weekend back home, lawmakers returned to action today, hearing a proposal in the House that would allow charter schools, and considering whether to allow colleges a free hand in raising tuitions on all students except resident undergrads.

The pace has slowed considerably from last week’s beat-the-deadline bill frenzy, however. So here’s a look at some Washington state stats:
-216,000: Number of state community college and university students here
-900,000: people getting state-paid medical assistance
-16,000: people in prison
-65,000: ex-cons on community supervision
-19 percent: the slice of the state budget spent on state-employee salaries and benefits
-56 percent: the amount of the state budget spent on public schools, including state colleges
-34 percent: of state workers live in King County
-7 percent: of state workers live in Spokane County.

Source: state Office of Financial Management.

And so it began…

Majority Leader Jim West was sitting in his office with a few reporters Wednesday night when an aide came in and handed him a yellow note.
West, a Republican from Spokane, paused in mid-sentence, unfolded the paper and read the note.
“Oh, they started bombing in Baghdad,” he said, looking around the room.
“The war’s on.’’

During tough times, an unexpected kindness…

Last weekend, while visiting Seattle with her sisters and son, Sen. Lisa Brown lost her purse. All her credit cards, her ID, gone.
Except that they weren’t. That Saturday, a woman named Dorenia Cater, who’s been homeless on the streets of Seattle for five years, found Brown’s small purse near a trash can on the sidewalk outside a Starbucks.
Cater peered inside, and saw credit cards and Brown’s legislative business card.
Cater carried the purse to safety at the YWCA women’s shelter, and she began working the phones. She called hotels. She called airlines. She tried calling the toll-free legislative hotline, but the shelter phones don’t allow 1-800 calls.
After a weekend of dead-ends, she took the purse to shelter director Laura Clark, who tracked Brown down in Olympia. Brown, a Spokane Democrat, was startled and touched.
“Sometimes we form stereotypes about individuals who are homeless,” she said. “I’m tremendously moved by her generosity of spirit.”
She took down Cater’s name and address, intending to send a thank-you note, then decided that wasn’t enough. Brown’s going to Seattle Monday to meet Cater, give her a reward and thank her in person. Brown also took up a collection for a donation to the shelter, which has a particular need for — no surprise — telephone calling cards. (The YWCA Emergency Shelter, 1118 Fifth Ave., Seattle, WA 98101.)
Cater, who at 46 is the same age as Brown, will soon be running into the shelter’s 45-day limit on stays. Clark said the shelter’s working on getting her a longer-term place to stay.
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he wasn’t surprised by Cater’s efforts.
“I know there’s a tendency to bash Seattle, and that it’s a little liberal for some folks. I get that,” he said. “But it’s a damn nice place, and an honest place.”

If it’s good enough for the feds…

The state Senate on Tuesday narrowly passed a bill to ban state agencies from adopting rules that exceed federal regulations, unless state lawmakers approve.
Some lawmakers didn’t think that the federal government should be the standard to which Washingtonians aspire.
“This deeply concerns me,” said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. Tighter state regulations, she said, can give Washington cleaner air, cleaner water and better help for poor than that mandated by the feds.
“What’s wrong with that?” she said. “That’s the kind of state we are.”
“Nothing’s wrong with that,” said Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane. But such decisions need to be made by elected lawmakers, he said, not “out-of-touch bureaucrats.”
“If a bureaucrat wants a rule passed, they hold a bunch of public hearings, then do whatever they were going to do from the beginning,” West said.
The bill, SSB 5053 , passed 25 to 24. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Get the hook…

Debate in the state House of Representatives stretched late into the night Monday, with the final gavel falling just before 11 p.m.
Among the lowlights: debate on ESHB 1754 , which exempts small poultry farmers from some of the more-stringent slaughter regulations.
Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, couldn’t resist.
“I don’t want to crow about this bill, but it will egg on the local economy,” he told lawmakers. He went on about how proponents cracked open hardboiled opposition, and what an eggcellent bill it was.
“This is a good bill, and that’s no yolk,” he concluded, to a chorus of groans.

Charter schools

For the first time in state history, the state Senate passed a bill Thursday to allow publicly funded charter schools.
Charter schools run under a contract that frees them from most state education rules. Advocates have been trying to get bills to allow this through the Washington legislature for years.
The bill now goes to the House, where it’s expected to pass.

Workers compensation bill passes Senate…

The state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would cut some benefits for workers killed or injured on the job, despite bitter opposition from some Democrats.
Prime sponsor Sen. Jim Honeyford said the changes will simplify workers’ compensation calculations and give some relief to businesses struggling with a 29 percent rate increase this year, and potential similar increases over the next two years.
Critics said the bill, ESSB 5378 , is incredibly complex, and will end up cutting benefits to injured workers.
“It hurts those who are already hurt,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines.
The bill passed 25 to 24. Locally, only Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, voted against it.

To the floor…

Changing gears, the House and Senate these days are spending hours in floor debate, passing dozens of bills in a race to beat the March 19 deadline for bills to get out of the house in which they started. Lawmakers are also spending a lot of time behind closed doors in caucus meetings, trying to decide what bills to support and what to back.

O, Canada…

Our favorite “The neighbors are doing WHAT?” bill so far this session: HJM 4019, “Requesting that British Columbia refrain from releasing grizzly bears near our common border.”
Sen. Bob Morton, a one-time shepherd, frequent preacher and perennial font of interesting rural information, has calculated that a 650-pound adult grizzly would need to eat about 200 squirrels a day in order to fatten up for hibernation.
Morton is skeptical that the supply of tasty squirrels is quite that bountiful, and worries that hungry grizzlies will turn to orchards and livestock.
“At this point, I am just attempting to make an inevitable situation better,” said Morton.

Good God…

For a day that began with the House of Representatives members trying hard to put a Muslim-slighting incident behind them, Friday was a day chock-full of God in the statehouse.
Debating a controversial bill to require members of the clergy to report child abuse, members of the House quoted the Apostle Paul, created a hypothetical scenario which had a Muslim witnessing child abuse by a rabbi, touted their preacher-kid backgrounds, and mentioned Mormons, Episcopalians, Evangelical Lutherans, Methodists and nearly half a dozen other denominations.
The bill, HB 1054 (To read a summary, click here) finally passed, 62 to 35.

Boycotting the Imam…

The House Republican spin-machine was whirling away this morning, as a couple of lawmakers tried to justify their absences at Monday’s daily opening prayer, which happened to be given by a Muslim cleric.
Former teacher and Rep. Lois McMahan, R-Olalla, said she chose to remain outside the House chamber during Olympia Imam Mohamad Joban’s prayer “for personal reasons.”
She said she didn’t intend the action to offend anyone, but it certainly did.
After Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Angela Galloway wrote about the absence of McMahan and Rep. Gary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, McMahan said she viewed stepping off the House floor as an act of patriotism. “Even though the mainstream Islamic religion doesn’t profess to hate America, nontheless it spawns the groups that hate America,” she said. Condotta told the paper “Let’s just say I wasn’t particularly interested.”
Wednesday morning, McMahan released the following statement following the opening session of the state House of Representatives:
“It has come to my attention that comments that I made Monday afternoon have caused misunderstanding and offenses. I had acted Monday morning out of personal preference and spoke without consulting anyone else. Nothing I said in any way reflects the feelings or opinions of any other lawmaker as far as I know.
“I want to make it clear that it was not my intention to offend anyone by my actions or words. Specifically, I want to state that it was not my intention to slight or show any ill-will toward Imam Mohamad Joban or any other American member of the Islamic faith, whose members I’m sure enjoy the freedom and opportunity of this country as much as I do.
“As I pointed out in the statement that I released to the media yesterday, this nation was founded on the principle of the individual’s right to religious freedom. I have great respect for those who hold religious beliefs, whether they resemble or are vastly different from my own.
“In fact, I would die for the right of any American to believe as he or she chooses. It is my personal belief that God gave this individual right and extends it to everyone. It has never been my intention to show disrespect for anyone else because of their deeply held religious beliefs and thereby cause an offense. In fact, I have made it a lifelong goal to live as much as possible without causing offense to others.
“I apologize for offenses given and would like to ask forgiveness of any whom I have offended. It was never my intention for such offenses to occur in the first place.
“I understand that Imam Joban has extended an invitation to me to visit the local Islamic center where he presides. If in fact this is true, I intend to accept his gracious invitation. At that time I will personally deliver to him my apology for any offense he may have experienced.”
Late Tuesday, House Minority Leader Cathy McMorris, R-Colville, felt compelled to issue her own public statement, saying House Republicans welcome “the peaceful believers of Washington’s Islamic faith community.”
“In every instance, our colleagues and guests who participate in this custom (the daily legislative prayer) are deserving of our respect,” McMorris said.
Joban, who prayed for peace and tranquility, is slated to return to the House for another prayer Friday.

Did someone say Keno?

Latest gambling proposal to be floated in Olympia: Senate Bill 6009 , which would allow on-line lottery drawings “more than once every 24 hours.”
Oregon and several other states have a state-run gambling franchise like that: Keno. Video terminals are common in bars, where patrons can play a new round every five minutes.

Deadline looms…

House and Senate committees are racing to vote on bills before the Wednesday, March 5 deadline. Except for bills involving money — which have extra time — bills must clear this first hurdle by the close of business Wednesday or die.

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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