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Spin Control

Archive for January 2011

Electronic bracelets for stalkers?

OLYMPIA — Requiring stalkers to wear electronic monitoring bracelets could have saved the life of a Tacoma teacher, a House panel was told Monday.

The parents of Jennifer Paulson pleaded with the House Judiciary Committee to approve HB 1180, a bill that would allow judges to require electronic monitoring devices be worn by people under an anti-harassment order for stalking.

Paulson was shot to death by Jed Waits as she tried to enter the Tacoma elementary school where she taught special education. Waits was under a court order to stay away from Paulson and the school, but  had been arrested for violating it on Feb. 19, 2010 and was at the school entrance a week later when she arrived.

Waits shot her and fled. Paulson died at the school and Waits died later that day in shootout with Pierce County sheriff's deputies.

Stalkers should have to wear a monitoring device that would alert their victims when they are within a certain distance, Paulson's mother Nancy Heisler said. It may not have prevented her daughter's death “but it could have given her a chance.”

“She did all the right things,” Heisler said, adding that Waits was not a former boyfriend, just someone Jennifer met years earlier in college and who became obsessed. “She was just kind to this man. How many more mothers have to lose their daughters?”

Rich Bartholomew, a representative for the state Bar Association, argued that monitors shouldn't be required when a protection order is first issued, because that's a civil proceeding and sometimes occurs without the defendant present. If a person violates a protective order, that's a criminal proceeding and the appropriate setting to order electronic monitoring, he said.

The committee was also asked to develop clearer rules for courts to end “permanent” domestic violence orders. Victims of abuse urged the panel to make it more difficult to set aside a protection order, but some family law attorneys argued that a chance to have the protection order changed or revoked is the best way to get abusers to work to change their behavior.

Cantwell to lead aviation subcommittee

Sen. Maria Cantwell was named Monday the chairwoman of the senate panel that oversees aviaition.\

Technically, it's known as the aviation operations, safety and security subcommittee of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which is admittedly two long names with lots of commas. It's main goal right now is to handle the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill, to modernize air traffic control systems and expand airport capacity, which was described by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as the first “jobs bill” of this Congress

Of course, Washington has a few more ties to aviation than just its airport. There's that company that makes many of those planes that fly in and out of the airports. You know the one. Starts with a “B”.

WA Lege Day 21: Hearings, hearings and more hearings

OLYMPIA — All the action is in committee hearings today, where everything from domestic violence to ferries to elections are subjects of bills under review.

Senate Government Operations has 10 a.m. hearing on a string of bills, including one  to make it easier for troops overseas to vote by fax, and would also move the primary election date back two weeks to the beginning of August.

House Judiciary takes up bills on court orders on stalking and protection from domestic violence at 1:30 p.m.

House Transportation has a work session on possible changes in the state ferry system and a hearing on a bill involving its management at 3:30 p.m.

Split the state? Dissolve some counties? Not likely

OLYMPIA – The east-west split in Washington is probably never as interesting as in the early weeks of a legislative session, when hope springs eternal in the breasts of legislators with novel if not always practical ideas.

This period sometimes births proposals from Eastern Washington solons to divide the state along the crest of the Cascades and divest the right-thinking folks on the dry side from those people whose repeated exposure to rain, Microsoft money and ferry commutes makes them terrible spend thrifts intent on saddling every business owner, farmer and local official with a mountain of red tape and an army of bureaucrats. The proposal to set up this 51st state, possibly named Lincoln or Columbia, generally gets, at most, a hearing where some west siders have a chance to suggest good riddance to eastern brethren.

This year a small group of Western Washington legislators propose a remedy for an imbalance they see against their side of the mountains: Counties that receive far more in state money than they send to Olympia in taxes could be dissolved and attached to a neighboring county or divvied up among several….

To read the rest of this item, click to go inside the blog

Rebuttal: Inmate requests eat up your money

Editor's note: Longtime Assistant City Attorney Bob Beaumier takes issue with last Sunday's Spin Control column regarding proposed changes to the law on certain public records requests. While I don't agree with some of his conclusions (just as he disagrees with mine) Spin Control is happy to provide his perspective on the issue in hopes of sparking public dialogue on what we both agree is a public matter.

Here's Beaumier's take on the issue: 

For 32 years I worked as an assistant city attorney, until I was laid off last month and am now officially “retired”…or is it “unemployed”?
I’m still trying to figure that one out .  The point is that I have a certain perspective on Jim Camden’s Spin Control.  The topic of his column was proposals supported by Rob McKenna, our stalwart Attorney General, to limit sanctions for public records act abuses by prison inmates.To be fair, Camden makes some effort to acknowledge McKenna’s research that 3/4ths of all public records requests are by prison inmates, seeking to make a buck (and their attorneys seeking to make a buck).

This is because the public records act is a “sudden death” proposal.

If a government agency guesses wrong that a sensitive document is not a public record, it must pay mandatory daily penalties and attorneys fees to a successful litigant.  These penalties do not quit as the litigation process grinds on (why is that?), so if a case does go to court and a government loses, the price tag can be horrendous. And the risk is one way only—if the government wins, it gets no penalties or attorneys fees from a party suing.  I mention this to explain that a prison inmate or anyone else suing and their attorney have nothing to lose but their own time in bringing a challenge.

I recall hearing about one case not involving prison inmates where someone was mad about a parking ticket, so began flooding the issuing government with public records requests.  I did not handle this case myself, but the story goes that when the ticket would not be dismissed, the person reportedly advised “well then, I guess I’ll have to send more big fat public records requests”.  There’s no limit and no penalty for how many requests you send in or how ridiculous the request is. (You could ask for all records with the letter “t” between
1896 to present.)

So here are a few points Camden skips over folks: 

1) public money is PUBLIC MONEY.  It’s not the government’s money.  It’s mandatory compulsory tax money, collected and intended to be spent to serve the public interest. You know, like schools and roads and public safety protection..  So when those huge penalties and attorney’s fees are awarded (they are mandatory per day and court discretion is limited as to the amount per day), it’s your money that’s being wasted.  If you think government officials don’t understand this, you’re dead wrong.

2) It’s not as simple as Mr. Camden would blithely assume and pawn off to you as to what IS a public record. That’s why we have 5-4 State Supreme Court decisions on these issues.  Wanna roll the dice?

The point here is that state law is extremely broad to support disclosure of a given piece of information.  Exceptions to disclosure are to be construed strictly and narrowly.  The unspoken assumption that government attorneys and officials think “Let’s see, how can I keep this secret?” is dead wrong.  For 32 years, I worked as a “guest” in a public office. None of the resources I ever used were mine.  They belonged to the public. My job was always to serve you, the folks that paid my salary and now pay my pension. That is how I think.  I do not believe my view was atypical.

But suppose you had a lawsuit against your neighbor and you had certain files and records that showed weaknesses in your case.  Unless you can establish some narrow exception applies, if you are a government agency, those records are all “public records” because of how broadly the law is written.  Now some of these records might be required to be shared anyway because of the rules of legal discovery in a lawsuit and some are protected–but in other cases, the public records law jumps in and may require them to be disclosed simply because you are a public agency.  But the other side has no such obligation.  Is that a fair balance of disclosure?  Should a government go into a case wondering if its information must be laid out to its opponent, but not necessarily the reverse?  Remember, it’s your money on the line.

All this said, the truth is that the public should have a right to know about its government.  That is a good thing.  But it is not so simplistic as Camden suggests in how he writes his article.  Ask yourself when you read the media reviews of these issues: are they really looking out for my money?  Are they giving me a balanced story?

 Camden makes some effort here, but not in all respects.

Here are a few other strange things to think about 1) the Courts and Legislature EXEMPT THEMSELVES from the public records laws.  I wonder why that is?  Could it be there is a recognition in some cases that the law goes too far?  2)  The Media has a privilege (can’t touch it because it is protected by the US Constitution First Amendment) to any hide information it wants.  I'm not suggesting this be changed, but the point is, the media can print whatever it chooses and there is no obligation to disclose sources or balance a story in some cases but the media’s own ethical standards.  In many cases but not all cases in my view, we are lucky that our local paper tries to do this.  Camden’s column does it in acknowledging several points.  But in some areas he distorts things in my opinion.

Instead of him tossing off simplistic bromides like “it’s your government” and “public records are your records”, he should mention one the real points behind Attorney General McKenna’s proposals: “it’s your money.”
  

It’s Data Privacy Day. Do you know what your privacy settings are?

OLYMPIA — Happy Data Privacy Day. Feel free to send an e-mail greeting.

But be careful of opening some of those greetings that might be “phishing” for information from you.

In honor of the day set aside to make remind computer users to be careful about leaving themselves open to fraud and financial scamming, Attorney General Rob McKenna has some tips to “guard against Internet snoops.”

They can be found inside the blog.

House adopts rules over GOP objections

OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives will have to wait at least 24 hours between the time a budget bill is written and a final vote  is taken under rules adopted today on a party-line vote.

Republicans objected, saying there should be a 72-hour delay, and when they lost that vote, tried unsuccessfully for a 48-hour one.

In a debate that veered from the public's demand for transparency to a quick recipe for tuna casserole, Republicans said complicated budget bills are sometimes changed just before a vote, leaving them to make a decision without knowing everything that's in them. A three-day waiting period would help solve that, they said.

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, countered that the final vote comes after two readings and at least one committee hearing, so the public does have a chance to see what's in them and offer input. The proposed rules were already being changed to add a one-day wait, but under the GOP proposal the bill couldn't be changed even if they or the public found something objectionable.

“You can't change it even if you get input. It's 72-hours of doing nothing,” Hudgins argued. The first reading is like assembling a tuna casserole in a dish and the second reading is like pulling it out after some baking time to add cheese. The third reading is like taking it out and setting it on the table but waiting three days to eat it.

After the GOP amendment for a 72-hour wait failed 42-55, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said “You don't l ike 72, we're gong to try 48.” If the bill is as fully cooked as that casserole, he added, why are Democrats willing to wait 24?

A rule like this would have made the one-day budget session in December, that both parties have said was a success, impossible Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said. The Legislature already holds more budget hearings than ever but “there comes a time when we have to move forward.”

That amendment failed, too, 42-55.

The House later approved the complete rules package, that included the 24-hour wait, on a 56-41 vote, but not before Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, warned that Democrats will still be able to essentially rewrite budget bills wholesale with what's known as a striking amendment. That creates a budget that's “not cooked. It's brand new,” he argued.

With these rules, he said, “the sun will have set on bipartisanship, the doors of transparency will have been closed.”

Lura Powell chosen to head Redistricting Commish

OLYMPIA — Lura Powell of Richland was  named chaiwoman of the state Redistricting Commission this morning.

Powell, former director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, was the unanimous choice of the four members who were each appointed by a legislative leader of one party from one chamber of the Legislature. She serves as the non-voting leader of the commission, which will redraw the lines for Washington's Congressional and Legislative districts based on the results of the 2010 Census.

Powell described herself as bipartisan — “I've had fundraisers for Democrats and Republicans” — but not a political junkie.

“I've found working with the legislative process to be fascinating,” she said.

She's an analytical chemist, a retired federal worker and currently serves on the board of the Life Sciences Discovery Fund. To complaints that the board appointed by the legislative “four corners” were all male and all from Western Washington, she acknowledge that she's “a two-fer”. She's a woman from Eastern Washington. And she has experiencing running boards and commissions.

“Will everybody always agree on everything? Probably not,” she said. “You wouldn't want to rubber stamp everything.”

WA Lege Day 19: College funding and redistricting

OLYMPIA — College students will be telling the Senate's Higher Education Committee what they think of Gov. Chris Gregoire's 2011-13 budget proposal that allows the colleges to raise tuition.

Chances are, it will be not favorable. That's based on a gathering of students on the north steps of the Capitol yesterday who were very much against it. They were banging a drum, too, the booming of which carried across the lot to the Temple of Justice where the state  Supreme Court was hearing the open public records case involving Spokane County. The justices were not amused to have closing statements punctuated by a drum beat.

Also making an appearance at Senate Higher Ed will be representatives of various faculty councils and classified staff members. Chances are they won't be singing the praises of the budget, either.

Elsewhere, the state Redistricting Commission meets this morning, and may name its  non-voting chairman or chairwoman. House Speaker Frank Chopp has his first press conference of the session; chances are there will be questions about budgets and unemployment insurance rates.

Grit your teeth, it is “Dental Action Day” in the Capitol.

Marr on state Liquor Board

OLYMPIA — Former state Sen. Chris Marr was appointed to the Washington State Liquor Control Board Thursday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Marr, who served one term in the Senate from Spokane's 6th District but lost his re-election on Nov. 2 to Republican Mike Baumgartner, replaces Linda Bremer on the three-member board that oversees the sale of alcohol and programs to prevent its misuse. The appointment starts Feb. 1, and must be confirmed by the state Senate.

Gregoire cited Marr's experience in the Legislature and in business, where he was managing partner of Foothills Auto Group before his election to the Senate.

“The public has indicated support for the revenue liquor sales generate for essential state and local services, improved convenience and most importantly — ensuring public safety is not compromised,” Marr said in the press release that announced the appointment.

Murray named chairwoman of Senate Veterans Affairs

Sen. Patty Murray has been one of the leading voices on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for years. Now she's the actual leader.

The Washington Democrat, who has been on the panel since 1995 and has built a huge constituency among veterans who regularly support her for re-election, was named chairwoman of the committee today, taking over for Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, who moves over to be chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee.

Senate budget proposal likely next week — Brown

OLYMPIA — The state Senate will vote on its version of a budget to carry the state through the end of June, a plan that will likely keep several social service programs Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed cutting, Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.

At a press conference, the Spokane Democrat said the proposal, known as an early action supplemental budget, will try to keep “social safety net” programs like  Basic Health, the Disability Lifeline, Maternity Support, ADATSA drug and alcohol treatment, but at lower levels.

Republican and Democratic budget experts are still working on the details, she said, and it will have some differences from the House version passed this week. “It can't be too dramatically different because there's n ot that much left.”

Brown also questioned a portion of the House Democrats' plan to cover some costs of Basic Health insurance for low income residents through private money sources. “Where is it? I don 't think anybody's identified that private money.”

WA Lege Day 18: Split the House districts?

OLYMPIA — Splitting the legislative districts in half, so that a different state representative is elected in each half, would  increase the contacts with constituents, the sponsor of the plan said.

But it would also cut in half each voter's representation in the House, and could result in a more narrow focus for each member, Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee argued.

“If you divide these districts in half, you increase your contact with your constituents,” Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said of his proposal, HB 1092. But each representative would still have the needs of the large community in mind, he added.

“Spokane is after a building that would be in Riverpoint, but all their representatives are going to be for that building because of the economic benefit it would have,” he said. “I would think you would care about your region.

Dunshee had just come from a meeting with about 90 business and government leaders from Spokane and the surrounding area, where he'd been asked about the $70.8 million building for a new medical school in Spokane. He told them the project couldn't get on the proposed Capital Budget without Republican help.

Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Bellingham, whose district adjoins Dunshee's, said he “took offense” with Dunshee referring during his presentation to some rural portions of the districts as “banjo areas”.

“A little humor doesn't hurt anything,” Dunshee replied. “I repsesnt more rural people than you do  now.”

WA Lege Day 18: 4 GOP votes needed for Spokane med school — Dunshee

OLYMPIA — A delegation of about 90 Spokane folks continue their blitz of the state Capitol today, with their big goal scaring up money for a proposed medical school building at the Riverpoint campus.

As reported yesterday, the $70.8 million project isn't on Gov. Gregoire's list of Capital Budget projects. But the governor proposes and the Legislature disposes, and this morning the Spokane delegation met with the chairpersons and ranking Republicans of the House and Senate committees that will rewrite that budget.

Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, chairman of the House Capital Budget Committee was fairly blunt about the prospects of adding the med school to the list: “I need four Republican votes.”

Dunshee and Rep. Judy Warnicke of Moses Lake, the ranking Republican on that committee, said they understand the arguments that the med school is needed, but as legislator after legislator is telling the Spokane area business leaders and government officials, money is tight because of the recession. There may be some opportunity for more projects in the second year of the biennium, after some bonds are paid off and the state has more bonding capacity, Warnicke said.

Smoking in cars with kids could mean a ticket

OLYMPIA — Washington drivers who smoke in a car with children would be liable for a traffic ticket under a bill being discussed in the state Senate.

The proposal, which had its first hearing Wednesday in the Senate Transportation Committee, wouldn't allow law enforcement officers to stop a driver just because they see smoking and a child present. Rather, it would be a “secondary infraction” which means they'd get a ticket if they were stopped for some other violation and were seen to be smoking with someone under 18 in the car.

Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, said the bill would bring Washington in line with California, Oregon and three other states who have similar laws, and makes sense with this state's Clean Air Act: “We prevent a person from smoking in a bar with other adults present, but we don't prevent smoking in a car with a two-year-old strapped in a car seat and driving across the state.”

State Health Secretary Mary Selecky said it would be a valuable tool for keeping children healthy: “Second-hand smoke is especially h armful to children and there is no safe level of exposure.”

White urged the committee to send SB 5016 to the Health Committee for further review. As currently written,if it passes, it wouldn't take effect until three months after the session and would require law enforcement officers to just give a verbal warning for six months after that. A ticket for smoking around a minor would not be part of a driver's record and wouldn't be available to insurance companies. 

OFM: Spokane Med School not on list

OLYMPIA – A new medical school building in Spokane is not on the list of large construction projects being proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire for the next two years, a group of government and business leaders from Eastern Washington was told Wednesday.
Marty Brown, the state’s director of the Office of Financial Management, told Spokane-area residents in the capital on a lobbying trip that the proposed Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, with its $70.8 million price tag, was a good project that didn’t make the list for the proposed 2011-13 Capital Budget sent to the Legislature.
The governor’s long-term capital spending plan doesn’t have new money for a WSU-Spokane Health Sciences Building through the year 2021.
Community representatives said they were told the building came up number six on a list that took the top five. An analyst at OFM put it a different way: Because of the state’s decreased debt capacity, the state isn’t proposing money for any major projects in higher education above $40 million.
The Capital Budget is the source of money for major construction projects. Unlike the general fund operating budget, it relies on bond sales for the money to pay for its projects. But its size is tied to the operating budget and the state’s ability to repay the bonds.
Brian Pitcher, chancellor of WSU-Spokane, said he didn’t regard the news from OFM as a rejection of a Spokane med school, because Brown described it as a good project.  Rather, it’s a sign that local backers will need to work to build legislative support.
Rich Hadley, president of Greater Spokane Inc. which helped arrange the trip to Olympia for its chamber members and local government officials, said they will meet with legislators around the state to stress the need for more doctors to keep up with the state’s growing population.
Because the Capital Budget is typically approved near the end of a legislative session, supporters still have nearly three months to make their case.
  

WA Lege Day 17: Orange ribbons for DOT worker

OLYMPIA — Legislators were sporting bright orange ribbons on their lapels in memory of a state worker killed earlier this month by a falling tree.

The orange loops — a shape made familiar during the first Gulf War and the same one used for the black and white ribbons worn Tuesday night in Congress for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — were made of the reflecting plastic worn by road crews.

They were worn as the Legislature passed a resolution honoring Billy Rhynalds, of North Bend, was a 12-year employee of the Washington Department of Transportation, killed on Jan. 16 while working to set up cones that would keep drivers on Highway 203 away from downed electrical lines. A cottonwood tree fell and hit him.

WA Lege Day 17: Spokane comes to Oly

OLYMPIA — State legislators won't spend much time on “the floor” today, but  have a full slate of hearings on everything from foreclosures to college efficiencies to smoking in cars with kids.

Meanwhile, members of the Greater Spokane Inc. delegation is scheduled to hit town around noon, where they will meet with key legislators on health care, transportation and spending issues over the next two and a half days.

What do they want most? Some movement forward on a medical school in Spokane. What are their chances? Remains to be seen. But they'll have a chance to lobby legislative leaders and the governor at various points.

Republican leaders have their weekly press conference at noon.

Among the bills up for committee discussion this afternoon is SB 5016, which would allow law enforcemenet officers to ticket anyone for smoking in a car with a person under 18. It would be a secondary infraction, meaning that police couldn't stop you just for smoking with kids in the car. It's up for discussion in the Senate Transportation Committee at 3:30 p.m.

The Senate Higher Education Committee is looking at SB 5107, which would consolidate all the boards of regents for the state universities and colleges, and make one Board of Regents of 19 people for all baccalaureate granting public schools. It would abolish the Higher Education Coordinating Board, the governor's Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board and the Council of Presidents.

Tax for streets overshadows talk of task force

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A) Jon Snyder: “You can’t just say, ‘We need the streets fixed! We need the streets fixed!’ and then vote against every single remedy that we have at our disposal”
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B) Steve Corker: “If the No. 1 priority of the city was public safety, would we have the courage to vote in a B&O (tax) to ensure that was funded?”
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C) Bob Apple: “I hope the voters take a negative act towards those who think that they don’t have a right to an input”
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D) Joe Shogan: “A B&O tax in this town has got about as much chance as an ice cube in hell”

Mayor Mary Verner told the Spokane City Council on Tuesday that she will reconvene a committee that will help form policy on paving streets and select opportunities to focus “complete streets” efforts.

For the most part, the city's 2004 street bond has been used only to reconstruct streets from curb-to-curb, a policy that has been challenged by some members of City Council who believe it should also be used to improve sidewalks and make other upgrades. Verner has stood by the curb-to-curb use of the street bond, but has worked to supplement that money with grants and other funds to add amenities on certain projects.

Talk in Tuesday's meeting often turned to funding, specifically on the proposed tab tax that will be considered by the Spokane City Council next month. As you can hear in the above clips, passion among the council members about streets is high.

Something phish-y about IRS e-mail

If you get an e-mail from the IRS asking for your name, address and other information so the agency can check its records, promising you a $50 reward for being so helpful…don't respond. Don't open the attachment. Don't do anything except hit the delete button.

It's a scam, a spokesman for the IRS says.

The e-mail, which is making the rounds, is an example of “phishing”, or trolling for personal information that can then be used for illegal purposes.  How sneaky are these folks? They mask their real e-mail address with one that purports to be @IRS.gov .

“We don't solicit information over e-mail,” said David Tucker of the IRS office in Seattle. “And we certainly don't offer cash rewards.”

These scams are around all the time, but often ramp up at tax time, Tucker said. If you get one, you can notify the agency by e-mail at  phishing@IRS.gov . You can also read more about phishing and protecting your personal information at a special IRS web page found here.

Who’s your speech date?

Being watched almost as closely as what President Obama says tonight are the locations of where the honorable members of Congress will sit.

Put another way: Who's your date for the State of the Union?

Traditionally, the Democrats sit on one side of the House and Republicans on the other, which explains why sometimes half the crowd gives a standing ovation and the other half sits on their hands at various points.

But in the new spirit of bipartisanship, members of Congress are asking colleagues of the other party to cross the aisle and sit with them. This is what we know so far about with whom members from Washington and Idaho will be sitting:

Patty Murray, Washington's senior Democrat in the Senate, will be sitting with Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. Maria Cantwell, the state's junior Senate D, will be sitting with Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican. They've been working together on some climate legislation, an aide said.

Mike Crapo, Idaho's senior Republican in the Senate, will be sitting with a group that is regional as well as bipartisan. He, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., have an area staked out that they all prefer when watching a presidential speech. They'll be joined by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Word is that they like the place because it's possible to make a quick exit as soon as the president says “Thank you, and goodnight.”

James Risch, Idaho's junior Senate R, said he was sitting in an area surrounded by Democrats and Republicans, but that's not too unusual, he added.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, an Eastern Washington Republican who is part of the GOP leadership in the House, invited Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat to watch with her. McMorris Rodgers said she ran into Roybal-Allard earlier in the day, and they noticed that they were wearing similar outfits. She asked if the Los Angeles congresswoman wanted to sit together, and when Roybal-Allard asked if there'd be room, McMorris Rodgers assured her they'd make room.

No word yet on seating partner for Rep. Raul Labrador, North Idaho's freshman Republican.

The bipartisan seating was first mentioned by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Various sources on Capitol Hill have described this as something akin to asking or being asked to homecoming or Sadie Hawkins Dance. At least they don't have to pass notes in Study Hall to find out if some one just likes them or REALLY LIKES them.

WA Lege Day 16: Gregoire wants UI bill soon

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire urged legislators to move quickly on proposals to cancel planned increases in unemployment insurance taxes, saying she needs a bill in two weeks.

At a press conference this morning, Gregoire repeated a call for legislators to keep rate hikes that businesses face from taking effect. Two bills introduced at her request, one in the House and one in the Senate, would accomplish that, but only if one passes and is signed by Feb. 8. After that date, current state law requires the rates to go up, by as much as 50 percent for some companies.

“The rate hike is going to take a bite out of our recovery,” she said.

The proposals would lower unemployment insurance taxes for some 80,000 small businesses, and reduce the tax bite by a total of about $300 million this year, Gregoire said.

The Legislature should wait on another issue surrounding unemployment insurance, which involves changing benefits for laid-off workers to qualilfy for some $98 million in federal funds, she argued. Gregoire has proposed using the money to expand training benefits for the unemployed so they can study new occupations. The State Labor Council wants the money to be  used to increase payments to unemployed workers with dependents, providing them with an extra $15 per week per child, up to a maximum of $50 per week.

“We can have that debate another day,” she said.

Wa Lege Day 15: Budget debate begins

OLYMPIA — Members of the House have begun their first real votes of the session, taking up the supplemental budget.

First up are amendments: On a unanimous vote, the House stripped out provisions to let the Transportation Commission set ferry rates. Sponsor Ross Hunter said it may have taken the bill beyond the rule that legislation stick with a single subject. The House can come back to the issue later, he said.

****

Up now is the Republican substitute, called a striker. Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, argues the GOP proposal is more transparent and more sustainable.

Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, says the Republican amendment pits education funding against social spending, when the two are intertwined.

The Republicans cut less money for education, leaving money in the budget for the remainder of the year for Kindergarten through Grade 4 enhancements and smaller classes, and cuts the Disability Lifeline, also known as GAU or General Assistance Unemployable.

Rep. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said education has “given and given and given,” while GAU is more generous than most states offer and has been proposed for elimination by several administrations.

Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Ballard, argued that the choice was between basics and enhancements. GAU is a basic for survival, the education cuts are enhancements. “They're all very difficult choices. You have to look at survival.”

The amendment fails 41-57 on a party-line vote. Debate on Democratic version of the bill begins.

***

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, says the budget cuts are hard and painful. Real people are losing their health coverage, their safety net, said Hunter, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “We're trying to create solutions.”

Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, said the Democratic version will “devastate research at WSU” cutting money for research on wine, meat and lentils. It cuts funding for education, which is the state's only constitutional spending requirement.

After a brief delay when most Republicans refused to vote because they wanted more debate, the Democatic version passes 55-43.

WA Lege Day 15: Budget debate in House

OLYMPIA — The first floor debate on budget cuts this session is scheduled for this morning as the state House of Representatives takes up a portion of the 2011 supplemental budget.

This is the budget that gets the state through June 30 — although not the entire budget for that period. The Legislature trimmed some things in the one-day special session in December, and this plan still leaves some spending questions unanswered.

But it does address cuts in education, Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline. The Democratic bill, HB 1086, has some Republican amendments.

Spin Control will provide updates from the House floor.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, a Senate committee is expected to vote on a proposal to do away with the 2012 presidential primary to save the state about $10 million. A House committee will be looking at the governor's plan to consolidate state agencies. Another House committee has a hearing on the Basic Health plan.

Running toward the slippery slope on public records

OLYMPIA – Ever since the voters decided public records should be, you know, public, public officials have complained about the unfairness of being forced to produce some of those records when a member of the public has the nerve to ask for them.
Such requests are seen by some legislators as particularly onerous on small cities and counties that, when they deny such a request, get taken to court and fined for failing to give a member of the public something to which he or she was entitled. The fine sometimes  threatens to blow a hole in that city or county’s meager budget, which generates sympathy from folks who routinely saddle local governments with mandates but no money.
In these stories of overwhelmed governments, the villain is usually a vexatious citizen who demands reams of documents then sues when some poor overworked public employee fails to produce a single page, record or missive.
There’s a variation this year in which the villains are prison inmates, who are even less sympathetic than nosy citizens. Attorney General Rob McKenna is proposing several restrictions to rein in a handful of inmates who file the lion’s share of all lawsuits over public records.

To read more, go inside the blog…

Forum Saturday a.m.: Discussing community threats

When tragedies occur like the shootings in Tucson or potential disasters like the bomb found Monday in downtown Spokane, state Rep. Kevin Parker tries to remember the lessons of Columbine.

Among the most important, the Spokane Republican said, is to trust your instincts and use common sense.

Parker was a volunteer youth counselor visiting a student at the Colorado high school the day of the 1999 shooting. Many students were saved, he said, because other students trusted their instincts and took a risk to help them.

Marchers in Spokane's Martin Luther King Day parade may have been saved because public facilities district workers trusted their instincts about a strange backpack on a bench, and police rerouted the parade.

“Common sense prevailed,” he said.

Parker will cohost a forum Saturday on “understanding threats to our community” with Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. The meeting starts at 10 a.m. in Room 122 of the Phase 1 Building on WSU-Spokane Riverpoint Campus, 412 E. Spokane Falls Blvd.

The most difficult thing about tragedies like Columbine and the Tucsion shootings may be trying to understand the motive, Parker said. There is no real trend that marks the people responsible. That may also be true of the bombing attempt when law enforcement officials find the would-be bomber, he added.

“In a general sense, they're all troubled. But they're all individuals,” he said.

WA Lege Day 12: Senate honors McCaslin

OLYMPIA — With a photo of Bob McCaslin propped up near his old desk and his family in the gallery, the Washington state Senate’s most senior member was praised for his ability to make his colleagues laugh with a well-timed joke and keep them on track with encyclopedic knowledge of the rules.

McCaslin, whose 30 years made him the most senior member of the Senate until he resigned this month for health reason, was described by Republicans and Democrats alike as a mentor to new legislators. In a tribute that lasted for nearly an hour, members on both sides of the aisle said his humor and historical knowledge may be needed more than ever this year.

“We’re going to miss Bob McCaslin’s institutional memory as we deal with this crisis,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said, noting the Spokane Valley veteran was the only remaining member of the Senate who served in the last big economic downturn of 1981-82.

McCaslin who is 84, was hospitalized last week for circulatory problems and had a leg amputated this week. But he’s “doing better each day”, his son Bob, who was in the gallery for the tribute, said.

McCaslin was the master of a well-timed story or joke, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said. “Bob was always the one who, when things were going badly in caucus, could get things…he’d tell a little story.”

Some senators joked about his reputation as the Republican caucus’s “most eligible bachelor”, who as he got older didn’t mind being set up on a date as long as it was with someone who could drive at night. “We looked for interns who had really nice grandmothers with a driver’s license,” Schoesler joked.

He had a reputation of killing bills that came to the Senate from the House, and Senate bills from Democratic members.

“He always killed my bills. He said you work too hard, but we don’t need all these things,” Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said. “He hated Growth Management. And you know what Bob, you were right about some of it.”

They didn’t agree on many issues but found ways to work together for things important to Spokane like the Mirabeau Point, said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane, who added she’d miss their “entertaining exchanges.”

McCaslin was so skilled at debating a point that an opponent wouldn’t immediately realize he was being skewered, said Lt. Gov. Brad Owen who serves as president of the Senate. “He is the only senator so far to tell the president he’s wrong without the president knowing it until he got back to his office.”

The resolution, which was read in its entirety in an unusual move, can be found inside the blog

Museum directors: Don’t put us in mothballs

OLYMPIA – The proposed state budget would “mothball” the Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane and another facility in Tacoma, shutting out the public and possibly running afoul of federal law on Native American artifacts, a legislative panel was told Thursday.

Directors of the Northwest MAC and the State History Museum in Tacoma said Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget plan for 2011-13 cuts them back so severely that they cease most operations other than warehousing their collections.

“We wouldn’t continue to exist,” said David Nicandri, director of the Washington State Historical Society which operates the 16-year-old Tacoma museum.

The MAC wouldn’t have a large enough staff to open its exhibits or its archives to the public, director Ron Rector said. That would close off one of Spokane’s top three tourist attraction, Eastern Washington’s main art museum and the largest collection of Columbia Plateau Indian artifacts outside of the Smithsonian Institution, he said.

Money in licensing medical pot users, growers

OLYMPIA — The state could make about $50 million over the next 10 years by setting up a system of licensing and registering medical marijuana users and dispensers, a state study said Thursday.

The state Office of Financial Management, which determines the fiscal impact for bills filed in the Legislature, came to that conclusion after studying House Bill 1100, whose co-sponsors include state Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane.

State voters legalized marijuana for medical use about 10 years ago, but problems persist for those who have a doctor's recommendation to use it. They have trouble buying it, and trouble avoiding prosecution, particularly since the federal government still considers marijuana a dangerous drug.

HB 1100 would set up license, registration and usage fees for qualifying patients, and a separate medical marijuana production and processing license.

Those systems would start out raising about $3 million for the state in 2013, and generate about $6.2 million by 2017 and each subsequent year, OFM estimates.

Town hall Saturday to discuss bomb, violence

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and state Rep. Kevin Parker will hold a town hall meeting Saturday to discuss public concerns over the bomb found along the parade route in downtown Spokane Monday.
The one-hour forum, “Understanding threats in our community”, will allow area residents to discuss their concerns and share ideas about the bomb that rerouted Spokane’s Martin Luther King Day parade as well as the Tucson shootings, Parker, R-Spokane, said.
“As a survivor of the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, I have learned it is essential we come together to talk about the safety of the community,” said Parker, who was a youth counselor talking with a student when those shootings occurred.
The town hall begins at 10 a.m. Saturday in Room 122 of the Phase 1 Building, WSU Riverpoint Campus, 412 E. Spokane Falls Blvd.

  

WA Lege: Get yer motor runnin…

OLYMPIA —  Cue Steppenwolf. It's Black Thursday on the Capitol Campus, the day when members of ABATE come to lobby their legislators.

ABATE stands for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, and pushes for legislation it prefers on motorcycles, including an end to the state requirement for wearing helmets.

It's a day when the lobbyists in expensive suits rub shoulders with guys in leathers and ponytails in the halls of the legislative buildings. And the arrival of hundreds of large motorcycles, many of them Harleys, shakes the buidlings.

WA Lege Day 11: Art in prisons, money in museums, pot and bikers

OLYMPIA — Legislative committees have a potpourri of issues today, including hearings on bills that would do away with the requirement to put art in public buildings if those buildings are prisons or the facility for sexual offendersat McNeil Island.

That's in the Senate Human Services and Corrections hearing at 10 a.m. At about the same time, the House State Government Committee will be talking about changes to the public records laws.

This afternoon, the House General Government Appropriations Committee is taking up Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to cut funding for the Eastern Washington Historical Society and the Washington Historical Society, cuts that would essentially put Spokane's Museum of Arts and Culture and the state Museum in Tacoma in mothballs.

Senate Long Term Care has scheduled a 1:30 p.m.  hearing on new rules for the medical use of marijuana that would make it easier for patients to get supplies.  It's probably no coincidence that the Washington Cannabis Society has a press conference at 3 p.m.

It's also Black Thursday, the day when motorcyclists come to Olympia to lobby for legislation. The roar of Harley Davidsons is currently shaking the Capitol campus.

And House Ways and Means, the taxing and spending panel, continues hearings this afternoon.

 

McCaslin resting after amputation

Spokane Valley City Councilman Bob McCaslin was in satisfactory condition Wednesday evening at Deaconess Medical Center after having his leg amputated earlier in the day.

A hospital spokeswoman listed the former legislator's condition as satisfactory, the best of three one-word conditions in the limited information a hospital is allowed to release about a patient.

McCaslin's former colleagues in the state Senate were told he was undergoing surgery to amputate his leg during the morning floor session in the state Capitol. The 30-year veteran of the Senate resigned his legislative post on Jan. 4 because of health reasons and was hospitalized last Wednesday for a circulatory problem.

McCaslin, 84, said when he resigned his Senate seat that he intended to continue serving on the Spokane Valley City Council, to which he was elected in 2009.

Gregoire at Hu’s dinner

At the risk of sounding like an old Abbott and Costello routine, Hu's coming to dinner at the White House, and Gov. Chris Gregoire is invited too.

Who's coming to dinner? Hu's the president of China.  I don't know who's the president of China but who's coming to dinner? Yes, Hu's president of China and he's coming to dinner. 

OK, so it's been done before, and better. So without further foolishness, Chinese President Hu Jintao is attending a state dinner at the White House Wednesday night.  Washington's status as a major exporting state, and the fact that China is one of our biggest overseas markets, and the fact that Gregoire was in China a few months ago on a trade mission may all have combined to get the governor an invitation to dinner.

Also on the list: Former Gov. and now Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and his wife Mona; actor Jackie Chan, musician Yo Yo Ma; Barbara Streisand and James Brolin; Microsoft honcho Steve Ballmer; skater Michelle Kwan.

No word yet on who Gregoire gets to sit next to, the governor's office said.

A chicken & egg initiative

OLYMPIA — An animal protection organization wants voters to order farms go give chickens more room while they're laying eggs.

Washingtoninans for Humane Farms submitted an initiative proposal this week to the secretary of state's office that would require “egg-laying hens have enough room to turn around and extend their wings and that eggs sold in the state are produced incompliance with this humane standard.'

Hens would have to be kept in cages that allow them to turn around and extend their wings.

The proposal is similar to laws in California and Michigan. Those states also restrict cages for calves which is not part of the proposal that would be on the November ballot if the group can gather enough signatures.

Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, said supporters decided to concentrate on egg production because there isn't much veal production in Washington. But the initiative includes a restriction that later became law in California, which prohibits the sale of any eggs from another state that aren't produced under similar conditions for the hens.

Initiative supporters haven't decided yet whether they will pay for signature collection, Baur said.

(Note: The original version of this post misspelled Baur's name.)

GOP leaders: Budget alternative likely

OLYMPIA — Republican leaders say they may offer an alternative to House Democrats' supplemental budget, which is itself an alternative to Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal.

At a noon press conference, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis said Republicans have enough differences with the Democratic plan announced Tuesday they may offer a “striker” — that is, a substitute proposal — when the spending plan for the next 5 months reaches the House floor.

“We're floating up a test balloon to see if anybody (from the Democratic side) comes along,” DeBolt said.

Republicans are particularly opposed to transfers, a term for using money in separate funds for general operating fund expenses. If they can't swap their plan for the Democrats' budget, they say they won't support any spending plan that move money around or relies on what Gregoire acknowledged was an accounting gimmick, delaying a payment to schools due on June 30, the last day of this biennium, until July 1, so it would show up in the next biennium.

“We're very clear about not doing any transfers,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt said. Republicans believe the delayed payment would create a  hole at the end of the 2011-13 budget cycle that would lead to a call for higher taxes at a time when the supermajority requirement could be more easily amended.

WA Lege Day 10: Of budgets and roads

OLYMPIA — A House committee might get the ball rolling on a supplemental budget this afternoon, sending it to the floor for a vote later this week.

House Democrats alternative supplemental budget gets worked over in the Ways and Means Committee's executive session, starting at 3:30 p.m.

At the same time, the Senate Transportation Committee gets an update on the state's “mega” road projects, which include Spokane's North-South Freeway (or whatever it is we're calling it these days.)

And Republicans have their weekly press conference to for thoughts on how things are going so far. It's at noon.

House Dems budget tries to save Basic Health, Disability Lifeline

OLYMPIA — House Democrats released their proposal for cuts to the state budget through the end of June, which veer off from Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal in some respects.

What Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter is calling an “early action budget” because it tries to get a quick vote on the plan to cut about $216 million from the state general fund and transfer another $124 million into the general fund from other accounts. Some further cuts would likely have to be made after the March economic forecast numbers come out, Hunter said.

The House Dems' proposal would continue to provide some money Basic Health Care for low-income children at the current level, and the Disability Lifeline which provides payments residents who are too disabled to work. Saving Basic Health long-term could take a statewide vote on a source of money.

It cuts programs for food assistance, child abuse prevention, prescription help for seniors, community health clinics, family planning and mental health assistance, but not as much Gregoire's proposal.

Education cuts are about the same, but the House Dems want to keep state money for levy equalization, which is a way the state helps out smaller and poorer districts that don't have the tax base that other districts have.

Ways and Means finished a two-hour hearing on the proposal shortly before 6 p.m. in which reprieves were sought for a wide variety of programs on the chopping block. Hunter said the committee will probably vote on this budget plan on Wednesday afternoon, and the House could take it up as early as Friday.

The bill is PSHB 1086.

It’s official: 10 seats in US House for WA

OLYMPIA — While we've all been proceeding on the assumption that Washington will get a tenth congressional seat this year, it hasn't really been official.

As in not signed, sealed and delivered official from the folks who have the ultimate say in such things, the U.S. House of Representatives.

But the Washington Secretary of State's office now has in its hot collective hands a sealed notice from the Clerk of the House, stating Washington shall be entitled in the 113th Congress (which starts in 2013) and each succeeding congress through 2022, to

TEN REPRESENTATIVES in the House of Representatives.

Capital letters are the clerk's. Not sure if all caps in official documents is like shouting with all caps in an e-mail.

4,500 rally against abortion

OLYMPIA — The annual rally against legalized abortion, which is traditionally one of the largest demonstrations at the Capitol in the early months of any session, drew an estimated 4,500 to the north Capitol steps at noon today.

Sympathetic legislators promised to keep up the fight to outlaw abortion, which was legal in Washington state even before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and has since been reinforced by voters in initiatives.

Washington State Patrol officers assigned to the rally estimated the crowd and noted it was about average for that protest. Considering a cold drizzle was falling, average may equate to pretty good.

Around 15  abortion rights protesters stood at the base of the steps of the Supreme Court building.

Note on photo: The flags are at half staff for Pvt. 1C Robert Near of Granger, who was killed in Afghanistan earlier this month, not because of the protest.

Redistrict commish sworn in

OLYMPIA — The panel that will redraw the state's congressional and legislative district lines was sworn in today, held its first meeting and adjourned without picking its fifth, non-voting chairman or chairwoman.

The four appointees took the oath of office from State Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Madsen before heading into their first formal meeting. They didn't mention any names for the top seat, but have another meeting set for Jan. 28.

Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton said later that the nominee for the chairmanship should be known before that next meeting.

The state gets a tenth congressional seat, and all nine of the existing districts have too many people. The state keeps its 49 legislative seats, which have wide variation in population, so many of those lines will be redrawn, also

WA Lege Day 9: Marches and budgets

OLYMPIA — The Legislature and the people who want it to do something will be kicked into a higher gear today as abortion opponents and social activists will both hold marches in the afternoon.

House Democrats will release their counter to Gov. Chris Gregoire's supplemental budget, which will cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the general operating budget in an effort to keep it out of the red.

Gregoire and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will hold a conference call with reporters to explain why they think it would be a bad idea for the U.S. House of Representatives to repeal last year's health care reforms, a law which Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna is among those challenging in federal court.

The annual March for Life starts at noon on the Capitol's north steps. (Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the sponsor. The event is sponsored by Washington State March for Life.) There appears to be a problem with the formal announcement sent out over the weekend, which appears as though it was cut and pasted from last year without any editing. It mentions Art Coday and Clint Didier running against Sen. Patty Murray and  describes John Ahern as “running to regain  his seat”. 

The Service Employees International Union will gather at 1 p.m. on the other side of the Capitol, at the sundial, and march to the offices of the Association of Washington Business to protest cuts to state social programs that aren't being matched by any plan to cut tax breaks for businesses.

Meanwhile, the state Ground Water Association has a rig set up on the Capitol Campus for what it refers to as “Ground Water Day on the Hill.”

In other news, the four voting members of the state's Redistricting Commission were sworn in this morning and will hold their first official meeting. They have to pick a fifth non-voting member to serve as chairman or chairwoman.

How to make campaign law violators squeal

OLYMPIA – Talk of election shenanigans in 2010 was second only last week to talk of budget disasters for 2011, and legislators are toying with tweaking state campaign disclosure laws that allow average folks to know the source of money being spent to convince them to vote for Candidate Schmoe or against Candidate Schmuck.

The state erects rules for people who give or take piles of campaign cash, much the way scientists erect walls in a maze to see if rats can find the way to the cheese. Research shows the rats quickly learn the fastest way through the maze, and if left alone for any length of time, chew through the walls to bypass the maze entirely and simply feast on the cheese.

This is not to suggest people who dump piles of cash into campaigns are equivalent to rats, as that’s unfair to rodents. Rather, it is to set up an analogy: The Legislature seems intent on building a better maze, when what they need is to kick some rats out of it.
  

Brown: Bipartisanship real right now, major reforms iffy

OLYMPIA – There’s more cooperation between the two political parties than previous years, but not much chance that some of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s major reforms will make pass this legislative session, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said Friday.
Speaking with reporters at the end of the first week of the 105-day session, the Spokane Democrat said members of both parties are consulting and working together more than they have in years. Republican leaders made a similar statement on Tuesday.

“That’s real. That was true even before the tragedy in Arizona, that in difficult times like now… the public expects us not to focus on partisan differences,” she said. One move to give minority Republicans more say on the budget happened on the first day of the session, when the Senate changed rules to end a requirement that amendments to the general operating budget have a supermajority.

Neither party is willing to support Gregoire’s call to end state-sponsored Basic Health program or the Disability Lifeline that provides temporary payments to disabled residents. Gregoire told Senate Democrats Friday morning to come up with alternative cuts and “wished us well,” Brown said.

Asked how those programs are likely to survive, she replied: “It’s too soon to tell.”

While Democrats may agree to streamline and consolidate some natural resource agencies, they aren’t likely to support setting up a new system to govern and raise taxes for Puget Sound ferries, Brown said. And they’re skeptical of Gregoire’s plan to consolidate all state education programs from pre-school to graduate degrees into one massive Department of Education, although they don’t know the details.

“We haven’t got the bill yet. There is interest in the Senate in not having so many agencies involved in education,” she said. It’s not clear yet what major changes can be proposed, debated and passed in a session so focused on the budget, she added.

4th District PCO meeting back on Saturday

Tjr 4th Legislative District Republican precinct committee officers to name three possible replacements for Sen. Bob McCaslin is back on for Saturday morning.

The time and place have been changed. Registration will start at 8:30 a.m. and the meeting at 9:30 a.m., at the Luxury Box, 10512 E. Sprague, in University City.

The meeting was originally scheduled for the New Life Assembly Church, but as noted in this earlier post, had to be relocated yesterday.

Spokane County GOP Chairman Matthew Pederson said they did some legal research and concluded that if they held the meeting on the same day, and just altered the time and place, they wouldn't need a new 10-day notice to precinct officers. He believes the PCOs will all be notified today, and the party will have people at the New Life Church Saturday morning to direct anyone who doesn't get the notice headed toward the Luxury Box.

Republican PCOs will have three rounds of voting to pick nominees to replace McCaslin, who resigned this month because of health problems. The winner in each round will be placed on the list to be sent to the Spokane County Commissioners, who choose the relacement from among those nominees.

WA Lege Day 5: Damp and slow

OLYMPIA — A gray Friday with relatively little committee action and even less floor action.

The Senate's main task this morning was passing a resolution on National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The House was in and out quickly.

Committee meetings were mainly “work sessions” in which issues rather than specific bills are discussed. House Education is talking education reform and Senate Higher Education is talking about the way various colleges handle credit for prior classes. Senate Judiciary has a hearing on the victimization of homeless people.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has her first press conference of the session at 1 p.m.

McCaslin replacement slowed by call for ‘flash mob’

The number of contenders to replace state Sen. Bob McCaslin is growing but efforts to get the seat filled quickly were derailed Thursday.

Saturday’s meeting to nominate possible replacements was postponed after a group supporting a leading contender, Rep. Matt Shea, called for a major demonstration outside the gathering to make sure County Commissioners heed the will of the people.

A group called Spokane Patriots Minutemen sent out an e-mail to members calling for a “flash mob for liberty” to gather outside the New Life Assembly Church Saturday morning, where 4th Legislative District precinct committee officers had been scheduled to nominate three possible replacements for McCaslin, who resigned Jan. 4 for health reasons after 30 years in the Senate.

Members of the group were encouraged in the e-mail to form a large, vocal crowd holding signs with a common theme: “Commissioners, listen to the people! Defy us and you WILL be voted out of office!”
  

WA Lege Day 4: Campaign fixes and labor initiatives

OLYMPIA — Both houses have extensive hearing schedules today, with the most media attention being given to a proposal to tighten campaign disclosure laws in the wake of problems in a Snohomish County state Senate race that has already drawn more attention than anything short of the budget.

The state Labor Council also unveiled its legislative agenda, which includes a push to place some $3 billion in tax exemptions granted to businesses into a three-year moratorium. The unions know they can't get a two-thirds vote in both houses to cancel many tax exemptions, so they're hoping for a bill that will put some of them in abeyance for three years if voters say yes to the plan in November.

The Senate Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee held a hearing on Chairman Craig Pridemore's proposal to clearer names on the political action committees that flood the airwaves during the election, and to keep them from transferring money from one to another in such a way that voters can't tell who the heck is paying for all this stuff. It's a response to a shadow campaign in the 38th Legislative District in which campaign consultant Moxie Media secretly funnelled union money into a primary campaign against an incumbent Democrat they didn't like.

As the committee hearing started, the unions were across the Capitol campus calling for more transparencyand accountability in the Legislature on tax policy. they were asked how can expect any credibilitly on their call for transparency from the Legislature when they were anything but transparent in the 38th, agreeing to a plan to hide their money being used against Sen. Jean Berkey?

Jeff Johnson, the new Labor Council president, admitted “mistakes were made” with union money in the Berkey race, but suggested there was a lack of transparency on both sides.

“I don't think we lose credibility…for that small isolated incident,” Johnson said. “That will never happen again. You can take that to the bank.”

Precinct officers keep their spots

A federal judge's ruling that Washington state's way of electing precinct committee officers is unconstitutional may have some wondering about the ones elected last August.

Precinct committee officers, or PCOs as they are usually called, are the backbone of county party organizations. They pick the county chairman or chairwoman, vice chairman/woman, state committeeman and committeewoman and the legislative district leaders. When a vacancy occurs in a legislative or county elective seat, they nominate a replacement.

Which 4th Legislative District PCOs are scheduled to  do this weekend to fill the state Senate seat left open by Sen. Bob McCaslin's retirement.

But U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled yesterday in Seattle that they way the state currently elects PCOs is unconstitutional. They are elected on the Top Two primary ballot in even numbered years, but the Top Two is an election in which the other candidates for partisan office merely state their party preference and the winners are not considered the nominees of their preferred parties. (Want to read the entire order? Click here.)

That's fine for other offices, because voters can reasonably understand that those candidates aren't necessarily members of, or endorsed by, the parties for which the list a preference, Coughenour said. But the PCOs are party officials, not really public officials and the parties have a right to expect that only party members elect party officials. There's no way to ensure that under the current system.

But Coughenour's ruling is propsective, Katie Blinn of the Washington Secretary of State's office said. “He didn't speak at all retrospectively. He is simply stating that going into the future, the state can't continue doing it t his way.”

It's likely a bill or two might find its way to the Legislature with a plan to fix this problem. But for right now, the 4th District PCOs are legally entitled to nominate replacements for McCaslin.

Gregoire says be bold; legislators ask for details

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OLYMPIA – Amid the tension of a state budget some $4.6 billion out of whack and proposals to cut programs for some of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable, Gov. Chris Gregoire tried to sound upbeat Tuesday with a promise Washington would come out of the recession stronger if they can just “be bold.”

“We will rebound and we will provide a brighter future for our children,” Gregoire told the Legislature in her annual state of the state speech.

Republican response ranged from cautiously positive to slightly caustic. If Gregoire is serious about some of her reforms for state salaries, unemployment insurance and workers compensation, they're on board, Republican leaders said; if she’d made some of these changes years ago like they wanted, the state would be in better shape right now.

“The governor has switched parties,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.
  

Murray in Spokane Weds.

One of Sen. Patty Murray's first public appearances since the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., will be in Spokane Wednesday afternoon at a very secure location.

The Spokane Police Academy.

Murray and Mayor Mary Verner have a 1:30 p.m. tour of the facility and a 2 p.m. roundtable discussion on energy with folks from  Avista, SIRTI and various city agencies. Subject of discussion: investing in clean energy.

The location has nothing to do with the slayings in Arizona, however. The police academy received federal money through the Recovery Act to help retrofit it to be more energy efficient, a spokesman said, and was chosen to serve as an example of clean energy. The location also was chosen before Saturday's shootings.

Still, it might be hard to find a more secure site outside the confines of Fairchild Air Force Base for a member of Congress to hold a meeting.

WA Lege Day 2: State of the state

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's take on “the state” of Washington state, with the latest excerpt on top of older excerpts:

Make no mistake, I expect you to make the changes that will benefit the state for today and the next 80 years.

Last year, this Legislature came together and passed a supplemental budget in one day….That was a great start. Let's finish what we started and let's finish it together.

We are down, but we are not out by any means… We're ready to do the tough work…We will be bold and we will lead us to a better tomorrow for the great state of Washington.

***

I know change is hard, particularly here in Olympia. It's easier to hear why change won't work, rather than why it will.

Our voters are out ahead of us…our voters sent us here, to get things done and be bold.

We can set a path for success in our state. There are those who say we cannot provide real change. This year, let's prove the cynics and the skeptics wrong.

Let's put government on a 21st Century path.

***

Our ferry system, the largest in the nation, is in financial crisis…we must find a better way. I'm asking you to create a regional ferry district, run by an elected board of directors.

***

We need to encourage every student to 'Complete to compete — complete an AA, a bachelor's or a graduate degree so that they can compete for the jobs of tomorrow.

We need tuition flexibility at our colleges and universities….Educating our students is theri future: a world-class education system is our state's future.

*****

Jobs are the way out of the recession, particularly in one of the hardest hit areas, the construction sector.

Education is the key to the jobs of tomorrow. Today we have eight education agencies with 14 plans…I propose we enact legsialtion creating one agency, the Department of Education.

****

We must do everything we can to stimulate the economy and put Washington state back to work

I propose cultting the unemployment insurance and workers compensation rates by more than $1 billion to help businesses and our unemployed back to work.

I'm asking you to get a bill to my desk by Feb. 8.

****

Salvatori will run for city council, not mayor

Downtown businessman Steve Salvatori filed paperwork this month to launch a bid for Spokane City Council.

Salvatori, a Republican who run unsuccessfully for the Spokane County Commission last year, hopes to win the seat representing Northwest Spokane that will be vacated by Councilman Steve Corker. Corker announced late last year that he will run for City Council president.

Salvatori has been meeting with various city leaders in the last few months to explore bids for City Council, City Council president or mayor.

His paperwork announcing his run was filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission on Jan. 4.

Salvatori's campaign last year gained attention through numerous campaign signs with his picture that were pasted throughout downtown. Salvatori owns the Spokane Entrepreneurial Center and won signficant support from Spokane's business community in his run for county commission.

WA Lege Day 2: From the floor of the joint session

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire and other state elected officials are being called to the House chambers for the joint session.

Suprem Court justices are being escored in.

Once Gregoire begins her speech, Spin Control will run a “continuous” blog post, putting the most recent item on top of the previous items.

WA Lege Day 2: Gov addresses joint session

OLYMPIA — Members of the Senate are enterring the House chamber for the joint session of the Legislature to hear Gov. Chris Gregoire's State of the State address.

Applause all around. This is probably the friendliest the two chambers will be for the next 104 days.

Bagpipes are playing in the background as the roll is being called.

We'll be blogging the speech and the scene here on Sin Control for the next hour or so

WA Lege Day 2: Gregoire to state the state of state

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire will tell a joint session of the Legislature the “state of the state”, which chances are she'll say is struggling.

What? You thought she'd say everything was just peachy? You have not been paying attention. She'll likely list many of the things she thinks the state will have to end because it can't afford them any more, with a caveat that if the folks in the chamber have a better idea, she's all ears.

And she'll likely say that tough times are also times of opportunity, and lay out many of the changes she's  unveiled over the last few weeks, like consolidating some state offices and services beefing up education, going after more jobs.

Speech is at noon, and can be watched live on TVW if you have cable, or online right here.

After the speech, Republican leaders will have a press conference to offer their response.

Other than the speech/response, both chambers have a full schedule of hearings. House appropriations committees and the Ways and Means Committee will be getting briefed on Gregoire's proposals for cuts to the final six months of this biennium and for the 2011-13 biennium. Other committees will be looking at everything from pesticides to child product safety.

Note on caucus membership lists

OLYMPIA— A state senator stays a member of his or her caucus until a successor is sworn in. Thus, Jean Berkey and Chris Marr and some others defeated in the 2010 elections remained on the Senate Democratic Caucus roster yesterday morning, and up to that point Senator-elect Nick Harper was not listed.

That explanation  comes from Jeff Reading of the Senate Democratic Caucus, in response to yesterday's post that noted Harper was on the Senate roster for the legislative Web page, but not on the caucus web site.

So clearly it was not, as Spin Control jokingly suggested, a case of the caucus staff being so busy with other stuff that they hadn't had time to change the website.

Snyder booted from STA board

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Shogan and Snyder face off on budget

Even without newly elected officials on the Spokane City Council, power appears to be shifting in the New Year.

One year after the council removed Nancy McLaughlin from the board overseeing the Spokane Transit Authority, the Spokane City Council voted to reappoint McLaughlin — the council's only self-described conservative — to the seat. The move booted Councilman Jon Snyder from the position.

City Council President Shogan, who proposed the change, said reappointing McLaughlin to the seat is “strictly a matter of representation.”

The city has three seats on the STA board. Spokane's other two members are Amber Waldref, who represents Northeast Spokane and Richard Rush, who represents South Spokane. Snyder also serves South Spokane. Shogan said he supported the change because the city should have an STA representative from Northwest Spokane.

Waldref, who along with Rush and Snyder voted against McLaughlin's appointment, noted that having representatives from each council district is not a requirement and isn't routine for other boards on which council members sit.

Asked why he supported adding McLaughlin back to the transit board after he supported her removal from it last year, Shogan said that last year he “had a different concern.”

He declined to explain what that concern was.

Shogan and Snyder have had a few contentious debates in the last couple months. Shogan led the effort to create a tab tax - a proposal that failed later on Monday largely because Snyder voted against it. But the most public and ugly argument between the two was over the proposal to defund a vacant deptuy fire chief position (audio of that debate from Dec. 20 is above).

WA Lege Day 1: Baumgartner sworn in

 

State Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers congratulates Mike Baumgartner after swearing him in Monday.

OLYMPIA — With much less drama than Senator-elect Nick Harper's swearing in, Sen. Mike Baumgartner of Spokane's 6th District took the oath of office on the opening day of the session

WA Lege Day 1: Motion to block Harper fails

OLYMPIA — An initial effort to keep a Snohomish County senator-elect from being seated in the Senate failed Monday afternoon as a parliamentary procedure failed on a 23-18 vote.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, tried to keep all newly-elected senators from being sworn in while the Senate considered a motion not to seat Nick Harper, who easily bested a Republican challenger in a Democratic leaning district. The real controversy goes back to the primary, when incumbent Sen. Jean Berkey was eased out of the Top Two system by a shadow campaign waged by Moxie Media.

The Public Disclosure Commission has recommended criminal prosecution against Moxie for gathering campaign funds and deliberately hiding their source. That's not enough, Kastama said: “They will pay a fine. It will be the cost of doing business…If not now when. When is bad enough.”

But Sen. Tracey Eide said while Moxie's actions were “deplorable”, Harper isn't responsible. “Being blamed for something that a thrid party is done is wrong…It is like blaming your child for something the neighbor kid did.”

Kastama's motion failed, and Harper was sworn in at 1:35 p.m. Any further efforts to undo the election will bump up against the fact that he's duly elected and seated.

Lege opens to an interesting tune

OLYMPIA — Washington's Legislature is staring  up its engines today with all 49 senators and 98 representatives getting sworn in.

The anticipated skirmish over Nick Harper taking his Senate seat in Snohomish County's 38th District won't come up for a while, as each newly elected or newly re-elected senator gets sworn in separately in the upper chamber, and the newbies go last

One bit of trivia: The Washington State Patrol Color Guard brought the flag into the Senate chamber to the strains of a bagpiper. On the way out, the piper played: “Garry Owen”, which is a catchy tune 

It may be best know as the unofficial theme song of Custer's 7th Cavalry. Or at least it was before the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Maybe it's appropriate for the upcoming budget battles.

Fackler enters race for state GOP chairman

Curt Fackler, former Spokane County Republican chairman, is joining the race for the state GOP chairmanship. Current chair Luke Esser wants to keep the job and at least two others from western Washington are interested.

In a letter sent out today, Fackler questions the effectiveness of the party's statewide election efforts over the last 10 years, noting that “the last three party charis have been Seattle area attorneys.” Time for a change, he says, to someone who can recruit a broader range of candidates.”

Fackler has run thrice, unsuccessfully, for state Insurance Commissioner, losing in the primary in 2008, 2004 and 2000. But because of this he says he understands the challenges of recruiting and running statewide.

As Spokane County chair, Fackler was able to work with the Libertarians and the more establishment wings of the party for the 2008 election. He could appeal to the Tea Party wing that might feel their favorite candidate for the U.S. Senate, Clint Didier, got the short shrift once leaders in the other Washington settled on Dino Rossi for the race.

Unknown at this point: Will party officials look askance at Fackler's decision to run as an independent in the 2008 insurance commissioner primary, or chalk it up to a willingness to try unusual tactics to knock off a Democratic incumbent?

State reorganization meeting is a week from Saturday.

WA Lege Day 1: Pomp. Circumstances. Fireworks?

OLYMPIA — Washington's 105-day legislative session formally gets underway at noon, with the official and officious opening ceremonies in each chamber.

It's the time for swearing in. Simple swearing to come later.

One potential glitch in the Senate involves the swearing in of Nick Harper of Snohomish County's 38th District. There's a dispute over the primary election, in which incumbent Sen. Jean Berkey was edged out in the three-way race thanks to some surreptitious support of Republican Rod Rieger, funnelled into the campaign by Moxie Media.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, has a resolution not to seat Harper. Nothing personal against Harper, Kastama says; just trying to stick up for good, honest elections.

Harper, who had nothing to do with Moxie's maneuvering, calls the resolution “insulting and damaging” to the voters of the 38th, because it leaves them without a representative.

Usually, the seating of recently elected senators and representatives is pro forma, although there are a few historic case in which the Legislature has refused to seat, or at least delayed seating, someone elected in the previous election.

Not to read too much into the tea leaves, but the official Senate roster on the legislative web site, lists Harper, but the Senate Democratic Caucus website still lists Berkey…but then it also lists Spokane's Chris Marr and some of the others who lost in last year's election. It's likely the caucus web gurus have been busy with other stuff.

Some things we could go all session without hearing

OLYMPIA – When the Legislature starts Monday, it would be nice if the first bill they passed would outlaw certain stock phrases that are already worn out.
The much-needed Bill to Ban Over-Used Rhetoric might contain the following:
“Everything is on the table…” when used to describe someone’s view of how to cut the budget.
Everything is NEVER on the table. For example, the state has a constitutional duty to provide for the basic education of its children. You can argue what constitutes basic education, but you can’t argue that the state can stop paying for education.
Similarly, the state sells bonds to build things now, and promises to pay them back over time. Putting bond payments “on the table” suggests the state would renege on its legal obligations, and no one in their right mind would do that. The list of somethings that can’t be on the table is actually pretty long.


  

If Eags win, gov to eat lima beans

OLYMPIA — Flush from her winnings over the Holiday Bowl, Gov. Chris Gregoire has made another bet on a Washington football team, the Eastern Washington University Eagles.

Gregoire bet big on the U-Dub Huskies against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, salmon for Omaha steaks, and won the steaks from her Nebraska counterpart. So with the Eags playing the Delaware Blue Hens for the Division I championship, Gregoire made a bet Thursday with Delaware Gov. Jack Markel.

Blue Hens win, Gregoire will send some Walla Walla wine, steaks and Washington potatoes east to Delaware. Eags win, Markell will send some Dogfish Head Beach Beer (non alcoholic; it's a local root beer) Delaware chicken and lima beans west to Olympia.

Let see: Walla Walla wine vs, root beer. Steak vs. chicken. Potatoes vs. lima beans.

Seems pretty clear who's getting the better end of the betting line here.

Ephrata couple new multi millionaires

 

Jim and Carolyn McCullar check to see how much money he brought to Olympia to pick up their Mega Million jackpot winnings. He had $8 in his pocket.

OLYMPIA – When Jim McCullar woke his wife Carolyn shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday night, she was worried he was having another heart attack.
“Are you OK?” the Ephrata woman asked her husband of 41 years.
“Yeah. I'm perfect.”
A few seconds earlier, Jim McCullar was watching television, and switched from the Glenn Beck show to catch the weather on KHQ. “Stephanie Vigil looked me right in the eye and said ‘This is what you've been waiting for. The Mega Million Dollar lottery numbers.’ She read off the six numbers, and Jim McCullar knew they’d won because those were the numbers the couple always play: her birthday, and his.
  

Simpson ejects ‘birther’ for outburst

Idaho's Rep. Mike Simpson was holding the gavel today while part of the U.S. Constitution was being read on the floor of the House of Representatives, and he was quick to bring it down on someone shouting out a challenge to President Barack Obama's citizenship.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., was reading from Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the part that says who can be president, and got to “No person, except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President…” when a cry came from the gallery.

“Except Obama! Except Obama!” a woman shouted.

Simpson banged the gavel, reminded everyone present of the need for following the rules of the House, and ordered the sergeant of arms to eject the woman.

New Mega millionaire intro at 2 p.m.

OLYMPIA — The owner of one of two winning tickets in the Mega Million lottery drawing will be introduced to the public at 2 p.m. today, the Washington Lottery office says.

Before taxes, the ticket is worth about $190 million.

The name of the winner hasn't been released, but the ticket was sold in Ephrata, and the ticket holder made the trip over this morning for the ceremonial presentation of an oversized check.

Gov. Chris Gregoire joked at this morning's press conference that after meeting the winner at lunch, she'll ask for a loan for the state.

More live TV coming to Spokane’s CityCable 5

Spokane's local government cable TV station is improving its live offerings.

Starting on Jan. 19, CityCable 5 will begin airing live the monthly meetings of the Spokane Transit Authority board.

The transit board has some big votes in the coming months, including deciding which routes and services will scaled back to deal with budget problems.

Spokane's Communication Director Marlene Feist, who oversees CityCable 5, said City Councilwoman Amber Waldref, an STA board member, requested the live coverage.

STA is the fourth governing board that the station will carry live on a regular basis. The others are the Spokane County Commission, Spokane City Council and the Spokane Park Board. The channel occassionally carries Spokane Plan Commission meetings live.

STA's meetings are at 5:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month.

Stephens ‘most influential’ on high court

OLYMPIA — Justice Debra Stephens, the Washington Supreme Court's newest member, is also its most influential, a conservative think tank says.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation gave Stephens, the first woman from Eastern Washington to serve on the state's highest court, its first-ever ranking of most influential.

The group based that on the number of majority decisions written, the number of times she's been in the majority, the number of votes that support the opinions she's written, and the number of times she's been the key vote in close cases.

Writing in the group's Supreme Court of Washington Blog, Michael Reitz said that last year, the court had 22 cases that were decided 5-4. Stephens wrote six of those opinions, the most of any justice. and she was in the majority 75 percent of the time, also more than any justice.

McMorris Rodgers swaps committees

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers moved onto the House Energy and Commerce Committee and off the Armed Services, Natural Resources and Education and Labor committees.

She'll serve on three E & C subcommittees: Energy and Power, Environment and the Economy, and Health. From those, the Eastern Washington Republican said, she'll be involved in issues that include health care, technology and energy independence.

E & C has oversight for the departments of Energy, Transportation, and Health and Human Services, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

McIntire to Lege: Get ‘er done quick

OLYMPIA — The Legislature should not dilly-dally with a supplemental state budget that figures out how to reduce expenses through the end of June, State Treasurer James McIntire said Wednesday.

They should pass the revised spending plan by the end of the month “without gimmmicks or delay” to keep the state general fund from running a deficit for the first time in three decades.

In what McIntire himself describes as a strongly worded letter to the heads of the two parties in the two houses and Gov. Chris Gregoire, the state's banker essentially tells legislators not to do what they are want to do, delay tough spending decisions. It could lower the state's bond rating and cost hundreds of millions over the next few years.

“A credit rating downgrade now would take several years to reverse, and would increase interest costs by several hundred million dollars for bond-financed state capital and transportation budgets and for virtually all local K-12 school district bonds, which are guaranteed by the state,” he wrote.

Gregoire proposes education czar

Gov. Chris Gregoire explains proposals for education and higher education at a press conference Wednesday.

OLYMPIA — All of Washington's education systems and programs, from preschool through graduate degrees at universities, should be working together and overseen by a single office, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday.

Gregoire proposed creating the cabinet position of Secretary of Education — appointed by the governor and approved by the Legislature — and placing responsibility for the many “silos” of education at all age levels into that office. That would include the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a constitutionally mandated official, elected by voters every four years, just as the governor is.

The state could eliminate the elective position, or keep it and have the OSPI report to the Education Secretary, Gregoire said at a morning press conference. “I'm comfortable either way.”

The current occupant of that office, Randy Dorn, is not comfortable with the idea. Wednesday afternoon he suggested it was a power grab by the governor…
  

Gorton named to redistricting panel

Slade Gorton and Tom Huff in front of maps of the current congressional and legislative districts.

OLYMPIA — Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton was named today to the panel that will redraw congressional and legislative boundaries because of the state's population growth.

Gorton, a three-term Republican senator and former state attorney general, was selected by Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt for a seat on the Redistricting Commission. Former state Rep. Tom Huff, R-Gig Harbor, was named to the panel by House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt.

They join Democratic appointees Dean Foster, former clerk of the House and a member of the 2001 redistrcting commission, and Tim Cies, former deputy mayor of Seattle. The four appointed members select a fifth commissioner to serve as the non-voting chairman.

As a legislator in the 1960s, Gorton was in the middle of a highly partisan fight over redistricting that tied up the Legislature for more than a month. Out of that fight came a state constitutional amendment that established the commission with appointees from each of the four legislative leaders and a non-voting chair. ” don not believer there is any state…that does its redistricting in a better fashion,” he said.

Washington will gain a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and all nine of its current districts have too many people. It's too soon to tell where the 10th seat will go, but Eastern Washington will gain in the redrawing, Gorton said. Right now, two of the nine districts are located east of the Cascades. Because of population growth, one more district will either have to take in voters on both sides of the Cascades or extend up the Columbia River into Eastern Washington, he said.

McCaslin retiring from state Senate

OLYMPIA — Sen. Bob McCaslin, the most senior member of the Legislature who has represented Spokane Valley's 4th District for 30 years, is retiring because of health problems.

In a prepared statement, McCaslin said health problems have resurfaced that have changed his plans to serve out his term, which ends in 2012.

“I’ve always tried not to let the years slow me down or affect my ability to serve the people of the 4th District, but as my doctors have made clear to me, that can no longer be the case,”

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, confirmed that McCaslin called him this morning to say he would not be returning to Olympia for the upcoming session, which starts Monday.

“I'm going to miss him,” Hewitt said, adding that McCaslin served as both the institutional memory of the Senate Republican caucus and a calming influence during contentious times.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she would miss McCaslin's wit and knowledge of legislative procedure: “He was a real gentleman on the floor, and really humorous.” Although a conservative from a conservative district, McCaslin's work with Sen. Jeanne Kohl Wells, a Seattle liberal, on medical marijuana research was an example of how people who disagree 90 percent of the time can find common ground, she said.

Brown recalled when she was first elected to the House and went to meet McCaslin, who was already a senior member of the delegation. “He shook my hand for the first time, looked at me and said 'I know you're a Democrat, but you've got to get a stronger  handshake.'”

McCaslin, 84, missed much of the 2010 legislative session because of heart surgery in February. He returned to Spokane for treatment, and in March resumed work at his other elective position on the Spokane Valley City Council.

He was first elected to the state Senate in 1980, and has easily dispatched Democratic challengers every four years since. He ran against then-Mayor Rich Munson and won a seat on the Valley Council in 2009.

His retirement means Republican precinct committee officers in the 4th Legislative District will choose up to three nominees as a replacement. Spokane County Commissioners would then select one of the nominees by a majority vote. If the commission were to deadlock, the seat would be filled by the governor.

State Rep. Larry Crouse, the Valley's senior House member, said McCaslin had talked about retiring after last November's election, but had been feeling well enough in the fall that he had made plans to return for the 2011 session. At dinner on Monday night, Crouse said, McCaslin told him his doctor advised him not to do that.

Crouse said he was not going to apply for the Senate seat, because it would involve trading his seniority in the House, where he is among the most senior members, for freshman status in the Senate. “It's the same work, the same hours, the same pay. I just feel I could do more for the district in the House.”

Four or five Republicans may seek the appointment, Crouse said, including state Rep. Matt Shea.

Lege leaders: Tax hikes, probably no; Basic Health, Lifeline, maybe yes

OLYMPIA — There's no chance the Legislature will ask voters for a tax increase for anything — except maybe for highways and other transportation projects — legislative leaders said today.

Appearing at forum to preview the upcoming legislative session, the Democratic and Republican leaders of both chambers agreed the Legislature will have to cut billions from the state's general fund spending rather than trying to raise taxes to fill some of the gap between expected revenues and the cost of state programs and salaries.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said there was a chance the Legislature could put a “transportation package” on the November ballot for major road and bridge projects. “Any details would obviously have to be worked out. I'd like to see the North-South Corricer as part of the projects.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, was doubtful:  “The state doesn't have any money. It's going to be difficult to get anything past the voters.”

But Republican and Democratic leaders balked at Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to eliminate two major programs for the poor, state-funded Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline for people who are unable to work because they are disabled.

“I don't think it's in our best interest to eliminate this,” House Speaker Frank Chopp said.

Hewitt agreed, saying the programs might needs some revisions, a drop in benefit payments or tighter limits on eligibility, but were still needed to “catch the people at the bottom.” The state might consider making everyone reapply for the programs, as it did in 2003, which resulted in a 30 percent drop in participation because some recipients were no longer eligible.

“We're going to look for an alternative to completely eliminating them,” Brown said.

McKenna: Rein in prisoners’ use of Public Records Act

OLYMPIA – Prison inmates would be barred from collecting damages in public records fights with state government and could be banned from court if they repeatedly file frivolous suits under bills supported this year by Attorney General Rob McKenna.



The state would also put more restrictions on eminent domain foreclosures and crack down on mail theft in legislative proposals McKenna unveiled Monday with legislators from both parties who support them.

Washington’s scheduled 105-day legislative session starts next Monday.

State law requires government agencies to release public records, and allows anyone who is denied a public record to sue and receive damages if a court agrees the record was public and should have been released by the government agency that denied the request….
  

Today’s fun video: One last, cynical look at 2010

If you aren't tired of looking back over 2010, this video is fun, despite its cynicism.

Adios 2010. It’s been real

Before 2010 fades into the memory’s equivalent of a fuzzy Polaroid, it seems appropriate to look back on the best and worst of the year in politics. Here are Spin Control’s nominations:


Worst prediction: In April, Gov. Chris Gregoire forecast that the Legislature would go into extra innings and finish up work on the supplemental budget in no more than seven days. They went past midnight into the 30th day.

Best prediction: In December, Gregoire said the Legislature could handle a special session in a day to cut even more from the supplemental budget. They didn’t even use the whole 24 hours, and wrapped up at 5 p.m.

Worst political calculation: Legislative Democrats’ decision to add a two-cent per can tax on soda as part of a temporary plan to raise state revenue from last May through June 2013. That tax, which never really had a hearing in the regular session or the special add-on session, prompted the American Beverage Association to pour more than $16 million into an initiative that rolled back not just the soda tax, but also taxes on bottled water, candy and some processed foods.

Best political calculation: Democrats decision to add $1 per pack onto cigarettes, and bump up other tobacco taxes. Tobacco users may be the most taxed, least respected segment of society, and no one even whispered a suggestion that they should be spared.

Most laughably untrue statement: The suggestion by Democrats and Republicans early last January that they could work together in a bipartisan fashion to solve the state’s fiscal problems. In an election year? Really?

Worst political idea of 2010: “Let’s have an income tax on rich people.” Even though this plan would have touched only small portion of state residents, the income tax has long been the third rail of politics and Initiative 1098 seemed doomed from the start.

Best political idea of 2010: “Let’s make it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes.” Requiring a two-thirds majority may be small “d” undemocratic, leave the Legislature hostage to a handful of fiscal conservatives and yada, yada, yada. But the voters love it, and until the Legislature makes its case for returning to a simple majority, Tim Eyman and allies can raise money for an initiative just as often as the Lege can repeal one.

Most underrated politician in Washington: Patty Murray, who is regularly derided by Republicans as less than brilliant, ineffective, too tied to D.C., or out of touch, proved – yet still again – that she understands state voters better than any of the GOP challengers they throw against her. Add Dino Rossi to a list that includes Rod Chandler, Linda Smith and George Nethercutt, and don’t even think about saying she only wins because of presidential coattails or she lucks out and gets to run in big Democratic years.

Most over-anticipated political event: Rossi’s entry into the Senate race. He waited so long, and generated so much speculation, that by the time he did announce everyone thought he’d been running for months.

Most over-used phrase: “The will of the people”, which was tossed out whenever one party in Olympia didn’t like what the other was doing. Changing an initiative they supported was flaunting the will of the people; changing an initiative they opposed was merely doing the work the people sent them to Olympia to do.

Phrase most in need of never being uttered again: “Mom in tennis shoes.” Democrats use it fondly and Republicans use it derisively for Patty Murray. Even if applied in her first run for the U.S. Senate, that was 18 years ago; she’s a three-term senator, and who cares about her choice of footwear?

Worst recruiting season: Eastern Washington Democrats, who failed to put up challengers to GOP incumbents in the Spokane Valley, the Palouse, the northeast’s 7th District, and one seat in Spokane’s 6th District held by a freshman House member. Many of the legislative districts east of the Cascades were similarly uncontested, so that the only Democrats winning legislative seats on this side of the mountains were the two in Spokane’s 3rd District.

Phoniest controversy: Fox News and GOP claims that Washington state was somehow “cheating” overseas troops by requesting a waiver to a federal law that requires ballots be mailed 45 days before Election Day. Because Washington continues to count ballots for two weeks after the election, the troops actually had more time to get their ballots back to this state than in most of the rest of the country.

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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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