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Eye On Olympia

Yes, the budget, but what else? Breathalyzers in bars, a ban on novelty lighters, and the Candy Wars…

If you just have to have that novelty cigarette lighter shaped like a rubber ducky, grenade or a certain part of human anatomy, you’d better buy soon.

Washington’s legislative session won’t begin until Jan. 12th, but lawmakers already filed a long list of proposed changes in state law.

Among them: Banning novelty lighters, limiting property taxes, making drivers prove they’re not illegal immigrants, and building a fifth state war memorial to honor casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.

With the state facing a nearly $6 billion budget shortfall, leaders have been urging restraint in the number of bills lawmakers try to pass this year.

The message in a nutshell: “If it costs money, be very careful,” said Melinda McCrady, a spokeswoman for House Democrats.

Still, lawmakers have “pre-filed” more than 100 bills so far, with hundreds more on the way.

Among the proposals so far:

-Novelty lighters: Prompted by calls from fire officials across the country, lawmakers in multiple states want to ban cigarette lighters that don’t look like cigarette lighters. Manufacturers churn out lighters that look like bullets, poker chips, cows, Santa, a toilet and, in at least two variations, a fist-shaped lighter sporting an upraised middle finger. (One of those models speaks every time you spark it up, and you can guess what it says.)
A dozen Washington lawmakers want to ban such lighters, citing cases of children who have been burned or started fires playing with lighters that look like toys. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission says that about a billion cigarette lighters are sold each year in the United States. Nearly half are imported from China.

-Breathalyzers: Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, wants to give a small tax break to bars that install breathalyzer machines for patrons.

-Continuing a years-long effort, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and three other lawmakers have submitted a nearly 400-page bill intended to stamp out gender bias from state law. In hundreds of places throughout the state’s law books, the bill would rewrite references like “he” to “he or she.” “Workman” would become “worker”, “patrolman” would become “patrol officer” and “white men” would become “Europeans.”

-Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, wants to require applicants for a state driver’s license or identification card to prove that they’re a U.S. citizen or here legally.

-Property taxes: There are several competing proposals for reducing the bite of property taxes. One would require annual assessments, so homeowners aren’t stunned by massive increases every few years. Others would gradually eliminate the state’s share of the property tax or limit increases in assessed value.

-As others have written already, Rep. Armstrong also wants the state to declare Applets and Cotlets candy to be “the official candy of the state of Washington.” Expect resistance from Tacoma natives, who several years ago fought an unsuccessful battle to win the same honor for their local Almond Roca. And Armstrong’s proposal has already drawn fire from the local newspaper in Chehalis, which argues that the local Chehalis Mints – flavored with Eastern Washington mint oil — “would represent the entire state.”


 -Afghanistan/Iraq war memorial: Eighteen state representatives are calling for the construction of a new war memorial on the capitol grounds, honoring those killed or missing in action.

-Sen Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, wants to do away with a 1939 tax break for fuel companies intended to compensate them for the evaporation of gasoline during shipping and tank-filling.

-Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, wants to do away with a state law generally requiring at least a four-week warning to hospitals about to undergo a state survey or audit.

-Ten state representatives are backing a “homeowner’s bill of rights,” strengthening the warranty rights of buyers. Previous attempts have met strong resistance from home builders.

-Underage gambling: State law has long barred people under 18 from gambling, but the law lacks teeth. State Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane, wants to impose fines and community service for youths who break the law, and have any winnings forfeited to problem-gambling programs.

-Lead weights: Rep. Campbell wants to phase out the use of lead tire weights in favor of substitutes that are less hazardous to the environment.


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

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