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Spin Control

Archive for January 2010

Taking the temperature

“They’re working at a fever pitch,” — Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, describing legislative activity last Monday.
OLYMPIA – When one is the new guy in town, it often behooves one to withhold judgment on things that seem different than the place where one used to be.
Thus, when the governor made the above observation about the Legislature early last week, it seemed appropriate to stifle a quizzical look, despite having just come from the House chamber where the honorables were hard at work extolling the virtues of Civics for a resolution on the values of teaching it.
The governor was explaining why she wouldn’t release a tax proposal she’s preparing if federal money for things like health care and schools doesn’t materialize. To do so would break an agreement with Democratic legislative leaders to wait until state revenue forecasts come out in mid February. Since she did not appear to be attempting sarcasm or irony, this must be the kind of fever that forces one to follow a regimen of lots of rest.

Honoring Japanese internees, Vietnam veterans

OLYMPIA — Japanese-American students pulled out of college and sent to internment camps during World War II would be eligible for honorary degrees under a bill approved by a legislative committee.

Members of the South Vietnamese army who came to the United States after the Vietnam War would be honored for their service in a separate resolution.

The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee approved a bill that allows the state’s public universities to award honorary degrees to any student who was forced to leave college after the internment orders were signed in 1942. The University of Washington, which  had about 450 Japanese-American students at the time, granted honorary degrees to as many of those students as it could locate in 2008.

The committee passed the bill unanimously while supporters were there, which is outside the standard operating procedure that separates hearings from votes, sometimes by as much as a week.

The House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee did a similar thing with a bill that honors South Vietnamese veterans as well as American service members who served in the Vietnam War. An estimated 60,000 Vietnamese Americans currently live in Washington, many of them soldiers of the Republic of South Vietnam and their families who fled or immigrated after the war.

The memorial suggests the state and each county do things to to honor and bring together Vietnam veterans and South Vietnamese veterans.

Wood says he’ll wait to endorse successor

Retiring Rep. Alex Wood said Friday he won’t endorse any candidates vying to replace him until at least after the June election filing deadline.

Wood, a Democrat, serves the 3rd Legislative District representing central Spokane.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t endorse anyone except the final person who wins out in the primary,” Wood said.

Three Democrats have announced runs: Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple, Spokane Indians Baseball Club President Andy Billig and social worker Louise Chadez.

Wood, 64, said he’s been talking to six or seven people who have expressed interest in his seat. One of them, former KHQ reporter Tobby Hatley, said in an interview this week that he has decided not to run.

WA Lege Day 19: Of homes and homeless

OLYMPIA — It is Housing and Homeless Advocacy Day today, with the state’s Low Income Housing Alliance will be meeting in and around the Capitol.

The House is set to vote on a bill that allows churches to host temporary homeless camps on their property and keeps cities from passing ordinance against that. That bill HB 1956, is among several dozen scheduled for floor action in the House, although the timing is somewhat uncertain.

The Senate, too, has a wide range of bills that could come up for a vote, on topics ranging from flood control to Bisphenol A in baby bottles to allowing thel WSP to participate in the “chief for a day” program.

And they have a range of hearings through mid afternoon.

Hearing schedule is inside the blog,

Pine Lodge could remain open

OLYMPIA – Washington state will delay plans to close the Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women to see whether it can stay open as a facility shared by Spokane County and City.

State Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail announced Thursday the Medical Lake center is getting a temporary reprieve from a list of institutions the state wants to close because of its budget problems. Gov. Chris Gregoire put Pine Lodge on a list of 10 institutions earlier this month in her most recent budget proposal.

In a prepared statement, Vail said he’d received a letter from Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Spokane Mayor Mary Verner about a “joint use” of Pine Lodge. “We need adequate time to seriously consider what might be developed,” he said.

Knezovich said he and Verner suggested using the facility as part of joint county and city community corrections operation which would include programs for electronic home monitoring of certain inmates. Folding Pine Lodge into the county’s jail system could shave as much as $20 million off current expansion plans, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she’d had discussions with Gregoire and the corrections department about keeping Pine Lodge open.

“This is a good move if there’s a potential to use part of the facility for city and county needs,” she said.

Fact Check: State of the Union

Wonder what to believe among all the things you heard before, during and after President Barack Obama’s “State of the Union” speech? breaks down some of the comments of both sides. Click here to see who was lying and who was truthing.

And as a bonus, here’s a clip of Obama’s speech when he jabs the Supreme Court for its recent ruling on campaign finance. Can you spot any Washington State politicians in it?

9th Circ: WA felons can’t register yet

OLYMPIA — Voter registration drives may as well skip the state prisons for now. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a temporary hold on its order that felons should be able to vote in Washington, even if they are in prison.

The Appeals Court today granted a request for a stay from state officials while Washington asks the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. The Supreme Court has not yet decided if it will grant certiorari.

Earlier this month, the Appeals Court ruled 2-1 that the disproportionate number of minorities in prison in Washington amounts to automatic disenfranchisement and violates the federal Voting Rights Act. State officials were quick to say they would appeal, and most other states, which also bar convicted felons from voting unless they get their rights restored, are watching the case closely.

The stay lasts until the Supreme Court either hears the case and rules, or two weeks after it says it won’t consider the case.

More on Apple’s endorsement of Ahern

John Ahern’s campaign released this form Wednesday after Bob Apple denied endorsing Ahern. Both Ahern and his campaign manager, Josh Kerns, said they witnessed Apple signing it last year at the county fair.

The top of the form is quite clear: “I endorse John Ahern for State Representative in the 6th District, position 2. By signing below, I give permission to Citizens for Ahern to use my name in campaign materials for the 2010 election. Your contact information will not be shared with anyone outside the campaign. Thank you for your support!”

The campaign blocked other names and Apple’s contact information before releasing the document.

So far, Apple’s opponents in the race are Spokane Indians Baseball Club President Andy Billig and social worker Louise Chadez.

In an interview this morning, Billig said Apple’s endorsement is “surprising,” but that he had no further comment about the issue.

WA Lege Day 18: Physical therapy, lakes and an array of hearings

OLYMPIA — There’s not much action expected on the floor of the House, and the Senate has no floor action at all, so almost everything interesting will happen elsewhere today.

The governor has a 10:30 a.m. press conference to talk about federal transportation projects. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray announced this morning the state is getting $590 million in federal money for high speed rail upgrades in what’s know as the Pacific Northwest Cascades corridor, (aka Vancouver, B.C., to Seattle to Portland).

It is Lakes Day, when the state’s Lakes Protection Association comes to town to lobby legislators, and Physical Therapy Day, when Physical Therapists do the same. The latter have a big tent set up near the fountain east of the capitol and plan a noon demonstration on the North steps.

Committee hearings cover a wide range of topics, including money for public schools, higher fees for field burning, restrictions on outings for dangerous patients at mental institutions and changes to initiative rules.

For a complete list of the hearings, Click here to go inside the blog.


Traffic cams under fire

OLYMPIA—Spokane and any other city in Washington that uses cameras to catch red-light runners could have their ticket fines limited to $25 under a proposal before the Legislature.
State Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Pierce County, the prime sponsor of House Bill 2780, said the cameras create an “unholy alliance” between cities and the companies that maintain them and share the revenue the tickets generate. He likened them to speed traps cities once set up to help pad their budgets.
“This is not Tijuana, this is Washington state,” Hurst told the House Transportation Committee.
Greg Parks of American Traffic Solutions, the company that has the contract for the cameras in Spokane, Seattle and Bellevue, argued that the cameras are set up to reduce accidents at dangerous intersections: “It is a safety program. It’s not about revenue.”
To remove any profit motive, Hurst’s bill sets the maximum fine at $25. He said he’s willing to negotiate, but it should be similar to a parking fine. A ticket in Spokane now costs  $124.
It also requires the yellow light to be on for at least four seconds, which is the time Spokane already uses, Spokane Police Officer Theresa Fuller said.
The Spokane program is about safety not revenue, Fuller said, although she questioned the comparison to a parking fine: “You’re not going to kill somebody not paying your parking meter. You can kill somebody running a red light.”

Apple says he’ll compete for Wood’s seat

The field of candidates is growing in the race to replace retiring Democratic state Rep. Alex Wood.

Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple confirmed this week that he will compete for Wood’s seat representing the 3rd Legislative District, the most reliably Democratic district in eastern Washington.

WA Lege Day 17: A freeze on bonuses, unionized child care?

OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives voted unanimously this morning to freeze any bonuses for state managers.

In a 97-0 vote, they passed Substitute House Bill 2998, which leaves only a few exceptions for bonuses to executives in state government. The state paid out about $1.9 million in bonuses in 2009, legislators said.

One exception: employees can still get a bonus for coming up with ways to save money.

Not so popular, however, was a proposal to allow child care center employees to form collective bargaining units. Substitute House Bill 1329 passed 62-35 on a party line vote, after Democrats said it represented an investment in early childhood education.

Republicans balked, calling the bill well-intentioned by poorly thought out, fiscally.

“This bill is a bellwether on how the House will address the enormous challenges facing it. This is business as usual,” Rep. Glenn Anderson said.

Both bills now head for the Senate. A similar bill on child care workers passed the House last year, experienced significant changes in the Senate which couldn’t pass when it returned to the House.

Around the Capitol today, things should be looking better, and folks might know the importance of a good rub. The Opticians Association is lobbying legislators and Massage Awareness Day. The state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Strategic Partnership Council is also in the building this evening.

Hearing schedule for this afternoon can be found inside the blog.

WA Lege: How to handle cops who lie?

OLYMPIA — Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick was among law enforcement brass who told said they should be allowed to fire an officer who lies without fear of being overruled by  an arbitrator.

Kirkpatrick joined sheriffs from King and Chelan counties who supported SB 6590, which was drafted to clarify a problem with state law raised in by a recent state Supreme Court ruling. The ruling overturned the firing of an officer for lying, saying the there was no explicit state policy that requires an officer to be truthful, so firing him was arbitrary.

An officer would have to be lying about a “material fact” in a case, Kirkpatrick said. An arbitrator should be able to rule on whether the department meets all the standards set down in the disciplinary process, she added; but if that’s done, the decision to fire or not fire shouldn’t be overturned by the arbitrator.

“I am the one who makes policy in my department on truthfulness,” Kirkpatrick said. When she first arrived in Spokane, Kirkpatrick said one of her rules was “you lie, you die.”

Representatives of police, deputies and state troopers said they don’t disagree with the position that officers must tell the truth. But they said rules for arbitration are covered by union contracts and should be negotiated at the bargaining table, not unilaterally changed by legislation.

Sheriffs are held to the same standards by voters, and appointed department heads like Kirkpatrick are answerable to their mayors or councils and could be investigated for lying by an outside agency.

As the panel of law enforcement officials left the witness table, Senate Judiciary Chairman Adam Kline, D-Seattle, stopped Kirpatrick to ask: “What part of the South are you from?”

Memphis, she replied.

WA Lege: Assault weapon ban in bull’s eye

OLYMPIA — A proposal to ban certain semi-automatic firearms was praised by the mother of a shooting victim and a city police chief, but roundly panned by gun-rights activists.

The proposal, SB 6396, which would ban weapons commonly called “military style assault weapons” once covered by federal law, generated references to a Halloween slaying of a Seattle police officer and the 1994 shooting spree at Fairchild Air Force Base. It also prompted a debate between a state senator and a police chief over the definition of lethal.

The Puget Sound region saw six officers killed in the last two months of 2009, including Officer Tim Brenton, who was killed with a weapon that would be covered by the bill. Banning assault weapons with clips that fire more than 10 rounds is a way to protect police officers, Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo said.

“Which guns are lethal and which are not?” asked Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.

Guns that fire multiple rounds quickly are more lethal, Pillo said.About a fifth of all officers killed in the line of duty between 1998 and 2001 were killed by assault weapons, she said, and 10 officers in Los Angeles were wounded in a single bank robbery by the weapons.

“How many rounds does it take to kill a person or a deer?” asked Roach.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Judiciary Committee that was hearing it, said the bill includes descriptions of features on firearms such as pistol grips on rifles and barrel shrouds that make a gun “more lethal than your average deer rifle.” That prompted laughter in the hearing room which,

To read the rest of this story, Click here to go inside the Blog

WA Lege Day 16: Jobs, guns, environmentalists and contractors

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats announce their “jobs” program this afternoon, which will lay out how they plan to help the state out of the recession.

Landscape professionals, who may  have some concerns about bans on phosphorus in lawn fertilizer, are lobbying legislators; so are state troopers. An enviornmental group, People for Puget Sound, has a demonstration on the Capitol steps at noon, anld the Construction Industry Council is here in the evening.

It’s also Indian Welfare Awareness Day.

There’s a range of hearings all day, including one at 10 a.m. on a Senate proposal to ban assault weapons, a 3:30 p.m. hearing on plans to make state employees take unpaid days off or for a wage freeze for some workers.

For a complete list of hearings, click here to go inside the blog.

Bills would limit furloughs of criminally insane, add ‘guilty but mentally ill verdict’

Dangerous mental health patients could not leave state hospitals for field trips or most other excursions without specific court orders, under a bill the Legislature is considering.
The bill, prompted by Phillip Paul’s escape from last fall’s “field trip” to the Spokane County Fair by Eastern State Hospital patients, got strong support Monday from legislators and a representative of the mental health community during a hearing in the House Human Services Committee.
“This was a very traumatic event for Spokane County,” said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Greenacres, sponsor of HB 2717.

Gov to Congress: Health Care? Get ‘er done.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire and a phalanx of state officials who deal with health care tried to send a message to a Congress that may be wavering on the issue in the wake of last week’s U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts:

“Regardless of one election, national health care reform is essential,” Gregoire said at a mid-morning press conference. “Get it done.”

If Congress can’t pass a comprehensive reform package quickly, it should pass the funding changes that would send more federal money to Washington to cover Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, and give the state a waiver that would help cover the costs of state health care programs for poor children.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said that under the current systems, Washington expects to have 1 million people without health insurance by the end of 2011, and currently has a fourth of its population that is “under insured.”

Asked how worried she is that Congress will not pass a health care funding package by the time the Legislature has to make decisions on the state’s budget problems, she replied: “Quite.”

She suggested they vote on fiscal health care issues first which take a simple majority to pass, then take up policy issues that might be more difficult with the Democrats’ loss of a filibuster proof majority in the U.S. Senate. 

Some policy issues, such as banning insurance companies from refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions, have broad support, she said. They should determine the issues on which they have strong agreement, and work out the disagreements on the rest.

 To read more of this story, Click Here to go inside the blog.


Rothenburg: 3 NW races in play

Political pundit & prognasticator Stuart Rothenburg lists several Pacific Northwest races as ones to watch in the 2010 congressional elections.

Like many politicos, he lists Idaho’s Walt Minnick, a freshman Democratic congressman representing a Republican district. Idaho’s 1st Congressional District is listed “Toss Up, tilt  Republican.

Rothenburg lists Southwest Washington’s 3rd District, where Democratic Rep. Brian Baird is retiring, as “pure toss-up.” Not surprising considering people in that part of the state are lining up for a chance to replace Baird, and there’s no clear leader for either party yet.

Suburban King County’s 8th District, occupied by Republican Rep. Dave Reichart is listed as “lean Republican”, which is about par for the course. Reichart always seems to survive, despite being on these lists, although some people wonder if he’ll be the “name” candidate Republicans will get to challenge Democratic Sen. Patty Murray this year. (Don’t bet the rent on that.)

Read the full report by Clicking Here.

WA Lege Day 15: First quarter almost over

If this were a football game, we’d be down to the last minute or so of the first quarter. This is day 15 of a 60 day session.

The Service Employees union is at the Capitol lobbying today, as are dental hygenists, and the state Medical Association. The Legislature is also holding “Civic Education Day.”

The governor has a morning press conference to discuss the importance of national health care reform, which may seem more questionable after last week’s Massachusetts election for the U.S. Senate seat. Washington Democrats were counting on some changes in federal rules that would increase payments for Medicaid, and ease the state’s budget problems, and had some  hopes the state’s Basic Health program would become a national model.

The afternoon will be busy with committee hearings. Of possible interest to the Spokane area is HB 2717, which would restrict outings from state facilities, drafted in the wake of the Philip Paul’s walkaway from the County Fair last fall.

A full schedule of hearings can be found inside the blog.

States trying to block the feds, but the effort may be null and void

OLYMPIA – Conservative activists in Washington and Idaho are trying to force the federal government to “keep out” on issues ranging from guns to health care to the environment.
Through legislation and initiatives, people aligned with what’s variously known as the 10th Amendment or State Sovereignty movement are trying to pass state laws that limit what the federal government can do within its borders.
“Government closest to the people is best able to solve the problems,” said State Rep. Matt Shea, R-Greenacres, who introduced a series of “sovereignty” bills the first week of the session.
The 10th Amendment, which reserves to states any right not spelled out in the Constitution, is the basis for the bills, he said. Language for much of the legislation came from the 10th Amendment Center, which supports and tracks efforts to strengthen states’ rights.
But legal scholars question such efforts to have the Legislature set limits on Congress or to interpret what the U.S. Constitution means within their borders. That’s really the job of the courts, in precedents that stretch back to 1803, Amy Kelley, who teaches constitutional law at Gonzaga Law School, said.
“What the U.S. Constitution means is not a state option,” Kelley said.

WA Lege Day 11: Buenos Dias

It is Hispanic/Latino Legislative Day.

It’s also the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, so abortion rights advocates will be demonstrating on the Capitol steps. Expectation is this demonstation will be smaller than the anti-abortion rally earlier this week, which drew more than 4,000.

The House of Representatives will debate a bill to start cutting some money from the state budget, which is generally known as the “Early Savings Bill.” They’ll also debate a proposal involving military leave for public employees, renaming a state highway the “Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm Memorial Highway.

And, as usual, a full lineup of committee hearings.

To see the hearings schedule, go inside the blog.

Brown: Jobs plan coming Tuesday

OLYMPIA — The Senate could vote as early as Friday on a bill to require most state workers to take a day off a month without pay, Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.

Plans to cut costs or raise taxes will come out in phases, Brown said. Right now, Senate Democrats appear to have support for a plan to require most state employees to take one-day furloughs for 13 months. The days are generally on Fridays or Mondays, which would create a series of three-day weekends in which most state offices are closed.

The exceptions would be state agencies that deal with public safety and health, she said.

The support from the unions that represent the state’s workers is uncertain, but the alternatives will be cuts in services and layoffs, Brown said.

That plan also has salary freezes,and limits on bonuses. It could save the state as much as $120 million, but considering the state’s budget gap is an estimated $2.6 million “we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Democrats will release the  next phase of their plans for budget revisions, which they are calling the Jobs and Economic Development Agenda, next Tuesday, Brown said. The final budget bill won’t be released until after the next revenue projection comes out in mid February.

In a discussion with reporters, Brown said it doesn’t appear a proposed ban on guns that are often referred to as assault weapons has enough votes to pass the Senate. Some Democrats also think bill that would restrict bail for some suspects who are facing life sentences — a concept Gov. Chris Gregoire said she supports — goes too far, but “it’s too early for me to know” if it has support to pass the Senate.

She also suggested a plan to privatize state liquor stores may be on the rocks. Some people support it because they believe the state shouldn’t be in the business, but it doesn’t really provide any money to help with the state’s budget problems, she said. And the budget is the main focus.

“I doubt if a proposal like that moves forward this session,” Brown said.

McKenna stubs out some cigarette sales

OLYMPIA — Smokers who like Bronco, Champion, GT, Silver or 32degrees brand may want to stock up by the middle of February.

As of Feb. 19, they have to be pulled from the shelves in Washington stores. Attorney General Rob McKenna is ordering them out of stores because their manufacturer, General Tobacco, has not made required payments to a settlement between the states and the tobacco firms.

A press release from McKenna’s office says the company owes about $284 million to the national fund, and Washington’s share of that is more than $7 million.

Stores that have General Tobacco cigarettes with current stamps can sell them through Feb. 19, but after that those brands must come off the shelf.

Chopp: Taxes on airplanes, out-of-state companies

OLYMPIA — House Speaker Frank Chopp said Democrats continue examining a wide range of tax changes or “revenue enhancements” to help close the state’s budget gap, but when asked for specifics came up with two.

One is eliminating a tax exemption for private airplanes, which he said goes back to the 1930s. It doesn’t cover commercial planes, and probably wouldn’t be lifted for aircraft like crop dusters, he said. Private planes should be “taxed at the same rate we do for boats above a certain size.”

But there aren’t really that many planes, and it doesn’t go very far to filling the $2.6 billion hole.

Another is rewriting a law struck down last fall by the state Supreme Court regarding the state’s ability to tax companies based in other states with distribution centers in Washington. That “tweak” would bring in $150 million this biennium, he said.

Beyond those two, Chopp said there are “a number” of changes to current tax exemptions that are logical but have to be studied: “We don’t want to cause job loss.”

They are also still looking at extending sales tax to bottled water, soda and candy. No sales tax on bottled water “is sort of a quirk of the law”, he said, adding most people don’t realize they don’t pay sales tax on bottled water.

Big taxes are less likely, he said. The public doesn’t support a state income tax, and a hike to the sales tax is “on the edge of the table” but is considered too regressive.

Yesterday, legislative Republicans called for an exemption from the state Business and Occupation tax for all new businesses, and a three-year phase in after that for small businesses, which they say are hit hard by the tax on gross receipts rather than net. They’d cover the revenue loss by taking that amount out of the Life Sciences Fund, money set aside to spur development of technology.

“It’s certainly fair to look at it,” Chopp said,

WA Lege Day 10: Leathers and Cub Scouts

Spin Control  has been incorrectly labelling the legislative session days this week, under the mistaken impression that one counts the days when they are actually in session. Turns out one counts all the days from opening gavel, even when they aren’t around.

Who knew? (OK, anyone who’s been around more than a few weeks, apparently.)

In any event, the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader both have press “availabilities” today, and both houses expect short pro forma sessions and the committees have a hearings that fill up the day’s schedule.

The Capitol has lots of guys with pony tails and leather pants, because it is “Black Thursday” for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments…yes, it sounds like a state’s rights group, but in reality it’s for motorcyclists who don’t like their freedoms limited by such strictures as helmet laws.

One can expect to see them clearly because is also Optometric Physicians Day. The state Commission on Hispanic Affairs is meeting, and the Cub Scouts are holding their Arrow of Light ceremony this evening in the rotunda.

For a compete schedule of the days legislative hearings, go inside the blog.

WA Lege: Should credit scores help set car premiums?

OLYMPIA – A credit score should not be used to help determine how much a person pays for home or auto insurance premiums, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler told a legislative panel Wednesday evening.

Factors that affect credit scores can discriminate against low income and minorities, Kreidler said as he lobbied for one of his top priorities, the banning of the practice in Washington state.

“Responsible people get laid off. They consolidate their debt. They shouldn’t have to pay more for insurance because of that,” Kreidler said.

But representatives of the insurance industry told the House Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee that a credit score does help predict good and bad insurance risks and should remain one of many factors the companies can use to set a customer’s rates.

“It’s not magic or voodoo, it’s science,” said Kenton Brine, a representative of the Property Casualty Insurers Association. “It’s actuarially sound.”

Does Scott Brown’s victory have legs (or wings) to WA?

 OLYMPIA—Washington Republicans wasted little time trying to draw connections between a Democratic Senate loss in Massachusetts and election prospects in the Evergreen State.

Washington Democrats conceded that the loss of a supermajority in the U.S. Senate complicates plans in the Legislature. They can’t expect Congress to adopt health care reform or a stimulus package before they have to patch a $2.6 billion budget hole and leave town.

To read the rest of this post, Click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege: Pot decriminalization fails, too

OLYMPIA—A bill that would turn possession of small amounts of marijuana into a civil infraction failed in a state House committee this afternoon.

HB 1177, which would decriminalize the possession of about two ounces or less of marijuana, failed on a vote of 3 yeas and 5 nays.

Along with a bill to legalize marijuana and have it taxed and controlled by the state, the decriminalization bill drew support from some doctors and lawyers last week, but opposition from some law enforcement officials.

The House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee rejected both bills in an executive session.

WA Lege: Pot legalization fails

OLYMPIA — A bill to legalize personal use of marijuana died in committee today.

The House Public Safety and Preparedness Committee rejected HB 2401 which would have put marijuana under state regulation and taxation. An estimate from the state Office of Financial Management released Tuesday said the state might raise nearly $1.7 billion over the next 10 years, through taxes and sales receipts, if the bill passed.

Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, said the rejection of the legalization bill could result in voters taking that step this fall in an initiative that has been proposed.

MA reference used (unsuccessfully) against “jobs” bill

Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, wasted little time in trying to work the Massachusetts Senate race into Washington political discourse.

In the debate over a bill to sell some $860 million in bonds to refurbish schools around the state, Erickson questioned the cost of the bill and the projections for how many jobs it would actually create. If spending money on capital projects is good for jobs, he added, why did the Legislature take money out of the capital budget last year to spend on general fund programs, he added.

“The people spoke out in Massachusetts yesterday,” Ericksen said.”They’re saying ‘Show you’re work.’”

HB 2561 passed, however, 57-41, with several Democrats including Alex Wood and John Driscoll of Spokane, voting with Republicans who largely voted no.

WA GOP hoping MA returns point the way

OLYMPIA — Washington Republicans wasted no time in drawing political lines from Massachusetts to the Evergreen State, hoping Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate victory is a harbinger for this fall.

State GOP Chairman Luke Esser said he couldn’t speculate on possible gains yet because so many candidates “have not been locked down yet.” But he believes Brown’s victory might convince Republicans who have so far been reluctant to enter a race to jump in.

He promised a strong challenge to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a three-term Democrat up for re-election this year. The race has thus far drawn a field of relatively unknown Republican challengers, but Esser said it shouldn’t be written off as unwinnable. A few months ago, similar things had been said about the prospects of a Republican “winning Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts,” he added.

But, he added “We’re still looking for that Scott Brown candidate.”

In several recent statewide elections, the state GOP has coalesced behind a favored candidate early, including Dino Rossi in the 2004 and 2008 governor’s race and Mike McGavick in the 2006 Senate race. That’s “the old paradigm,” Esser said; this year the party will let the rank and file pick a candidate through the primaries. 

“In the current atmosphere, it’s important to let the grassroots know it’s not going to be a top-down, heirarchical decision,” he said.

WA Lege Day 8: Fire and Water?

OLYMPIA — Today’s agenda around the Capitol will be as diverse as fire and water.

State Fire Commissioners have their day of lobbying legislators, and the state Ground Water Association will have equipment on display. It is also Autism Awareness Day and Dairy Day.

Hearings start at 8 a.m., and stretch into the evening, with Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler talking up a consumer protection bill before the House Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee at 6 p.m.

For a full list of committee hearings, go inside the blog.

Police officer pension changes move to House floor

OLYMPIA — There are still many questions for the legislative session, but at least one certainty: passage of improvements in pensions and other benefits for law enforcement and firefighters.

Spurred by a series of murders of law enforcement officers in Western Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire and members of both parties in both houses are ready to extend full pension benefits to police, sheriffs deputies, state troopers and firefignters killed in the line of duty even if they haven’t been on the job the currently required 10 years.

A bill to do  just that, HB 2519, as well as lift the penalty for a surviving spouse and to waive tuition and fees at any state college for that spouse or the children of the slain officer or fire fighter, sailed out of the House Ways and Means Committee this afternoon with no debate and no questions for the witnesses calling for its passage.

After emotional testimony from widows of slain officers, the chief of police of Lakewood, Wash., where four officers were murdered Nov. 29, other law enforcement officials and the state pension board, the committee voted 22-0 to send the bill to the floor with a “Do Pass” recommendation from both parties.

Thousands march against abortion

OLYMPIA — Opponents of abortion filled the Capitol steps Tuesday as legislators urged them to fight against federal health care mandates and proposals that would set new rules for their crisis pregnancy clinics.

A crowd estimated at more than 4,000 by the Washington State Patrol marched from the nearby gardens under banners representing the Orthodox Church, Catholic parishes, the Knights of Columbus or the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Demonstrators carried crosses draped with rosaries or adorned with roses, professionally printed octagonal red signs that said “Stop Abortion Now” or hand-lettered messages such as “Which are more protected, Babies or Whales?”

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Greenacres, asked for their help to pass HB 1688, which would require every minor considering an abortion to have an ultrasound and another, HB 2669, that would nullify the effects of any national health care legislation in Washington.

“If we get life issues wrong, we get every other issue wrong,” Shea said.

Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, urged them to lobby against a bill that she said would require so-called Crisis Pregnancy Clinics to include abortion as an option when talking to patients. That’s a violation of both freedome of speech and freedom of religion, Stevens said.

SB 6452 requires what it calls “limited service pregnancy centers” to tell patients that they do not offer abortion or comprehensive birth control services, to give only “medically and scientifically accurate” information and to tell a patient if a pregnancy test is an over-the-counter test which she can administer herself.

Lt. Mark Arras of the WSP estimated the crowd at more than 4,000, and said it was the largest protest at the Capitol since last spring, when the Tea Party had about 5,000 attend a tax protest.

About a dozen abortion-rights protesters stood across the parking area on the steps to the state Supreme Court building, sometimes banging a drum, other times chanting “My Body, My Choice” or “Keep it Safe and Legal.” But they were easily drowned out by the anti-abortion crowd spelling out “L-I-F-E, Life!” or “We are, we are Pro-Life” to the cadence of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” About the only time they could be heard for a prolonged period was when the abortion protesters were hushed for the opening prayer.

Realtors poll: On the wrong track?

Washington Realtors released results of a poll today that suggests voters are split on cutting the state budget or raising taxes.

Of the 600 voters polled:

55 percent said the state is on the wrong track, which is up from 44 percent in a July poll

50 percent said the governor and Legislature have to protect essential services, even if it means raising some taxes, while
45 percent said the last thing the gov and Lege should do is raise taxes, even if it means cutting important services and programs

Asked “what taxes?”
62 percent said don’t extend the sales tax to business and personal services
71 percent said don’t raise the business and occupation tax
84 percent said don’t raise real estate excise or property taxes.

No word on how many people mentionedsome other tax, or had an idea of what it might raise if it were instituted or raised.

And 92 percent said they believe the real estate industry and housing market are vital to the state’s overall economic recovery. (Good thing, too, considering the sponsor.)

Phosphorus bans: First detergent, next lawn fertilizer?

.OLYMPIA — Washington, which already has restrictions on laundry and dishwasher detergents, could ban phosphorus in lawn fertilizers.

A bill before the state Senate that would require low- or no-phosphorus fertilizers for lawns – although not for golf courses or on farms – got a series of thumbs up Tuesday from environmental groups and Spokane businesses that included Avista and Inland Empire Paper Company.

SB 6289 was opposed, however, by agriculture groups and landscapers.

Phosphorus can stimulate algae growth in lakes and streams. The city and county of Spokane, as well as other large producers of waste water along the Spokane River like Inland Paper, are under orders to reduce phosphorus. Some phosphorus in lawn fertilizers do not bind with the soil and run off the lawns from watering or rain, the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee was told. Storm water runoff is typically not treated by sewage facilities that can remove phosphorus.

“This is critically important in places such as Spokane, which are trying to reach the lowest phosphorus levels in the country,” said Rick Eichstaedt of Spokane Riverkeepers. It’s particularly important for residents along Lake Spokane, where algae blooms every summer, he added.

Heather Hanson, who represents farm groups and landscapers, said phosphorus occurs naturally in the environment, and it’s not possible to separate it from some organic fertilizers. The bill requires expensive soil tests and ties enforcement actions to neighbor complaints, she said.

“Do you really want neighbors complaining about neighbors?” Hanson asked.

State Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane and a bill co-sponsor, noted farmers and landscapers are exempted and wondered about their opposition: “Is this just a general concern, or a love of phosphates?”

Washington banned phosphate laundry detergents in 1993, and began a similar ban on phosphate dishwashing detergents in 2008. The ban started in Spokane, Clark and Whatcom counties, and is scheduled to take effect in the rest of the state this year.
The change in dishwashing detergent has led to complaints from some consumers that the products without phosphorus don’t do as good of a job, and reports of people driving to Idaho or elsewhere outside the county to buy the old detergent.

Eight other states have some type of restriction on phosphorus in fertilize

Tues. fun video: Stewart rips Ds a new one

Never let it be said that The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart only picks on Republicans. Last night he proved he’s an equal opportunity annoyer in this discussion of the Massachusetts Senate race.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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WA Lege Day 7: Pro vote, pro-life, pro-cow

OLYMPIA — It is League of Women Voters Lobby Day and March for Life Day.

Members of the league will be meeting in a room in the Capitol starting at 8:30 a.m., and abortion opponents will hold a rally on the north steps of the building starting at noon.

The Cattle Producers of Washington have a legislative reception at 5:30 p.m. No word on the menu, but it’s a good bet beef will be served.

The House and Senate have “pro forma” sessions, which is Latin for “boring and nothing of any consequence is expected to  happen.” But there’s a long list of committee hearings.

For a complete list of today’s hearings, go inside the blog.

Would you notice a clown on a unicycle if you were texting? Maybe not

OLYMPIA — Texting or talking on a cell phone is so distracting that someone doing either likely won’t notice a unicycling clown passing in front of them, a university professor said.

Ira Hyman, a professor of psychology at Western Washington University, was one of a series of people urging the Legislature to make sending a text message or talking on a cell phone while driving a primary offense which can get a driver a ticket all by itself. Right now in Washington, it’s a secondary offense, meaning driver only gets a ticket if he or she has broken some other traffic law.

Hyman said a study at WWU tested how distracted a person texting or talking on a cell phone can be. A significant number of students failed to notice a clown on a unicycle passing in front of them on campus while texting or talking.

“If you can miss a clown on a unicycle, what else can you miss?” Hyman asked the Senate Transportation Committee.

To read the rest of this story, Click Here.

Gregoire wants new preschool standards

OLYMPIA — Washington state should help low-income residents get their children into the preschool of their choice, but establish standards for facilities that help prepare 3- and 4-year-olds for kindergarten, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.

It also must have a stronger system for K-12 schools to force improvements on failing facilities, in part to have a chance to qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in the federal Race to the Top program, she said.

Gregoire, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and Bette Hyde, director of the state’s Early Learning Department, were among a group calling for changes in state education policies and programs in preschool and K-12 education.

For pre-schoolers, Gregoire proposes the “All Start” program, which she said would open up preschool to low-income families by providing subsidies for those with incomes below twice the poverty level. The youngsters would have to be enrolled in certified preschools, which means the state would have to establish standards and develop a certification process.

“We have no standards for preschools. Preschool teachers are not required to undergo background checks,” Gregoire said.

WA Lege Day 6: Not a holiday

The Legislature does not have the day off for Martin Luther King’s Birthday. It’s in session today, and has a full complement of hearings.

But people who have the day off use this day to lobby the Legislature, either by visiting their favorite senator or representatives in their offices or demonstrating around the Capitol.

This it is not just MLK Day here, but also Washington State PTA Legislative Focus Day and  SEIU Local 925 Lobby Day. Their are demonstrations by state Muslims as well as substance and violence prevention advocates.

There’s a march by the Statewide Poverty Action group in honor of King, called the People’s March and Summit. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation is also having an Education Rally.

Gov. Chris Gregoire is announcing her education package this morning, also.

For a copy of the meeting schedule, Click Here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Week 1: Can words describe it?

OLYMPIA – With only a week down in the legislative session it’s too soon to make solid predictions about anything meaningful. It’s not too soon, however, to predict that the quality of rhetoric can only get better.

That’s because it probably can’t get worse.

There have been quite enough references, thank you, to the Founding Fathers. No disrespect to the Dutiful Dads, but they were mentioned last week on everything from legalizing pot to checking names on initiative petitions to rejecting federal health care plans.  A legislator at the Tea Party rally on Thursday talked about getting back to the country the founders intended, and since the speaker was a woman, it seems that would mean she’d be out of a job because the founders didn’t allow women to vote, let alone run for office.

What would have happened, mused Rep. Christopher Hurst as he made a pitch to keep signatures on initiatives public, had the Declaration of Independence been sent off to London with the names blacked out.
To read more of this post, Click Here to go inside the blog

Court, Legislature both pondering initative names

OLYMPIA — The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the names of Washington voters who sign a petition to put a law on the ballot can be made public, and subject to release.

The high court could hear the case of Doe vs. Reed as early as April, taking up the fight over the names and addresses of people who signed petitions to put Referendum 71 on last year’s November ballot.

A few hours after the court announced it was adding the case to its schedule, a legislative committee considered dueling bills spawned by the dispute. One would provide an exemption to the state’s Public Records Law for the names and addresses on initiative or referendum petitions; the other would state categorically that they are public records

Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia, chairman of the State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, said he couldn’t reschedule the bills for later hearings just because the court agreed to take up the R-71 case. He plans to talk with House leadership on whether to schedule a committee vote that could send one or both bills to the House floor.
For more on this story, Click Here to go inside the blog.

Supreme Court will take Ref. 71 signature case

OLYMPIA — The U.S. Supreme Court granted a request to review the dispute on whether the names of people who sign a petition to put a law  before voters are public, and subject to release.

The high court today granted certiorari to the case Doe v Reed, and set it for a hearing as early as April. An exact date hasn’t been set.

The case involves a fight over the names and addresses of people who signed petitions to put Referendum 71 on last year’s November ballot. The referendum, which sought to overturn expanded rights for same sex and elderly heterosexual coupes, was sponsored by people opposed to gay marriage.

Supporters of gay rights filed a public records request for the names of everyone who signed the petition, Referendum backers objected, saying they feared the signers would be harassed.

Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna have said the names of people who sign initiative or referendum petitions are public under the state’s Public Records Act. Federal and state judges have disagreed. Most recently, a divided panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled they are public records, but the release of the names has been put on hold pending the appeal to the nation’s highest court.

Meanwhile, bills being introduced at the Legislature seek to declare the  names definitely are public or are exempt from released under the public records act.

WA Lege Day 5:TGIF schedule?

A relatively quiet day at the Capitol, with short sessions expected in the House and Senate in the morning and a full afternoon of hearings.

The Veterans Coalition has meetings, and will be dropping by legislative offices.

Gov. Chris Gregoire will be in Spokane for the Figure Skating championships.

For a look at the day’s schedule of meetings Click here to go inside the blog

Gov to Spokane crowd: Shouldn’t you be watching skating?

OLYMPIA — A Spokane-area group making its annual peregrination to the Legislature capped off the trip Thursday night with a meet-and-greet reception at the Governor’s Mansion. And since it’s her house, the governor did show up upon her return from Seattle where she layed out a new jobs program.

But what she really wanted to know was, what were the Spokanites doing in Olympia when people from all over the country were flocking to Spokane for the ice skating championships.

Gregoire is due in Spokane herself on Friday for ceremonies, and most of the delegation of 50 or so will be back, too. She was there for the 2007 championships, and said she asked at that time about bringing the event back in 2010, pre Vancouver Olympics. Too soon, she was told then. But things have a way of working out, particularly when the 2007 event set attendance records.

“We wowwed them then, and we’re going to wow them again,” she said.

Word is that a member of Gregoire’s staff bought her a skating outfit for the last event, which she didn’t wear. She intends to not wear it again, she said.

The reception was a final chance for business and education leaders to schmooz with legislators and agency staff over salmon, tortellini, wine and beer.

One of the travelling delegation wondered if there was a message in the choice of beers being poured: Redhook MudSlinger and Slim Chance.

Probably just a coincidence…or a chance to serve up Washington brewskis.

But in Olympia, you can never be sure about such things.

Lege to Spokane group: Don’t get yer hopes up

OLYMPIA – A Spokane-area delegation on its annual pilgrimage to the state capital got a consistently downbeat message this week: Don’t expect money for new programs or projects.

“The message is being reinforced: There is no money,” Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said. It’s a message that comes as no surprise, but may good for some people to hear it repeated, she said..

With Washington state’s well-publicized budget woes, the message was expected, said Rich Hadley, president of the Greater Spokane Inc. which organized the trip.

“We’re trying to protect (what we have), to prevent damage from being done,” Hadley said during a break between presentations from leaders of both parties and both legislative houses.

States’ Righters: Say no to federal health care, energy rules

OLYMPIA — The time has come for people who believe in states’ rights to move from protest to political action, a Spokane Valley legislator told a crowd on the steps of the Capitol Building this afternoon.

Rep. Matt Shea, a first-term Republican, told a crowd estimated between 200 and 300 they need to rein in the federal government that’s becoming too powerful and too intrusive.

“We will not suffer government any more telling us how to live our daily lives…buy our health insurance…buy our energy,” Shea said.

He and other House Republicans have introduced a series of bills they say will allow Washington to reassert rights it has under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which essentially reserves to the states anything not mentioned in the Constitution.

Among his bills are proposals to nullify any national health care plan in Washington state, nullify any cap and trade system set up on energy, keep the federal government from regulating any firearm manufactured in the state and require federal agents to check with a sheriff before  conducting an investigation in a Washington county.

To read more, Click Here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 4: Hearings, hearings, hearings

The Legislature is in full hearing mode.

Which is not the same as saying that everyone is in listening mode. But hearings are scheduled throughout the day.

Meanwhile, about 50 folks from the Spokane area continue their peregrination to Olympia to lobby for locally important programs and projects. They got a briefing on the budget and on transportation this morning, a meeting with legislative leaders and the state Treasurer this afternoon, and have a reception at the Governor’s Mansion this evening.

So far, they’re hearing the same thing that everyone else is: The budget is bad, don’t expect anything new. Although Sen. Rodney Tom, a top Democrat on the budget, noted that with Spokane Sen. Lisa Brown as Majority Leader, there’s always some surprises possible.

“I’ll go through a budget and say ‘What’s this thing over in Spokane?’” Tom said.

For a schedule of the Day 4 hearings, Click here to go inside the blog.

Marijuana: Legalize or decriminalize?

OLYMPIA – While the Legislature wrestles with a huge budget shortfall that generates hearings on everything from closing state institutions to raising college tuition, the most heavily attended hearing Wednesday involved a non-budget item.

Marijuana. Should the state legalize it, or turn it into a civil infraction? Or just wait a few months to see if voters pass an initiative to legalize it?

Technically, it’s not quite true this has NOTHING to do with the budget because HB 2401 would both legalize marijuana, regulate its growth and sale and generate as much as $300 million a biennium in revenue in taxes and fees, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, the bill’s sponsor said.

Dickerson, D-Seattle, is a co-sponsor of HB 1177, which would turn possession of small amounts of marijuana into an infraction similar to a speeding ticket. That bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, is a co-sponsor of the legalization proposal. The decriminalization bill has two Spokane Democrats as sponsors, Timm cq Ormsby and Alex Wood, while the legalization bill has none at this point.

To read the rest of the story, Click here and go inside the blog


Be charitable but careful

The Washington Secretary of State’s office is urging caution in making donations to relief operations for victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

“Often, scammers use tragedies like these to say they are helping a cause and to pocket the donations of generous people. Don’t be fooled!” the office warns on its Web site. It suggests checking to make sure the charity is registered in the state.

You can do that by clicking here for the list.

Guilty but mentally ill

Gov. Chris Gregoire will back legislation to allow defendants in Washington to be found guilty but mentally ill, and to be sent to prison instead of a mental hospital.

Persons who have already been found not guilty by reason of insanity would face a new Safety Review Panel before they are released.

Gregoire appeared today with a coalition of law enforcement officials and reiterated support fora  a constitutional amendment that allows judges to deny bail to any suspect which they feel is a risk to the community, and enhanced benefits for the families of officers killed in the line of duty.

WA Lege Day 3: Today’s schedule

The Lege has floor sessions at 10 a.m., and hearings off an on all day.

Nothing as dramatic as the “State of the State”, but more talk about, what else, the budget. There will also be some discussion about bills that would legalize marijuana. And no, that’s not prompted by the references to the song in the video below.

For a look at the full schedule, Click to go inside the blog.

Also today, a delegation from the Spokane, organized by the Greater Spokane Inc., arrives around noon for the first of two days of meetings with state officials. They have sessions on health care and economic development this afternoon before treating area legislators to dinner at the nearby Red Lion Hotel this evening.

Today’s fun video: Sinking of the what?

A reference in last night’s post on the Republicans throwing around nautical metaphors may have had many readers going “Huh? Sinking of the What?”

The song is actually “The Legend of the USS Titanic”, and while it was a staple of late night pirate radio in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, it’s probably not well known or long-remembered.

So here, for the curious or the nostalgic, is a YouTube video version. It’s long, and takes two videos…


GOP gets nautical on “ship of state”

Legislative Republicans searched for the right metaphor to describe their situation regarding the state budget Tuesday.

They say they’ve got lots of good ideas, if the governor and majority Democrats would only listen. Gov. Chris Gregoire said she’d listen to any ideas from anyone, called for nonpartisanship, and so on, but they were skeptical that any of their ideas would get much of a hearing.

“At the end of the day,” Sen. Joe Zarelli, the ranking R on Ways and Means, said, “we’re passengers on the Titanic, we’re not captaining it…They can ignore us, as they’ve chosen to do, in which case we’ve done our job.”

No, said Rep. Richard DeBolt of Chehalils, the House minority leader: “It’s more like the Lusitania.”

The what? asked Zarelli.

“The Lusitania. It’s the torpedoes that are going to get us,” DeBolt said.

This is not the first nautical reference Zarelli has made, by the way. Last week, during the legislative preview, he said Republicans have been on “the U.S.S. Titanic.”

Which, it should be noted, is not a correct reference because the Titanic was a British ship, not an American ship. Although he might have been making a reference to the very long ballad from the 1960s by Jaimie Brockett…

No, probably not.


Gregoire calls for balanced approach and nonpartisanship; GOP skeptical

Saying that many of the cuts she proposed last month are “unwise and unjust”, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed a combination of program cuts, tax increases and federal aid to close the state’s projected $2.6 billion budget shortfall.

Gregoire told a joint session of the Legislature they face “an incredibly challenging year” and called for swift and decisive action.

“We cannot just cut or just tax our way out of this immediate budget shortfall,” she said. “We must have a responsible, balanced approach of painful cuts and new revenue.”

Majority Democrats praised her for a compassionate approach to an unbalanced budget. Minority Republicans said her proposals so far are short on specifics and would wait to see whether the nonpartisan approach she espoused would actually come to pass.

“This possibly could be the worst year I’ve ever seen,” said State Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane Valley, who has been in office since 1995. “I like the fact that she says she’s going to listen to everybody. But that generally doesn’t happen on the budget.”

Partial list of programs Gregoire would add back into the budget, taxes she’d raise or reinstate

Here’s a list of the major programs Gov. Chris Gregoire wants to “buy back” by raising taxes and/or getting federal recovery money:
K-12 Levy equalization, which sends state money to school districts with lower than average property tax bases. $165 million.
Basic Health Plan, which provides health insurance for 60,000 residents, $160 million.
Higher Education Need Grants, to 12,300 low and middle income students, $146 million
General Assistance Unemployable, revised to give a maximum of six months coverage at $250 per month, $84 million.
All-day kindergarten, gifted program and reading corps, $42 million
Working Connections Child Care, to those receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, $39.5 million
Maternity Support Services, to 50,000 women at risk of “poor birth outcomes”, $28 million
Optional Medicaid, dental, vision and podiatry services not covered by federal program, $21 million
Developmental Disabilities/Long-Term Care Housekeeping and Laundry, for 42,000 elderly residents, $18 million
Developmental Disabilities/Long-Term Care Homecare Provider Services, wages and benefits to individual providers, $14 million
Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, for 1,500 three-year-olds, $10.5 million
For list of tax changes, go inside the blog.

Serious days ahead — Gregoire

“Too many familes today are getting layoff notices. Watching unpaid bills pile up. Losing health care…” Gov. Chris Gregoire told the Legislature. “Let’s not waste their time or the crisis.”

“Let’s provide the decisive, compassionate leadership Washingtonians want and deserve.”

Rounds of applause, and the governor is being escorted out.

Leave politics to the elections, solve the problems—Gregoire

Big round of applause on both sides of the aisle for this line:

“Let’s leave the partisan politics to elections. Washingtonians hate how divided things have become. They just want us to solve problems.”

“Our communities are safer” — Gregoire

Communities are safer because the state gave law enforcement help to deal with sex offenders. Highways are safer because of tough DUI enforcement.

But more needs to be done, Gov. Chris Gregoire said.

“Our families aren’t safe…when a man convicte of the brutal murder of an elderly woman disappears on a field trip to a county fair,” Gregoire said in listing several problems in the state in 2009. She said she’ll propose a package of bills “to hold offenders accountable…and give more weight to law enforcement and criminal histories when making commitment decisions.”

Cuts, taxes and federal aid—Gregoire

“Later today I will present a budget I can support. It counts on new revenue of about $750 million and cuts of almost $1 billion. The revenue will come from new federal dollars, new taxes or both,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said.

“We mujst have a responsible, balanced approach of painful cuts and new revenue.”

She also wants early learning for all three and four-year-olds in the state, all-day kindergarten.

“Lift the levy lid and fund levy equalization,” she said.

And come up with a new evaluation system for teachers, she added. For schools with high dropout rates, poor student performance and no progress, “we need to be able to step in and turn them around.”

Gregoire: Instead of all those cuts…

After ticking off the effects of the cuts she proposed in December, Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested the long-term costs would be too high.

We can make cuts that will write off a generation of kids…

We can make the cuts and waita for higher dropout rates and all the soaring social costs…

We can cut costs and transfer higher medical costs to our doctors, hospitals and insured families…

Budget reflects our values — Gregoire

Gov. Chris Gregoire says her December budget was balanced, but “unfair, unwise.”

It eliminates hospice care 2,500 patients, maternity care for 50,000 at-risk moms, eliminates health care for 70,000 individuals, 16,000 children, early learning for 1,500 kids, does away with all-day kindergarten, college aid for 12,300 students.

“That’s not wise.”

Make agencies accountable

State residents “don’t want to drive across town to brick-and-mortar government offices,” Gov. Chris Gregoire says. She wants more online applications, computer kiosks to apply for permits.

Department of Licensing is closing or modifying 26 offices.

Different state agencies are sharing data, using one scientist to do studies, than share results.

“It’s time to peel away the outdated and costly layers of government thaat we once needed but no longer do.”

She wants to eliminate 79 boards and commissions, reduce or eliminate a third of the 64 small state agencies.

She also wants to consolidate the state’s Growth Management Boards, now three, down to one.

And she wants to close or reduce 10 institutions. She didn’t mention any by name, but staff have said one is Pine Lodge Corrections in Medical Lake.

40,000 new jobs this year

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s description of work to attract clean technology to the state and Forbes Magazine’s high ranking for Washington as a place to do business gets applause from Democrats. Republicans seem unimpressed.

She’s calling for 40,000 new jobs this year by attracting $2 billion in capital investments. She also wants a new employee tax credit for each small business that hires a new full-tgime position.

She also wants to streamline permitting in a “One Fronts Door program to cut through red tape.

She also wants changes to the Rural County Tax Credit program to make it easier to hire more workers.

‘On the cusp of a new economy’

Jobs will come from the growth industries of the new economy, Gov. Chris Gregoire says.

Citizens “definigtely don’t want business as usual from government. They want real government reform, real service improvement and more value for their tax dollar…

“They want us to make the tough choices…Jobs are the way out of this recession.”

Gregoire: Time for leadership

“In the best of times, people forget legislative sessions. In the worst of times, history shows decisiveness is what matters,” Gov. Chris Gregoire says.

“Now is the time for compassion.”

Gregoire details economic problems

Gov. Chris Gregoire ticked off elements of what she called “the wors national economic collaps in 80 years,” and their effects on Washington state.

— 475,000signing up for unemployment benefits

— 1 in 13 Washingtonians receiving basic food assistance.

— 26,000 homes in foreclosure

— 86,000 on Basic Health Plan

Gregoire: “an incredibly challenging year.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire welcomed the Legislature back to work with a less than cheery outlook for the state, its economy and its citizens.

“It’s an understatement to say this year will be incredibly challenging,” she said in her opening remarks after greeting state officials and justices, and noting the presence of her husband, Mike and daughter Michelle.

She noted the loss of seven law enforcement officers and 13 military members from the state in 2009, calling it an “unspeakable tragedy.” Later in the speech, she’s expected to propose some changes to pension laws to allow the families of fallen law enforcement officers to qualify for pensions and free college tuition, regardless of the length of service.

“These Washingtonians gave their lives so we could have safer communities and a secure nation,” she said. “For them and theri families, we have a duty this session to help build a better future.”

Pledge, prayer over…

Colors posted, color guard has withdrawn. Speech imminent.

Flags arrive

Before the governor speaks, the colors have to be presented. They’re being marched in by the color guard from the Washington State Patrol, to the accompanying strains of bagpipes.

“Star Spangled Banner” coming next.

Here comes the gov…

With introductions of state officials, tribal leaders and consular officials over, Gov. Chris Gregoire is enterring the House chambers for the “state of the state” speech.

All rise…

Applause all around, somewhat more spirited from the Democratic side of the aisle, but hugs for members on both sides, and several members of the court.

State Supreme Court shows up

The Washington State Supreme Court is being introduced to the assembled legislators.

Statewide elected officials are next.

State of the state: Senators filing in

State senators are filing into the House chambers for the “state of the state” speech to a standing ovation from the state reps.

Any bets on whether this is the nicest the two chambers will be toward each other for the next 59 days.

Real speech time: around 12:30 p.m.

Although officially scheduled for noon, the governor’s office says Chris Gregoire’s “state of the state” speech probably won’t start until about 12:30 p.m., after all the formalities are done.

The state Senate must gather in its chamber and troop to the larger House chamber. There will be some intros, some niceties.

In any case, the governor has some broad themes, but the details on things like cuts and taxes may be waiting for the Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing at 3:30 p.m.

WA Lege Day 2: State of the state at high noon

Gov. Chris Gregoire delivers her “State of the State” speech today at noon. As one state senator said yesterday after the session went into recess, it could probably be summed up in two words:

Not good.

Her speech will be carried live on TVW, which is available on most cable systems around the state, or online at

She and OFM Director Victor Moore will also be discussing the budget proposal with the Senate Ways and Means Committee at 3:30 p.m.

For a full list of the committee hearings for Day 2 of the session, go inside the blog.

Is there money in getting out of the liquor biz? Maybe

Washington state could gain an extra $277 million over four years if it gets out of the liquor business, or lose $47 million, a state auditor’s review says.

Right now, the state controls the wholesale and retail liquor sales, with state employees operating the stores and distribution center, and is expected to make $2.36 billion between 2012 and 2016 under that system, Larisa Benton, director of performance audit, told the House Ways and Means Committee Monday.

If it turned the state distribution center and its state-owned stores over to private businesses and increased the number of stores, it could make between $163 million and $277 million over those four years. It could make less with other options, such as privatizing stores and letting the market to determine their number, but still generate extra revenue. But it would likely lose $47 million by just converting existing outlets to contract outlets.

Turning the liquor business over to the private sector, which would take the costs of those state workers off Washington’s strapped budget, is among the more popular options for helping the state’s projected shortfall of $2.6 billion. But Rep. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, said he’s been in the Legislature 18 years, and the idea “has been here at least as long as I’ve been here.”

Day 1: That’s all folks

State House has also recessed for the day after comments by Speaker Frank Chopp and Minority Leader Richard DeBolt.

They got a chance to lay out the two parties positions. Democrats say the state can’t cut all these good programs like Basic Health, General Assistance to Unemployable Adults, student aid…all of which are in the governor’s “no new taxes” budget.

Republicans say the state can’t raise taxes in a recession.

So, other than being at two diametrically irreconcilable positions, things are just peachy here.

Coming tomorrow: Gov. Chris Gregoire’s “State of the State.”

At ease, senators

Having handled all the protocols and formalities, the state Senate is calling it quits for the day.

Tuesday they’ll troop over to the House chambers for a joint session to listen to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s “State of the state” address.

Gov to Lege: Good luck. . .

As protocol dictates, the Legislature sends a delegation to the governor, telling the state’s chief executive that it is in session and ready to do business.

The delegation just returned with office down the steps in the Capitol, carrying Gov. Chris Gregoire’s message:

“Good luck, Godspeed, and 59 days would be better than 60.”

The legislators are in the starting gate

State reps have filed into their chamber and a bagpiper led the flags into the Senate chamber after a roll call.

The Pledge of Allegiance has been said, the Star Spangled Banner sung, benedictions offered, with a wish for “creativity for a seemingly impossible situation.”

The 2010 Washington Legislature is underway…the Senate has transmitted word to the House that it is “organized and ready to do business.”

Well, as organized as it ever is.

Keeping up with the ‘Lege’

Every year, the newspaper gets requests from readers for updates on a particular bill or topic making its way through the Legislature. With thousands of bills introduced each session, there’s no way we can publish updates on every bill.

Most go nowhere, anyway. A few hundred get hearings, and a fraction of that (thankfully) pass.

But for readers who  have an interest in a particular bill or topic, there is help. The Legislature’s Web site will help you track bills, and even has a search engine that allows you to enter the bill number or topic.

If you know the bill number, you can enter it in the search box in the green window. Remember to check “Bills 2009-10” because bill numbers are recycled each session.

You can also entere a particular topic, although it helps to be as specific as possible. For example liquor will bring up 264 different possibilities, while state liquor sales will bring up 108 and “privatizing state liquor sales” — one of the topics being discussed as the Lege convenes today, as it is almost every year — will bring up 1.

That leads you to SB6204 a bill recently filed by Sen. Tim Sheldon, which is proposing the state get out of the liquor store buisness, and let private companies sell alcoholic beverages.

That shows you the full text of the bill, which was “pre-filed” before the session even started. 

Clicking on “Bill summary” will tell you where the bill is in the process, and as it winds its way through hearings and votes, the summary page is updated.

Murray blogging from China

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray heads up a congressional trip to China this week, and has decided to blog about it.

This is not some travel-blog that talks about the best Peking Duck and sight seeing spots. The trip involves meetings between U.S. and Chinese officials on things like trade, human rights and energy, so those who are interested in those topics can check in.

The rest of us will just have to wait to see whether there’s a description of eating birds nest soup or a photo of Murray at the Great Wall.

The blog can be found by CLICKING HERE.

Eyman has no plans to run anything but initiatives

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Eyman vs. Gregoire
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Roach vs. Gregoire

Washington’s most active initiative sponsor dismissed a suggestion that he run for office rather than run initiative campaigns.

Tim Eyman also rejected Gov. Chris Gregoire’s suggestion that Washington could go the way of California and be “initiatived to death.”

“One or two initiatives a year, tops, ever qualify for the ballot,” Eyman said as he and others filed an initiative to return a requirement that the state needs a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

The state has such a law now, enacted by voters in 2007 with another Eyman initiative, I-960. But Democrats say they will try to modify or repeal that law before any discussion of raising taxes. Anticipating such a move, Eyman and company filed to give voters a change to reinstate it in November if they can gather enough signatures.

Gregoire wants tax hikes, tax cuts

Gov. Chris Gregoire plans to propose tax cuts as well as tax increases tomorrow when she makes her State of the State address.

Speaking at an impromptu press conference about three hours before the Legislature formally opens, Gregoire repeated she will propose closing some as yet unspecified “tax loopholes”, but also used the word “tax relief.”

When a reporter noted tax relief usually means reductions in taxes, she replied: “I will be proposing that as well…I want find a way incentivize business.”

Gregoire spoke after receiving petitions from the Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition, a group of social services organizations, environmentalists and some labor unions, opposed to her December budget, which would close a $2.6 billion budget gap solely by cutting programs, not by raising taxes.

The level of tax increases and budget cuts will depend partly on the amount of money federal stimulus money approved by Congress, she said.

As Gregoire met with members of the coalition and talked with reporters, preparations for the noon start of the Legislature continued throughout the building. An honor guard practiced its maneuvers for delivering flags to the front of the House chamber and pages and interns scurried around the chambers.

At 10 a.m., initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman is scheduled to file this year’s initiative proposal at the Secretary of State’s office, a measure to reinstate the two-thirds majority for tax increases that voters passed in 2007 with I-960. That law remains in effect, although legislative Democrats have said they will try to repeal or amend it early this session in advance of proposing tax increases.

Asked about Eyman’s scheduled appearance down the hall in less than an hour, Gregoire said the continued use of inititatives could lead to putting Washington in the same straits as California.

“They have been initiatived to death,” Gregoire said of California. If Eyman wants to help make state policy, he should take another tack, she added:

“Come on down and run for election. Otherwise, leave it to us.”

Words for the start of the session

OLYMPIA – There are two relatively famous quotes that come to mind as the Legislature rumbles toward opening day on Monday.

One is the standard axiom, that no man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session. That line has probably been uttered in every state capital since it was written down by Gideon Tucker in 1866.

It may be no more and no less true this year in Olympia, where a 60-day session will revolve around the state’s budget woes, and possibly devolve because of them.

Last Wednesday, at the annual pre-session preview, leaders of both parties in both houses made a point of saying how much they look forward to working with each other and how important it will be to put partisan differences aside for the good of the good people who sent them here. That sounded pretty impressive to an observer new to the fray, until some more experienced hands noted that they say the same thing every year, a few days before the session starts. The comity lasts, at best, into the first week.

Today’s audio: Gregoire press conference

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1/7/10 Gregoire press conference

Those reading Thursday’s post (directly below) about Gov. Chris Gregoire’s press conference on tougher bail laws and other changes to combat the rash of police officer shootings might be asking “What else did she have to say?”

Here’s you chance to find out. The complete press conference, captured on digital audio, is above.

No bail for dangerous criminals could be on Nov. ballot

OLYMPIA – Judges should be able to deny bail to criminal suspects who are thought to be “inherently dangerous” to the public, Gov. Chris Gregoire and representatives of the state’s law enforcement system said Wednesday.

Gregoire said she will ask the Legislature to give voters the right this November to pass a constitutional amendment giving judges more flexibility to deny bail. They should not be limited to suspects accused of murder, who can now be held without bail, or someone facing a third-strike felony which could result in a life sentence upon conviction, she said.  

“You may have someone who wants out on bail today who is an absolute harm to the public at large,” Gregoire said at a press conference where she was flanked by leaders of organizations representing sheriffs and police chiefs,  officers and deputies, prosecutors and corrections officials. “I don’t believe it will be overused, misused. I think discretion is the better course.”

State to fight felon vote ruling

State Attorney General Rob McKenna says he’ll take Tuesday’s ruling that felons in prison have a right to vote up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

McKenna, Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed all said Wednesday they opposed the decision, handed down Tuesday in a 2-1 ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gregoire told reporters she’d back whichever route McKenna wants to take, whether it was a review by the 9th Circuit “en banc” or up to the Supremes.

“I think that case is not done,” Gregoire said during a presentation to reporters gathered for a legislative preview. “When you violate laws in the state, you lose your civil rights.

The state changed its laws last year to make it easier for felons to have their voting rights restored after they’ve served their time in prison and on parole. But the ruling by the appeals court would allow inmates in prison to cast ballots.

Name that tune

OLYMPIA — There is a tradition, before the Legislature starts, to gather the leaders of the two parties and the two houses and give the news media a preview of the upcoming session.

During that session, there is also a tradition, for a member of the assembled media, to ask the assembled Lege leaders: If this session were a song, what would it be? (Hey, I don’t make traditions, I just report on them.)

At today’s preview, the obligatory song question was asked, and the four leaders — some with more gusto or forethought than others — named their tune. To wit:

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane: “The Fixer,” by Pearl Jam. It should be noted that last year she picked Bob Dylan’s “Everything’s Broke.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla:”Should’ve Said No,” by Taylor Swift. (Hewitt rattled off four rejects before giving his pick, including “Take This Job and Shove It,” and “Leavin On a Jet Plane.”)

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam: “With a Little Help fron Our Friends.”

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis: “The Uprising” by Muse.


A new year, a new Spokane City Council

The results of the November election were on display for the first time Monday in the Spokane City Council chambers.

The three council members who won seats in November, Nancy McLaughlin, Jon Snyder and Amber Waldref, were sworn in by City Clerk Terri Pfister. The brief ceremony was mostly for show because each had already been sworn in for their new terms.

Waldref said while the council members may disagree on certain topics, there’s full agreement on the top issue for 2010: preparing for the city’s forecasted $10 million deficit in 2011.

Double Zeroes gone, not forgotten

Local politics for the double 0’s, or whatever we call the last decade, started with a promise of a new millenium and a broken campaign promise. It ended of lots of zeroes behind red-hued numbers — the difference between what our governments expect to take in, and what they are scheduled to pay out.
In between, governments were re-arranged, ballots were recounted, politicians were recalled or forced to resign.
Here Spin Control’s quick look at the late, and probably not so lamented, decade in local politics:

2000: George Nethercutt breaks term limits pledge, wins re-election anyway.
2001: Spokane gets a new political structure.
2002: Spokane Valley incorporates.
2003: Jim West wins mayor job, loses it two years later.
2004: Chris Gregoire edges Dino Rossi.
2005: City settles River Park Square lawsuits.
2006: Otto Zehm’s fatal encounter.
2007: Bad year for “family values” types.
2008: Walt Minnick wins Idaho congressional seat.
2009: The budget blues.

For details, go inside the blog.

A $5 million question: Could juror’s death have been prevented?

When 84-year-old Kay Mita got a jury summons, he regarded it as a sign the government was acknowledging a six-decades-old injustice. His first day of jury service, however, turned out to be the last day of his life.
Now the widow and son of a juror who died of exposure on the courthouse steps have filed a $5 million claim with the county, a possible prelude to a federal lawsuit against the county and Guardsmark LLC, which provides security at the courthouse.
Steve Bartel, the county’s risk manager, said his office is reviewing the claim to determine whether the county has any liability in what he acknowledged is “a terrible event.”
Mita reported for jury duty the morning of Nov. 26, 2007, left the jury room for the lunch break, but didn’t return at the scheduled time. He apparently became confused and disoriented, and was unable to find his car parked less than a block away. He wandered around the courthouse and its grounds for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Although his family reported him missing about 7 p.m., neither Spokane police who are in the adjoining building nor courthouse security guards who allowed him to stay in the building until it closed knew of the missing person report.
Mita stayed near the courthouse in snow and sub-freezing weather overnight until he died of hypothermia. His body was found the next morning, sitting near the steps of the courthouse’s south entrance.
“There’s some pretty confusing details I’m trying to figure out,” Bartel said. “Could we have done something different?”

To read the rest of the story, click on Continue reading below

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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