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Eye On Olympia

Archive for December 2007

What’s in the hopper so far…

With a month to go before lawmakers pack their cars and flock to Olympia, 2008 is already shaping up to be a busy legislative session.

More than two dozen lawmakers already have proposed about 50 changes in state law, including a 10-cents-a-gallon carbon tax on gasoline, tighter controls on released sex offenders and a ban on many plastic water bottles.

Many of the bills are rough proposals likely to change before passing, if they survive at all. And some – like the carbon tax bill – would likely prove a very hard sell in an election year. Here’s a look at some of the bills filed so far for consideration in the session that begins Jan. 14:

• House Bill 2420: Proposed by state Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds, this would discourage greenhouse gas production by assessing coal, gasoline and natural gas importers a $10-per-ton tax on the resulting carbon emissions. Motorists would be charged a dime more per gallon of fuel. Both taxes would increase tenfold by 2017.

• HB 2425: State Rep Tom Campbell, R-Roy, wants to set up a statewide system to better monitor drug-resistant bacterial infections.

• HB 2436: State Rep. Christina Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, proposes allowing crime victims to weigh in when state prison officials are deciding whether a person can go into a work-release program.

• HB 2422: Also from Chase, this would ban petroleum-based plastic water bottles smaller that a liter.

• HB 2438: Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, wants to make permanent a pilot project that allows the use of dogs to hunt cougars in some areas. Once common, the practice was reined in when voters overwhelmingly passed Initiative 655 in 1996.

• HB 2433: Rep. Al O’Brien, D-Mountlake Terrace, proposes that state general-assistance payments be suspended for anyone in prison or jail.

• HB 2425: This bill from Chase would require sellers of lawn mowers, chain saws, leaf blowers, off-road vehicles and other small gas-engine-powered equipment to put up signs describing the benefits of choosing electric models instead.

• HB 2439: Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, proposes requiring prison officials to determine the immigration status of sex offenders and hand off any that are subject to deportation to federal authorities.

• HB 2440: Also from Priest, this would require electronic monitoring of all sex offenders rated most likely to reoffend, who register as homeless or who have failed to register in the past.

• HB 2444: Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, wants to force all sex offenders and convicted kidnappers to disclose any e-mail addresses they use or Web sites they run.

• HB 2446: Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, is proposing tougher penalties for sex offenders who fail to register with authorities.

Deal with tribal officials will net farmer, fish and cities billions of gallons in “new water”…

Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed a multi-million-dollar agreement with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation that offers parched sections of Eastern Washington something that cities and farmers have sought for years.

New water.

“This is a tremendous milestone,” Gregoire said, flanked by tribal leaders at a signing ceremony at the capitol.

“It’s been a lot of work and many years, and here we are today,” said Colville Tribal Chairman Mike Marchand.

In exchange for annual payments from the state, the Colvilles agreed to support the state’s plan to annually tap up to 43 billion gallons more water from Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind the dam.

Richard Sherwood, chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, said that his tribe is likely to sign a similar document. There are still some legal details pending, he said, but added that the tribe and governor have an agreement in principal.

Pending legislative approval, the state would pay a total of $6 million annually to the two tribes. The water is intended for Moses Lake-area irrigators struggling with an aquifer plummeting 7 feet a year, as well as other farmers, Eastern Washington cities, and fish.

“Today’s historic agreement ensures a water supply that sustains farming, supports growing communities and enhances our precious salmon resource,” Gregoire said.

Some local water experts were less enthusiastic. While irrigators, cities and fish clearly need more water, the agreement is “a short-term Band-Aid for a long-term problem,” said Andy Dunau, with the Spokane-based Lake Roosevelt Forum.

“Is this the end of water requests for Lake Roosevelt?” he said. “That’s the unanswerable question.”

Rachael Paschal Osborn, executive director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, said the group is opposed to drawing any more water from the reservoir. There’s no extra now, she said. And government should have no obligation to bail out irrigators who’ve been draining reservoirs for decades, she said.

Gregoire said the cost of the agreement pales in comparison to the benefits to water users who have long needed new water supplies in as many as six counties. Loss of irrigation water in the area now served by the rapidly-dropping Odessa aquifer threatens $600 million a year in farm revenues and 7,500 jobs, she said.

Jay Manning, the head of the state Department of Ecology, said the agreements were the cheapest of several alternatives the state considered for freeing up more water in the area.

Grand Coulee Dam – which holds back the Columbia River waters that comprise Lake Roosevelt – inundated tribal rivers and uplands, said Richard Sherwood, chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians. If signed, he said, the agreement “will provide major benefits downstream while helping the tribe to address some of the impacts from storage and use of that water on our lands,” said Sherwood.

But Manning and Sherwood both stressed that the tribes are not selling their water. They simply agreed not to oppose the additional drawdown.

“I would see it as two sovereign governments recognizing each other’s rights,” said Sherwood. “I don’t see it as selling the tribes’ water. If I viewed it that way, I wouldn’t want to be a part of it.”

At most, Manning said, the lake level will drop by a foot at certain times of year.

Gregoire said she’ll ask state lawmakers to approve the agreement as well as payments to the tribes. The Spokanes would get $2.25 million a year; the Colvilles would get $3.8 million the first year and $3.6 million thereafter.

The tribes will use the money to help mitigate damage to fish and wildlife habitat, recreation and cultural activities resulting from the release of the additional water from the reservoir. The money can also be used for economic development, which is what Marchand said the Colvilles are likely to do.

The water agreement is only the latest of a number of compacts Gov. Gregoire has signed with Indian tribes in the past three years. Among them: deals on tribal gas taxes, cigarettes taxes, and gambling.

The relationship between the state and tribes is much better than it used to be, Marchand said, as behind him Colville tribal members presented Gregoire with a blanket bearing the tribal seal.

“We used to meet in the Supreme Court all the time,” he said, “and neither side was served very well.”

Read full story here.

“Let’s leave it at that, OK?”

An amusing new YouTube parody campaign ad for — sort of — Mike Huckabee. (And it’s safe for work, despite the screenshot below.)

Odd headline of the day…

Ice storm glazes nation’s midsection

on CNN’s story about, yes, a storm in the Midwest.

Ethics board slaps Tri-Cities lawmaker with record fine…

After 27 interviews, at least four meetings and three investigative trips to the Tri-Cities, the state Legislative Ethics Board has imposed its largest-ever fine against state Rep. Shirley Hankins, R-Richland.

Hankins repeatedly broke state law by using her legislative clout to promoting her daughter’s tire-recycling business, trying to steer state business to it and “attempts to intimidate” state environmental officials who raised questions, the board ruled.

Hankins must pay $4,174.62, about half of which is fines and half is the board’s investigative costs.

In a statement e-mailed to reporters — and slipped under my office door, thank you — Hankins said she’s “extremely disappointed” with some of the findings.

“It was never my intent to promote one company over another, but to ensure that the Department of Ecology carried out the job the Legislature asked the agency to do, and that was to dispose of tire piles that constitute a serious environmental threat to the health and safety of our citizens,”
she said.

She said she won’t contest the board’s decision, although she disagrees that she violated state ethics laws. She also says this:

“My intentions have always been toward the greater good of the district. I deepy and humbly apologize to my constituents for any actions that have fallen short of these intentions.”

Here are some details on the allegations, although I should note that this is and has long been the Tri-City Herald’s story.

Hankins’ daugher, Sherrey Hankins, runs a tire-baling company called NWT.

The ethics board said it didn’t find reasonable cause to support allegations that Rep. Hankins leaned on city officials to use her daughter’s baled tires at a local shooting range, helped get a local government loan for the business or prodded the Department of Ecology into giving the company a cleanup contract, among other allegations.

But there was reasonable cause to believe the Hankins:
-used her position to get special privileges for the company, including in meetings with city officials about permits and licenses,
-used her office to organize and take part in tours touting her daughter’s company,
-and “employed improper means in the use of her legislative office and public resources in attempts to influence and/or intimidate state agency personnel through persistent actions reasonably perceived as threatening.”

Hankins “has been unable to appropriately separate her legislative interests in tire recycling from the business interests of NWT,” the board said.

(An aside: If there’s an award for legal muddiness, it should go to the ethics board, whose ruling actually manages to contain this sentence:

“There is reasonable cause to believe that the following facts are among those which may be identified as the facts of this case.”)

Supremes: No right to a court-appointed divorce lawyer…

In a closely-watched case, the state Supreme Court this morning ruled 7-2 that indigent people do not have a right to a court-appointed lawyer for a divorce.

Perhaps they should, Justice Charles Johnson wrote for the court’s majority, given the complexity of divorces and what’s at stake. But if so, he said, it’s not the court’s place to dictate that. Only loss of liberty in a criminal case or complete termination of parental rights by the state trigger a requirement for free legal representation.

“It may be that the legislature should expend resources to address the complexity that often accompanies dissolution proceedings. A wise public policy … may require that higher standards be adopted than those minimally tolerable under the Constitution….However, the decision to publicly fund actions other than those that are constitutionally mandated falls to the legislature.”

In a dissent, Justice Barbara Madsen argues that such a right does exist for people — as in this case — struggling over custody of their children.

“As this court has observed,” she wrote, “a parent’s right to custody and control of his or her children is more precious to many people than the right of life itself.”

The case involves a Western Washington woman, Brenda King, with only a 9th grade education. After 10 years of marriage, her husband, Michael King, filed for divorce. Fighting for custody of her three children, she spent her rent money on a lawyer, ran out of cash, and repeatedly appealed to legal aid groups for help. They were unable to find a lawyer who would take the complex case. She ended up representing herself in court against her husband’s lawyer during a five-day trial.

Not surprisingly, her husband won primary residential custody. She got the kids on alternating weekends, four weeks during the summer, and on spring break every other year.

Writing for the majority, Justice Johnson noted that other states and the federal courts have weighed the same issue and concluded that there’s no constitutional requirement for a court-appointed divorce lawyer. After all, he writes, divorces are private disputes, and a parenting plan doesn’t terminate a parent’s custodial rights — which the court in 1974 said does demand a free lawyer if needed.

Also, Johnson wrote, there are built-in safeguards to prevent “erroneous” decisions in divorces involving kids. A judge can seek expert advice or appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the childrens’ interests.

Madsen, writing for herself and fellow dissenter Justice Tom Chambers, argues passionately that divorces are not akin to a simple tort claim and do involve a fundamental right: day-to-day care of one’s children:

“The majority’s reasoning ignores the very real effect of what happens when one parent is denied primary residential placement after she has been the primary caregiver of her child.”

Madsen wrote.

“Where before she was involved in the day-to-day interactions, nurturing, and decision-making that together comprise a great part of a parent’s relationship with her child, once her
child is placed elsewhere she loses the day-to-day relationship in which she directed the upbringing and education of the child, nurtured him through the innumerable ups and downs of a young person’s life, and helped prepare the child for his own responsibilities and duties in life.

She loses the day-to-day emotional contact and physical contact. She loses the hectic surroundings of the morning when she helps the child get ready for school and the good-night rituals that precede bedtime for her child. Her child will not be in her home so that she can soothe him when he is hurting from a skinned elbow or from the unkind words of
another child.

She will not be present in her children’s daily lives to provide ongoing spiritual guidance, if she wishes, or to teach manners and civic responsibility when each new day brings the opportunities to do so. She and her child will not be together day by day to nourish and share their love for each other.

When a child is removed from the parent’s home, thousands of moments of interactions are lost. Those thousands of moments, adding up to years of development, are no longer hers.

Meanwhile, on the steps of the capitol…

The Olympian’s Adam Wilson reports that Tacoma truck driver Nick Bradford intends to burn the Mexican flag on the statehouse steps when the legislative session begins next month.

“Obviously the protest is intended to get the attention of the public, but also the politicians here, in Washington.”

he told Wilson.

We can’t always bark at the other Washington and George Bush. We can do things locally here.”

One minor issue remains:

He has not turned in a request for a permit to hold a rally on the steps, but said he plans to. The Department of General Administration, which issues such permits, says flag burning is protected free speech, but also a possible safety hazard, which would require a burn permit.

Gregoire taps Spokanite (yes, that’s the term) for state’s highest court…

The newest state Supreme Court justice is a judge from Spokane.

This morning at the state’s Temple of Justice in Olympia, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she’s appointing appeals court judge Debra L. Stephens to replace retiring justice Bobbe Bridge. Stephens is the first native Eastern Washington female lawyer to serve on the high court.

“Judge Stephens is a legal scholar who understands the importance of making the law relevant and meaningful to real people with real problems,” the governor said in a statement this morning. She praised Stephens’ experience, temperament and commitment.

Stephens, at 42, is no stranger to the high-ceilinged courtroom where she’ll soon sit as one of the nine justices. As a lawyer specializing in appellate cases, she argued more than 100 cases before the court.

Another key factor, Gregoire said, were Stephens’ Eastern Washington roots. The last Spokane native on the state Supreme Court was Chief Justice Richard Guy, who retired in 2000.

Stephens was appointed to the Division III Court of Appeals in April, becoming just the second woman ever to join that division of the court. She’s a 1993 Gonzaga Law School grad.

Earl Martin, dean of the university’s law school, said in a statement that she “has always exemplified the best of the profession.”

“Additionally, consistent with the Gonzaga spirit, Judge Stephens is a dedicated public servant who is committed to the pursuit of social justice,” Martin said.

Stephens is married to Craig Stephens. The couple has two children, Lindsey and Bob.

Locally, Stephens served more than a decade as a school board member for the Orchard Prairie School District and is a board member of the Spokane Valley Rotary Club. She has been an elder, deacon and Sunday school teacher at Millwood Community Presbyterian Church.

Her father is Jim Williams, a well-known local businessman, founding member of the public facilities district board that planned and built Spokane’s Veterans Memorial Arena, and longtime West Valley School Board member. Williams ran unsuccessfully for a statehouse seat in 1998, losing the Republican primary to Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards, who still holds the seat.

Aberdeen cut off, I-5 iffy, governor declares state of emergency…

With a city surrounded by floodwaters, waters rising on Interstate 5 and dozens of landslides reported along Western Washington highways, Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency today, making National Guard troops available to storm-damaged counties.

“At this hour, Aberdeen has been effectively cut off” by water covering area roads, Gregoire told reporters at the state capitol shortly after noon. State road crews are only allowing through emergency vehicles on the one remaining road that’s passable, she said.

Western Washington has been hammered in the past 36 hours by snowfall, heavy rains, and winds that on the coast reached 80 miles an hour.

Ten counties and four cities – Seattle, Everett, Olympia and Shoreline – have declared a state of emergency, and more are expected to.

Road crews are particularly worried about Interstate 5, the main north/south freeway linking Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

Near Chehalis, one of two northbound lanes has been closed due to high water on the roadway. Officials are nervously watching the sole remaining northbound lane, covered with 1 1/2 inches of standing water. Water is rolling down onto the road from an adjacent hill, Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said.

The National Guard has three task forces with high-clearance vehicles and command trucks available, as well as stockpiles of sandbags. No counties have called for help yet, Gregoire said.

Hammond said the Department of Transportation has 800 people out in the field clearing fallen trees and assessing landslide damage, flooding and other problems. The department’s website was briefly knocked out late Monday morning, she said, apparently from a surge of web traffic by motorists.

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

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