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Eye On Olympia

Archive for April 2005

A little pushback from rural lawmakers…

“Jay, you have a long way to go in proving that you can be more to the middle, more balanced.”
— Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient

“If the people who would breach my dams and take away my water rights are happy about this, I can’t be. I’ll be voting no.”
— Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville

Both were objecting the the nomination of Jay Manning to head the state Department of Ecology. Manning’s appointment passed the Senate 38 to 8.

Rufus who?

Gov. Christine Gregoire on Tuesday signed into law a bill renaming King County — that’s where Seattle is — after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King did, in fact, visit Seattle in 1961. The King County Council renamed the county for Dr. King back in 1986, but apparently it counts for more when the state does it.

So here’s the trivia question: who was King County named after in the first place?

(Here’s a hint for the extreme Jeopardy players out there: it’s named after the vice president under Franklin Pierce.)

Answer: William Rufus Devane King, a longtime U.S. senator from Alabama. He died shortly after becoming vice president in 1853.

Give ‘em some credit…

Gov. Christine Gregoire signed into law this week a bill that would require colleges to exercise more control over who’s marketing credit cards to their students on campus.

“Where were you when I was in college?” Gregoire said to the bill’s sponsors as she signed the bill.

Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds, said that a college administrator had urged her to vote for the bill, saying that he loses more students to credit problems than to bad grades.

But the bill faced surprisingly steep resistance in the House recently, where Republicans said that the state should keep its nose out of the financial dealings of adults.

To make that point, Rep. Richard DeBolt, proposed an amendment that no student could use a credit card at any state college or university.

“If we’re going to truly be a nanny state, we need to go all the way,” he explained.

Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, likened the bill to “Big Brother stepping in and trying to control people.”

“Eighteen-year-olds should know how to handle their money,” said Ahern. “And if they get in a little trouble, exercise plastic surgery. Cut that thing up.”

Ed-gar…

For better or for worse, “love” is not a word that makes it into many statehouse speeches. Yet it — and many other fond words — came up when the most beloved Seattle Mariner stopped by the capitol recently for a resolution in his honor.

Edgar Martinez looked a bit abashed as lawmakers showered him with praise as a man of humility, a mentor, a shining example and, well, just a preposterously nice guy.

“He’s the kind of person we all want our children to grow up to be like,” said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.

Although he’s the most prolific designated hitter in the history of major-league baseball, much of the praise was over Martinez’s decision to stick with the Mariners for 18 years, including a glorious moment in 1995 when Martinez smacked in a game-winning double in the American League playoff series against the Yankees.

“God bless you and your family and thank you for being Edgar,” said Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard.

“You, Mr. Martinez…Edgar. Edgar. We love you,” said Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma. “And you will be in the Hall of Fame.”

King for a day, or two…

Spokane gets a new state senator this week, if only for a couple of days.

The guy who’d normally be in the seat — Sen. Brad Benson — will trade his legislative suit and tie for chem gear as he reverts to Maj. Benson at his Air National Guard unit in Spokane.

But with a critical bill deadline hitting at 5 p.m. Friday, Senate Republicans needed every vote they could muster. So Benson found someone to vote for him: Jon Wyss, a fellow Republican from Benson’s district in suburban Spokane. Wyss, whose wife is a legislative aide, happened to be in Olympia. He’s former vice chair of the county GOP.

So he’ll be state Sen. Jon Wyss for a couple of days, properly sworn in and voting. If he makes any speeches, however, it’ll cost him — Senate tradition requires freshmen to present a gift to all the other senators when they make their first speech.

It’s quite rare for a temp to fill in for a lawmaker. The last time it happened in the senate was 14 years ago, when Sen. Mike Kreidler (now the state insurance commissioner) was called to military duty in first Gulf War. Kreidler’s wife filled in for him.

Giving it the old college try…

Washington State University supporters tried Wednesday morning to tack an amendment onto the House construction budget to fund WSU’s top priority: a $57 million biotech research center in Pullman.

“We are, I think, making a tremendous error in this budget in not funding the bio/life-sciences building at Washington State,” Rep. Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island, told his fellow committee members.

Rep. Don Cox, R-Colfax, said that lawmakers had asked WSU to put together a list of its construction priorities — and that the biotech building was at the top of WSU’s list.

“I think our obligation would be to honor the list that they developed,” Cox said. “…These research facilities are just vital to the success of our research universities.”

But WSU, which scored an unusual victory last year, wringing tens of millions of dollars from Olympia in what would normally be an off-year for such big projects, was supposed to list that project — the Riverpoint academic center — as its top priority this year. WSU says it did, but it was nowhere to be found on the joint list submitted by the state’s six colleges and universities to the Legislature.

“We gave them that priority last year, and it should have been listed,” said Rep. Bill Eickmeyer, D-Belfair.

“We have limited funds, we have many needs,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. “We’re trying to build an entire state and we must distribute our resources.”

The amendment failed. WSU now must pin its hopes for funding this year on joint budget negotiations between the House and Senate, which must agree on a final construction budget.

A little fiscal transfusion for local hospitals…

The House budget proposed this week has some good news for local hospitals. It would pour an estimated $2 million more in Medicaid reimbursements for Sacred Heart, Deaconess, Valley and Holy Family hospitals.

Senate flares over stem-cell research…

The state Senate — which, like most senates, has the reputation of being the cooler-headed “more deliberative” chamber — nonetheless turned quite hot on Friday morning when the topic turned to embryonic stem cell research. Below is an abbreviated version of the floor debate.

The bill — EHB 1268 — sets ethical guidelines for stem-cell research, but does not allow creation of embryos for such research. The embryos come from leftover fertilized eggs donated for research by couples undergoing fertility treatments. Stem-cell research, proponents say, holds great promise for the treatment of many diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

The opening salvo came from Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima, who said that as a soldier in World War II he went to the newly-liberated Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp. There, he said, he saw emaciated Jews, dead and dying.

“They were embryos at one point, but somebody decided those people should be done away with,” he said. “It was government…We’re talking about the same thing.”

No, said Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle.

“This is a far cry from the Holocaust,” said Kline, who is Jewish. “I personally have a difficult time accepting any kind of political rhetoric that attempts to draw moral equivalency between science and murder.”

“This is about babies,” responded Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington. “We are talking about what goes on in creation.”

“These efforts may help relieve human suffering, may keep someone’s father or grandfather alive,” said Senate Majority Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. She noted that she was born and raised Catholic, and said the social teachings of the church inspire her every day.
“I find no contradiction between those essential values of wanting to reduce human suffering and advance —”

She was cut off in mid-sentence as fellow Catholic Sen. Joyce Mulliken, furious, jumped up.

“I am truly offended,” Mulliken said. “Please, please do not say there is no conflict with the beloved Catholic Church. The Holy Father does not teach —”

Mulliken was cut off by Senate President Brad Owen, who let Brown continue.

Brown apologized and said she was stating that there’s no conflict with her own values, not commenting on the official position of the Catholic Church.

“I was simply trying to point to some of my personal motivation,” she said. “This bill is consistent with the idea of alleviating human suffering.”

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to defer the bill indefinitely, but lost the vote, which indicates that the bill has enough votes to pass.

But to cool things off, both sides agreed Friday morning to temporarily defer action on the bill.

Gas pains…

“There’s never a shortage of people to come and praise raising taxes when they know they’re on the receiving end.”

– Sen. Brad Benson, R-Spokane, on support from mass-transit groups and road contractors for a $9 billion transportation tax hike proposed by the state Senate.

Google in your back yard…

The online search company Google has put searchable satellite photos online at http://maps.google.com/ . (Type a location into the search box and click on “satellite.”)

The images vary in resolution. If you’re looking for a photo of the state capitol, it’s pretty blurry. But the images of the Spokane region are quite good — it’s easy to make out individual rooftops of the big buildings in downtown Spokane, and you can almost make out the color of individual cars.

On the hazards of the links…

“Golf clubs coming out and acting like spears, all kinds of things could be happening.”

— Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, explaining why she voted against EHB 1246, which requires motorists who mount household stereo speakers in their truck bed or car back seat to bolt the speakers down, so they don’t become projectiles during a crash. Roach objected, saying that government is becoming too restrictive and that ice chests and golf bags could cause similar injuries.

Mooooving the budget…

“A herd of sacred cows is still grazing on the lawn here.”

— Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, on the Democrat-written Senate budget proposal. Republicans had argued unsuccessfully for more budget cuts.

The state of the estate…

Here’s a fact that’s rarely mentioned in the debate over reinstating Washington’s estate tax: very few people would actually have to pay it.

The state Supreme Court in January tossed out the tax, saying it was based on a federal version that’s now suspended. Gov. Gregoire and legislative Democrats, facing the prospect of losing more than $100 million in taxes over the next two years, are rushing to change the law.

But unlike the gas tax — also a big talk topic in the capital — the estate tax would hit very few Washingtonians. The governor’s proposal wouldn’t trigger the tax for farms or for estates worth less than $2 million. According to the state Department of Revenue, the tax would apply to about 250 estates per year in Washington.

Another way of looking at that: 199 out of every 200 people that die in Washington each year wouldn’t leave enough cash and property behind to trigger the tax.

One of those pushing for the estate tax (and a state income tax) is Bill Gates Sr., father of the state’s richest man. His argument for both taxes is the same: that the wealthy have usually benefitted from public institutions, like good schools and colleges.

“It’s only right to ask them to give something back after they die,” Gates said.

The tax would raise $129 million over the next two years.

We could not help but notice…

The “Education Governor’s” legacy took a hit last week, as Senate budget writers axed not one but two of former Gov. Gary Locke’s pet programs. They also pared down a third.

The Reading Corps, a program that matches struggling students with volunteer tutors, was eliminated completely in the Senate’s budget, saving $7 million over the next two years. Locke touted the program relentlessly, reading to schoolchildren frequently in front of news cameras and talking in interviews about how he and his wife read nightly to their children.

Also chopped: The state’s Promise Scholarship program, which gives college grants to top high school graduates. (Current recipients would still get their grants.) Savings: $12.6 million.

Lastly, the Senate trimmed $5 million in ongoing bonuses for teachers who attain national board certification, another pet project of Locke’s.

Locke told the Associated Press’ Dave Ammons that he was stunned by the cuts, which he thinks are unneccessary and unwise. All three programs are worthwhile, he said.

“I know how the budget situation is and that a lot of tough decisions have to be made,” Locke, now an attorney in private practice, told the AP. “But the facts speak for themselves.”

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

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