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Eye On Olympia

Archive for January 2006

One way to cut costs…

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, has proposed Senate Bill 6871, “Removing Members of the Legislature from State Health Care Coverage.”

None of the other 146 lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors. A hearing’s slated for Thursday.

Signed into law…

“A generation from now, citizens will wonder what took us so long. ”

— Gov. Chris Gregoire, who on Tuesday signed a bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Liberal lawmakers had been trying to pass the bill for 29 years.

Yup…

Ballot measure promoter Tim Eyman says that he’ll file an initiative and a referendum this morning related to House Bill 2661, the recently-passed bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Based on Eyman’s preliminary info e-mailed to reporters, the measures look like a second cousin to his Initiative 914, which would have targeted, among other things, race-based admissions policies at colleges (as well as hiring practices at public and private employers). Eyman has already said — scroll down — that 914 was just a trial balloon.

According to Eyman, his new, as-yet-unnumbered referendum would ban the state from from requiring any school, church, employer “or other public or private entity to impose quotas, set-asides, or other preferential treatment to any individual or group based on sexual orientation or sexual preference.” Naming gays, lesbians or others as a protected class, he said, comprises such preferential treatment.

Eyman has nicknamed the measures “Let the Voters Decide.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire — yes, we’re following the Associated Press’ lead now and using her preferred shortened version of Christine — said this morning that she’ll oppose any such measure.

“It’s just unbelievable to me that we would now turn our backs and say it’s OK to discriminate,” she said. “That, to me, is wrong.”

Text of both measures should be available on this blog shortly…

Gay-rights bill headed to governor’s desk…

The bill passed the Senate, was rushed over to the House, which voted overwhelmingly to concur, and it’s headed for the governor.

At a jubilant press conference, Gov. Christine Gregoire said she intends to sign the bill into law on Tuesday morning.

Bill sponsor Ed Murray said he expects a ballot measure challenge to the bill. He and Gregoire both vowed to fight any such challenge.

“We’re ready,” Murray said in an interview, predicting that voters will turn down such a measure.

“The state’s changed,” he said. “They know more gay and lesbian people.”

Here we go again…

With the Superbowl faceoff between the Seahawks and Pittsburgh looming, Gov. Christine Gregoire made a bet this week with Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell.

Gregoire staked the following on a Seahawks’ victory: a bushel of apples, Ivar’s clam chowder, and Applets and Cotlets.

Rendell’s bet:
-A box of “O Dogs” (“Whatever that is,” Gregoire said Thursday) from Pittsburgh’s “Original Hot Dog Shop”
-Plus a case of Heinz condiments, some local sandwiches and cookies.

More interesting, however, is the second part of their bet.

If the Seahawks win, the team’s 12th-man flags will fly in the governor’s reception room — in Harrisburg.

If the Steelers win, their Terrible Towels will, um, grace Washington’s state capitol.

Gregoire, recounting the conversation to a Spokane chamber delegation Thursday, said she told Rendell “You can take your towels. You’ll be wiping away your tears. You’ll be flying our 12th Man flag.”

Felony DUI…

After years of trying, lawmakers may actually pass a law that makes chronic drunk driving a prison offense.

Always, the rub has been: But what would it cost? Incarcerating a person costs more than $25,000 a year, and lawmakers feared a flood of drunk- and drugged drivers taking up space in the state’s already-crowded prisons.

Now, longtime proponent Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, and key Democrats have joined in what is essentially a four-strikes-you’re-out law. After four DUIs in seven years, offenders could face a felony conviction. As things stand now, prosecutors say, it’s a gross misdemeanor with a maximum of a year in jail — no matter how many times you’re caught driving drunk.

Read our full story here.

But they stop short of passing it…

Republican objections on a procedural motion halt House Bill 2661 for the day. Our best guess: a vote Friday.

State sues spyware company…

Washington state on Tuesday filed suit in U.S. district court in Seattle, accusing White Plains, New-York-based Secure Computer and associates in the United States and India of marketing software that renders computers more susceptible to spyware attacks.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna said the software falsely claims that computers are infected with spyware, and offers “Spyware Cleaner” for $49.95. The program is advertised through spam, pop-ups and “deceptive hyperlinks,” McKenna said.

“Not only did this product fail to detect and remove spyware on the consumer’s computer,” McKenna said, “it actually tampered with security settings to make the machine even more vulnerable.”

It was marketed through a “free scan” offered to people browsing the web, and invariably, McKenna said, the “free scan” detected spyware, even if none existed on the computer.

Washington last year passed a spyware law making it illegal to induce someone to download software by falsely claiming that a program is neccessary for security purposes. The penalty: up to $100,000 per violation.

If you bought Spyware Cleaner and you live in Washington State , you can contact the attorney general’s office to file a complaint form.

House considers price-gouging legislation…

Nineteen lawmakers have proposed a bill to make illegal “excessive and unjustified increases in retail prices” during disasters like the Gulf Coast faced last year with Hurricane Katrina. More than a dozens states have similar laws.

“We want to put a tool in the tool chest here so that if we face terrorists or natural disasters, the governor has some power to do something about it (price gouging),” Rep. Steve Conway told unhappy oil retailers at a hearing Wednesday morning.

The bill, HB 2722, would cover building materials, emergency cleanup or repair work, radios, batteries, candles, blankets, diapers, tents, generators, medical supplies, food, drink, fuel, rental housing and other critical supplies and services. For the price-gouging law to take effect, the governor would have to declare an emergency.

Business people blasted the bill, saying they have little control over the price of gasoline or building supplies, dictated by national supply and demand.

“And what the heck’s going on with the Superbowl?” one gas seller said. “I think they’re gouging on hotel rooms. I think the governor needs to declare a state of emergency in Detroit.”

He lives in Vancouver! No…make that Walla Walla! No…

The Speaker’s Roundtable, a Republican political action committee mailed out postcards to five legislative districts last week, blasting Democrats for not endorsing a GOP-backed bill to toughen sex offender laws. (Democrats are working on their own version.) On the front of the card, in big, bold-face type, are the words “SEX OFFENDER NOTIFICATION.”

That’s beyond the pale, livid Democrats said Tuesday. Several said they’d fielded angry or worried calls from local residents who thought it was a real notification about a real sex offender in their neighborhood.

The man pictured on the card is apparently real, the Democrats say. But he lives in Pierce County, not Walla Walla or Vancouver or the other districts where residents got the cards.

“For people to play political games and to terrorize our citizens by sending out phony postcards — the world’s already a scary-enough place,” said Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver.

Read our story here.

Mandatory green energy…

On Wednesday, environmental and labor groups, farmers and alternative-energy companies plan to file an initiative requiring large utility companies to buy more energy from renewable sources like solar power or wind farms.

The as-yet-unnumbered “Energy Security Initiative” would require large energy companies to gradually increase their portfolio of new clean-energy sources by 15 percent by 2020.

Proponents’ website is here.

Also this, for those of you keeping track…

Despite a few heartening “sun breaks” this week, Friday marked the 34th consecutive day of rain in Olympia.

Gay rights bill passes house…

By a vote of 60 yes, 30 no.

Real wine v. Cheerwine…

With the Seahawk-Panthers faceoff looming Sunday, Gov. Christine Gregoire on Thursday bet Washington’s bounty against the best, we guess, that North Carolina has to offer.

Gregoire’s offer: Smoked salmon, potatoes, Yakima Valley cherries, Walla Walla wines and Wenatchee apples.
N.C. Gov. Mike Easley’s version, according to a Gregoire press release: “barbecue and sauce, slaw and hushpuppies, a six-pack of Cheerwine and a box of North Carolina peanuts.”

Cholesterol concerns aside, North Carolina’s offering raises a key question: What the hell is Cheerwine?

Cheerwine , it turns out, is the successor to Mintcola, which we’re told was a popular beverage in the South around 1913. One day, a traveling flavor salesman apparently sold the company “a unique cherry flavor to blend with other flavorings.” Thus was born a burgundy-colored soda: Cheerwine. The website includes recipes for Cheerwine pie and Cheerwine barbecue sauce.

A big controversy that’s going nowhere, for now…

Among the nearly dozen ballot measures filed this year by Tim Eyman and his ballot measure associates, Spokane’s Mike and Jack Fagan, is one that Eyman’s calling “The Civil Rights Act.” Unlike most of Eyman’s measures, this one doesn’t target taxes.

Initiative 914 would ban racial, gender, nationality or other preferences and would include private schools, employers and other non-government organizations.

Eyman, however, says that the proposal is just the ballot measure equivalent of a trial balloon.

“We file several times, we find out what we’re dealing with,” he said. “We love the free legal advice from the (state) code reviser’s office…It’s an invaluable research and development opportunity for us. At this point, it’s like `Can you do it? Is it legal?’”

He said he’s focused on his main initiative, I-917, requiring $30 license-plate tabs.

“I think for this year, it’s $30 car tabs,” he said.


Welcome to Olympia…

Even in a town used to political showdowns, it’s rare to see the kind of full-on shriek-a-thon that took place around 1 p.m. on the sidewalk near a local sub shop.

Two middle-aged men were walking downtown after an annual anti-abortion rally at the capitol. One held a “United for Life” placard; the other was carrying a wooden cross.

Coming toward them on the sidewalk was a well-dressed woman in her late 20s or early 30s, with latte in hand.

She apparently took offense at the sign and cross.

“You’re not welcome here!” she yelled at the startled men.

She was sick of their kind, she told them, cursing them. She backpedaled to keep up as they tried to dodge her on the sidewalk. If the men tried to respond, it was drowned out.

“Get out!” she screamed at them. “Get out of my city! F*** you!”

She stormed off. The dumbfounded men tried to pretend that they weren’t, as people gawked at them out the window of the sub shop.

Everyone took something away from this moment. The men can regale their fellow churchgoers with what it was like at the center of state government. The woman can feel good about confronting the enemy face to face.

But we’re betting that the person who will remember the incident the longest was the terrified toddler — ignored by both parties — who happened to be walking hand-in-hand with a parent a few feet away.

But please, no caning…

State Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, says he’s found a great way to make Washington students competitive in math: steal a page from the best.

Anderson’s House Bill 2506 notes that in 2003, America ranked below “at least 10 other countries” in math scores by elementary and middle school students.

His solution: to require schools to “incorporate the content, syllabus, sequence and curriculum framework implemented by the ministry of education in Singapore.”

The bill’s parked in the education committee.

Switchblades for the cops?

Senate Bill 6295, by Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, would allow on-duty police to carry a “spring blade knife.”

A peek through the curtain…

Years ago, we’re told, state lawmakers and legislative staff would annually trek from Olympia and Puget Sound into the wilds of Eastern Washington for a days-long round of hearings and meetings.

It’s time to return to that, says Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup. Last year, he promised a delegation from the dry side of the Cascades that he’d visit Eastern Washington. So he did. He went to Yakima, the Tri-Cities and Spokane on several trips. He concluded that lawmakers need to be more accessible and to communicate more with Eastern Washingtonians.

Hence SCR 8416, which would move the September 2006 legislative assembly to a yet-to-be-determined “location east of the Cascade Mountains.”

“Many of them cannot travel this distance (to Olympia),” Kastama told lawmakers at a hearing this week. “I think it would be a very concrete reminder that in fact we’re one state…I think it would be helpful if we got out behind the bubble of Olympia.”

Other lawmakers’ impressions of the region:

“Very good roads going nowhere,” said Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, noting Eastern Washington’s economic difficulties. “They’ve got extremely good roads over there, going to places that are all boarded up.”

Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, said she worries about the cost of shipping staff, records and lawmakers to Eastern Washington for several days.

Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, urged lawmakers to at least pass the bill out of committee, which they did. After all, he said, the full Senate and then the House of Representatives would also have to agree before anyone starts reserving hotel rooms.

“It could be 10 to 20 years down the road before they make a decision,” McCaslin said.

How’d you mark the day?

Gov. Christine Gregoire marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a discussion among her top staffers of King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It was assigned reading for the governor’s cabinet members, who were told to look for lessons of King’s leadership in the famous essay.

A big check for Olympia?

Making the point that many college students are graduating with vast amounts of debt, students from Washington State University on Monday planned to present lawmakers with a $7.5 million check. That’s the total debt that WSU’s Young Democrats came up with in a survey of nearly 500 fellow students.

“Hopefully, legislators will think before enacting extravagant tuition increases and student aid cuts that will burden college graduates with debt and interest payments into their 30s,” the group said.

No rest for the lawmakers…

One of the quirks of state legislatures is that they tend not to notice holidays. Washington’s constitution predates most modern holidays, so one the session clock starts in January, there’s no stopping for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, or other days off.

First bill out of the gate…

Moving with rare speed, the Legislature is rushing through a bill to steer $7.6 million more into home heating assistance for low-income families.

The House of Representatives passed House Bill 2730 Wednesday morning, handing off the bill immediately to the Senate. Gov. Gregoire — who has already said she supports the proposal — is expected to sign it into law by the end of the week. The Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development predicts that the bill would allow make an additional 14,120 households available for an average of $350 each. It would also allow for 350 low-income homes to be weatherized.

“This bill must be passed now, while people are struggling with high heating bills,” said prime sponsor Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood. “If we were to wait to take action on this bill, we would be doing a disservice to the citizens of Washington State.”

Republicans, eclipsed by the Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, have repeatedly pointed out that they called for a similar change back in September. They wanted the governor to convene a one-day session then, so they could cap energy taxes for now.

“She (Gregoire) didn’t do that,” Sen. Mike Hewitt said Tuesday night. “So we lost three months of heating for low-income citizens.”


And more bills…

-House Bill 2495, by Rep. Derek Kilmer: launching a toll-free “state government efficiency hotline.”
-House Joint Memorial 4025, by Rep. Larry Haler: Asking the feds to build a new nuclear power plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation.
-Senate Bill 6265, by Sen. Ken Jacobsen: Requiring emergency workers, during a disaster, to make every practicable attempt to rescue victims’ pets.

Paying the tab…

Three state troopers camped outside the doorway of the Secretary of State’s office? What can it be?

Yup, a Tim Eyman-versus-critics press conference. Eyman on Monday filed his as-yet-unnumbered initiative to cap vehicle registration fees at $30 a year, repeal anything above that and to base vehicle fees on purchase price, not manufacturer’s suggested retail price.

Eyman’s speech was, well, classic Eyman.

“During these times when family budgets are stretched to the limit, Olympia is gorging itself on tax money…Last year’s session involved a spending orgy unprecedented in state government,” he told reporters. Government was “spitting in the eye” of taxpayers, and “at the trough squealing” about his measure. “We’re already hearing the usual threats, lies and scare tactics,” he said.

At Eyman’s side: critic state Sen. Adam Kline, who promptly butted in.

“Tim, where’s the fat in the budget?” Kline repeatedly asked.

Eyman largely ignored him, except to say that politicians get to talk 365 days a year, whereas activists only get their day in the news lights on the day they file their initiatives. He compared Kline’s question to “a 1,000-pound flabby sweaty guy looking at me saying `where’s the fat?’”

Kline persisted. “Point your finger to any part of this budget,” he said, holding one up. “Show me where the fat is.”

Eyman finally retreated across the room to file his paperwork. He and supporters watched as Kline stood in front of the cameras.

“He’s afraid,” Kline said, maintaining that Eyman didn’t want to specify where he’d cut the budget for fear of alienating supporters who depend on, say, the nursing homes or colleges or other things taxes pay for. “He’s afraid that people might make the connection between tax money coming in and services going out.”

Stay tuned. Assuming that Eyman gets his measure on the November ballot, we’ll have another 10 months of similar debates.


Gingrich redux…

House and Senate Republicans on Thursday rolled out their 2006 “pledge to the people of Washington,” as Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt called it.

Printed on computer-generated parchment, the 11-point Republican Commitment to Washington calls for:

-a tougher spending cap
-reducing the number of procedures (like acupuncture and massage therapy) that health insurers must now cover
-reducing regulations on small business and repealing Washington’s estate tax
-tougher penalties for auto and identity theft, as well as for making methamphetamine
-eliminating the unpopular “Day Use Fee” at state parks
-helping students pass the WASL test, soon to be a requirement for graduation
-reducing energy costs
-try to reinstate a ban on same-sex marriage if the Supreme Court overturns it. (Ruling expected soon.)
-protect property rights
-and help family farmers with tax relief, less regulation and ensured access to water.

The reality, of course, is that Democrats dominate the Senate (26 votes to Republicans’ 23), the House (55 votes to 43) and the governor’s office (Just 1 vote, but it counts for a lot).

No matter, Republicans said. Hewitt said he’s counting on building a “philosophical majority” with like-minded Democrats. House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt noted that some of the proposals — like zapping the state-parks’ fee — are already being proposed by Democrats.

And when Democrats and Republicans aren’t singing in chorus? DeBolt said he’s counting on public input to help the GOP change some minds.

Gov. McKenna? Not for now…

“I’ve already started my campaign for re-election as Attorney General, which is what I’ll be doing in 2008.”

— Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, asked whether he’s ready to run for governor. McKenna spoke at a meeting of capitol reporters and editors in Olympia Tuesday.

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

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