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Eye On Olympia

Archive for February 2006

Felony DUI hits (another) roadblock — a big one…

Despite a much-touted House compromise Monday on a bill to allow felony charges against frequent drunk- or drugged drivers, it looks like bill is about to evaporate in the state Senate.

For all the wrangling and deal-making in the House, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said Tuesday night, the Senate hasn’t had time to consider the multi-million dollar proposal.

Although there are procedural ways for lawmakers to bring up budget-related bills even very late in a session, Brown said it’s not reasonable for the House to try to add such a bill to the mix so late in the game.

“The Senate has not really been given the time to consider it throughfully or deliberatively,” she said. “It’s likely to have to wait ‘til next year.”

Deal on drunk-driving…

After years of considering a two-strikes, three-strikes and four-strikes law that would allow a felony charge for chronic drunk- or drugged drivers, lawmakers have settled on five strikes. It was a balance, proponents of the compromise bill say, between public safety and the reality that prison cells are expensive.

Above photo: Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, and Anita Kronvall, mother of a woman killed by a drugged driver three years ago, confer during a hearing in January on a similar bill.

Read our story here.

Breakthrough on WSU building…

Breaking a legislative impasse, lawmakers have agreed to authorize $10 million toward Washington State University’s top priority this session: a $63 million life sciences lab in Pullman.

Until today, it looked like the university might get nothing this year — and not even be allowed to spend $63 million of the interest off its own land holdings to build what it says is a badly needed research facility.

“They get to start it,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, (above) the House construction budget chair. The deal, he said, protects the land money — which is typically used for maintenance, not new buildings — and still gives the school enough to lay a foundation for the lab.

“We’re good with it,” said WSU’s Larry Ganders, sitting in the gallery over the House chambers Friday afternoon. “It looks like that’s as far as we’re going to be able to get this session.”

The deal came hours before Rep. Don Cox, R-Colfax, planned to try to amend the budget on the House floor, adding the full $63 million. He withdrew that amendment in favor of the $10 million agreement.

Is it censorship or is it just civility?

House Republicans are steamed that Democrats, citing House civility rules, have ordered them not to use certain phrases in press releases about the Democrat-written budget.

Among the banned phrases, according to Rep. John Serben: “shell game”, “lack of honesty with taxpayers” and “disingenuous.”

“This is crap,” said Serben, R-Spokane, who in protest modified his press release to say “***** **** (censored)” in place of the offending “shell game.”

The ban only applies to taxpayer-financed messages, like press releases, the House web site, etc., as well as to statements made on the House floor.

Chief Clerk Rich Nafziger said the policy — which he said was created under Republican House control in the mid-1990s — was designed to keep debate from devolving in to mudslinging. “You can say the specifics of the argument, but you can’t call names,” he said.

But lawmakers still have their first amendment rights, Nafziger said. On their own dime, in interviews or press conferences, legislators are free to say anything they want.

Republicans don’t see it that way. They rely on press releases and other messages, they said, to get their messages back to voters and smaller papers back home.

“It’s a wholesale scrubbing of views that are opposite of theirs,” said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda — in a press release. “…We’re quibbling over small words when there’s a lot at stake for taxpayers. All I have to say is this — the House Democrats’ budget is a mind-boggling puzzle of shifting funds, money spent twice or reserved and spent, or both. We need to have an open debate of all ideas and opinions, not just the censored ideas they approve.”

Read our story here.

Raining on the Emerald City’s parade…

NBA commissioner David Stern, other basketball big names and a long procession of arts advocates urged state lawmakers to approve a sales-tax package to pay for a new or renovated Key Arena.

But not everyone was a fan Senate Bill 6849:

“Members of the committee, my name is David Rolf. I am the President of SEIU 775, with 30,000 members in the long-term care industry, in every zip code in the state.

“I cannot imagine a lower priority for the use of the public’s money then the purpose this bill anticipates.

“This contemplated act of corporate welfare takes place within the following context:

“-Incomes are stagnant or declining for 2/3 of households.
-Health care costs are eating up a greater % of employee paychecks and employer profits, even while benefits get cut and hundreds of thousands are uninsured.
-The average home price is now out of reach for an average income family in Seattle .
-Tuition costs put higher education out of reach for some working families.
-52% of all baby boomers have no retirement savings besides social security and their home equity.
-And, of course, the impoverishment of nursing home and home care workers threatens the quality of care for tens of thousands of elderly and disabled Washingtonians.

“The profitability of a sports facility should not be a higher priority than the health care of frail elderly people, or education, or housing.

“The indirect transfer of public wealth to private, for-profit sports teams should not be a priority of our government, under any circumstances, at any time.

“If you do pass this bill, we urge you to authorize the use of this tax for housing, health care, arts, education, and social services, but not to help subsidize the profitability of professional sports teams.

Thank you.”

Patient gouging…

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, wants to force hospitals to give discounts to low- and middle-income people who have no health insurance.

“Most people aren’t even aware that hospitals typically charge uninsured patients two to three times the actual cost of delivering services, then turn around and give bargain rates to insurance companies for exactly the same services,” said Cody, who chairs the House health care committee.

On a largely party-line vote, the House approved her House Bill 2574. It would apply to patients earning up to four times the federal poverty level, or $80,000 a year for a family of four. Under the bill, families with the lowest incomes would get the highest discounts.

She said her bill is aimed at preventing bankruptcies caused by medical debts — which means that hospitals are also more likely to get paid back, albeit at the lower rates.

“Presenting uninsured patients with enormous bills they can’t possibly afford only results in bad debt,” said Cody.

Minimum pensions for long-retired teachers and public employees…

Rep. Barbara Bailey’s bill to set $1,000-a-month minimum pensions for longtime public retirees cleared the Senate budget committee Wednesday.

The bill applies to some teachers and public employees who worked for at least 20 years and have been retired for at least 25.

With retirement benefits being calculated on their base salaries from 25 years ago, Bailey said, some of those workers are receiving only tiny pensions.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t any factors tied to these pensions that would allow their minimum monthly benefits to be adjusted for inflation or cost of living,” said Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. “Many of these elderly retired people are just barely getting by on much less than $1,000 a month.”

Giving it the old college try…

Rep. Don Cox tried Wednesday morning to add an amendment to the House construction budget that would allow Washington State University to use interest off its land income (like timber sales) to pay for a new $63 million life sciences lab in Pullman.

Without that key research facility, Cox said, “We have one university, a research university, one of our flagship universities, that has a hand tied behind their back.”

Building that lab, he said, “positions Washington State University to be in that competitive game and prosper…To delay it means that they’re seriously handicapped in trying to catch up.”

Sorry, said construction budget chairman Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. His committee voted down Cox’s amendment.

“This building will be done in the ‘07 session,” Dunshee said, noting that the school got new buildings in Spokane, the Tri-Cities and Vancouver last year. WSU’s land money, he said, should be used for maintenance, not new labs.

But stay tuned. Both Gov. Chris Gregoire and Senate budget writers are backing the WSU project this year.

If the Senate version was the golden goose, then this must be the egg…

A week after the state Senate proposed tens of millions of dollars in state money for local mental health, social service agencies, Washington State University, and other area programs, the House released a budget with virtually none of those things.

Conspicuously absent was $63 million that WSU wanted to spend on its top priority: a new lab building in Pullman. The money would come from interest on WSU’s land income, most of it from timber. But no, said House lawmakers. That money’s for maintenance, they said, not for building big new structures.

Also nowhere to be found: the Senate’s $1.25 million to help clean up the Spokane River, and $10 million — later $7 million — for maintenance at the state’s five minor-league baseball stadiums.

Stay tuned…

Unemployment insurance…

Two years after passing a business-backed tightening of the unemployment system at 4 in the morning, labor groups are pushing lawmakers to undo some of those changes. Their main focus: permanently increasing benefits for seasonal workers, who rely on unemployment to survive.

“In 2003, we made some humongous concessions,” said Bob Abbott, who represents laborers in Washington and North Idaho. “We had people that lost their houses, had power shut off, down here fighting for compromise last year.”

They got that compromise last year, when lawmakers restored some of the benefits temporarily. Now labor groups are pushing to make that change permanent, with Senate Bill 6885.

“It’s not that I choose to depend on unemployment, it’s just the way it is,” said Phil Jack, a faculty member at Green River Community College.

Businesses are resisting, saying that the changes would slowly draw down the state trust fund that pays unemployment claims — or quickly, if another economic slowdown hits.

(Photo: Seattle ironworker Henry Spriggs watches lawmakers discuss the bill Monday.)

An amendment re: gender amendments…

Shortly before the budget bill passed, Republicans tacked on Amendment 152, which bans the state from paying for sex change operations.

“I think we certainly have better uses of our DSHS medical dollars than performing sex changes,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who sponsored the amendment after a recent state auditor’s finding that the state had paid for sex-change-related care.

But Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, said that she’d looked into the matter. “These were not direct expenditures for these different procedures,” she said. “They were for complications after a procedure, such as a major infection.” The state is not, she said, paying for sex changes.

Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, shared with the Senate the tale of two married friends, Joe and Donna, who’d been “lulled into believing that a sex change was the thing they should be doing.” After the operations, she said, the two concluded that they’d been turned into “monsters” who would have to be on drugs for the rest of their lives to maintain their appearances. “I cannot tell you the anguish that these people went through,” Stevens said.

The amendment passed.

More troopers on the roads…

“Your chances of being killed by a drunk driver are far higher than your chances of being killed by a terrorist on a boat.”

— Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, complaining about a federal mandate that forced the state to take 18 state troopers off the roads for ferry security. The Senate transportation budget includes money to hire 12 more for roads.

Columbia River bill signed into law…

Flanked by lawmakers from Eastern and Central Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday signed into law a bill that promises to do what people east of the Cascades have been trying to do for decades: find more water.

“Never did I dream that we would be standing here with this success, united as one Washington, for the economic future of the eastern part of the state and the preservation of salmon and our natural resources,” Gregoire said.

The bill will be backed with $210 million to study the river system and look for natural depressions, canyons and other places to store river water during the rainy months. Of that “new water,” two-thirds would go to growers, one-third to streams for fish. Some environmentalists, however, are unhappy with the sweeping proposal, saying they fear that large storage projects will inundate critical habitat.

Nonetheless, after years of fighting to a standstill over proposed changes to the state’s water policy, lawmakers on Thursday called the bill a harbinger of a new spirit of east-west cooperation. One lawmaker compared the bill to the falling of the Berlin Wall. Others embraced.

Standing quietly on one side of the room was former Gov. Gary Locke, who spent years pushing unsuccessfully for a similar, sweeping “Columbia River Initiative” that never got off the ground.

Standing nearby was Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, who showed up at the bill signing toting an 8 1/2 foot tall blue stick with a 3-inch green stripe painted at the top. Morton’s been toting this stick around, Moses-like, for much of the session. It’s 100 inches long, and the thin green stripe, he tells everyone, represents the 3 percent of Columbia River water that it used by humans. Passing the bill, Morton said, was one of the thrills of his life. He ended up handing off the stick to Gregoire, who gamely stood there for a while with it, then discreetly passed it to a staffer.

Strangest budget item of them all…

Anyone who’s watched the House of Representatives voting on a bill has heard the off-to-the-horse-races clamor of the automated bell that sounds whenever House lawmakers vote. Perhaps intended to wake the sleeping, the bill prods lawmakers to press the green or red buttons with which they cast their votes. The results are tallied on a large electronic board on the wall behind the Speaker of the House.

It is, admittedly, not a quiet bell.

Still, we have to wonder which annoyed Senate staffer penned Section 111, titled “Legislative Building Omnibus,” deep in the Senate capital budget bill released Wednesday afternoon.

It includes this unusual provision:

“Funding is also included for a study of how to acoustically insulate the chambers of the house of representatives in order to prevent the loud, boxing-ring-style bell of the voting machine from disturbing the decorum of the senate.”

The cost of the study isn’t mentioned.

Extra cash — and a warning…

Washington’s top economic weather forecaster, Chang Mook Sohn, slightly upped the size of the state’s unexpected tax windfall. By the end of the fiscal year, he said, Washington will have $107 million more than it expected. That’s good news for the budget writers. The Senate will unveil its budget proposal in about 45 minutes.

But Sohn repeated a warning he’s had for the last several quarterly forecasts: that much of the state’s windfall was fueled by a smoking-hot real estate market, and that the real estate market appears to be slowing, based on December real estate tax collections.

“Housing simply cannot continue to accelerate year after year, month after month,” Sohn said. “There’s always a correction.”

Columbia River bill headed to governor’s desk…

House Bill 2860 (see below) was rushed through the state Senate Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the House overwhelmingly approved it. The Senate followed suit, with a unanimous “yes” vote — and then a rare round of applause for the bill’s sponsors.

Some environmentalists, however, are balking. The bill’s call for water storage along the Columbia, they say, will likely lead to dams and inundation of some of the region’s dwindling shrub-steppe habitat.

Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign the bill into law by Monday.

Read our full story here.

House approves Columbia River Initiative bill…

The House of Representatives late Monday night approved House Bill 2860, which sets the stage for a $200 million program to conserve and store massive amounts of Columbia and Snake river basin water. (Above, prime sponsor Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, and other lawmakers watch the vote tallied.)

“I think it’s time to stop talking. It’s time to get going,” said Gov. Christine Gregoire. Lack of water in Eastern Washington is a real crisis and calls for a breakthrough, she said.

The bill passed overwhelmingly, 94 to 4. But many Republicans said that until the state approves the money, the vote was a big leap of faith for them.

“This is all promises. There’s nothing guaranteed in here,” said Rep. John Serben, R-Spokane.

Hell freezes over: SEIU and Evergreen Freedom Foundation hold hands…

It’s not often that the Service Employees International Union 775 and the conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation sing in harmony in Olympia. SEIU’s arguably the fiestiest union in the capital, and EFF’s probably the second-fiestiest conservative group. (First place, of course, would have to go to the Building Industry Association of Washington.)

But the two groups are jointly calling for a moratorium on new or expanded tax breaks. They also want lawmakers to scrutinize tax breaks — including current ones — with the same microscope that gets turned on new spending.

“Until the Legislature gets its house in order and ensures real accountability for these tax loopholes, we need to stop throwing away our tax dollars,” said David Rolf, president of SEIU 775.

“Government should not distinguish between employers based on the power of their lobbyists to secure preferential treatment,” said EFF’s Jason Mercier.

Lawmakers are considering tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks this year, including ones for dry fertilizer, film production, milk and aluminum smelters, among others.

Among those trying to dump water on more tax breaks: Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“A tax break is spending money,” she said Monday morning. “At the end of the day, we have less revenue, no matter how you cut it.”

Be careful what you wish for, kid…

Last year, a Seattle little boy named Alex Jonlin, wanting to give his peers a voice in state government, gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition to create a youth board to advise state lawmakers. He lobbied for his bill, which local Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, agreed to sponsor.

After the usual hearings, lawmakers last year said OK. But the House of Representatives made one key change: membership on this board was limited to those 14 and older.

Alex is 12.

So, like any good lobbyist, he returned this year to push for more. And on Friday morning, amid a slew of lightweight bills, the state Senate took up the matter of allowing 12-year-olds on the panel.

Surprisingly, there was resistance. The capitol already hosts three programs for youth interested in government, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville pointed out.

The most passionate opposition came from Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington. The boy’s not even old enough to hold down a job, she pointed out.

“In a restaurant, for exmple, he could not become a dishwasher, or he could not become an engineer on a roadworking crew. He could not even be a ditch digger, because of his age,” she said. “To believe that this individual has the life experiences to be able to advise the Legislature, I think, is just bizarre.”

Maybe by the time he’s 14, she said, he’ll be mature enough.

“I believe that’s only appropriate, as we here in this body are, after all, the adults,” she said.

Other lawmakers said the state should encourage the boy’s political interest.

“This isn’t gonna exactly break the bank,” said Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland. “This is just a little project out there.”

“If somebody’s interested, then they ought to have an opportunity to participate while the interest level is there,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.

Jonlin’s bill finally passed, 37 to 8. (Photo courtesy state Senate, 2005)

Waiting for the Supremes…

For weeks, reporters, lawyers, gay and lesbian people, church groups and state lawmakers have made a Wednesday-evening ritual of checking the state Supreme Court’s website. That’s the time when the court posts the names of the cases that it rules on each Thursday morning.

The cases that all those people are waiting for are Andersen v. King County and Castle v. State. The two cases — combined by the high court since they cover similar issues — challenge whether Washington’s ban on same-sex marriage (the Defense of Marriage Act) violates the state constitution. Among the plaintiffs: a Spokane lesbian couple.

But no matter what the ruling is, some legislative leaders say, it’s unlikely that if the court tosses the matter back into the Statehouse that the Legislature has the votes to do much of anything.

If the ban is upheld as constitutional, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said this week, it’s highly unlikely that gay-marriage supporters in the statehouse could muster the supermajority needed to trigger a statewide vote to change the constitution.

If the ban is ruled unconstitutional and the justices refer the matter back to lawmakers, “I don’t think there are enough votes out there for anything else, either,” said Brown, D-Spokane. Not for legislation explicitly allowing same-sex marriage, nor for civil unions, she said.

“I honestly think the public needs to debate the issue more,” she said.

Personally, she said, “I don’t see the justification for denying the rights and responsibilities and the civil contract to same-sex couples.”

But both she and House Speaker Frank Chopp said that Democratic lawmakers — who hold the majority in both the House and Senate — remain deeply divided over the issue.

“There’s no consensus achieved at all,” said Chopp.

No comment…

Spokesman-Review humor columnist Doug Clark — who has long played in a local rock band — composed a song about Washington legislators’ efforts to pass a law banning, yes, bestiality.

It’s posted here.

That’s all we’ll say.

Ideas to save your money…

Each year, Secretary of State Sam Reed hands out awards to state workers who come up with ways to make government more efficient or cheaper.

Among this year’s crop:

-Kennewick State trooper David Wilbur: change the oil in pursuit vehicles every 5,000 miles instead of every 3,000. Savings: $96,000 a year.
-John Traylor, a Spokane social worker: photograph all children placed in foster homes, so they can be identified quickly in case of emergency.
-Aric Norton, a computer worker for the state Liquor Control Board: setting up a toll-free phone number for state workers using laptop computers. Savings: $11,726 a year.

Assisted-death initiative…

Gov. Chris Gregoire was asked Tuesday whether she’d support former Gov. Booth Gardner’s push for a citizen’s initiative to allow doctors to help terminally-ill patients end their lives.

“I’m not prepared to answer that question today, but I do believe that it’s a question that should be decided by the voters of this state,” Gregoire responded.

A devout Catholic, she said the bill puts her in a tough spot.

“I have to search my soul and my Catholic faith,” she said.

Four-strikes law for chronic drunk drivers screeches to a halt…

A furious John Ahern, R-Spokane, is trying to resurrect his bill to allow felony charges against chronic drunk- or drugged drivers.

Legislative leaders, including House budget chair Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, are balking at the cost of imprisoning an estimated 1,200 felony DUI inmates within the next few years. That’s enough inmates, Ahern’s been told, to fill an entire new $180 million state prison.

Read our story here.

A McCaslin moment…

“Senator Weinstein, I know you’re a freshman, but please try to pay attention when there’s a senior citizen making a speech on the floor. It could be my last. (Looks around Senate.) I know you’re all hoping it is.”

—Sen. Bob McCaslin, 79.

Will they strike out again?

AquaSox, Indians, Bears, Rainiers and Dust Devils fans take heart: an unusual alliance of lawmakers from Everett, Spokane, Yakima, Tacoma and the Tri-Cities are trying to wring millions of dollars for minor-league baseball stadium repairs out of the state Legislature.

Read our story here.

Cloned hot dogs, mandatory Chinese, Walla Walla’s hopes dashed, and euthanasia…

With thanks to whatever anonymous Senate Democratic caucus staffer compiles this list each year, here are some of the more exotic bills that, alas, died quietly when Friday’s bill cutoff hit:

-Senate Bill 6383: (Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle) Requiring labeling of any food containing parts of cloned animals.
-SB 6827: (Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland) Designating the Walla Walla sweet onion as the official state vegetable.
-SB 6815: (Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn) Launching a study of requiring high schoolers to learn Spanish and Chinese.
-SB 6876: (Sen. Joyce Mulliken, R-Ephrata) Banning the state “from encouraging or promoting the teaching of sexual orientation.”
-SB 6659: (Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester) Making lawmakers full-time.
-SB 6843: (Sen. Pat Thibaudeau, D-Seattle) Allowing doctors to help patients with terminal illnesses end their lives.
-SB 6295: (Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland)Allowing police to carry a “spring-blade knife.”
-SB 6667: (Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley) Moving the outdoor no-smoking zone from 25 feet outside doors and windows to 10 feet.

Yet more interesting bills…

-SB 6876: (Sponsored by 18 lawmakers): “Prohibiting the Superintendent of Public Instruction from encouraging or promoting the teaching of sexual orientation.”
From the text of the bill: “The legislature further finds that the office of superintendent of public instruction has published materials that encourage the presentation of sexual orientation to the early grades and that this teaching is inappropriate and unacceptable.”
-SJM 8040: From Sen. Pat Thibadeau, D-Seattle: “Requesting the creation of a Department of Peace and Nonviolence.”
-SB 6499: (Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn): “Putting all voters on inactive status until proof of citizenship and photo identification are provided.”
-SB 6528: (Sen. Joyce Mulliken, R-Ephrata): “Permitting roadside tire-chain businesses.” Requested by the state Department of Transportation and backed by the State Patrol, this would allow people to – for a fee – connect and disconnect people’s tire chains on the roadside. California allows this now.
-SCR 8415: (Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver): Establishing a “Select Committee on Securing a Second Major League Baseball Team for the Pacific Northwest.” Meaning, if you actually read the bill, in Portland.

Pardon?

We tend to have a television tuned to TVW during the session, keeping an ear on the low drone of committee hearings and other legislative white noise. Occasionally, someone commits news.

Still, it was a little startling tonight, in the middle of a long meeting of the Senate Labor, Commerce, Research and Development Committee, to hear a staffer dryly intone the following sentence:

“…the wine may not be offered until the massage is completed.”

What?

The bill in question turned out to be Senate Bill 6703, “Allowing Spas to Serve Wine to Their Customers.”

The author of this interesting bill was none other than Sen. Mark Schoesler, a Ritzville Republican wheat and legume farmer.

As lawmakers chortled, Schoesler said that the bill was proposed by residents in his district unhappy at state restrictions on serving alcohol.

“It became apparent that some spas were giving out a glass of wine or champagne to their customers illegally,” Schoesler said. “Apparently it’s very popular with the patrons.”

Indeed. The massage provision apparently stems from concern that combining wine with a massage could have untoward results. (But not what you’re thinking.)

“The blood pressure goes up,” said Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma. “You can really have some reaction, headaches and such.”

Franklin — who is a nurse — thought it would also be a good idea if the spa patrons are offered snacks.

Schoesler said that the Liquor Control Board could probably require that if needed.

Voting in August…

After years of slapping the proposal down, the state Senate on Wednesday approved SB 6236, which would move the state’s September primary election to August.

County election officials and Secretary of State Sam Reed have long called for the change. Every year, they say, it’s a nail-biter to get the September election done in time to print the ballots for Election Day in November. It’s worst, they say for deployed U.S. troops, who worry that they won’t get their fall ballots in time to vote.

“One of these days, the federal government is going to sue us because the people overseas aren’t getting their ballots on time,” said Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley.

But some lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — said it’s a mistake to try to hold an election when many families are on holiday.

In August, Sen. Pam Roach said, “no one’s answering the doro. They’re all at the beach or on vacation.” Most military members, she predicts, will be voting online within a few years.

“I believe that we are attacking a problem that isn’t there,” Roach said.

The Senate voted 37 to 11 to change the election date to August.

“We have the latest primary in the United States currently,” Sen. Jim Kastama said moments before the vote. Other states that have August primaries, he said, haven’t had problems with low voter turnout.

Interesting bills…

With bill cutoff looming, here are some of the more interesting bills floating around Olympia:

-House Bill 3269: Creating Smoking Rooms: Prime-sponsored by Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, this would allow bars, clubs or other public places to designate – subject to ventilation laws regarding secondhand smoke – refuges for smokers. The bill is stalled in the Health Care Committee.
-House Bill 2793: From Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, this would require a deposit of at least a nickel on cans and bottles.
-House Bill 2990: An effort to promote the beauty of submerged Puget Sound and its wildlife to paying tourists, the bill from Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, is titled “Promoting Underwater Viewing.”
-House Bill 2779: From Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, this would mandate use of car headlights whenever the windshield wipers are going.

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

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