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Eye On Olympia

Archive for February 2008

And more rumor control…

As Sen. Brian Weinstein stuggles to get his home buyer’s bill of rights through the House of Representatives, Seattle blogger David Goldstein recently floated an interesting theory about what might be going on behind the scenes.

After an interpersonal meltdown last year over homeowners legislation, Weinstein’s been trying to make nice with House Speaker Frank Chopp. If that fails, however, Goldstein notes that Weinstein might have a hole card.

Sen. Weinstein, a Mercer Island Democrat, last year said he plans to not run again. State Rep. Fred Jarrett, a Mercer Island Republican, then switched parties and filed paperwork to run for Weinstein’s Senate seat.

But what if Weinstein were to change his mind? It wouldn’t be easy for Jarrett — who said the GOP has become too anti-government and narrow-minded for him to stay — to change course now. And Weinstein could certainly make a case for staying on to fight for his bill.

Asked about this yesterday, Weinstein said the talk is speculation — mostly.

A lawyer, he said he’s been stunned to see how few of the people making the law are attorneys. And no one, he feels, is standing up for consumer rights in Olympia.

Still, he said it’s highly unlikely that he’d run again. Last year, he said, there was a “zero percent” chance that he’d run again. Now, he said, it’s maybe a 10 percent chance.

A two-for-one WEA ad: Attack Rossi and prod Gregoire and lawmakers for suspended 2003/4 raises…

The 81,000-member state teacher’s union is running radio ads that pointedly pin the blame for suspending teacher cost-of-living increases on Gov. Chris Gregoire’s main Republican challenger this year — and urges her and lawmakers to do better.

“Remember Dino Rossi?” the Washington Education Association ad begins. “Well, he’s hoping you don’t remember his record on education.”

Teachers have never gotten the money they would have gotten in 2003 and 2004 because lawmakers — including Rossi — suspended voter-approved raises for those years in the face of a massive budget deficit. Lawmakers restored the annual increases, based on Seattle’s consumer price index, in 2005.

This year, House lawmakers proposed adding an extra 1 percent increase for teachers to partly make up for the years when those Initiative 732 raises were halted. Combined with this year’s regular cost-of-living increase, teachers would see a nearly 5 percent raise this year.

The Senate, however, proposed just the 4 percent raise, with budget writers saying they instead wanted to spend money on things like expanding all-day kindergarten.

The WEA ad says that Rossi “championed a state budget that suspended teacher and school employee pay raises for two years.” It says that Washington teachers, on average, earn $3,000 less than the national average, and $12,000 less than their West Coast counterparts.

“We all know good teachers are the single most important factor in our child’s education,” the ad says. “Our kids deserve the best.”

Rossi (who responded with an unusual approach: a YouTube video rebuttal) called it a “smear campaign.” Democratic Gov. Gary Locke is the one who originally proposed suspending the initiative, Rossi points out, and the budget was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, the Democrat-controlled House, and Locke.

Despite a budget deficit of more than $2 billion, Rossi said, he wrote into the budget pay raises for teachers in their first 7 years on the job, so none would be earning less than $30,000 a year.

“Our teachers are very valuable to us, and I understand that,” Rossi said. “My father was one.”

“Now why are they doing ads like this? Well, Christine Gregoire and her political operatives are terrified,” Rossi said. “They’ve done the polling. They know that we’re going to win again, this time with a recount-proof majority vote.”

The House has already approved its budget plan; the Senate’s likely to do the same with its own later today. After that, budget writers from both sides will sit down and hash out a final budget for this year. Lawmakers are slated to wrap up this year’s session by March 13th.

More from the Onion,

the finest source of fake news on the Internet: “Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results of 2008 Election Early.”

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

“Nader runs, nation ralphs”

-that’s liberal blogger (and KIRO talk-show host again, for a fill-in stint) David Goldstein, on Ralph Nader’s weekend announcement that he’s running for president again.

“And there it was.”

One of the coups that House budget writers pulled off this week was plugging an extra $50 million into housing assistance, including help for November’s flood victims in southwest Washington, money for a special quick-response fund so affordable-housing builders can buy property quickly and a fund for nonprofit developers.

“We’re very pleased with that,” House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said in a meeting with capitol reporters yesterday. “That was great.”

Less enthusiastic is the state convention and trade center in Seattle, which is where that money and a little more would come from. Calling the move “a drastic reallocation,” the convention center is trying to delicately make the case that hey, it had plans for that money.

All told, the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau says, the budget would strip $60 million. Some $55 million of that would come out of the convention center’s construction account, which is fed by a slice of state hotel taxes. And another $5 million would come from the center’s operating budget.

“This week’s state budget proposal stunned Western Washington’s tourism community,” the visitors bureau said in a press release. At a time when competing cities are investing a lot of cash into their convention centers, convention center president John Christison said, taking the money “would severely impact the convention center’s marketability.”

And the convention center has already done a lot for affordable housing, the press release says. Since 1984, it says, nearly $10 million in convention center dollars have spawned a dozen new or rehabilitated apartment buildings with 831 low-income units.

That, it seems, is what gave Chopp the idea. During a center expansion years ago, he said, he made sure money was set aside to replace units lost to the growth.

“I said `Hey, let’s check it again and see if we can get some more for housing,’” he said. “And there it was.”

Meating the challenge of global warming…

As lawmakers ponder ways to curtail Washington’s greenhouse-gas emissions (land-use planning, cleaner cars, etc.), the animal-rights group PETA is offering up what it says is a better way: Stop eating meat.

This morning, the group sent a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire claiming that meat consumption is the leading cause of global warming. The letter was prompted by Washington’s efforts to launch tougher car-emission standards here.

Yes, vehicle emissions are a key part of the problem, PETA said in the letter,

But by focusing on the cars that we drive, you’re missing an even more critical piece of the climate puzzle: the food that we eat. By establishing programs to encourage Washington residents to switch to a vegetarian diet, you’ll make a far bigger dent in global warming than you would by lowering vehicle-emission standards.

The group cites a 2006 United Nations report that found that raising animals for food generates significantly more greenhouse gases (particularly methane and nitrous oxide) than every car, truck, ship and plane in the world combined.

In fact, PETA said, citing a University of Chicago study, a carnivore switching to a vegan diet can reduce his or her contribution to global warming more effectively than by trading in their regular car for a Prius.

Alas, it may not be so easy. Salon writer Liz Galst, in this October 2007 story, said that not only is meat not the biggest cause of global warming — burning fossil fuels for power is — but that in the United States, livestock production accounts for just 6 percent of greenhouse gases, compared to 19 percent coming from cars, light trucks and planes.

Yes, Galst writes, beef production, in particular, contributes a lot of waste products and pollution, including greenhouse gases. And yes, most chickens have short, bleak lives. Still, she writes:

chickens are such efficient producers of protein that a study in the science journal Earth Interactions finds that Americans who eat poultry, dairy and eggs, but not red meat, are responsible for fewer greenhouse gases than those who consume a vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs.

“Astonishingly enough,” says study coauthor Gidon Eshel, a Bard College geophysicist, “the poultry diet is actually better than lacto-ovo vegetarian.” In other words, a roast chicken dinner is better for the planet than a cheese pizza.

Brand-new Washington Poll results: Good news for Obama, very good news for Gregoire…

The University of Washington’s Washington Poll has interesting new results out this morning in both the presidential and state gubernatorial races.

The researchers contacted 300 people, initially surveying them in October and then again this month to gauge if and how public opinion is shifting. (Stats: New survey from Feb. 7-18, margin of error +/- 5.6 percent)

The results suggest:

-That a race between John McCain and Hillary Clinton today would be neck and neck, with McCain favored by about 49 percent of respondents and Clinton by 45 percent, within the margin of error.

-That Barack Obama, on the other hand, would soundly defeat McCain here. Some 55 percent favored Obama to McCain’s 40 percent.

-That Republicans are far more likely to cross over and vote for Obama than for Clinton. About 10 percent of those self-identified Republicans said they’d vote for Obama. Not one planned to vote for Clinton. (Among Democrats, 7 percent to 8 percent said they’d vote for McCain.)

But the most interesting news is in Washington’s gubernatorial matchup this year. Between October 2007 and February 2008, it suggests:

Support for Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire rose from 47 percent to 54 percent, while support for Republican Dino Rossi held steady at 42 percent. The number of undecided voters has dropped to less than 4 percent, the poll indicated.

While Rossi’s percentage among Democrats, Republicans and Independents was largely unchanged, Gregoire’s support increased among Democrats (from 85 percent supporting her in October to 92 percent now) and especially among independents (43 percent in October to 56 percent now).

Here’s a link to a Powerpoint presentation summarizing these and other poll results.

How to be immortal: Dead bills haunt the Internet, and keep on scaring people…

Two dead bills involving new fees on your car — both of which were dead on arrival when lawmakers filed them this year — continue to live on in the Internet, where they’re spurring get-a-load-of-this blog posts and angry calls to action. (And it’s working. I get calls and e-mails about these proposals virtually every day.)

What are they? Senate Bill 6900 and Senate Bill 6923.

SB 6900, prime-sponsored by Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, would have charged vehicle owners a yearly fee based on engine size. (Nothing for displacement of 1.9 liters or less, $70 a year for up to 3 liters, up to $600 a year for an 8-liter behemoth.)

The idea behind Sen. Ed Murray’s SB 6923 is the same, but it would have based its fees ($40 to $240) on miles per gallon.

In both cases, the millions of dollars raised would go to transportation projects.

And in both cases, the bills are dead. Neither got out of committee before a key deadline on Feb. 12. In fact, legislative staff didn’t even bother writing bill reports summarizing the proposals. Barring some highly unlikely procedural acrobatics to revive these ideas, these bills will not become law this year.

Lawmakers, including Tom, have been trying to make that point to people who contact them. But the angst continues, spreading to websites catering to sport fishing, corvette owners, volkswagen fans, gun owners and duck hunters, among many others. Recent excerpts:

“These guys need to be run over by a semi…that is if the owner of the truck can still afford to drive it!”

said a post from this morning on

“…The proposals are believed to be deliberately aimed towards trucks and SUVs.”

reads a post read 10,000 times on truckblog.

“Democrat Eco-Commies in Olympia and D.C. Must be stopped!…Forward this email to everyone you know and stop this bill.”

trumpets a 1,700-word blog post from yesterday.

“It’s been passed in Washington, and they’re trying to get it passed in other states. This is gonna really suck for those V8s now. I can’t find a good link to the article about it though but I’ve been hearing about it on the radio.”

claims a post on a Chevy truck enthusiast site,

And more from this morning’s paper…

Trying to set up what the Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown termed an economic “one-two punch” to help families, lawmakers yesterday voted to launch a program that would send tens of millions of dollars in checks to some Washington families.

Because of the state’s slim budget year, however, the payments aren’t planned to start until spring of 2009.

Still, said prime sponsor Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, the state should set up the system now at a cost of about $2.3 million. The state payments – which would initially average $85 a family, then rise to $170 – are “fulfilling our promise to our citizens who work hard and do follow the rules,” he said.

Senate Bill 6809 starts setting up the system for the payments, which would start at 5 percent of whatever the family gets as a federal Earned Income Tax Credit, the federal program designed to help the working poor.

In recent years, the federal program has provided about $600 million a year to 350,000 tax filers in Washington, with refunds averaging $1,700.

In places like central Spokane, one in every five families claims the federal credit each year. A family of four earning $40,000 a year can qualify. The smaller state checks, Brown said, would help both families and local businesses they would likely go to.

“It’s significant tax relief, and it’s to the people who need it most,” she said.

Lawmakers doing their best to keep late-night TVW watchable…

Little-known fact: drug companies can see what your doctor’s prescribing and use the information to tailor the pitches of their salespeople.

A bill approved late Monday night by the state Senate would ban that. Proponents say the practice likely drives up costs – are the salespeople really out there pitching generics? – and that doctors are often unaware of how much information drug companies can get about what prescriptions they’re writing.

Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island, read aloud on the Senate floor from a drug-company e-mail about doctors: “Hold them accountable for all the time, samples, lunches, dinners, programs that you have provided or paid for to get their business,” he read, saying that’s precisely the mindset that the bill’s meant to prevent.

The drug industry spends $30 billion a year on marketing, he said, $3 billion of which is for a sales force, typically of “young, sexy women” dispatched to doctors offices with drug samples and information.

Critics – mostly Republicans – said the bill goes too far. The information comes from the American Medical Association, Sen. Cheryl Pflug said, which allows doctors to opt out. But Senate Bill 6241 won’t even let doctors opt in to such a program.

“I think we have, again, a case of `We love to beat up on pharmaceutical companies,’” said Pflug, R-Maple Valley, who also objected to the “sexy” characterization of the sales force as disrespectful and, well, inaccurate. (“It’s true,” Weinstein said.)

Only the federal government, Sen. Mike Carrell said, can regulate interstate and international trade. He maintains that the bill is unconstitutional and that lawmakers are therefore trying to do the impossible.

“I don’t know what it is about late at night,” said Carrell, R-Lakewood, “but this isn’t the first time the Legislature has tried to repeal gravity.”

UPDATE: Weinstein cites this article from the New York Times. An excerpt:

Anyone who has seen the parade of sales representatives through a doctor’s waiting room has probably noticed that they are frequently female and invariably good looking. Less recognized is the fact that a good many are recruited from the cheerleading ranks.

Known for their athleticism, postage-stamp skirts and persuasive enthusiasm, cheerleaders have many qualities the drug industry looks for in its sales force. Some keep their pompoms active, like Onya, a sculptured former college cheerleader. On Sundays she works the sidelines for the Washington Redskins. But weekdays find her urging gynecologists to prescribe a treatment for vaginal yeast infection.

The Atlantic also made a similar point in an article in 2006. From it:

Today detail men are officially known as “pharmaceutical sales representatives,” but everyone I know calls them “drug reps.” Drug reps are still easy to spot in a clinic or hospital, but for slightly different reasons.

The most obvious is their appearance. It is probably fair to say that doctors, pharmacists, and medical-school professors are not generally admired for their good looks and fashion sense. Against this backdrop, the average drug rep looks like a supermodel, or maybe an A-list movie star. Drug reps today are often young, well groomed, and strikingly good-looking. Many are women. They are usually affable and sometimes very smart. Many give off a kind of glow, as if they had just emerged from a spa or salon. And they are always, hands down, the best-dressed people in the hospital.

One Two Washingtons…

For a dead bill, Sen. Eric Oemig’s SB 6291 apparently touched a nerve.

The bill, a tongue-in-cheek poke at conservative rhetoric, would have withheld state utility project money from rural communities unless local voters acknowledge that the money is “government welfare.”

The Kirkland Democrat said he wanted to highlight the fact that places like central Puget Sound — particularly in regards to real estate tax, which pays for the utility work his bill covers — subsidize other parts of those state. He maintains that the locals would be more accepting of local tax measures if they knew the kind of help they were really getting.

“I think in the case where we’re ever doing any kind of subsidies or welfare, the best thing we can do is show people a path to self-reliance,” he told lawmakers at the bill’s one hearing before it died.

But several Eastern Washington lawmakers aren’t amused.

Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards, called the bill “mean-spirited and divisive” and said that Spokane residents have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars more in transportation projects over the past 16 years than they’ve gotten back. The vast majority of that money, she said, was spent in King County.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, blasted the bill as an “insult” to much of the state. Maybe Eastern Washington’s wines, crops and electricity should be considered “welfare” for Puget Sound, he said.

“Eastern Washington families have a lot of kitchen-table issues to grapple with, such as paying their growing property tax bills and putting food on the table,” Kretz said in a press release today. “…My constituents want to know we’re working to ensure their safety and security, not berating them and calling them `welfare recipients.’”

Budget writers: $423 million less than expected just three months ago…

Washington will have $423 million less than expected in revenue for the current biennium, state revenue forecaster ChangMook Sohn predicted minutes ago. (Sohn, also widely expected to run for state treasurer, also announced that this will be his last forecast.)

As state lawmakers try to hash out a supplemental budget this year, the bad news is likely to have two effects: It will hurt Gov. Chris Gregoire’s chances to get the Legislature to set aside $1 billion in savings. And it will make it harder for people trying to get state money for their projects and people.

That said, there’s significant good news in Sohn’s report. The state’s long-term economic growth prospects remain good, Sohn says, and although the national economy seems to have dipped into a shallow recession in the first two quarters, Washington isn’t expected to see a recession here. One big reason: Software and aircraft sales and employment remain solid, and those and other state exports are helped by the weak dollar.

In fact, Sohn said, Washington seems to have one of the strongest state economies in America right now.

The Honorable State Master Robert Hill…

has been turning up at legislative hearings lately, and it’s always interesting.

Hill is apparently a colorful fixture at Tacoma-area government meetings and a legislative candidate. As a candidate, Robert “The Traveller” Hill (his chosen monicker and spelling)has proferred a diverse agenda of policy ideas, including making prostitution the lowest law enforcement priority, encouraging strip and massage clubs, fewer police, demolishing the Tacoma Dome. He also had a proposal for a new, female-only holiday.

He ran last year for Tacoma city council. When a reporter from the Tacoma Daily Index asked how old he was, Hill responded:

“I don’t really know,” he says. “I don’t have personal knowledge. But through hearsay and other documentation, I’m in my thirties.”

In Olympia, his attention seems to be focused mainly on guns.

He showed up one morning to testify in favor of firearms on college campuses, helpfully pulling out a hollowpoint bullet to show lawmakers.

And last week, Hill turned up at a hearing on an otherwise-unexceptional bill to steer some money to block-watch-type anti-crime programs. The bill, by Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, is aimed at things like neighborhood signs and classes.

Hill stands out a bit in a room full of blue- and gray-suited lobbyists, and not just because he starts off with “Shalom” and introduces himself as The Honorable State Master Robert Hill.

He favors a blue nylon jacket, a black cap, and carries a large aluminum briefcase. But it’s the ankle holster that tends to get people’s attention. More on that in a bit.

Speaking at the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Hill introduced himself and started out in the sort of hypnotic, droning policy-speak that’s the lingua franca of legislative hearings:

“I see the substitute as being an improvement on the original…as bulleted on the purple sheet, reducing the appropriation to $48,000…considering that the first clause clarifies the availability of funds…” etc.

Then, his voice rising, he got to the meat of the matter: the money is too little for the sort of crime-deterrance he favors: Handing out guns. (The bill says nothing about buying guns for anyone.)

“If it were to stay at 48,000, that barely buys 120, you know, pistols,”

Hill said, as lawmakers glanced around at each other.

“And with tax, it’s only going to be about 100. And with the holster, whether it’s an ankle holster…”

At this point, he pulled up his pant leg to show that he was wearing such an ankle holster, although it was unclear from my seat in the back of the room whether there was anything in it. As Senate security staff circled close behind him, Hill continued:

“…or a hip holster, at 40 bucks each, that’s not going to buy a whole lot of holsters…You’re going to have to buy, you know, revolvers, and or semi- manuals and the holsters and your training and the staff, and $48,000 just isn’t going to cut it.”

During this, Sen. Rodney Tom got up and left, and Sen. Brian Weinstein seemed to jokingly pantomime ducking behind his desk. But committee chairman Adam Kline was unfazed.

“Thank you very much,” Kline said, moving on to the next person scheduled to testify.

As budget writers sweat tomorrow’s verdict, an argument for more spending, not less…

Tomorrow, at 4 p.m., the state’s economic weatherman, Chang Mook Sohn, will predict the state of Washington’s treasury in the coming months and years.

Few, if anyone, expect it to be good news. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has said she wouldn’t be surprised to see expected revenues fall $100 million to $200 million from previous projections. While that’s a tiny drop compared to the $33 billion biennial operating budget, it makes life hard for the many lawmakers who hoped to squeeze a few more programs into this year’s supplemental budget.

But the Washington State Budget and Policy Center argues that the answer to a weakening economy shouldn’t be limited to cuts.

“State spending has a significant impact on the economy,” research director Jeff Chapman says in a white paper released two days ago. Budget cuts can worses a recession, he says, and tend to hurt most the people who can least afford to lose the help.

Chapman argues that the stat should tap the “rainy day fund,” a brand-new account designed to be a state savings account for emergencies. So far, however, Gov. Chris Gregoire has resisted the idea of dipping into a fund that was approved by voters only four months ago.

Chapman also says this is a good time to speed up the construction of schools, bridges, and affordable housing, as well as environmental cleanup projects. The resulting jobs, he says, will help local economies at a critical time.

He also argues for extending unemployment insurance benefits to help laid-off workers who will have a harder time finding a new job.

Click here to read Chapman’s paper.

A capital idea for Spokane — and a dogfight in the Senate…

At last.

After years of second-city status, Spokane would finally get its due under a bill passed Wednesday by the Washington state Senate.

Senate Bill 5318 would require state fish and wildlife officials to work with their American and Canadian counterparts to protect a massive wildlife corridor known as the Yellowstone to Yukon Eco-Region. The 2,000-mile-long swath, which proponents call Y2Y, includes the northeast corner of Washington, much of Montana and most of Idaho.

And the U.S. “capital” of the region would be, yes, Spokane.

But what prime sponsor Sen. Ken Jacobsen saw as a modest proposal prompted a clash on the Senate floor Wednesday, with critics suggesting that northeastern Washington is being set up for more land-use restrictions.

“If you live or own property in this area, you should be shaking in your boots right now,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.

Stretching from Canada’s Yukon Territory through British Columbia and as far south as Wyoming, the Y2Y region is the world’s second-largest animal migration corridor, Jacobsen said.

“It’s a unique area, and all this says is we should participate in helping it,” he told lawmakers.

Except for one extinct type of minnow, Jacobsen said, the plants and animals in northeastern Washington are the same as when Lewis and Clark came through.

Proponents of protecting the Y2Y corridor say they want to foster the coexistence of humans and the ecosystem and hope to see land-use decisions in the region based primarily on ecological principles.

Critics, who include every Republican in the Senate, blasted the idea. Benton suggested that preserving the wildlife corridor would lead to closing roads.

“That’s pretty scary, isn’t it?” he said. “Road closures. Do we want to close I-90 going through Spokane because of the Y2Y program?”

Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, decried the whole idea, including the naming of Spokane as the region’s capital.

“The audacity, for a group – 90 percent of their group are Canadians – declaring Spokane as the capital for their endeavors, is preposterous!” Morton, visibly angry, told the Senate.

And Morton, suggesting that the corridor would bring more grizzly bears and wolves to the region, sounded unimpressed with the Lewis-and-Clark-era ecosystem.

“We don’t want to go back to those days,” he said. “They ate three of their horses when they were in this area, in order to make it through.”

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, suggested that Canadians should focus instead on trying to stop drug trafficking into northeastern Washington. That’s needed more than “a walkway for our animals,” she said.

Proponents appeared to be caught off guard by the resistance.

“There’s nothing regulatory in the bill,” said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia. “And actually it might even be good for tourism.”

As for the clause declaring Spokane the capital, Jacobsen said, he just added that “so people would think to go to it. It’s no plot.”

The measure passed, 30-19, and now goes to the House of Representatives.

Full print version of this story is here.

Dead, dead, dead…

The first bill cutoff fell on Friday, another yesterday, and the next one early next week. Here, courtesy some unfortunate at the Senate Democratic caucus who traditionally has to compile a list each year, are some of the casualties so far:

SB 6228: Reducing phosphorus in lawn fertilizers.
SB 6568: Forming a task force to study whether Washington’s ripe for more nuclear power.
SB 6881: Reducing noise from off-road vehicles.
SB 6893: Requiring colleges to promote “intellectual diversity” on campus (How? The bill would force colleges to balance out the ideological stances of speakers, ensure that hecklers don’t stop people from speaking on campus, and allow students to object to assignments that violate their conscience.)
SB 6841: Banning guns on college campuses where high schoolers might be present.
SB 6860: Banning such gun bans.
SB 6394: Providing free tuition to Washington college freshmen and sophomores.
SB 6133: Freezing a student’s tuition at whatever it is the day he or she enrolls.
SB 6197: Allowing parents to employ their children, of any age and in any type of work, as long as they are supervising.
SB 6577: Banning a band from using an original act’s name unless the band includes at least one original member or is a tribute band.
SB 6507: Allowing lobbyists to give $20 gifts to city officials.
SB 6537: Adding a 1 percent tax on professional shows and sporting events, with the money going for extra curricular school activities.

Nursing home workers: Want an economic stimulus? Pay us more!

Give the Service Employees International Union credit for being fast on its feet. As Congress is moving ahead with a plan to mail out millions of dollars in checks as an economic stimulus, the union’s members are arguing that the state could get a similar result by paying local nursing home workers more.

“I need a raise to be able to pay for basic necessities like gas, food and rent,” said Donna Peake, a nursing assistant from Vancouver.

The union says it’s busing hundreds of members in to Olympia tomorrow to distribute a study by an economic consultant. The upshot: $15 million more for nursing homes would mean 446 new jobs and economic activity worth nearly $38 million, $1.5 million of which is state and local taxes.

Airlines try to keep passengers’ bill of rights from taking off…

Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, both headquartered in Seattle, are trying to put the brakes on SB 6269, an airline passengers’ bill of rights.

The bill, patterned on one in New York, requires that passengers get things like drinks, food and medical care if they’re stranded in a plane on the tarmac for more than three hours. (Also on that list: fresh air and waste removal services.)

The bill would also create a new consumer-advocate office in the state attorney general’s office to investigate complaints and help resolve consumers resolve problems with airlines.

As originally proposed, the bill would have required compensation for passengers delayed more than 12 hours and requiring airlines to publish monthly lists of delayed flights. Those provisions were stripped out.

Still, some lawmakers clearly have some concerns about the impact on airlines.

“What about acts of God?” said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood. What if people are stranded due to snow or high winds. “Around here, it could even be volcanic eruptions,” he added.

Dan Coyne, a lobbyist for Alaska and Horizon airlines, said that nobody’s being stranded on the tarmac for hours and hours here.

“In our recollection…we do not know of one incident where people have been stuck in an airplane for three hours or more in the state of Washington,” he said. “It just hasn’t happened.”

Alaska and horizon have policies to provide water and snacks “well before that three hour mark” and tries to get people back to the gate and unloaded if they’ll be stuck on the tarmac for more than two hours, he said.

“So if it passed, it wouldn’t hurt you, huh?” concluded Sen. Magarita Prentice, D-Renton, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

True, responded Coyne. But he said the bill would send a message to airlines “as to how they might be valued as a corporate citizen.”

Is it “physician-assisted suicide” or “self-administer(ing) lethal medication”?

That’s the question that a judge in Thurston County will soon have to decide.

Foes of a proposed initiative to allow assisted suicide for terminally ill people are challenging the ballot title and ballot summary, saying the language written by the state Attorney General’s office uses a clumsy euphemism (“self-administer lethal medication”) to describe ending one’s life. (With initiatives, the state drafts a 10-word subject, 30-word description and 75-word summary.)

“The title strains to avoid using the term `assisted suicide’ when that is clearly what the initiative is about,” says Duane French, with the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide.

Proponents of what they call the Death with Dignity law say it’s wrong to call such a decision suicide.

“Suicide is hurtful and derogatory term to both a dying patient and the patient’s loved ones,” said a white paper proponents handed out to reporters when the measure was filed last month. “It conjures images of irrational, depressed teenagers, adults with mental illness, and terrorist bombers. It suggests guns and violence. It suggests the patient is choosing death over life. But the fact is a dying patient can’t choose life.”

Gregoire: on Obama, Clinton and being a superdelegate…

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire – a Democratic superdelegate who announced late last week that’s she was backing Obama – was asked by a reporter Monday if the Clinton-leaning superdelegates should change their votes to reflect Obama’s strong win here in Saturday’s caucuses. (For more on caucuses, the candidates and presidential politics, see our new Spin Control 2.0 blog by clicking here.)

“You know, after what I went through, I’m the last person to tell a superdelegate what to do with their vote,” Gregoire said. “I respect everybody’s individual decision, and whatever decision they’re going to make from here to the convention.”

She said she plans to try to attend the convention in person.

Gregoire has said she was lobbied hard by both camps, finally telling Clinton the night before the announcement that she was siding with Obama.
Clinton’s reaction?

“She was wonderful, nothing short of it,” said Gregoire. “I said to her if you’re the nominee, senator, you can rest assured that I will do everything I can to make you the next president of the United States. And she said `Chris, I’m going to do my best to be that nominee, and when I am, I’ll call you and ask for your help.”

House GOP to lose another…

After a decade in Olympia, state Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards, says she’s decided not to run for re-election this fall.

“Ten years is a long time,” said Schindler, 63.
She and her husband are building a new home in Liberty Lake, she said, and would like to travel and connect with their 10 children and grandchildren spread across the country.

Her departure will cost outnumbered House Republicans one of their most outspoken members. For years, Schindler has been a staple of late-night House debates, rising frequently to argue against Democratic bills she had no hope of stopping.

“I at least brought my philosophy and the philosophy of the fourth district to the table,” she said. She said the fact that Republicans are outnumbered nearly two to one by Democrats in the statehouse wasn’t a big factor in her decision.

Her departure leaves a very rare open seat in the district, a slice of Spokane County which includes Millwood, Trentwood, Liberty Lake and northern communities to the Pend Oreille County line. The district’s two other lawmakers have also been in office for years. Rep. Larry Crouse is serving his seventh term; Sen. Bob McCaslin has been in office since 1980. Both are Republicans.

Schindler’s departure comes at a time when Democrats — buoyed by winning two longtime Republican seats in the nearby 6th Legislative District in 2006 — are trying to win more. Schindler said she’s not worried. She won nearly two-to-one over Democrat Ed Foote in 2006, and Crouse ran unopposed.

“I think they (voters) are telling us that what we’re doing is right,” she said.

And John McCain…

In Seattle. Tomorrow evening. Details still being finalized.

How to get in to see Michelle Obama in Spokane tomorrow…

Details re: Michelle Obama appearance in Spokane tomorrow: She’ll be at the downtown Fox Theater (1001 W. Sprague St.). Doors open at 3 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public, but organizers are strongly encouraging people to RSVP. You can register online by clicking here, or call 509-570-4800.

No bags are allowed inside the theater due to security rules. Nor are signs or banners permitted.

Mike Huckabee’s spouse also coming to Washington…

Janet Huckabee is tentatively coming to Kirkland on Friday, according to Joe Fuiten, a conservative pastor in Bothell who is backing the candidacy of the former Arksansas governor.

Michelle Obama coming to Spokane

As her husband heads to Seattle for an appearance Friday, Michelle Obama is coming to Spokane for a free public event.

Both times and places to be announced.

Obama coming to Washington

Barack Obama will appear in Seattle Friday at a free event open to the public, his campaign says.

Time and location “will be announced when they become available.”

One to add to your RSS reader…

The University of Washington has quietly debuted a new political blog written by UW professors and researchers. It’s worth bookmarking.

Here’s an example:

Matt Barreto on the conventional wisdom that Black/Latino tension is why Hillary Clinton seems to doing better than Barack Obama among Latinos:

…we find that the Clinton advantage is driven primarily by her eight years as first lady and seven years as Senator from New York.

…This name-recognition advantage for Clinton has been enhanced by a strong and aggressive advertising and outreach effort by her campaign and a string of high-profile endorsements. She has hired an independent Latino pollster and aired significantly more Spanish language radio and television ads.

In contrast, the Obama campaign’s outreach to Hispanics has been anemic and particularly ineffective…In short, there are many reasons why Hillary Clinton enjoys a large advantage among Latino voters, none of which has anything to do with racism. The claim, then, that her support is somehow evidence of Latino unwillingness to support African-American candidates is wrong on its face…

and Barreto sums it up like this:

The election of 2008 looks to be a good year for Democrats among Latinos. The failure of immigration reform and the nativist grandstanding of the GOP and its primary candidates, including the once-moderate John McCain, seem certain to drive the Democratic share of the Latino vote back towards 70%. The wealth of empirical research, not speculation, suggests this will be true whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee.

Brown, Marr, other state lawmakers to endorse Obama at noon…

On the eve of Super (duper) Tuesday or whatever we’re calling it now, a number of influential Washington state lawmakers plan to today announce their support for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Among them: Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and fellow Spokane Democratic Sen. Chris Marr. A new poll this morning suggests that Clinton and Obama are “in a dead heat” for the Democratic nomination, according to CNN.

Obama “has this ability to speak beyond partisanship,” said Brown, who, like Obama, is an Illinois native.

She said she has no qualms about his experience, the issue that the Clinton campaign has pressed hardest on in recent weeks. Brown cited his work as a community organizer, years in the Illinois state legislature and his stint as a U.S. senator.

“I have a lot of confidence in his ability to inspire the right people to come forward and help him lead the country in a new direction, which is obviously where we need to go,” she said.

Clinton has drawn a lot of big-name endorsements from other Washington politicians in recent days. (In fact, when I asked Brown who else would be endorsing Obama today, she said “Sen. Murray — Sen. Ed Murray”) Among those in favor of Clinton: US Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as former Gov. Gary Locke, Rep. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Ron Sims and Snohomish county Executive Aaron Reardon.

Brown: On property taxes, revenue forecast, etc.

Also this from Brown: In the wake of lawmakers’ vows to take a hard look at further property tax reforms last fall when they held a special one-day session to reinstate a tax cap, she said to expect a Senate work session soon on property tax.

(Update: This will be Thursday, in the Senate Ways and Means Committee . To call up the agenda, click on 02/07/2008.)

But she warned that substantial property tax cuts would hurt the state budget, and that trying to shift the tax burden to more well-heeled property owners would mean amending the state constitution.

“You’re kind of negotiating between a couple of big boulders there,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy.”

Revenue forecast: Brown said lawmakers are braced for some bad news in two weeks when the state’s economic weather forecaster predicts how much government will have to spend.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we lose revenue in the forecast,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s $100 or $200 million.”

And in the face of a steady parade of people coming in with little $2 million or $3 million good ideas, she said, lawmakers are going to have to keep saying no.

“We’re just sending the message out there that this is not the year” to add to spending, she said. Still, she said, “There are a lot of legislators that have just one or two things they think are really important. And some of that’s going to work its way into the budget.”

Catching up…

The Washington State Policy Center and Citizens Against Government Waste have teamed up to put out a 70-page book chronicling what they see as government waste of taxpayers’ money.

The title of the book: “The Washington State Piglet Book: Connecting the dots on how government wastes your money.” Here’s the web version; here’s the 2.4-meg .pdf file.

The book, written by the Policy Center’s Paul Guppy, reads like the sort of thing you’d expect to find Republican lawmakers nailing to the door of the Democratic caucus rooms:

The purpose of this book is to…show that state lawmakers do not need every dollar they take from citizens.”

Guppy writes.

“The sharp rise in the budget highlights the constant political pressure in Olympia to increase spending and expand the business of government. A wide array of special interests that benefit from government growth, from unions to political activists, work constantly at the capitol to promote their wish lists for additional spending. Lawmakers work in a world of unending spending requests.”

Guppy goes on to detail some examples of things that he thinks could easily be — or should have been — scrubbed from budget requests:

-$1.5 million in lighting for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge,
-$1 million to subsidize 61 artists’ lofts in Seattle,
-The infamous “Say WA” ad campaign for the state, which reportedly cost nearly $500,000 for a puzzling, widely-mocked logo and theme. “We might follow the example of Florida,” Guppy suggests. “That state’s tourist slogan is `Visit Florida.’”
-$66,000 for market surveys and research re: Christmas trees, a $51-million-a-year business in Washington.

And then — real money — Guppy takes aim at nearly $133 million in recent local community projects that he argues have little benefit except to narrow local interests. Among them:

-$150,000 for beaver mitigation on the Little Spokane River,
-$5 million for downtown projects in Bremerton,
-$1 million for work on the Spokane-area Fish Lake Trail,
-Millions of dollars to fix up minor-league baseball parks in Tacoma, Everett, Spokane and the Tri-Cities.

Senate passes “Son of Weinstein”…

The Senate this morning passed a bill that home-builders love to hate: Sen. Brian Weinstein’s SB 6385. They’ve dubbed the bill “Son of Weinstein” after a similar push by the Mercer Island Democrat last year died in the House — as this one may, too. (Last year’s bill was an effort to make new-home warranties, which critics say are tilted heavily in favor of builders, more meaningful. Weinstein’s take on the current warranties: “At best inadequate and at worst despicable.”)

This legislation is a sweeping departure from current law, exposing home builders to frivolous lawsuits which will significantly raise insurance prices for contractor liability insurance.

the Spokane builders’ group says, predicting that the fallout will be more-expensive, hard-to-find insurance for builders, driving small builders out of the market and costing home buyers more. The real problem, the builders say, is unregistered, illegal contractors.

Weinstein, a successful attorney who specialized in asbestos litigation, says its practically impossible for a home-buyer saddled with shoddy, dangerous contruction to successfully sue.

“This state has a reputation as a liberal state,” he said. “When it coes to consumer protection, it isn’t there.”

Republicans fought the bill, saying it will hurt the industry and drive up home costs.

“The driving force of this economy is chipped away at and the little guy gets one more nail in the coffin,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Rizville.

And unless they’re living in some tent from REI, most lawmakers live in homes, said Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington.

Rep. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, countered that the bill will actually help low- and moderate-income families who don’t have the money to hire $300-an-hour lawyers to try to sue a builder. Too many people are stuck with severe home woes under the status quo, he said.

“At least a tent at REI has a warranty,” Tom said.

The Stranger to governor: Back Obama, avoid alienating E WA conservatives…

An Olympia parlor game right now is trying to figure out whether high-profile Democrats will lean toward Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

In this post from The Stranger’s blog, political writer Josh Feit makes the case for superdelegate (and governor) Chris Gregoire to pick Obama.

With all our mainstream politicians (Cantwell, Murray, Sims, Inslee) endorsing Clinton, Gregoire would look (by contrast) like she’s dialed in to the street-level zeitgeist in Seattle.

Meanwhile, serving her obsession to appease Eastern Washington, she’d disassociate herself from Clinton, who is a Satanic icon among the red meat Republicans. They’d just shrug at an Obama endorsement. Everything to gain. Nothing to lose.

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

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