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Eye On Olympia

Archive for January 2004

Home health aides edge closer to a contract…

Democrats and a few Republicans in the house on Wednesday approved a contract for state-paid home health aides. It would give the 26,000 workers a 50-cent hourly raise plus some benefits, and would cost $82 million over the next two years.

House Republicans said the contract should be considered along with the rest of the state budget, which remains tight.

The proposal now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it faces a tougher fight.

When the legislative branch starts to sound a lot like the judicial branch…

“Another outbreak like that and I will have this room cleared. This is a hearing, not a circus.”

Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, D-Seattle, when people applauded testimony by conservative radio host John Carlson.

Vetting the veterans…

Saying they’re tired of street-corner panhandlers falsely claiming to be veterans, lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill that makes it a crime to impersonate a veteran for personal gain.

The penalty, under Substitute Senate Bill 5861, would be the same as for people caught impersonating a cop: up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

“The word `veteran’ is, to me, a statement that someone has risked their life in protection of the people of the United States,” said bill sponsor Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. “To demean that word is wrong.”

The same bill passed the Senate unanimously last year, only to quietly die in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Get that latte soon…

If you got a gift card for the holidays, check the back. Some gift cards expire after a year, or depreciate month by month if not used.

“If you wait too long, the card becomes an incredible disappearing act,” said Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle. “If you leave it sitting in your jacket too long, it might not be any good when you go to use it.”

As a state lawmaker, though, Jacobsen can do more than just complain. He’s sponsoring Senate Bill 6482, which would make it illegal for retailers to sell a gift card with an expiration date, service fee or inactivity charge.

After all, Jacobsen points out, there’s a built-in penalty for people who don’t get around to using the cards. It’s called “inflation.”

A veteran campaigner…

“I was also in the War of 1812.”

81-year-old Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima, when asked about his service in World War II.

Rally, counter-rally

Hundreds of people from throughout Washington gathered on the Capitol lawn
Tuesday to rally against abortion, drawing a counter-demonstration by about
two dozen pro-choice advocates.

One person’s economic incentive is another’s giveaway…

As the Legislature considers whether to renew $74 million worth of tax breaks for rural companies and high-tech research, critics say the state’s poor need that money more than, say, Microsoft.

To underscore their point, Washington Citizen Action and the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations put together a list of alternative ways to spend $74 million. The cash could:

-Hire 1,300 teachers at an average salary of $44,954, or
-Pay for job training for 17,390 welfare recipients, or
-Provide basic health coverage for 31,000 poor people.

Proponents of the tax breaks argue that they’re necessary for a strong economy, particularly in rural areas. Prosperous, growing companies, they say, provide both jobs and more taxes to support social service programs.

Stay tuned…

A opening shot across the bow…

The jockeying for Jim West’s old Senate seat continues, even though West protege Brian Murray was awarded the seat by local Republicans and the Spokane County Commissioners.

State Rep. Brad Benson, who, as the senior House of Representatives member in the district, normally would have been the heir-apparent to the empty Senate seat, made it clear again this week that he’s got his sights set on ousting Murray in the Republican primary later this year.

In a brief appearance in the Senate on opening day — shortly after Murray was sworn in — Benson made a short speech telling the assembled senators how he’d always enjoyed working closely with the them.

“I hopefully look forward to working a lot closer with you very soon,” he said.

And torches — there should be torches…

“We need some chanting. Who is directing this thing?”

-A TV reporter, unhappy with dozens of sign-carrying mad-cow protesters outside a legislative hearing Thursday night.

Bob Maier, a fixture in Olympia for two decades, dies on the eve of the legislative session…

Bob Maier, chief lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers’ union, died Monday. He was 61, and had suffered from heart problems in recent months.

Maier, a former teacher, had worked Olympia for 20 years. He was the Washington Education Association’s director of public policy.

Maier’s wife, Lynn, is a lobbyist for the Washington Public Employees’ Association. He is also survived by his mother, a son, a daughter and a three-year-old granddaughter.

We understand what you meant, but…

“Mr. President, I am not House-trained.”

Freshman Sen. Brian Murray, R-Spokane, referring to two other lawmakers who came to the Senate after stints in the House of Representatives.

A Frito-free zone…

“We should not have our children going to school to learn how to become obese.”

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who said she will introduce a bill to encourage local school districts to get rid of pop, chips and other junk food in schools.

Olympia, as viewed by J.R.R. Tolkien…

“Tim Eyman is Gollum, I’m obviously a hobbit. You can draw your own conclusions about everyone else.”
Senate Minority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, asked to describe this year’s political climate as a movie theme.

Washington tells Washington to pay its taxes…

The state of Washington has gone to court, trying to force the federal government to cough up a $6.8 million tax bill.
According to Attorney General Christine Gregoire, the 21-year-old Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires the Department of Energy to pay the equivalent of state business taxes for activities carried out during the consideration of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation as a potential site for a high-level nuclear waste repository. (The good news: Hanford was a finalist, but not the winner. That dubious honor goes to Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.)
The Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management disputed the bill, but according to Gregoire’s office, DOE’s own Office of Hearings and Appeals in July ordered that the bill be paid.
To date, no check’s arrived, despite several requests by the state.

Traffic slows to a crawl (on the web)…

A record number of people looking for travel information turned to the Washington Department of Transportation’s website Tuesday afternoon. Snowbound commuters turned to the site’s highway web cameras, pass reports and weather information. By early afternoon, the department’s computer gurus were predicting that web traffic would break the previous record: last Saturday’s 7.6 million page views. The website was struggling to keep up with the demand.
“We’re seeing abut 200 image hits per second,” said Laura Merritt, the agency’s interactive communications manager.

Out of the gate early…

The Legislature won’t convene until Jan. 12, but here are some of the things lawmakers are already proposing:
-Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, prompted by recent allegations of sexual misconduct by coaches and teachers, said she’ll again push to require school districts to provide information about sexual misconduct when the person applies for work at another district.
She also wants to ban school districts from signing severance agreements that seal such records. A similar proposal died last year.
-Rep. Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup, said she’ll sponsor a bill to require a psychological exam and lie-detector test for all new city-, county- or state law enforcement officers. She said the tests would cost about $250 per person.
“When citizens see the uniform, a gun and a badge, they have a reasonable right to expect that the person holding the position is worth of that trust,” McDonald said.
But small jurisdictions often don’t check backgrounds thoroughly, she said. She cited the town of Wilkeson, which has been ordered to pay $400,000 to two girls raped in the mid-1990s by a part-time city police officer.

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

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