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Eye On Olympia

Archive for March 2008

Toxic toys bill to be signed into law tomorrow?

Looks that way. HB 2647, a bill setting state limits on lead and other chemicals on the list of bills slated for action tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Olympia.

Update: As Jason Mercier notes, SB 6818 — creating an easily searchable online state budget database — is also on the list.

And after you get a refill…

— The latest edition of the Building Industry Association of Washington’s newsletter is dedicated largely to Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island, and the builders’ victory over a Weinstein bill that would have made it far more easy to sue builders and contractors.

The builders mention Weinstein no less than 33 times, plus include a photo of his home. The condensed version:

“vitriolic assault…builder-hating bill…disastrous legislation…a campaign of lies…wild claims…untruthful claim…”

By comparison, the Earth Liberation Front — which burned down several brand-new homes — got 26 mentions (“terrorists” also got 13). Gov. Chris Gregoire got 7 mentions; Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi got 13.

(Also meriting some love from the group was “the media,” which drew 13 mentions for coverage of Weinstein’s bill. Again, the condensed version:

“busy cozying up to…fawning over…enabling…his mouthpiece…idolized…woefully misinformed…intent on ignoring the facts.”
)

The group’s president, Spokane’s Brad Spears, called the defeat of Weinstein’s SB 6385 “one of BIAWs biggest successes of all time.”

— Trouble brewing in the upcoming Democratic caucuses? The Seattle Weekly’s Aimee Curl discusses the potential for delegate challenges:

Some of the delegates and alternates selected in February to participate in the next stage of the process, the legislative district caucuses, aren’t even registered to vote, while others were elected as delegates in the wrong precinct.

Gregoire sits down with The Inlander…

Spokane’s weekly The Inlander sat down for half an hour with the governor on a recent trip.

Among the topics: Her superdelegate pick of Obama over Clinton, the tenor of the looming campaign with Dino Rossi, the Sonics and several local issues.

Read the interview transcript here.

Winter sunshine’s hard to find in Olympia…

After months of work, the state’s “Sunshine Committee” this week recommended that finalists for government jobs should be made public and that more information should be released from investigations into child deaths.

It’s been slow going for the committee, a mix of attorneys, lawmakers, journalists and community members. (Among the latter: Spokane’s Candy Jackson.) They’re supposed to be looking at the more than 400 exemptions that have been created to the state’s public records act, which says that citizens have a right to see what government is doing.

But even the silly-seeming exemptions (secrecy for growers of American ginseng? Really?) have proven unexpectedly nuanced and complex.

For example, the committee differed over whether releasing information on public job finalists would drive good people away. Virtually no private industry would do that, argued attorney Ramsey Ramerman.

“I think it’s going to lead to worse candidates and worse hires if we do it this way,” he said, saying it could lead to political pressure.

Attorney Tim Ford disagreed. Another way of viewing political pressure, he said, is public scrutiny of whom taxpayers are hiring.

Session in review: 4th District…

For the three lawmakers who represent eastern Spokane County in the statehouse, this year’s legislative session was an exercise in frustration and eking out some quiet wins.

All three are Republicans in a Legislature that tilts Democratic nearly 2-to-1. They introduced few bills. Not one passed.

But they said that’s not the whole story. In many cases, they said, they helped change, push or kill legislation backed by other lawmakers.

Read print story here.

Session in review: 9th District…

It was a challenging year for lawmakers from the 9th Legislative District, a sprawling triangle that covers much of the Palouse.

Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, was a freshman appointee, staying up late at night reading bills for fear that he would accidentally approve something that would hurt his district.

Like many Republicans, Sen. Mark Schoesler spent much of the session arguing unsuccessfully against bills and budgets backed by the large Democratic majority.

And shortly after the legislative session began, Rep. Steve Hailey, R-Mesa, was diagnosed with colon cancer. He spent the rest of the session at home in Franklin County, alternating legislative work with chemotherapy sessions.

One of the bright spots, however, turned out to be the budget.

Read print story here.

A candidate I-1000 backers would rather not see…

It’s not often that we Washingtonians pay much attention to congressional races in Michigan, but you can rest assured that there are some folks very unhappy with a certain independent’s recently-announced long-shot campaign.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, 79, says he’ll run for a seat representing the Detroit suburbs. The assisted-suicide proponent known as “Dr. Death,” Kevorkian, allegedly helped more than 100 people die before being sent to prison for eight years for second-degree murder. He was recently released.

His candidacy comes at the very time that former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner is spearheading a Death-With-Dignity measure patterned after Oregon’s decade-old assisted-suicide law. Oregon is the only state with such a law.

Kevorkian’s name came up frequently in a recent court hearing at which I-1000 critics and proponents clashed over the ballot language. Foes of the measure wanted it to say “physician-assisted suicide”; backers argue that it’s not suicide because the terminally ill people affected by the law cannot choose life. Plus, they say, the physician would only prescribe, not administer, lethal medication.

The term, I-1000 attorney Jessica Skelton told a Thurston County judge recently, suggests that a doctor “would administer the medication in the style of Mr. Kevorkian.”

Roach flap one of many…

From our suburban editions this morning:

Republican Sen. Pam Roach caused a lot of consternation for Senate GOP leaders last week, when she blasted them in an e-mail to more than three dozen journalists.

A quick review: The clash occurred shortly after Republican leaders banned Roach from talking to many staffers, allegedly because of her constant demands, complaining about lawmakers and demanding a sort of loyalty oath from workers.

This was not the first public clash for Roach, nor the first time she’s been accused of abusing legislative staff. In the late 1990s, she famously railed on the Senate floor against someone who’d moved some flowers from her desk.

In 1998, Roach was reprimanded for “violat(ing) the Senate’s respectful workplace policy.”

The same thing happened in 1999, except that this time Senate leaders offered her counseling “or training in professional treatment of staff to assist you in improving these relationships.”

In 2000, the Senate agreed to pay $2,500 for counseling for a worker who said she’d been traumatized by working with Roach.

When a former intern and aide for Roach complained about Roach’s repeated “angry verbal outbursts” in 2003, the senator demanded the woman be fired – and then led a group of reporters into the basement of a Senate office building, trying to find the woman and confront her. Another aide for Roach quit that year after it was discovered that he was going through other people’s e-mails.

The Statehouse is “a highly stressful environment” and workers and staff need to have “reasonably thick skins,” the 2003 reprimand acknowledged. But chasing a former staffer around with TV crews is beyond the pale, it said.

Roach is doing charity work in Honduras. But this story’s not over.

Lieutenant governor to be knighted…

His name’s Brad, but you can call him Don.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, the second-longest-serving elected official in the statehouse, is about to be granted The Royal Order of Isabel la Catolica on behalf of his majesty the King Juan Carlos I de Borbon.

Translation: Owen will be a Spanish knight.

Also being honored with a similar award will be Owen’s longtime advisor Antonio Sanchez.

The impending honor — the ceremony’s slated for April 2 — prompted some ribbing from the Senate last week. Will they have to call him “Sir Brad Owen?” one asked.

“You will be able to address me as Don Brad,” Owen replied, to laughter. “That is the correct term.”

Owen said in an interview today that the ceremony does not entail a sword, and that no, he doesn’t expect that anyone will seriously call him Don.

But he said he appreciates the honor, which follows several Spain-related art, cultural and trade programs he’s been involved with. Although his office deals with a lot of foreign consuls and dignitaries, this is the first time he’s been knighted.

“The closest I’ve probably come is being named the godfather of a fire station in Peru,” he said.

A loyalty oath?

I really didn’t plan to write about this again, but it turns out that state Sen. Pam Roach was dsciplined for excessive demands on Senate staffers and apparently asking them to vow an oath of loyalty to her.

Really.

Click here for the story, from the TNT.

Former state Rep. Toby Nixon will try to recapture House seat from Goodman…

Two years after giving up his House spot in an unsuccessful run for the state Senate, Kirkland’s Toby Nixon is trying to recapture his old seat.

He had said he wouldn’t run this year, but said encouragement from local Republicans and growing “disgust” with the direction set by Olympia prompted him to jump in.

“This legislature’s solution to every problem has been more government control, more regulation, and higher taxes and fees, rather than the free market solutions that would actually work,” he said in a statement emailed to reporters shortly before midnight.

Nixon, a longtime (and current) Microsoft employee, has been an outspoken advocate for open government and civil liberties.

He’s challenging Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, a Harvard-educated former Democratic National Committee attorney. (Like Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst, Goodman also has a name that seems tailor-made for appearing on a ballot.)

Goodman this year spearheaded a law intended to spur the use of ignition interlock systems for people convicted of drunk driving. Simply yanking their license isn’t working, he said. The bill is patterned on a similar one in New Mexico, under which drunken-driving road deaths dropped 30 percent.

Goodman also sponsored a bill giving a tax break to gas stations that install backup generators so they can still dispense gas during power outages. Large swaths of Puget Sound were left without power for days in 2006, and homeowners with generators quickly discovered that it was difficult to find functioning gas stations.

Olympia, Spokane among Forbes’ best…

Olympia is the eighth best place in the country for business and careers, and Spokane is ninth, according to new rankings from Forbes.com.

Seattle’s 20th, and Tacoma’s 43rd.

The ratings were based on the cost of doing business, job growth, and the educational attainment of residents, among other factors.

Click here for a look.

Even after the session, SB 6900 lives on…

As lawmakers prepare their post-session fliers – paid for by you – you can expect to yet again hear scary things about a bill that would have charged Washingtonians a yearly fee based on engine size.

Senate Bill 6900, as I’ve written here before, was dead on arrival. It never made it to a vote in either the House or Senate.

Yet it remains a handy political pi├▒ata for rural Republicans.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda.

“It’s wonderful,” chuckled Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane. “It’s already in my session brochure.”

“Talk about lighting up the e-mail,” said freshman Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, who said he got 500 complaints about the bill from his Palouse district alone. “They were going to tax mothers with minvans 275 bucks. Where’s the logic in that?”

Still, climate change is definitely on the minds of the governor and the Legislature’s Democratic majority. Sen. Chris Marr, who shepherded through a controversial bill setting up a framework for encouraging denser communities as a way to limit auto emissions, noted this about the debate this year: No longer are most lawmakers arguing that global warming is real. Nor are most arguing that man contributes to that. Instead, the debate now focuses on the details of what to do about it.

“Exposed his backside” allegations “factually deceptive”

The Tacoma News Tribune’s Niki Sullivan tonight posted excerpts from a unusual e-mail apparently sent by Sen. Pam Roach. It blasts Republican leaders in the Senate, notably Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.

Roach says her caucus leaders are attacking fellow Republican senators “to stifle the growing unrest of failed leadership.” Roach also says she missed being elected minority leader by a single vote last year, and says the caucus is doing a lousy job of building a platform and recruiting viable candidates.

“Our leadership is a disaster,” the e-mail says. “We offer no plan for regaining the majority, we have no money to support viable candidates and now we attack our own.”

She adds that she’s been accused of criticizing leadership around staff members.

Okay. But then it gets interesting, accusing Hewitt of verbally abusing members in caucus and claiming that he

“has bent and exposed his backside to a female senator while screaming at her during a caucus meeting.”

Pardon?

“He is a desperate man with personal problems,”
Roach quotes herself as saying.

“Our leadership is drowning and like those who drown they are lashing out at and pulling down those who may be able to save them. Hewitt’s personal issues and unprofessional conduct will drop us even further into the abyss of becoming a meaningless entity.”

And much more. Click on Niki’s link above for the full enchilada.

But as I’m thinking this is some sort of early April fool’s joke or a flat-out hoax — mooning each other in the caucus room? Come on — along comes a Republican news release which confirms that the e-mail is real.

“Last week, Senate Republican leadership disciplined Sen. Pam Roach on a personnel matter,” it says. “In response, Sen. Roach issued a news release last evening attacking Sen. Mike Hewitt and caucus leadership.”

Hewitt is unavailable due to a medical procedure, says the release, issued by Sens. Linda Parlette, Mark Schoesler and Dale Brandland.

“Sen. Roach has distorted events that happened off campus to distract attention from internal personnel issues for which she was disciplined,” it continues.

(Note to GOP: It’s working.)

“We cannot discuss personnel issues in the press.”

(Umm, why not? This is not a worker being disciplined by a private company. These are elected officials serving in their official capacities.)

But the thing that got my attention as I was scrolling through my 62 emails today was this:

“Finally, Sen. Roach’s allegation that Sen. Hewitt `exposed his backside to a female senator’ is factually deceptive and personally harmful. We are disappointed that Sen. Roach has decided to make a private personnel matter public.”

UPDATE: The critical missing detail, it seems, was that the backside in question apparently remained clothed at all times.

The Tri-City Herald’s intrepid Chris Mulick got to the bottom of things with a story in today’s paper:

During the meeting, she said a dispute arose after she requested voter lists for all caucus members and that she and Hewitt came close together in a small living room.

She acknowledged flashing an obscene hand gesture to Hewitt and said Hewitt responded by flipping up the back of his sports coat and bending over.

“He was bent clear in a perpendicular position, down so far his head didn’t show,” Roach said, following up after boarding her plane.

“It was three feet from my face,” Roach said. “I was sitting down and he’s a short man, so there you go.”

Mulick’s take: “a faux moon.”

WOW….

From The Associated Press:

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the state of Washington’s open primary election system, a setback for the Republican and Democratic political parties in the state.

By a 7-2 vote, the court says the state may use a primary system that allows the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election, even if they are from the same party.

Washington never held a primary under the new system because of legal challenges.

“Wow!” Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed said when told of the decision. “That’s terrific! It means the people of the state of Washington are going to be able to control who gets elected through this process.”

Reed said the top-two system will take effect with the August primary election.

“This is a victory for the state of Washington,” he said.

Reed said the ruling sets a precedent that will allow other states to break political party control on primary elections.

“I think we’ll see it around the country,” he said.

Read the story here.

And it’s a wrap…

After a three-month flurry of activity, much of the state Capitol is back to the ghost-town-like atmosphere is exudes for much of the year.

Gone are the lobbyists who crowded around the House and Senate doors, frantically scribbling notes to lawmakers. Gone are the rallies on abortion, school libraries, toxic toys. Gone is the small plane circling the dome and trailing a huge “Save Our Sonics” banner. (See below.)

What remain, however, are the laws and programs that legislators approved. More than 300 bills are on their way to Gov. Chris Gregoire to be signed into law.

Here’s a handy list of the bills passed, where they’re at now, and short summaries of what each would do: click here.

To confirm, Orr not…

In Washington, the governor appoints hundreds of people to all manner of boards and commissions.

There’s the affordable housing advisory board, the Interagency Committee of State Employed Women, even a committee charged with looking after the capitol furniture.

Many must be confirmed by the state Senate. A lawmaker praises the person, there’s a quick vote and everyone moves on.

So it was a surprise today to see that a long-simmering tug-of-war involving the Fish and Wildlife Commission briefly threatened to delay the confirmation of someone that everyone seems to agree is a good fit for the commission: Spokane’s George Orr.

Of clam chowder, explosives, and towel fees…

All of which you’ll get to if you click on the jump link below.

From this morning’s print edition:

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that House Bill 3381 mentions the word “explosives” 16 times.

State lawmakers Monday night found themselves faced with an unpalatable prospect in a big election year: voting on a bill authorizing dozens of fee increases totaling tens of millions of dollars.

They can thank Tim Eyman – and themselves.

State agencies charge hundreds of fees. Among their subjects: boiler permits, wastewater discharge, dam inspections, pesticide registration and driver tests.

For years, state lawmakers have allowed state agencies to decide how much to charge, within certain limits.

Then came Eyman’s Initiative 960. Approved by voters last year, it bans state agencies from boosting fees – at all – without approval from state lawmakers. And that approval requires public notices and a 10-year projection of costs.

Unlike the state Senate, lawmakers in the House of Representatives have avoided including fee increases in their budget proposal or other bills this year. Instead, they considered approving many of the fees in a single bill in the final days of the legislative session, which ends Thursday.

“Basically, it’s an election year, and if you have to do it independently, there’s potentially a hit piece on every one: ‘He voted for this, he voted for that,’ ” said Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane.

Still, there was some sticker shock Friday, when House lawmakers were asked to approve about 400 fee increases with a 10-year price tag of more than $700 million. Lawmakers balked, only to face a hearing room full of agency officials and lobbyists telling them how critical the fees were.


Budget deal details trickling out…

The House and Senate have just about agreed on a final budget deal, key lawmakers say.

Some of the main points:

How much to leave in state savings: For months Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislative budget writers have been weighing how much to leave in savings this year. Gregoire in December called for $1.2 billion, then amended that down to $900 million after a bleak revenue forecast in mid-February. Lawmakers, who had a longer list of priorities, said $750 million would be enough.

Where it landed: “It’s north of $820 (million) and south of $900 (million),” said Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam.

Teacher pay : Under a voter-approved initiative, teachers are automatically slated to get a 3.9 percent cost-of-living increase this year. The House wanted to add 1 percent to that as a catch-up for two years when lawmakers suspended the initiative due to a huge budget deficit. The Senate said it would like to do the same, but couldn’t afford it right now.

Where they landed: The Associated Press and another lawmaker say the House and Senate split the difference: half a percent more, in addition to the 3.9 percent. Kessler wouldn’t confirm that exactly, but said “we’ll probably be somewhere around” that amount.

Among the proposed tax breaks: one for newspapers

A labor lobbyist just emailed, challenging capitol reporters to write about a tax break for their own industry: newspapers. Fair enough.

House Bill 2585 would give newspaper companies a $946,000 tax break in this budget cycle, rising to $1.4 million annually next year, according to state budget analysts.

Under current law, publishers of newspapers, magazines and other periodicals pay a business tax rate of .484 percent. This applies to subscriptions, newsstand sales, ad income, etc.

Ad revenue for businesses who publish things but don’t actually print them is taxed at a higher rate: 1.5 percent. When newspapers publish online content and sell ads for it — yes, like this blog and those ads you see above and to the left — they pay the higher 1.5 percent tax on that ad revenue.

HB 2585 would apply the lower rate to those ads, but only if the online version of the newspaper “shares content with the printed newspaper” and the two are prominently identified as being linked.

The bill’s moving quickly, passing the House 85 to 5, and clearing the Senate Ways and Means Committee this morning.

Among the other tax breaks that have made it pretty far through the process this year: ones on waste vegetable oil, tidal power, aerospace suppliers, polysilicon manufacturers, green construction and beekeepers.

Meanwhile, in Aisle 5…

Think of it: You go to the supermarket, and en route from the carrots to the fish sticks, you stop and…

Drink some beer.

Yup. Barring an unexpected legislative hiccup, a handful of grocery stores across the state will offer shoppers free wine and beer samples, starting this fall.

Some lawmakers, worried about drivers and what children will think, say it’s an unbelievably bad idea.

“Let’s take a look at this bill. It’s about drinking — in grocery stores!” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. “What are we thinking?”

For years, local beer- and wine-makers have been asking lawmakers to let shoppers try their products. On Friday, the House narrowly approved the proposal over the objections of both Democrats and Republicans.

“You’re going to see booze being handed out for free. That’s wrong,” said Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, a retired Navy captain.

Proponents say it’s unlikely that the samples — a third of a glass of wine or a sixth of a beer – will turn a Safeway into a saloon.
The one-year pilot project, they say, will follow tight rules set up by state liquor officials. Samples will be limited. Only 30 stores statewide can try this in a one-year pilot project. The tasting area will be segregated. And ads will be restricted to inside the store.

“You won’t be seeing signs out on the street: `Come and get your free wine sample,’” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.

Oregon already allows such sampling, he said.

Some lawmakers – particularly from wine-growing districts — suggested that their colleagues are being a little puritanical.

“Wine is a legal product,” said Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla. “And if we quit putting such a stigma on that, maybe our kids, when they grow up, would not think that it was such a great thing to have alcohol.”

Retired police officer and state Rep. Al O’Brien, D-Seattle, argued that even a little alcohol can affect someone with a low tolerance. It seems unwise, he said, to be serving any wine or beer in places where kids and shopping carts are rushing through busy parking lots.

But Rep. Brendan Williams, noted that parents take their kids to restaurants or sporting events and often drink far more than the small samples allowed by Senate Bill 5751. In fact, when he took his five-year-old to an Idaho theme park last summer, he said, “it was easier, frankly, to find hard liquor on a hot summer day than it was to find ice cream.”

From last night’s late floor speeches on a global warming bill…

Lawmakers debated until nearly 1 a.m. this morning on a global warming bill, which passed, and which I’ll blog more about in an hour. But here’s an excerpt from one of the floor speeches, from Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane. His point: that earth’s climate has a long history of warming and cooling cycles about every 500 years.

“…We also had global cooling from 250 AD to roughly 750 AD. Prior to that, we had global warming from 350 BC to 250 AD. And during that period, we had some great peoples that had empires, such as your Alexander the Great, now of course it’s Greece, Macedonia; we had the Israelites…and we also had the, uh, Persian Empire…that was the warmest period in about half a million years, something like that…”

During this, Democrats began tittering, then openly laughing until House Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Morris gaveled them down. Ahern continued:

“Earth goes through a climate change every 500 years without fail. So mankind, we’re not causing that much of a problem.”

High court on Lisa Brown’s I-960 challenge: Won’t happen before end of session…

(Alternative headline for those with a legislative attention deficit: Court’s slow pace means booze to remain 42 cents cheaper!)

Despite a request to rush arguments and a ruling out before lawmakers pack up their coffeemakers and head home March 13th, the state Supreme Court today turned down the request. The court also wouldn’t commit to getting a decision out by the time the next legislative session starts in January 2009.

In the short term, the decision almost certainly means the death of the bill that triggered the court challenge: renewing a lapsed 42-cents-a-liter liquor tax. The resulting $10 million would have paid for more drunken-driving enforcement and substance-abuse treatment.

The court challenge is much broader than that, of course. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, is challenging a longstanding law that says legislators must get a two-thirds “yes” vote in order to pass a tax increase.

After years of (both parties) finding ways around this requirement, last year’s Initiative 960 reaffirmed it. Now, legislative budget writers face the prospect of being hamstrung next year, on the eve of an expected $2.4 billion state budget deficit.

Supreme Court Clerk Ronald Carpenter said the court commissioner will decide how — and if — to proceed with the case on April 17th.

UPDATE: No worries, says Brown, who called it good news. The reason she aksed for an accelerated schedule, she said, was to avoid a replay of a scenario from 1994, when the high court threw out a similar challenge because the Legislature wasn’t in session at the time.

This time, she noted, the suit has been put on the court’s regular docket.

“This means we won’t get a snap decision, and it means the matter won’t be declared moot just because the Legislature may not be in session when the Court finally does take up the case,” she said in a written statement released a few minutes ago by her office.

“I’m pleased the Court will hear the case thoroughly and completely,” she said. “We are on track and moving forward.”

Trying not Toulouse the order…

The surest legislation in Olympia: The House economic development committee will on Friday hold a hearing on late-breaking HB 4034, a request for the president and Congress to halt the Air Force’s move to order dozens of foreign-made tankers and “reconsider” the order “in the name of national and economic security.” It’s a $35 billion deal that lawmakers say could ultimately be worth $100 billion, and is already weighing heavily on Boeing stock.

Don’t buy from Toulouse, France-based Airbus, the measure says, when you can buy from “the Everett, Washington-based Boeing facility.” (Which doubtless sounded better than “Chicago-based Boeing” and a lot better than “the company that assembles the 787 with body components from China, South Korea, Japan, the U.S., Canada, England, France, Sweden and Italy.”)

The memorial paints Airbus as a tanker upstart:

The Boeing company has a long and storied history of building the world’s greatest commercial and military aircraft, including nearly 2,000 tankers, in stark contrast to Airbus which has no experience building tankers;

which might desert us in our hour of need:

We, your Memorialists, firmly believe that in order to protect our national security and America’s military strength in the world, it is right and justified to invest in our American engineers, our manufacturing industry, and our military, rather than rely on that of a foreign government that may or may not agree with our mission in the world and could undermine it by withholding needed supplies and machinery.

Sixty six of the House’s 98 lawmakers have signed on.

The hearing’s slated for 8 a.m., with an immediate vote scheduled, and will be carried live by TVW.

Ethics board: We lack jurisdiction over Rep. Ahern’s meeting with teens

Weeks after an angry parent complained that state Rep. John Ahern “verbally abused” teens lobbying him on behalf of Planned Parenthood, a state ethics board has dismissed the complaint.

The Legislative Ethics Board concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over a conversation between Ahern, the students and an adult chaperone.

The ruling means that “the legislator is entitled to his opinion and that there’s no ethical provision which addresses language which some people think to be offensive,” said board attorney Mike O’Connell. He released the ruling Wednesday.

The complaint was filed by one of the students’ parents, Wesley Wilhelm of Spokane.

On Jan. 21, seven local youths from Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest’s teen advisory board met with Ahern, R-Spokane, in his legislative office in Olympia. They were promoting family planning and more funding for sex education.

“It’s the first time in 8 years they’ve decided to come visit me, so I decided I’d have some good questions for them,” Ahern said Wednesday.

It turned out to be mainly just one question, asked over and over. As Ahern recalls it, he said “By the way, I need to find out how many unborn babies were killed by Planned Parenthood.”

Ahern says he asked the students that a couple of times, then asked their chaperone twice, then asked the teens a couple of more times.

“I was just trying to give them a lesson on pro-life issues,” he said. He said Wednesday that he feels the group is “trying to refurbish their image by bringing teenagers into their fold.”

When one girl protested at the meeting that she should have control over her body, he said, he asked whether an unborn child should have a say, too.

“That stymied them,” Ahern said.

The incident, first reported by The Inlander, disgusted Wilhelm. His then-15-year-old daughter was one of the half-dozen teens.

In a Feb. 10 letter to House Republican leader Richard DeBolt, Wilhelm called the “persistent, off-topic and threatening” questioning “abusive” and asked that Ahern be investigated and punished for a “complete lack of human decency.” The students were not there lobbying about abortion, he said.

“Such abuse of anyone, regardless of their political positions, is reprehensible,” he wrote.

Wilhelm also called for a written apology to the students, all lawmakers, and to the more than 130,000 residents of Ahern’s legislative district.

Civic-minded teens who visit their lawmakers shouldn’t be berated, he said. And Ahern’s behavior, he said, belies the “Washington State Legislature welcomes kids of all ages” statement trumpeted on the legislative web page.

UPDATE: Ahern’s been feeling the love lately from columnists over this incident, including Hard 7’s Rebecca Mack, who notes pointedly that he’s up for election:

Ahern will doubtless toot his horn about the work he’s done over the years trying to get a felony DUI bill passed, and remove the statute of limitations for sex crimes against children. That’s fine and dandy, but Ahern’s good work in no way gives him a pass on his gaffes.

Ahern says he’s not worried.

“Was it Harry Truman who said `If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen?’” he said.

(Read full print version of the story here.)

How much is enough? It’s a secret…

In December, as regular readers of this blog likely know, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed leaving $1.2 billion in state savings this year to help stave off major budget cuts in future lean years.

After a bleak revenue forecast and months of hearings, House and Senate budget writers have instead proposed leaving $750 million in savings. It’s still a lot of money, they note.

Not enough, Gregoire said Monday. She called $750 million “simply unacceptable.”

So what’s acceptable, reporters asked.

Gregoire said she’s told lawmakers where that number should be.

So…where should it be?

“I’m not negotiating publicly,” the governor said.

GOP road plan DOA…

In a proposal that House Transportation Committee chairwoman Judy Clibborn said was “dead on arrival,” House Republicans today rolled out a proposal that they said would free up $6 billion over the coming decade.

If they were in charge, GOP lawmakers said, they would then steer that cash into several high-priority projects, including $1 billion for the North Spokane Corridor.

“we can invest $6 billion into our system without raising taxes,” said Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Bellingham. “…If we had 65 votes, we would have done this last year.” (They’re outnumbered almost two to one by Democrats in both the House and Senate.)

The plan calls for $1.5 billion in locally raised money from the Seattle area and steering about $1.4 billion in auto- and auto-parts sales taxes back into transportation projects over the next 10 years. It would impose tolls on a new 520 floating bridge in Seattle and a new Columbia River crossing at Vancouver. And it would take the sales tax on transportation projects and spend the money on the projects, not send it to the general fund.

Over a decade, it would mean about $2 billion less in the general fund.

“Do the Republicans really expect leaders in Olympia to direct hundreds of millions of dollars that would normally go to schools and health care to road projects?” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island.

Domestic partnerships bill headed to governor’s desk…

A year after launching domestic partnerships for same-sex couples (and senior citizen heterosexual couples), the state Senate this afternoon voted 29-20 to broaden the rights and responsibilities for such couples.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, called House Bill 3104 “an important step in giving financial equality and fairness to loving families.”

The bill would allow couples to share a nursing home room, would protect them from being forced to testify against each other, and would allow them to share veterans’ benefits, among many other things. It would also require elected officials to file campaign disclosure paperwork about a partner, the same as one would do regarding a spouse.

Brown on her lawsuit…

Senate Majority Lisa Brown this afternoon weighed in on her Supreme Court case challenging I-601’s and I-960’s requirement for a two-thirds supermajority to pass a tax increase. Some notes from that:

Brown said she and many other lawmakers have long felt that the two-thirds rule was unconstitutional. But in court challenges in 1994 and 2007, the Supreme Court declined to weigh in on that, since critics couldn’t show them a bill that otherwise would have passed.

That changed Friday. With a simple majority vote, the Senate voted to renew a 42-cents-a-liter liquor tax that expired last summer. But Senate President Brad Owen ruled that the bill failed because it didn’t get two-thirds.

Brown then contacted attorneys, who she said wrote their arguments over the weekend.

Losing the $10 million liquor tax hike won’t break the budget, Brown said, although the money would have helped drunken-driving enforcement.
Far more important, she said, is protecting the constitution. While Republicans may disagree with her on tax measures, she said, she can easily foresee issues like property rights where they might also balk at trying to amend the constitution with just a ballot measure.

Brown suing to overturn high threshold for increasing taxes, says it’s unconstitutional…

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown plans to file a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court today to overturn part of Tim Eyman’s anti-tax Initiative 960, approved by voters in November.

The lawsuit is in response to Senate President Brad Owen’s ruling last week upholding I-960. During debate on a small liquor-tax increase, Owen ruled that passing the tax would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature or would have to go to the ballot for voters to approve.

I-960 reaffirmed the two-thirds requirement, which dates back to 1993’s Initiative 601. (Approved by voters in 1992, it took effect in 1993.) Legislative budget writers in both parties have long chafed at I-601’s limit, but they repeatedly amended and suspended it.

Brown says the requirement is clearly unconstitutional. The constitution — which neither initiative amended — says it just takes a simple majority of lawmakers to pass a tax increase. Not two-thirds.

“This is about defending the Constitution and Legislature’s ability to pass laws under the Constitution,” she told the Associated Press yesterday.

Today, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she knew nothing of the lawsuit until she read about it in a newspaper this morning. But she said the challenge wasn’t a surprise. During the I-960 campaign, she noted, a legal challenge was widely predicted.

“I’m not the least bit surprised,” Gregoire said, “and if there’s going to be a lawsuit, I’d just as soon get it done.” She wasn’t advised about it in advance and isn’t participating in it, she said.

Asked if the lawsuit, as Eyman says, is a setup for large tax increases next year:

“This is no time to talk about taxes,” she said. “I see no reason whatsoever to be talking about taxes.”

But when a reporter noted that the state’s own nonpartisan budget staffers are predicing a large deficit in the next budget cycle:

“I have no idea,” she said, saying there are three revenue forecasts between now and the next budget.

Pressed for her opinion, Gregoire said I-601 “really hasn’t worked,” forcing lawmakers to amend it. “There are some issues with regard to 960 that are very, very cumbersome,” she added.

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

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