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Eye On Olympia

Archive for January 2008

Fred Russell case may spur tougher drunk-driving penalties

Fred Russell may be sitting in a cell, but his name’s popping up frequently in Olympia, where state lawmakers are weighing changes to catch drunken drivers and toughening the sentences for those who kill.

“We will tell people once and for all that this is unacceptable,” Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said at a hearing yesterday.

Some 27 years after the fact, he said, he vividly recalls the horror of being a rookie cop who had to tell a man that his wife and child had been killed by a drunken driver.

Russell, a Washington State University student, was drunk, speeding and partly in the oncoming lane when his Blazer caused a chain-reaction wreck that killed three other students and severely injured three more in 2001. He fled to Ireland, was recaptured after several years, and earlier this month was sentenced to 14 years in prison. But under state law, he’s serving multiple sentences simultaneously.

“With time off for good behavior, he may still serve a decade,” said Rich Morrow, whose daughter was one of the students killed in the crash.

Among the bills under discussion: consecutive — not concurrent — sentences in cases like Russell’s and ignition interlocks and a conditional license for people who would otherwise lose their license due to a DUI conviction.

“We have to acknowledge that people are going to drive anyway,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland.

One in five fatal crashes in Washington, he said, involve someone without a driver’s license. By requiring the ignition devices, he said, New Mexico has seen a 30 percent reduction in drunk-driving deaths.

Also being debated this year is a controversial plan to allow police to ask judges to approve road checkpoints where they’d stop drivers to see if they’ve been drinking.

“Sobriety checkpoints save lives,” said John Lane, a policy advisor to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who’s pushing the bill.

State Patrol Chief John Batiste said checkpoints in other states have cut DUI-caused fatalities by 20 percent. With 250 people in Washington dying annually in such wrecks, that would save about 50 lives each year.

The bill is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which says it violates the state constitution’s ban on arbitrary searches.

“We are not here to say that DUIs are not a problem. Obviously they are,” ACLU lobbyist Jennifer Shaw said. But the state has other means to curtail them, like ignition locks or extra police patrols, she said.

Among those who testified Wednesday: Gordon and Kathy Schuster, who drove from Wenatchee to urge lawmakers in Olympia to toughen penalties. Their daughter, Angela Svendsen, was killed a year ago when the car she was riding in was struck by a drunken driver going the wrong way on an interstate.

“Angela is not coming home because of good behavior,” said Gordon Schuster, his voice breaking as his wife wept beside him. “She’s not coming home because of time already spent. She’s dead. She’s not coming home.”

Read the full print story here.

Liberal talk radio loses a voice…

Less than a week ago, blogger and Seattle liberal talk-radio host David Goldstein wrote:

So why hasn’t KIRO fired me? Well, perhaps because I bring them raw talent with a lot of upside, a virtual lock on local liberal talk in this very liberal market, and a proven track record of bringing in quality guests on weekend nights like no other weekend host before me?

Today, along with several other staffers at the station, he got fired. From his blogged announcement of the news:

So go ahead trolls… have at it. You’ve been waiting for the day to rub my face in it, and that day is finally here. Just remember that as you gloat, you’re also talking about a real person with a mortgage to pay and a child to feed, who has sacrificed the better part of the past four years to trying to make a difference, however much you disagree with me on the issues. And, remember that we didn’t just lose a local liberal show… we lost another local show, and that can’t be a positive thing for anybody but the most vindictive amongst you.

Goldstein leaped into the public eye several years ago, sponsoring a tongue-in-cheek initiative to have professional ballot-measure pitchman Tim Eyman officially declared a horse’s ass. (Hence the name of his blog.) He’s been blogging for years, moving into talk radio as a way to both pay the bills and expand his reach.

Here’s what the talk-radio-monitoring site blatherwatch had to say about Goldstein’s show:

They’ll be gloating from the right — he’s an activist who has a loud and influential voice in the region’s political conversation. But many were surprised at the tonme (tone) of his show: it was more an ardent, rabbinical dinner table discussion than the edgy outrageousness of his blog,

Ethics board: Hinkle wrong to use state letter to tout school bond, but doesn’t merit fine…

The state Legislative Ethics Board has issued “a letter of instruction” to Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, after Hinkle’s legislative staffer sent a newspaper a letter of his support — on state letterhead — for a local school ballot measure.

“Apparently unbeknownst to the Representative, the (aide) placed the approved text on state letterhead and sent it directly to the newspaper,” the board said. Hinkle notified the board of the error.

Under state law, no elected official or public employee may use state facilities or resources to promote or oppose a ballot measure. (Or a candidate). That includes things like stationery, postage, equipment, state workers, office space, vehicles, mailing lists, etc. The reason, of course, is that taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for political activity they might disagree with.

A majority of ethics board members said Hinkle’s violation didn’t justify a fine. But in a rare dissent, two members — Rep. Jamie Pedersen and Spokane’s Donna L. McKereghan — wanted a stronger penalty. True, they said, the cost to taxpayers of the violation was negligible.

But Hinkle is a “seasoned legislator” who knows the rules and nonetheless instructed the inexperienced aide “to compose a letter that should not have been composed on state time or using state equipment,” they said in a dissent accompanying the board decision.

Hinkle put his brand new assistant in peril of also being found in violation of the Ethics Act, they noted. Hinkle, they said, should have been formally reprimanded.

Eastern Washington lawmaker has cancer…

State Rep. Steve Hailey, a legislator from Eastern Washington, announced this morning that he is undergoing treatment for colon cancer.
Hailey, R-Mesa, said he was diagnosed shortly before the legislative session started Jan. 14th. He last week began chemotherapy, he said, an is planning to continue his legislative work as much as possible during treatment.
“This is one of the toughest challenges of my life, but I feel strongly that I have an obligation to be candid about what I’m dealing with and what’s ahead,” the rancher and former Army helicopter pilot said in a written statement. “Saying `I’ve got cancer’ should not suggest that I’m not up to the emotional and physical demands of battling through this. I’ve been in rough spots before, and I’m confident and optimistic for a positive outcome.”
He’s urging people to have regular testing and screenings for the disease.
“The prognosis is favorable,” he said, saying he and his doctors are grateful for the prayers of friends and are confident he’ll make a full recovery.
Hailey represents the 9th legislative district, a roughly triangle-shaped district stretching from southern Spokane county to the Idaho and Oregon borders and west to the Othello area. The district’s other lawmakers are Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and freshman Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax.

Chopp, on tax refund checks: good idea, but maybe a smaller check…

A former community organizer, House Speaker Frank Chopp is joining Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, in backing the idea of a small state match for families that claim the federal earned income tax credit.

“I think this is a high priority, if we can fit it in,” Chopp, D-Seattle, told reporters recently, adding that the possibility of an economic slowdown gives the idea more impetus.

The plan, as proposed, would give a 10 percent state match — about $170, on average — to the 350,000 Washington tax filers who claim the federal credit each year.

“I think it’s a very good step forward”, given the state’s regressive tax system, Chopp said. And although some Republicans have questioned the constitutionality of the proposal, Chopp says it meets the constitutional conditions that special tax relief can be granted to “the poor and infirm.”

“Well, that’s who we’re trying to help,” he said.

Still, there’s a price tag attached, and Gov. Chris Gregoire has repeatedly told lawmakers that she wants only modest increases in this off-year supplemental budget. (Washington budgets two years at a time, writing the main state budget on odd-numbered years.)

With a 10 percent match costing the state an estimated $60 million a year, Chopp said lawmakers are discussing a 5 percent match instead.

“At 5 percent, it’s obviously a lot less expensive,” he said. “Maybe that’s what we can afford.”

On the fly: airline passengers’ rights bill…

With some significant tweaking, the Senate consumer protection committee on Friday gave a thumbs-up to Sen. Ken Jacobsen’s “Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights.”

The bill, which originally would have mandated cash refunds to passengers stranded for long stretches on the tarmac, has been “watered down” — committee chair Brian Weinstein’s words — to mirror a New York law. It would require refreshments, fresh air, medical attention and waste removal for passengers stuck in on-the-ground planes for more than three hours.

“The only think I would like to have seen - I know it’s not possible — is legroom,” added Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside.

More on UW’s stadium bid…

More on the UW stadium proposal, from a story I had in this morning’s paper:

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said that not a single one of the House’s 97 other lawmakers has asked him to support the proposal.

“That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?” he said.

Asked if the proposal will not be approved this session, Chopp said: “That’s fair to say.”

A top university official said UW is unfazed.

“We’re going to go forward with it and schedule a hearing in the Senate,” said the vice president of external affairs, Scott Woodward. “We know it’s a very uphill battle, but we have a good story, and it will be told.”

On the other side of the Capitol dome, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said that the proposal has fans and foes among Senate Democrats. Nobody is disputing the need for renovation and safety upgrades to the stadium, she said, but some lawmakers are concerned about athletics taking priority over academics.

“It’s a little hard to call, but it doesn’t seem to be moving rapidly through the process,” Brown said.

The UW proposal would not tap any statewide tax dollars. Instead, it would use existing King County taxes – a hotel tax, car-rental tax and restaurant tax – that are now paying off the construction bonds for Safeco Field, Qwest Field and the old Kingdome. Those projects are slated to be paid off early. Under UW’s plan, the state would simply leave the taxes in place but steer them to the university to pay half the cost of a $300 million stadium overhaul. The remaining half would come from Husky supporter donations and fees for premium seats.

“It made sense because we, in a big way, contribute to the economic development and tourism trade in Seattle,” said Woodward, who also serves as UW’s interim athletic director.

The reactions from Cougars fans have tended to fall into two camps, according to co-founder and publisher Greg Witter.

“Some people, I think, are of the mind that it’s a brazen money grab,” said Witter, who lives near Husky Stadium in Seattle. “Others are saying, ‘If our legislators are in a giving mood, then WSU alums should be lobbying long and loud for a rider to renovate Martin Stadium,’ ” Witter said.

As it happens, WSU is just wrapping up the second of four phases of a $70 million renovation of its stadium. The project is being paid for with student fees, donations from friends and alumni, fees on season tickets and other revenue, said Witter, part of an alumni group helping to raise money for the final phases.

Chopp has taken heat from Seattle-area newspaper writers this week for saying that he was more open to UW’s idea than he had been to the Sonics’.

He stressed Thursday that he’s not pushing the request himself.

“All I said, at the request of former Gov. (Daniel) Evans, was that I’d take a look at the proposal,” he said. “… We’d consider it. That’s the extent of it.”

Read the full print story here.

State considers help for hundreds of thousands of WA’s working poor…

As Congress hashes out an economic stimulus plan that could land a $300 to $1,200 check in your mailbox, state lawmakers are pitching their own plan to put a couple hundred dollars more in the pockets of hundreds of thousands of Washington’s working poor.

Senate Bill 6809, introduced late Wednesday by state Sen. Craig Pridemore, calls for the state to pay a 10 percent match to Washingtonians who annually claim about $600 million through the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

The federal credit averages $1,668. So Washingtonians would see checks averaging about $167. The state would simply get a mailing list from the federal government and send out postcards telling people how to apply for the extra state payment.

The idea comes from the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, which estimates it would cost the state about $60 million a year to send the checks to more than 350,000 Washington tax filers who qualify for the federal credit. Nearly half, 23, of the states, the group says, have a similar program already.

“I’m very intrigued by this concept,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “It’s a way to give some tax relief to families that really need it.”

The proposal could face resistance from Republican lawmakers. Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said he thinks it would violate the state constitution.

“We need to talk about what it really is: a redistribution of wealth,” he said.

Rather than take money from some taxpayers and send it to others, he said, “I think we’d be better served by reducing the burden of taxes.”

Under Pridemore’s bill, the money would be considered a low-income tax exemption from the sales tax.

“The rationale behind it is that they’ve already paid the tax” by buying things, he said. And since low-income people often don’t itemize on their federal tax returns, they don’t benefit from a relatively new law allowing people to deduct hundreds of dollars a year in Washington sales tax from their federal tax bill.

“I have sat here for three years now in the Legislature in Olympia and I’ve seen us do tax cuts and tax cuts and tax cuts for wealthy people and businesses,” said Pridemore. “This is a tax cut for people who really need the help.”

Read our full print story by clicking here.

Fight, fight, fight…

Numerous Washington State University Cougar fans are not happy at the prospect of taxpayers shelling out $150 million to help build a new stadium for arch-rival University of Washington, according to serious Cougar fan and Tri-City Herald reporter Chris Mulick.

To get a feel for the vitriol, turn to, well, With a picture of a ragged man, hands clasped, slumped near a sign reading “Why lie, I need $150m”, the faux news story reads:

Cash-Strapped Billionaires Beg for $150M from Taxpayers

Times are harder over at Montlake than previously thought, as evidenced by the University of Washington begging the State Legislature to allocate $150M toward a new Husky Stadium despite an alumni fund consisting of over $2.2 billion in funds….

Analysis reveals that the Huskies have been scraping by with little more than a diet of ramen noodles and toast, as is demonstrated by their feeble and apparently undernourished athletic programs of the last several years.

GOP: The view from (mostly) the sidelines…

Republicans, outnumbered nearly two to one in both the House and Senate, are trying to pick their battles this year. High on the list: a package of flood-relief bills including a property tax break and tax relief for farms.

“It’s going to take them a couple years to get the fields back,” said House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis.

Also on the list: state money to set up an automated early-warning system to call residents and warn them of rising water. (Some residents, DeBolt said, woke to find their homes in waist-deep water.)

Republicans are clearly frustrated by their lack of clout these days. Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said there’s been no movement on Republican-backed proposals for property tax relief. One victory they’re claiming: an advancing bill to help communities combat gang crime.

They joked about their thin ranks. When a reporter asked what it was like to see more empty chairs in GOP legislative meetings, Hewitt joked that they’ve just pushed the chairs farther apart.

“It’s like you’re flying business-class now,” added DeBolt.

Family Leave: an update…

One of the most interesting discussions in Olympia between now and mid-March is likely to be how lawmakers decide to pay for a program they voted last year to launch in October 2009.

A paid family leave program patterned loosely on California’s, it would give a $250-a-week stipend to parents who take up to five weeks off from work to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child.

Today, the House Appropriations Committee took a fresh look at the projected costs.

A 13-member task force last year spent months trying to figure out how to run the program, what it would cost, and how to pay for it.

Among the options for financing it: a sales tax on carbonated beverages, one on candy and gum, a liquor surcharge, a tax on hours worked or wages paid, or simply pulling the money out of the state general fund. In the end, the task force recommended tapping the general fund for the first 4 years of the program.

“A lot of people want the services, but when it comes to pay for it, that’s the more difficult question,” Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, told the House Appropriations Committee this afternoon. And despite Republicans’ oft-voiced concerns about the wisdom of launching the program without launching a way to pay for it, Dickerson said the program will happen.

“The Legislature has done this before. It’s not the first time we’ve done this,” she said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget includes $6.2 million for the state Employment Security Department to develop the computer system to run the program.

Total startup costs are estimated by the department to be $10 million, $6.3 of which are technology costs and $3.1 million of which are staff for rule-making, program development, facilities and publicity. Once costs stabilize around 2013, the administration is expected to take about 49 people and $8.1 million a year.

How many parents would claim the benefit? Employment Security’s best guess is about 26,000 to 32,000 a year, at a benefit cost of $31 million to $39 million a year.

Factoring in growth as more people learn about the program and other variables, it’s expected to cost somewhere between $82 million and $110 million for the next two-year budget cycle (2009-2011).

Rep. Steve Conway, weighing in at the Appropriations hearing today, said that one reason for not wanting to lock in a permanent source of funding at the outset of the program is that nobody really knows how many people will apply and what the long-term cost will be.

Looks like a colorful GOP primary in the race to replace 7th District’s Bob Sump…

The race to replace state Rep. Bob Sump, the Republican from Republic, is on. (Props to Chris Mulick, who reported this first.)

Sump, a longtime lawmaker in the sprawling 7th district, announced last year that he’ll step down at the end of 2008, giving plenty of time for interested contenders to announce their campaigns.

First out of the gate was Edwall architect and rancher Sue Lani Madsen, whose campaign website is here.

Then came Harrington’s Peter Davenport, a city council member, director of the Harrington Public Development Authority, former biologist, securities broker, legislative researcher and the subject of these startling profiles in the Stanford alumni magazine and by the Associated Press

Now we have former state Fish and Wildlife Commission chairman Kelly White throwing his hat into the ring as well. White was appointed to the commission by then-Gov. Gary Locke in 1998, rising to chairman a year later. He’s a self-employed farmer and consultant in timber and real-estate management. White’s campaign website is here.
All three are running as Republicans.

The bizarre post-911 saga of a capitol-loving tourist…

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a fan of the blog boingboing, “A Directory of Wonderful Things.” (Among the many recent offerings: “Little people concealed in hockey bags fleece Swedish bus passengers.”)

Today, the website notes this cautionary tale from the New York Times: How the quest of an American citizen named Ramak Fazel to photograph all the state capitols and send postcards from each has apparently landed him on terrorist watch lists. In a recent interview, the paper notes, the 42-year-old photographer

exuded the weariness of a frequent flier, having arrived the afternoon before at Newark Liberty Airport, where he was delayed for nearly three hours while United States Customs and Border Protection agents questioned him about the purpose of his trip, searched his baggage and photocopied the pages of his personal agenda.

He started his low-budget quest 18 months ago, the paper reports, setting out with an old Rolleiflex and a Chevy van, sleeping in Wal-Mart parking lots and showering at YMCAs as he documented one state capitol after another.

But there was a problem. On a flight from Sacramento, Calif., to Honolulu, Mr. Fazel described his project to a fellow passenger. He later discovered that she had reported him as suspicious — perhaps to the pilot or the Transportation Security Administration — and taken a picture of him as he slept.

…In his view that woman’s report began a chain reaction, turning him into a person of interest for officials from local law enforcement agencies on up to the F.B.I.

and his seemingly all-American tourist road trip kept getting more disconcerting:

But in Jackson, Miss., his journey took its bizarre twist. One night, as he sat in his van, a beam of light pierced his reverie. He heard his name over a loudspeaker and a command to step out of the vehicle with his hands held high.

Suddenly, Mr. Fazel said, he was forced to the ground, face to the concrete, and handcuffed by a city police officer. His vehicle was searched, and when the officers determined that nothing was amiss, Mr. Fazel was ordered to leave the parking lot and continue down the road.

He said the officers told him that they had received a report that he was aiming an automatic weapon at passing traffic.

As Mr. Fazel continued his travels, he slowly began to perceive that he was on some kind of watch list. In Atlanta he was prohibited from entering the Capitol, he said, even as others did. In Columbia, S.C., he was questioned on the grounds of the Capitol by a police officer who mentioned that he knew Mr. Fazel lived in Italy.

On the morning of Oct. 3, he entered the Maryland Capitol in Annapolis, where he presented identification and signed his name on a visitors’ sheet. A guard asked him to wait.

Suddenly, Mr. Fazel said, he was handcuffed and rushed through corridors into a police station, where a man he later learned was a member of the Maryland Joint Terrorism Task Force with the F.B.I. started speaking to him in Farsi.

Can Husky Stadium win over Cougar taxpayers?

Never underestimate the fervor of a Washington State Cougars fan. I did a story last fall that included these folks:

Take, for example, 2001 alum Darin Hanson, who delayed buying a new car until Dodge made it in a WSU-like shade.

“It gives me an immense amount of pride to have a crimson car in a city of purple,” the Seattle resident said.

And that’s not all. Not only does Hanson have the obligatory sweat shirts, T-shirts and so forth, he also had WSU’s cougar-head logo tattooed on his leg.

“It’s almost ridiculous,” concedes Hanson, who has 36 tickets to today’s game against San Diego State at Qwest Field.


Of similar mind are Bruce and Debbie Lisser, a Mount Vernon, Wash., couple who’ve been following WSU sports for years.

“We didn’t make the Wisconsin game just because we were in Iowa for a wedding,” said Bruce. But their RV trundles over the mountains to every home game, year after year, with a batch of Cougarita drinks on board.

The Lissers have Cougar luggage, a Cougar barbecue, a Cougar tent.

They have a refrigerator full of Cougar Gold cheese. And wine. A watch. A “Go Cougs” arm bracelet.

“I even have a Cougar martini glass,” Bruce said. “If it has something to do with WSU, we have it, I’m quite certain.”

Still, Lisser stopped short of crimson cars or tattoos.

“I can’t remember singing the fight song when the boys were born, so I think we’re OK,” he said.

So it shouln’t come as a surprise that the University of Washington’s request for $150 million in public funds to renovate Husky Stadium might miff some of the many, many Seattle-area WSU Cougars. Here’s what one said to the Seattle Times:

“Why the hell would I as a Coug want to pay for the Husky Stadium renovation,” said Kyle Bahl, a 2007 WSU grad who lives in King County, where the taxes for the UW project would be collected.

Echoing those sentiments yesterday was state Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who mockingly compared the request to the unsuccessful bids for public money for a new basketball arena for the (apparently Oklahoma-bound) Sonics.

“What are the Huskies going to do if the Legislature says no to their funding request? Threaten to move out of state?” said Schoesler, whose district includes both WSU and Eastern Washington University.

“Even though it costs far less money, WSU didn’t even think of going to Olympia to ask for money to fix up Martin Stadium,” he said.

Long-distance lobbying by the planeload…

In a statehouse where competing interests clash for a limited amount of state cash and legislative time, Spokane-area business groups, universities, city and county officials and community groups have painstakingly learned a key lesson in recent years: it helps to be singing in chorus.

Nearly 80 Spokane-area officials and leaders have been haunting the marbled halls of Olympia for much of this week, pitching local priorities and trying to keep the region on lawmakers’ radar.

From a story I had in this morning’s paper:

Gone are the big white “I (heart) Spokane” buttons, the receptions heavy on hand- wringing and the public battles for money from the Legislature.

With paid lobbyists, local lawmakers in key leadership posts and a detailed – and long – wish list in hand, the region has gained clout and scored some big wins in recent years.

Admittedly, it helps to have a local lawmaker serving as Senate majority leader. But lawmakers — including those with nothing to gain by burnishing the Lilac City’s backside — say that other areas would be wise to copy Spokane’s strategy: prioritize local requests, be ready to suggest solutions instead of just whining, and turn out in force.

Full version of story is here.

Local item: Senate honors Spokane’s Bruce Eldredge…

Bruce Eldredge, the departing longtime CEO of the Eastern Washignton State Historical Society (better known for its Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane) got some kudos from the state Senate this morning.

After 7 years with the society and museum, Eldredge is moving to become executive director of the larger Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming.

Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane — a former vice chairman of the museum — praised the work of Eldredge, who was sitting in the Senate gallery Wednesday.

“I do understand that it’s a career move, but he’ll be sorely missed by Spokane and the state of Washington,” Marr said.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the flourishing museum is part of the reason visitors are spending more time in Spokane. And she did her part, adding “If you haven’t been to the MAC, you’ve got to check it out.”

Approved: Senate Resolution 8693, honoring Eldredge.

Lawmaker: Close loophole in dog-fighting ban…

Saying that a quirk of state law allows bloodthirsty dog owners to sic their animals on foxes and coyotes — even in pens — Rep. Hans Dunshee is sponsoring a bill to make it a crime if an owner “directs, commands or facilitates a canine in his or her possession or control to injure another canine.” (“Canines” including dogs, wolves, foxes and coyotes.)

The existing law includes exemptions for animals guarding livestock and for legal hunting, and the revision would leave those in place.

“I respect our local hunteres, who are going after wild animals for meat,” Dunshee said in a statement announcing his filing of the bill. “What I don’t respect is sending a pack of dogs out to rip apart coyotes or foxes with the only goal being somebody’s sick entertainment.”

Hearing: Friday at 8 a.m. before the House Judiciary Committee.

State of the state — how it went

And so it begins.

If anyone had any doubts that the looming election won’t heavily overshadow this year’s legislative session, look at last night.

For most of an hour, Gov. Chris Gregoire touted her three years in office and a series of Democrat-led initiatives and reforms: a rainy-day savings fund to cushion the state budget in lean years, a new emphasis on math and science in public schools, and a resurgent economy.

“The state of our state is strong,” she said early in speech, moving on to the low unemployment rate and the $47 billion in Washington products exported last year.

“I’ve put on aprons in stores from Mexico to South Korea to sell Washington cherries, French fries and apples, and I’ve hoisted a glass of Washington’s finest wine to promote tourism in country,” she said.

Here in Washington, she said, innovative businesses are taking hold. Among them: solar energy components in Moses Lake, medical technology in Spokane and Seattle, and biodiesel in Grays Harbor County. And the state is helping with worker training and education, including more financial aid.

“The bottom line is: We have created 218,000 new jobs in the last three years,” Gregoire said. “And that, my friends, is the population of Tacoma and Moses Lake combined.”

The speech included personal asides about her daughters (an August wedding, a job) and her mother (cheated out of a paycheck as the restaurant where she worked went out of business). And she urged lawmakers to “give a well-deserved rest to partisanship and politics.”

Not likely, judging by Republicans’ reaction. GOP lawmakers promptly blasted the speech.

“I thought we saw 10 minutes of image-softening and we saw 35 minutes of themes with no details about any of the policies,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. He spoke in front of red, three-foot-high numbers — 33 — representing a key angle of Republicans’ attack on Gregoire. It’s how much the state budget has risen over the past three years.

Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, pointedly donned rose-colored sunglasses last night when she gave her televised Republican response, which ended with this:

“Bottom line: Gas costs more, utilities cost more, food costs more, your property taxes are higher, your health insurance premiums have gone up, your commute takes longer, the quality of your child’s education is worse, government fees have gone up, the housing market is slowing, our streets are less safe with sex offenders and violent felons roaming free. Had enough?”

Expect lots more of this, from now to November.

Other interesting reads…

Runner-up for poet laureate: UW lobbyist (“state relations director) Randy Hodgins, with these lines in a recent blog post:

So let’s have a final systems check. Shoes are polished, tie is straight (for now), shirt tucked in and two pens clipped inside the coat pocket. Time to get started and remember, it’s always more fun when you keep your eyes open and raise up your hands during the bumpy parts of the ride.

-Also a nice turn of phrase — at least to water-strapped Eastern Washingtonians — was this, from the Association of Washington Business’ Richard Davis, weighing in on Democratic vows to keep the budget modest this year:

Given the recent budget increases, a big boost this year would be like irrigating a flooded field. It’s just not necessary.

-The Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s initial roundup of “Stupid bills,” a category in which they include proposals to require a special permit for huckleberry-picking, to ban smoking in cars containing kids, and a tax exemption for beekeepers. Click here for the list.

Democratic response…

Democrats, not surprisingly, were underwhelmed.

In a statement sent out to reporters minutes after Rossi’s streaming-video “Real State of the State” speech, state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz called it an:

“online gimmick which offered zero substance or even variation from his tired stump speech (and) is just the latest in his relentlessly negative, no-new-ideas campaign for governor.”

Pelz defended Gregoire — 200,000 new jobs on her watch, more kids on health coverage, being a leader on combatting global warming.

Pelz also describes Rossi, a former state senator, as “an Olympia insider” and says he’s “a Republican in the mold of George W. Bush.”

“Republican Dino Rossi also failed to mention his radical social agenda — which includes eliminating a woman’s right to choose, discrimination against gay people, parroting George W. Bush’s opposition to stem cell research, and teaching biblical creationism in our state’s public schools.”

A Rossi pre-buttal to the governor’s state-of-the-state speech…

A day before Gov. Chris Gregoire gives here state-of-the-state speech to the assembled House and Senate tomorrow night, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi is giving his version via the Internet.

Rossi’s calling it the “Real” state of the state address. It will be webcast at 6 p.m. tonight at

Initiatives blooming in the January rains…

Ballot measures are blossoming this year, with more than two dozen potential initiatives to the people filed so far.

Among them, of course, are former Gov. Booth Gardner’s death-with-dignity assisted suicide measure and Tim Eyman’s anti-traffic-congestion proposal.

Less known so far is the proposal by Steilacoom’s Michael J. Amaral to require mandatory CPR and first aid classes for anyone getting a driver’s permit. Or two proposals from animal-rights advocate Jennifer Hillman: One deals with confinement of certain farm animals, the other specifically with confinement conditions for egg-laying hens. (All these measures are a little hard to describe right now, since the full texts aren’t yet posted on the Secretary of State’s ballot measures page.)

But doing more than his part for direct democracy in 2008 is a Tacoma man named David Hensaw.

Henshaw has singlehandedly filed 10 distinct measures this year. (To get them on the ballot, he would have to gather more than 2.2 million signatures. By July.) Among the topics of Henshaw’s proposals:

-embryo transfer, the Geneva Convention, gun safety, truth in lobbying, lying to start a war, eliminating car tabs, torture being defined as a crime, selling votes, “work and pay”, cutting in line while driving, requiring a 5-year warranty on all new products, and basing fines on income.

Of swords, Pork Barrels, and nose-picking…

Just in time for today’s start of the 2008 legislative session: Our video (with help from expert tour guide Tony Aitken) tour of the Washington state capitol. In it, you’ll learn why there are 42 steps to the building, why the House and Senate seats are 2 sword-lengths apart, where you can order a Pork Barrel, and all about the apparently intractable problem of schoolchildren picking George Washington’s nose.

Click here to watch it.

Gardner files measure…

Former Gov. Booth Gardner returned to the statehouse Wednesday, again facing a bank of news cameras for what he called his “last campaign”: a battle to allow terminally ill people to have a doctor’s help in ending their own lives.

Gardner, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the early 1990s, says that people should be free to make such a choice for themselves. On Wednesday, he filed a “Death with Dignity” initiative. It would allow mentally competent adults with fatal illnesses and less than 6 months to live to be prescribed a lethal dose of drugs.

As things stand now, Gardner said, “the government takes over, the kids take over, the nurses and doctors take over. You lose your autonomy.”

Washington voters have faced – and rejected — the issue before. In 1991, they rejected by 54 percent a similar measure, Initiative 119.
“I don’t see a clamoring for this,” said Chris Carlson, a Spokane public-affairs consultant also battling Parkinson’s, as well as a rare form of cancer.

“I believe assisted suicide is just flat wrong, a selfish act that breaks faith with family and society,” said Carlson, who was 14 when his father killed himself. Defending life and the weak is a fundamental part of the social contract, he argues, and assisted suicide programs threaten to devalue that.

Some activists for disabled people agree.

“It has the potential to change the culture…and who’s worthy of life and who isn’t,” said Marshall Mitchell, the quadriplegic coordinator of disability studies at Washington State University in Pullman.

“I don’t think that our culture is at the point that a person can make a free, unfettered choice about that,” Mitchell said, citing the pressure of health care costs and a family’s savings. “Shoot, they get guilted into thinking `I’m a burden, I’ve got to go.’”

“The choice of assisted suicide will become some phony form of freedom,” predicts Duane French, also quadriplegic, spokesman for the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide.

But Gardner and other proponents point to nearby Oregon, which in 1994 approved Ballot Measure 16 by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent. It is the only such law in the nation. A three-year court fight and voter referendum followed, all of which Oregon’s law won. It took effect in 1998. It has also survived a years-long attempt, launched in 2001, by the federal government to ban the prescription of barbiturates for suicide.

“The Oregon measure has been in existence for 10 years,” said Jan Polek, a former legislative candidate who lives in Spokane. “One of the fears at the beginning was that it would be a slippery slope and that all sorts of people would be dying who didn’t want to die.”

That hasn’t happened, she said. Statistics compiled by the state of Oregon show that over the past five years, about 65 people a year have requested the lethal drugs and that about 40 annually use them to die.

“I think life with dignity has got to include death with dignity,” said Polek, who’s had a heart attack and open heart surgery. “You have to know that when the end comes, it’s still going to be your choice.”

To read our full story on this, click here.

Assisted-suicide measure to be filed Weds, Gregoire says she doesn’t support it….

This morning, former Gov. Booth Gardner is slated to file a “Washington Death With Dignity Initiative” patterned on Oregon’s decade-old assisted-suicide program. Gardner is struggling with Parkinson’s disease.

If proponents gather enough signatures and voters approve the measure on the November ballot, mentally competent adults diagnosed as terminally ill with 6 months or less to live could give themselves life-ending medication.

I’ll have more on this tomorrow, when Gardner and proponents speak at the filing. But the Everett Herald’s Jerry Cornfield asked Gov. Chris Gregoire what she thought of the proposal at a legislative forum today.

She paused before responding, then said:

“I love my friend Booth Gardner, and my heart goes out to his condition and what he’s had to face,” she said. “He was my motivation for (establishing) the Life Science Discovery Fund. I pray every day that we’ll find a cure, but I find it on a personal level, very, very difficult to support assisted suicide.”

Paid family leave: How to pay?

One key thing that remains unsettled as lawmakers pack for a two month stay in Olympia: how to pay for the family leave program that would pay a $250-a-week stipend to help parents of new children stay home for a few weeks to bond with them?

Gov. Gregoire said she’s willing to tap the state general fund to pay the administrative startup costs of the program, slated to begin next year. But she doesn’t want it to pay the benefits.

Sen. Lisa Brown — a prime mover and strong advocate of the leave proposal — says Senate Democrats like the idea of a 1-cent-per-hour “payroll charge,” paid by all employees. If critics don’t like the idea, the onus is on them to come up with a better one, Brown added, because lawmakers fully intend to move forward with the program as planned. Early bonding with an infant or adopted child is key to reducing abuse and neglect later, she said.

“I think once it’s in place, many people will say `Of course,’” Brown said, citing the fact that most other industrialized nations have such a policy.

Asked about a task force that’s been unable to recommend an ongoing funding strategy, Brown said she’s not worried.

“I’m not so concerned that they didn’t come to a consensus,” she said. “That’s our job.”

House Speaker Frank Chopp also said that lawmakers would find a solution.

“We’ve still got some work to do, frankly, in terms of how to fund it,” he said. “We’re going to work that out.”

Confirmed: Serben’s out of the race for 6th Legislative District

Former state Rep. John Serben confirmed last night that he’s pulling out of the race to regain his former 6th Legislative District seat in the House of Representatives.

After talking it over with his family, Serben said, he concluded that it’s not the right time to return to Olympia and be separated for months of each year.

“I’m lucky — I’ve been married for about 20 years and me and my wife still actually like each other,” he said.

Also a factor in the decision: Serben’s new job doing public- and government relations for American Medical Response.

Serben was ousted by Democrat Don Barlow in November 2006, and soon filed campaign paperwork to try to reclaim that seat in the 2008 election. But he would have faced a strong primary challenge from a third candidate, Spokane businessman and fellow Republican Kevin Parker.

Serben said he’s endorsing Parker, adding that the two agree on many issues.

Gregoire to request drunk-driving checkpoint law…

In Lynnwood, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday plans to propose legislation allowing police to set up roadblocks to check drivers’ sobriety, according to a brief media advisory sent out by her office.

On Eyman…

Initiative pro Tim Eyman this morning filed his still-unnumbered 2008 ballot measure: a proposal based partly on the suggestions contained in a recent state performance audit of the Department of Transportation.

What it would do:
-Allow all motorists to use carpool lanes at “non-peak” times, which Eyman defines as 18 hours a day.
-Require cities and counties to synchronize traffic lights on major streets.
-Boost funding for emergency roadside assistance to clear out stalled cars or fender-benders.
-And create a new “Reduce Traffic Congestion Account” in the state treasury, funded partly by a 10 percent slice of the sales tax on new and used cars (about $85 million a year, Eyman says). Also going into that fund would be any tolls paid by solo motorists to use car pool lanes at peak times — something the state doesn’t yet allow — as well as the money that would otherwise be spent on required public art and fines from red-light cameras.

With by far the worst congestion in Puget Sound’s core, it remains to be seen how much interest Eyman can rouse in Eastern Washington, home to his administrative operation. He and Spokane associates Mike and Jack Fagan say the synchronized-light requirement will resonate with frustrated drivers.

“It’s not just people in Seattle who are saying that. It’s people stuck on Division,” Eyman said, referring to one of Spokane’s most-clogged arterials.

Eyman’s also planning a rising-tide-floats-all-boats argument east of the Cascades, arguing that it hurts everyone if the state’s economic powerhouse is awash in idling traffic.

On taxes…

-Property tax foes are preparing an opening-day “Property Tax Tea Party” on the steps of the state capitol Jan. 14.

-Initiative 960, approved by voters in November, requires extensive public notices of tax and fee proposals in Olympia, as well as the 10-year costs of them. To sign up for email updates by state budget officials, click here.

-and The Association of Washington Business’ Richard Davis takes a look at a recent Governing magazine study of the volatility of different state’s tax structures. The surprising finding: Washington’s oft-criticized heavy reliance on the sales tax has resulted in unusually stable revenue for the state in good times and bad.

Says Davis:

Certainly legitimate arguments can be made for changing the tax structure to make it more progressive, less burdensome on business, more conducive to economic development, or whatnot. But all of those changes invite new problems, including swapping stability for volatility. Read the whole article.

Whacky nation…

Much as I hate to add to the echo chamber — a political blogger writing about a political blogger taking shots at yet another political blogger who’s defended by etc. — conservative former newspaperman and Whacky Nation blogger Lou Guzzo blasted contemporary colleague David Postman recently.

Postman’s crime: a three-paragraph item pointing out that contrary to Guzzo’s assertion that no true conservative or Republican would back the state’s new “rainy day fund” budget savings account, the measure was backed by Guzzo friend and GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, as well as every Republican lawmaker in the legislature.

For noting this, Guzzo is calling on Postman’s bosses to discipline him, apparently including firing him.

All of which prompted a lengthy, point-by-point defense from Effin’ Unsound blogger thehim. From it:

…So let’s recap. Lou says that the “Rainy Day Fund” is a terrible idea that no sane conservative could support. Postman then points out that Rossi and all the Republicans in the state legislature support it. Ergo, Postman is a Socialist propagandist…for simply stating a fact. Wow.

Gregoire on tearing down Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct: “Watch me.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who endured a months-long standoff with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and others over how the replace Seattle’s weakening Alaskan Way Viaduct, told Post-Intelligencer correspondent Chris McGann yesterday that one way or another, the state will knock the central part of the viaduct down by 2012.

“That’s the timeline. I’m not going to fudge on it. And if we don’t have some alternative by then, boy are we going to have a mess on our hands because it’s coming down.”

Asked if she, as governor, could trump the state’s largest city and county and unilaterally tear down a highway that carries more than 100,000 vehicles a day through the heart of Seattle, Gregoire said:

“Yeah, watch me.”

The governor set a hard deadline after a tortured and unsuccessful attempt to resolve the issue last year. At that time Seattle, King County and the state fought and floundered in their attempts to produce a viable option for replacing or rebuilding the viaduct.

Gregoire told McGann that the state will stick to its commitment to pay $2.8 billion of the cost — which is about enough to replace the existing elevated highway. Any extra for more-expensive, less-ugly options like Nickels’ proposed tunnel — rejected last year by Seattle voters — would have to come from local taxpayers.

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

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