Archive for March 2007
It’s an ambitious day for the Senate, as the more deliberative body goes to work on a long list of bills, not least among them the Senate’s capital, transportation and operating budgets and the tens of billions of dollars contained therein. (Also working hard on this rainy morning: the House Appropriations Committee, holding hearings on dozens of bills today and voting on eight more.)
Although it’s all but certain (there was that earthquake in 2001) that the budgets will pass today in the Senate, Republicans are making many 11th-hour attempts to amend the bills.
A sampling of quotes:
“This is not about safety, so let’s stop hiding behind safety. This is a revenue generation, taxation program.”
— Sen. Don Benton, trying unsuccessfully to strip a provision to allow a pilot project of traffic-enforcement cameras in construction zones. Democrats responded that the program is absolutely about safety, and enforcing the laws will help save workers’ lives.
“This really is the lens of the camera under the tent.”
— Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, on the same subject.
“As some of you know, I border on the state of Idaho, which is blooming and blossoming, while my district is going back to the ‘30s.”
— Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, trying unsuccessfully to shift $250,000 into work on an I-90 interchange at Liberty Lake. Instead, the money will be spent as planned on a study of the Inland Northwest’s potential as a regional transportation hub.
“This really pits transportation against schools and children.”
— Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, opposing a Republican attempt to shift $1 billion from the general fund and use it for five highway projects, including $250 million for the North Spokane Corridor. (The measure failed.)
“We risk killing our citizens.”
— Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, on an unsuccessful proposal to strip money for the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle if no decision’s made soon on how to replace it. Instead, GOP senators wanted the money sent to other projects around the state.
“The fact of the matter is that a barrier is better than no barrier.”
— Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, opposing a GOP amendment to halt construction of new “cable barriers” until more study is done to ensure that they’re safe and effective.
Because of a state budget-writer’s typo, more than $2 million for a local project was left out of a Senate budget proposal Wednesday.
After months of asking lawmakers for millions of dollars in help building a new downtown YMCA and YWCA, the project’s line in the budget was a relative pittance: just $250,000.
YMCA officials in Spokane had this reaction:
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“I dropped a zero,” said Brian Sims, capital budget coordinator for the Senate budget committee. “I put the wrong number in. There’s about 10,000 numbers in this budget.”
That news came as a huge relief to Trish McFarland, manager of the YMCA and YWCA’s nearly $41 million campaign for that new building and another YMCA facility in north Spokane.
“It wasn’t funny at first,” McFarland said. “I’ll tell you, I heard from a lot of board members.”
Sims said the figure would be changed to $2.5 million Thursday night by an amendment in the Ways and Means Committee. Budgets in Olympia tend to be quickly drafted, much-amended documents hundreds of pages long.
“I don’t think we’ve ever put out a budget that was without at least one error,” said Sims. “… But it’s a big screw-up when the majority leader (Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane) asks for a figure, and I put one-tenth of it in.”
Other errors won’t make people so relieved, he said. In one case, the same project was named twice. Result: twice the money.
But that, too, also was slated to be fixed in Thursday night’s amendment.
“They were very excited,” he said of the double-dip. “But it’s not going to stay that way.”
One of the most vivid pieces of lobbying so far this year has been manufacturers’ pushback against an environmentalist-backed bill that would ban certain toxic flame retardants.
“You wouldn’t let your child PLAY WITH MATCHES,” reads a mailer from a group called Keep American Fire-Safe. “So why are lawmakers playing with FIRE?”
Pictured is a young boy in his pajamas, watching a cartoon. He’s surrounded by red plastic jugs filled with gasoline.
In broad strokes, House Bill 1024 would ban the sale, manufacture or distribution of products containing polybrominated diphenyl ethers by next January. (The bill makes distinctions between different formulations of PBDE and different products, and phases in the ban based on some of those factors. You can learn all about those distinctions here.)
Proponents say PBDEs, in their worst forms, are a poison seeping into the earth and into us. Critics of the bill say that flame retardants are key to safety, and that science doesn’t back up many of the claims about harmful health effects of the chemicals.
“It kind of reminds me of that old saying about `Joe’s Veterinary and Taxidermy: Either Way You Get Your Dog Back.’ I think the Senate budget gives you your dog back in a lot better shape than the other alternatives.”
Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, on the Senate Transportation budget proposal released Tuesday. The budget writers said they tried hard to avoid delays in key projects.
For years, and with mixed results, reporters trying to make their stories relevant to average readers have struggled — sometimes as a result of news-chain editorial edict — to get “real people” into their stories.
Public relations firms long ago realized that they could capitalize on this trend — and improve the length and “play” of stories they’re pitching — by having a few real-people on hand for reporters to call on their issue. In many cases, press releases today come with handy lists of (carefully vetted and often coached) real people to call and weigh in the matter. They’re often photogenic or have particularly heart-rending tales.
Now comes a new trend, it seems. Some Washington lawmakers are issuing state-paid press releases that not only quote themselves, but also their friends — while mentioning those folks’ businesses.
Rep. John Ahern’s press release (see post below), for example, not only has him weighing in on the budget. It’s also got “Diana Wilhite, owner of Safeguard Business Printing and Promotional Products, and Mayor of Spokane Valley” expressing her concerns about unfunded mandates.
And there’s Curt Fackler, owner of U.S. Tax Credits (and Spokane County GOP chairman), questioning the priorities of the House budget. And Robin Ball, owner of the Sharp Shooting Indor Range and Gun Shop — and former Spokane County GOP chairwoman — joining Ahern in slamming Democrats.
Ahern’s not unique in this new strategy. Yakima-area GOP Reps. Mary Skinner and Charles Ross also sent out a budget critique that incorporates local citizens who sound a lot like lawmakers already:
“Only government would get an 18 percent increase in its budget and still complain,” added H.E. `Jerry’ Maggard, owner/broker of Advanced Real Estate in Yakima.
“Skinner and Ross said they’re also concerned that the budget spends $2.2 billion on new policy additions, while Democrats do little to address public safety. It’s a concern echoed by Jar Arcand, owner of Santiago’s Gourmet Mexican Restaurant in Yakima.”
“This is a strong proposal for a strong Washington.”
— Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle.
“We are the largest state we’ve ever been in history…More people — more things — more stuff.”
— Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.
“This budget is an act of optimism. We are betting on the families of the state of Washington…It’s about brighter futures.”
— also Dunshee
“I think we’ve got a whole lot of betting going on here.”
— Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla
“We are standing up today against a superior force that is going to drive this budget down our throats, and we’re going to lose…You didn’t bet on our kids. You gambled away their future.”
— House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis.
“All the discussions and posturing that go on at this stage are very interesting…It’s a yes for me. It’s going to deal with the essential human needs of the people of this state.
“I’ve heard it over and over again. `The skies are falling.’ Well, it’s been two years since I heard that speech. The walls are up. The sky is blue.”
— Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, the sole Republican voting for it.
“This budget goes a long way toward keeping our promises that we made” during the 2003 and 2005 gas-tax increases. “We kept the promise by sticking to the project list.”
— Rep. Judy Clibborn
“It’s a budget with working families in mind.”
— Rep. Mike Sells, noting that the projects would speed up commutes and employ 25,000 workers
“I think those $25,000 jobs could well be placed on Highway 2 — a death highway.”
— Rep. Bob Sump, R-Republic
“My children and grandchildren, nor yours, will be able to afford this budget.”
— Rep. Jim Dunn
The $7.4 billion budget passed, 81-16.
After weeks of discussion about moving Washington’s too-late-to-matter presidential primary from May 27 to something several months earlier, a panel of top elected officials and party leaders convened under the Tiffany chandeliers of the state capitol reception room and…deadlocked.
Five Republicans, including Secretary of State Sam Reed, held out for Feb. 5 or maybe 12. Four Democrats thought March 18 makes more sense. And since approval required six votes, nothing was decided.
Democratic party representative Todd Nichols said March 18th makes the most sense because no other state holds a primary on that date. That makes it most likely that candidates will actually show up in Washington to stump for votes, Democrats at the meeting said.
“If we’ve got one punch, we want to use it in the right place,” said state Democratic Party vice chair Eileen Macoll.
Republicans argued that the election of a party nominee will be largely over by mid-February next year. Having a mid-March primary will be largely irrelevent, almost like it is now, they said.
The relevance of the $9 million statewide vote, however, also revolves around what the state parties do in a few months. They can ignore the results of the public vote, instead allocating delegates on the basis of party caucuses in early 2008. Critics, like Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, say that leaves the small ranks of party faithful making the decision while the state’s rank and file voters are ignored.
Interesting fact, according to the hard-working House Judiciary research staff: All 50 states grant some form of privilege for clergy-penitent communications. In other words, no one can compel a member of the clergy to tell investigators — or anyone else — about what is said in those conversations.
The interesting part is this: Only 21 states and the District of Columbia specifically include Christian Science practitioners in their definition of clergy.
It’s time to boost that number to 22, according to a dozen House lawmakers. House Bill 1939 would grant the same right to a member of the faith’s “sacred confidences” made to a Christian Science practitioner. (The church doesn’t have ordained clergy, but lists its accredited practitioners in a monthly official journal.)
The bill has passed the House and was heard Wednesday in a Senate judiciary committee.
“I don’t want it to be collegial. I want it to be a lot more hostile.”
—Initiative promoter Tim Eyman, on the mutual praise between State Auditor Brian Sonntag and the state Department of General Administration during the first of a long series of new performance audits.
(Despite the mutual admiration, Sonntag’s staff found that the agency had 113 “underused” state vehicles that should be sold or reassigned, that it’s rental rates to state agencies don’t cover its operating expenses and that the agency should stop financing the vehicles it buys, in order to save millions of dollars in interest.)
Three years after the state Supreme Court ruled that it’s unconstitutional for companies or nonprofits to use prison-inmate labor, lawmakers want to rewrite that 118-year-old clause of the constitution.
The workers are paid for their time – although more than half of that money can be gobbled up for victim restitution, cost of incarceration, another victim’s fund and a mandatory 20 percent inmate savings account.
A 2005 study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that putting employees to work reduces their likelihood of re-offending upon release. The group calculated the net benefit – in savings to taxpayers and benefits of avoided crime – at about $4,400 per inmate.
Senate Joint Resolution 8212 would ask voters this November to approve amending the state constitution to again allow so-called “Class 1” industries to set up manufacturing or other employment opportunities for offenders in prisons. (It would also require that such operations don’t unfairly compete with Washington businesses.)
The bill has passed the Senate – unanimously – and is now being considered by the House.
For now, prison inmates are still doing work under state-run programs. They make office and classroom furniture, they sew uniforms, make prison mattresses, first aid kids, office nameplates and, yes, half a million license plates a year. They also provide a wide array of institutional food.
“Correctional Industries bake cookies that melt in your mouth,” promises their website.
“It’s gone on too far. If I knock on one more door during the next election campaign and have people laughing when I talk about the North South Corridor, it won’t be good.”
— Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, on the same topic.
Savvy readers of our print edition may have a done a double-take this morning, when they saw our front-page headline: “House Passes Budget Plan.”
That, of course, should have been “House Proposes Budget Plan.”
I don’t write the headlines.
“In the year 2000, you’re going to see a different education system and it’s going to be better. We want our students to compete not just with neighboring districts, but with the world.”
That was Washington’s superintendent of public instruction – 13 years ago.
“We are competing in a fierce world economy. We need to step up to the challenge in our public schools, define our goals and hold the schools accountable.”
That was the House majority leader – 14 years ago.
“This is our last, best hope. We have a task that transcends anything else. Now is the time for action.”
That was the governor – 16 years ago.
Despite one “education governor” after another, there’s a Groundhog-Day element to this year’s calls for school reform in Olympia. Repeatedly over the past 25 years, reformers have called for an overhaul of education – often in words nearly identical to those being used now – only to be undercut by recessions, an unwillingness to raise taxes, and political and educational inertia.
This time’s different, proponents hope.
“I can understand why people are cynical,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “But this is real. … It’s our commitment to get this under way.”
Some lawmakers are profoundly skeptical.
“I’ve got a box full of studies in my office, and nothing has changed,” says Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
But Washington can’t stand by and do nothing, Gov. Chris Gregoire says; For the sake of its children and economy, the state must turn out better-prepared students, she has said. Half of kids entering kindergarten aren’t prepared to learn, she said. More than a quarter of the state’s ninth-graders don’t graduate high school on time. And in 2005, half the students who took the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning failed the math section – a failure that Gregoire blames on the educational system, not on the students.
“It is time to make some real changes to Washington’s education system,” Gregoire said in Seattle in November, unveiling Washington Learns, the state’s latest major study of education reforms. “This is a bold plan to redesign and re-invest in education over the next decade.”
In one forum after another, she has echoed the battle cries of her education-governor predecessors: We need a 21st century educational system. We’re competing with the world. We must boost math learning. Investing in education is the wisest investment the state can make.
Yet the Washington Learns study stopped short of making one crucial recommendation. Though many school groups are calling for more state spending on schools, Washington Learns made no recommendation about where to come up with the billion dollars or more a year that school groups are calling for.
“They had the mother of all studies and they just punted,” Schoesler said.
“There’s probably been seven or eight major commissions looking at funding and all of them skip it,” said Bob Williams, president of Olympia’s conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation. “There’s a reluctance to dig down and see where the money’s really going and what really makes a difference.”
All told, Williams said, the state now spends about $10,500 per pupil, per year.
Among those disappointed that the study didn’t address how to come up with more money for schools: teachers.
“Talk is cheap,” said Charles Hasse, president of the state teachers’ union, the Washington Education Association. “It’s costly to reduce class sizes, provide individual attention, build science labs. That’s where we’ve gotten stuck in this state. We need to find the political will and get past the rhetoric.”
To that end, the state Senate has proposed a study to revamp what Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Brian Benzel has called a central problem: the funding formula that determines how much the state sends to local school districts.
Does that mean a significant tax increase for schools? Probably, proponents say.
“I don’t believe that anybody thinks that we could get this done without ultimately facing the revenue question,” Brown said. But first, she said, voters have to be able to understand what they’re paying for.
“I think we’re all ready for something that’s more clearly tied to results,” she said.
Three teens die in a fiery gas pipeline explosion. Two are minors; their grief-stricken parents sue for the pain and suffering of losing their children. Another is 18, however. And under the law, his equally grief-stricken parents are left unable to do the same thing.
That’s one of several real-life tragedies that Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, says underscores the need for his HB 1873. It would allow parents of children as old as 25 or those who are developmentally disabled to sue for pain and suffering when someone’s responsible for their child’s wrongful death.
“The bill rights what has been an ignorance of the family relationship,” Ormsby argued this week. Largely gone are the days, he said, when children were fully-independent, launched adults at 18.
Some lawmakers disagree. Eighteen is the age when you can vote, can be sued, and become legally responsible for yourself, pointed out Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie.
It’s impossible to value a human life, Rodne said. Yet he said he didn’t feel Ormsby and the bill’s other proponents had made a good case for extending the age limit.
“There’s been no catastrophe in our system of civil justice,” he said.
The bill passed, 64 to 32.
The House went late again Tuesday night, debating until about 11:30 in a rush to try to get bills through before today’s 5 p.m. cutoff.
Among the things that passed: Rep. Joyce McDonald’s HB 1214, which bans people from trying to text-message someone on a cell phone, Treo or Blackberry — while driving down the road.
“This bill is targeted at anyone who thinks it’s safe to text message while driving,” said McDonald, R-Puyallup. Hunting and pecking for tiny keys and reading a tiny keyboard — again, while driving — is even more distracting than chattering away on a cell phone, she said.
She cited a Puget Sound crash in December involving three cars and a bus. The cause? A 53-year-old man sending a message on his Blackberry.
“I know that we don’t like to have our rights restricted,” she said. “This is America and we like to be free. But there are some things that are just not acceptable.”
The bill passed 73 to 23.
After months of political jousting over how to replace Seattle’s decades-old Alaskan Way Viaduct, the voters there have spoken.
The question: How to replace the ugly, noisy elevated highway along Seattle’s otherwise-scenic waterfront? The cheaper option, although not cheap, is to simply replace it with another elevated highway. But Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, declaring this a once-in-a-century chance to replace the eyesore, lobbied hard for a tunnel along the waterfront, albeit one that would cost at least hundreds of millions of dollars more.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and lawmakers balked, saying the tunnel is too expensive for taxpayers. Gregoire called for a vote on the options, hoping that Seattle would want the tunnel enough to agree to pony up the extra cash to pay for it.
Doing nothing is not an option, she repeatedly said, noting engineers’ worries that the Viaduct will pancake in the next major Puget Sound earthquake. And if that happens and people die, she said over and over, everyone will be furiously trying to place blame for why the structure wasn’t replaced sooner.
Instead, Nickels pushed ahead with a slimmed-down “Tunnel Lite” that would be somewhat cheaper, but still more than an elevated highway.
So which did Seattle choose? A simple elevated replacement? Or Tunnel Lite?
–Nearly 70 percent voted against Tunnel Lite.
–and more than 55 percent voted against the elevated freeway.
So most Seattle voters don’t like either plan. And yet doing nothing is not an option.
As curious preschoolers peered over the edge of the table (and one mugged for the camera), Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday signed a new law that will provide health coverage to thousands more children in Washington.
The law will expand coverage to an additional 38,000 children and youths under age 19.
“It is our moral duty,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire. “ It is an economic necessity that we have a healthy next generation of Washingtonians.”
The price tag: about $60 million over the next 2 years. Half of that is state dollars; the rest is paid by the federal government.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, launches a new state-run health plan to cover children of families earning less than 250 percent of poverty level. That’s $50,000 for family of four.
Starting in 2009, coverage will expand to children in families living on less than 300 percent of poverty level, or $62,000 a year for the same family. Families earning $40,000 to $60,000 a year, however, would have to pay premiums for the coverage. If they can insure their children through employer-sponsored coverage, the state can help them pay those premiums.
“Today’s an important day for our kids,” said Marr. But he said it’s important that lawmakers and budget writers also follow through with other health measures, such as boosting state reimbursements for pediatricians who treat low-income kids.
Critics – mostly Republicans – were unhappy with what they see as an increasing shift to try to move people onto government-run health coverage.
They also argued that the plan is too generous, covering kids in families earning more than the median income in many counties. That, they argued, will hurt the private insurance market.
As Tuesday afternoon fades into evening — and a likely late night as lawmakers try to beat tomorrow’s bill cutoff — it seems a good time to reflect on the sausage-making that is legislation.
For all the Senate-clashes-over-something stories, many of the thousands of bills that course through the statehouse each year are eye-rubbingly dull. The Senate, for example, is now grinding slowly through Substitute Senate bill 5387: Promoting Economic Development Through Commercialization of Technologies.
A Senate page swings by the press desk, handing out an amendment on an upcoming bill. The amendment would “provide for timelines and practices designed to minimize processing and review times, and for processing prior to completing applications and decision to the extent appropriate under current law.”
Up in the Senate gallery, state troopers and security staff are waiting for the arrival of an announced sit-in by anti-war protesters. Forty minutes after they were scheduled to show up with noise makers, only one guy showed up.
“Excuse me Brad Owen, do you have a dollar?..Do you have 50 dollars? How about 100 dollars? Mr Owen, do you have a dollar?”
Security swooped in and led the guy — who didn’t resist — out of the gallery. Lawmakers seemed perplexed by the message, with one saying that he should have asked Owen for a million dollars and another opining that perhaps the protest had something to do with payday lending.
Even the lawmakers can’t seem to pay attention to each other. Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, got up a few minutes ago and waxed eloquent on how a four-foot piece of scrap timber can be all-but-worthless to a lumber mill. But to a chainsaw artist, Morton said, that scrap can be the foundation of a masterpiece.
Yet only the unblinking eye of the TVW cameras appeared to be paying any attention. All around Morton, his colleagues stared into their state-issued laptops, talked loudly into their phones or wandered into the wings.
Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, scored a win this week, when the Senate passed his SB 5461.
It sound like a little change: making permanent state timber officials’ four-year-old authority to contract with crews to fell trees according to specific instructions, instead of the more common system of identifying timber stands to sell and letting companies bid for the right to cut and haul away the logs.
This matters, Morton and other proponents say, beause there are millions of acres of timber in Washington with high numbers of dead, defoliated, or insect-infested trees. Morton and other proponents say that being able to contract for cutting will help cut the risk of disease- and infection spreading, as well as fire danger. Thinning those stands will make the state some money, make loggers some money, and provide some more logs for local mills.
Without the bill, such contract harvests would have ended this year.
See TVW on your TV, or click on this link at to listen to streaming audio at www.tvw.org.
—Sen. Chris Marr’s bill to dramatically expand health coverage of poor and some middle-income children in Washington passed the House yesterday, and could be signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire as early as Monday.
—The Senate has passed Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown’s SJM 8012, asking the federal government not to “federalize” — i.e. mobilize, as federal troops — the state’s national guard so that the soldiers and airmen can be available for state or local emergencies. (A recent federal law amended the Federal Insurrection Act to allow the president to impose federal control without notice, consultation or consent of the governor or Congress in the event of a natural disaster, epidemic or other serious public emergency.)
—Also in the Senate, lawmakers approved Marr’s SB 5092, a widely-backed bill that’s a big deal for local economic development associations. It doubles the state’s contribution to such groups, or, as one proponent put it at a hearing back in January, “puts us back into the big leagues.” Various economic development groups throughout the state now split less than $3 million every two years from contracts with the state Department of Community Trade and Economic Development. This bill would boost that to about $6.5 million.
“Men who never get carried away should be.”
- Malcolm Forbes
We ask forgiveness for the over 500,000 Christians in Washington State who did not vote in the last election resulting in the current disaster in Olympia. We pray forgiveness for the many Christians who concern themselves only with their own family and church and who do nothing to advance the common good. We thank you for legislators and citizens who continue the good fight for righteousness. Strengthen what remains. Return what has been lost.
– excerpt from a weekly prayer request sent out by the Bothell-based group Positive Christian Agenda. The group asked members and the state’s congregations to pray for the demise of Senate Bill 5336 — the domestic partnerships bill — as it moves to the House of Representatives.
Two years after two seismologists were killed when huge logs tumbled off a speeding and overloaded logging truck, the House of Representatives has approved a bill to launch a tracking system for large trucks, with safety violations added to the same database now used to track interstate rigs. Carriers that are “a risk to public safety” could be booted off the road by the State Patrol until they fix the problems.
The bill is named after Tony Qamar and Daniel Johnson, killed Oct. 4, 2005.
State Rep. Dean Takko is trying to steer a little more money into pothole-fixes and sidewalk repairs for small cities. Co-sponsors include local Rep. Steve Hailey, R-Mesa.
Takko’s HB 1482, unanimously approved by the House on Wednesday, would double a small fund set up to help small towns pay for road repairs. Takko’s proposal would increase the cash to $4 million over the next two years, and add another $1 million every couple of years after that.
In a few minutes.
It’s SB 5336.