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Spin Control

Archive for March 2011

Groups promise large protests next week

OLYMPIA — A coalition of labor unions, church groups, social service workers and progressive organizations plan to bring thousands of protesters to the state capital next week for a series of escalating demonstrations against budget cuts.

They'll try to put pressure on state legislators, who are still struggling to write a general operating fund budget for 2011-13, to end some tax exemptions for businesses rather than cutting money for social services, health care and education.

They're calling it a Week of Action, although technically  against what they contend is “an immoral budget”.

It will start Tuesday with what organizers say could be a few hundred people from the Olympia area by a group calling itself Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights.

On Wednesday a group calling itself the Alliance for a Just Society will be bringing people from around the state to Olympia to demand adequate funding for education and health care.

As part of the demonstrations, mental health care workers in Western Washington will stage a one-day strike on Thursday, not against their employers but against the state, which provides the bulk of their pay.

“We will come to Olympia to picket the Legislature,” Jonathan Rosenblum of Service Employees International Union 1199 said. Arrangements will be made with employers to provide adequate care for patients with acute medical needs. They'll be joined by home health care workers and some of their clients, and some church groups.

On Friday, the Washington State Labor Council, state employees unions and community activists will stage a demonstration that they say could bring as many as 6,000 to the Capitol for a rallly.

A common thread will be the demand that the Legislature consider closing some tax exemptions — the demonstrators prefer the term loopholes — for businesses. “Our economy was trashed by billionaires and bankers,” Greg Devereaux of the state employees union said. But the Legislature is going balance the budget by cutting programs for the poor and for students, he said.

Some leaders of the upcoming demonstrations suggested a few tax exemptions that should go — breaks for corporate jets or country club dues — but nothing that would come near closing the $5.1 billion gap between projected revenues and the cost of all current programs. Some said they wouldn't touch the state's biggest tax exemption, the lack of a sales tax on  food and prescription drugs.

Ending tax exemptions would be difficult this year, legislators of both parties have said, because they are considered a tax increase and an initiative voters passed last November that requires a two-thirds majority for any tax increase.

 

WA Lege Day 81: Plan to save MAC draws heavy opposition

OLYMPIA — Hearings started early today, with the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee holding a packed-room session on the plan to save museums in Spokane and Tacoma by creating a mega-agency for arts and culture.

Elswewhere in the Legislature, the Senate has a long list of bills — mostly uncontroversial — queued up for a vote. The House Ways and Means Committees has a list of bills that it must decide whether to send to the floor, and that list has some more controversial subjects, like medical marijuana rules, a health benefit exchange and changes to the GET program.

In the early morning State Government Committee hearing, HB 2033 was heavily criticized, with opponents who included state librarians, organizations ,that represent the blind and Secretary of State Sam Reed, as the wrong solution for a recognizable problem of not enough state funding for arts and culture programs.

The bill would combine state agencies that oversee archeology, historic preservation, heritage, the historical societies, the state library and others into a single Department of Arts and Culture. Among them would be the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, which operates the Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane, and the  Washington State Historical Society, which operates the State History Museum in Tacoma. Both museums lose most of their state funding in the budget proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

To come up with money to keep the museums open, as well as other arts and culture programs also facing major cuts, the proposal would take money currently being raised by fees on documents filed at county auditors offices, and put it under the control of the new mega agency. By funding the museums, however, the state would delay, or possibly eliminate, the planned state Heritage Center in Olympia.

Rep. Jeannie Darnielle, D-Tacoma, the bill's sponsor, looked out over the packed crowd and admitted it was tough to be in front of “an audience of people who hate you.” But desperate budget times call for unusual measures, she said.

“There are such significatn cuts that there are people on this dias who don't know why we even keep the arts,” Darnielle said.

Reed, whose office would lose the state library and the planned Heritage Center in Olympia, agreed proposed budget cuts spell trouble for arts and culture programs. But Darnielle's plan shifts money around and creates a mega-agency: “It is a bad idea.”

The plan was also criticized by members of the state's blind community, who wanted to protect the state's Braille and talking book program. “With all due respect, this legislation reeks of spin,” said Mike Freeman of the state chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.

Librarians opposed folding the state library into a mega agency. Tribal representatives had concerns of putting the Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, which has regulatory authority over tribal archeological sites, into the arts agency.

Some members of the arts community were supportive, as were representatives of Spokane and Tacoma, which would have major museums closed to the public under the governor's spending plan.

Al Aldrich, lobbyist for the city of Spokane, said the city supports the proposal: “it may be the perfect answer…but it is a good answer. Shutting down the MAC is not a good answer.”

The committee is scheduled to vote on whether to move the proposal to the Ways and Means panel on Friday. Even if it passes the House, however, the bill may founder in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, has already said the Senate is trying to find a way to fund the MAC and the State History Museum in Tacoma through the general operating fund budget and does not support tapping the money set aside for the Heritage Center.

Hound-hunting deal in the works

OLYMPIA – These adolescent males can be trouble. They wander around, get into fights on hostile turf, bother hard-working people just trying to make a living.
The experts don’t always agree on the best way to handle these problem teens. Should we hunt them down with dogs, and shoot more of them or less?
Oh, did you think we were talking about teenage boys? No, this group of adolescent males belong to the species puma concolor, also known as cougars, whose potential for increased confrontation with humans has for years been a point of contention between advocates of hound-hunting and its opponents.
An agreement struck this week between a major environmental group and an Eastern Washington legislator could be a truce in the long-running fight over hunting cougars with dogs, and lead to better state management of the big cats that some see as an icon of the West and others see as a hazard to people and livestock…


Read more about it, or comment, by clicking here.

WA Lege Day 80: Domestic partnership ‘reciprocity’ passes

OLYMPIA — The Senate agreed Washington should recognize domestic partnerships from other states, giving
28-19 approval to a bill that now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

On a largely party line vote, the Senate approved HB 1649, which allows domestic partnerships and other contracctual unions of same-sex couples from other states to be recognized in Washington. Same-sex marriages, which aren't recognized in Washington, would be treated the same as domestic partnerships under the bill.

Opponents argued that it was an expansion of state law into the recognition of same-sex marriage, but supporters said it was really about equality for couples who had a partnership in another state and move to Washington.

Among Spokane-area legislators, voting yes was Lisa Brown, D; voting no were Mike Baumgartner, Jeff Baxter, Bob Morton and Mark Schoesler, all R.

WA Lege Day 80: Senate gives OK to liquor sampling

OLYMPIA — The Senate approved a plan to allow liquor sampling in a handful of state liquor stores as a test program.

By a 31-17 vote, the Senate approved an amended version of HB 1202, which would allow 30 state liquor stores to set up sampling programs of distilled spirits, similar to wine sampling at some state stores and wine shops.

Samplers would get up to four quarter-ounce samples of whiskey or other distilled liquors. They'd have to be at least 21 (duh). The pilot program would last from this September to September 2012.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach, spoke against it, warning of expansion of the state's liquor monopoly: “A creep…of the state liquor monopoly into what private industry should be doing.”

The bill now goes back to the House, which approved a slightly different version.

WA Lege Day 80: Domestic partnerships, $$ from the feds, more on medical pot, stadium taxes

OLYMPIA — Hearings continue today on a wide range of ideas, and the Senate has a floor session this morning to move some bills.

The most controversial bill scheduled for a floor vote is probably HB 1649, which extends reciprocity on domestic partnerships to same-sex couples who move to Washington from other states where they had a partnership, civil union or a marriage.

Of note on the hearing schedule is HJM 8008, a resolution asking the federal government to give Washington state money if it gives other states some cash to  help shore up their faltering unemployment insurance programs. Washington's program isn't faltering, in fact the Legislature passed a law earlier this year to keep rates from going up because the fund is so healthy. But state officials are arguing that they shouldn't be left out of the federal largesse, just because they acted responsibly on the unemployment system while some other states didn't.

There's yet another hearing on SB 5073, a proposal to set up a system to distribute medical marijuana in Washington. This  one is in the House Ways and Means Committee, which is involved because there are some fiscal implications to the plan to regulate the growing, production and distribution of medical marijuana. The panel also has bills on taxes on rental cars, sexually violent predators, all-dayu kindergarten and employee contracts for University of Washington, so it's a pretty eclectic afternoon in House Ways and Means.

Senate Ways and Means, meanwhile, has perhaps the hottest potato of the afternoon, HB 1997, a plan to extend a “temporary” tax imposed on hotel and motel rooms in King County to  help pay for Mariners stadium (feel free to insert  your favorite quote about the permanence of temporary taxes here.) The money would be funneled into housing projections, arts and culture programs and improvements at the Washington Convention and Trade Center in Seattle.

The House Public Safety Committee has a hearing on recommendations to make the state's corrections system safer, proposals that come from the study in the wake of the murder of a guard at the Monroe Corrections Center.

And no, there is no sign of a General Operating Fund Budget from the House at this point…just in case you were wondering. But heck, we've got 25 whole days left until Easter and the end of the session.

Date set for new car tab fee

Owners of cars registered in Spokane will start paying an additional $20 to license their cars starting Sept. 1 to pay for the city’s new vehicle tax.

The state Department of Licensing finalized the date earlier this month.

The Spokane City Council approved the tab fee on Feb. 14. State law says tab fees become effective six months after approval. Department of Licensing spokesman Brad Benfield said the state prefers to start collections at the beginning of a month.

The council created a Transportation Benefit District last year. That decision gave the city the ability to approve tab taxes up to $20 without voter approval.

City officials expect to collect about $2.6 million in the first full year of collections. Most of the money will be used for street maintenance. Ten percent was earmarked for sidewalks.

In Spokane, the total required fees for most passenger cars, including the tax, will increase to $63.75. Vehicles weighing from 4,001 to 6,000 pounds will pay $73.75, and vehicles from 6,001 pounds to 8,000 pounds will pay $83.75.

Senate passes $100 fee for electric vehicles

OLYMPIA —A proposed $100 fee on electric vehicles, to  help pay for road construction and maintenance from which those cars benefit without paying gasoline taxes, passed the Senate today after a ruling that it needed only a simple majority.

SB 5251 would require electric car owners to pay an extra C-note every year when they get their license tabs. Supporters say it's only fair that they pay for some of the wear and tear on the roads, while opponents say that it's a way of punishing electric car drivers after years of encouraging them to get away from internal combustion engines and save the planet.

A vote on the bill was delayed last week when Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, questioned whether it wasn't really a tax, which would require a two-thirds majority for approval. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who decides such things as president of the Senate, had the issue researched and ruled around noon today that no, it's a fee and needs only a simple majority.

The proposal passed 30-16, with one absent and two excused.Among Spokane-area legislators, Lisa Brown, Bob Morton and Mark Schoesler voted yes, Mike Baumgartner and Jeff Baxter voted no.

The bill has a formula for how the fees would be distributed, once a special fund created for that money reaches $1 million. It must still pass the House.

The sounds of marching, charging feet…

Several marches and demonstrations are on the calendar in the coming days, and the summer's not even here*. Here's a quick list:

March to Demand Peace and Promote Justice
3 p.m. Sunday
Starts at Veterans Memorial Arena, ends at Riverfront Park. Organizers say it will “honor our commitment after the failed bombing (of the MLK Day march in January) and arrest of a suspect.”

Labor Rights Demonsration
7:30 a.m. Monday
Broadway and Maple. Sign waving by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

We Are One Rally
4:30 p.m. Monday
North Division and Ruby.
Organizers say it's part of national effort “to raise awareness of the vital importance of the labor movement”.

If any of that interests you, mark your calendar. If any of these bug you and may be along your planned routes for those days, consider yourself forewarned to make a detour.

 

*Reference to old Rolling Stones song. Sorry, couldn't resist.
  

W. Plains/Spokane-I transportation study draft available

The draft version of the West Plains Spokane International Airport transportation study, that looks at continued development of the business park and the effects that will have on the roads out there, was released this morning.

There's a month left to comment on it. Want to see what it has to say, maybe add your 2 cents? Click here to go to the online version of the study.

WA Lege Day 79: Another deadline

OLYMPIA — It's another cut off day in the Legislature, in which appropriations bills  have to get out of their committees today or risk oblivion.

That doesn't count for bills in the Ways and Means or Capital committees, but the various other spending committees are under the gun to get 'er done today.

The Senate will be voting on bills sometime this morning after returning from caucuses.

Here's the list, all likely to pass:

  • 2SHB 1362 Homeowner foreclosures
  • ESHB 1716 Secondhand dealers/metal
  • HB 1016 Firearm noise suppressors
  • HB 1412 H.S. math assessments
  • HB 1229 Commercial drivers
  • HB 1069 Unclaimed remains
  • SHB 1294 Puget Sound corps

And no, there's no sign of a House General Operating Budget at this point. And yes, we all know there are only 26 days, at most left, in the regular session.

Snyder, Stark say they’re unlikely to run for council president

The field of candidates  to replace council President Joe Shogan remains just two.

In recent weeks, City Councilman Jon Snyder and former City Councilman Brad Stark considered entering the race for council president, but both say they likely will stay out of the contest.

“I looked at it, and it's a definitely winnable race,” Stark said.

But Stark, who served four years on the council and lost his seat to Richard Rush in 2007, said he decided his focus should remain on his job and family: “I don't foresee myself running.”

Snyder, like Stark, said he was approached by supporters to consider a run.

“I came to the conclusion very quickly that this is not an opportune time,” Snyder said.

That leaves the race for now between Ben Stuckart, executive director for Communities in Schools of Spokane County, and City Councilman Steve Corker.

Former City Councilman Steve Eugster filed paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission in 2009 indicating he would run for council president this year, but Eugster said late last year that he had changed his mind about running.

Spanaway man running for president. Or SPI. Time will tell

OLYMPIA — If you can remember when March of the year before a presidential election was way too early to be talking about the field of candidates with designs on the White House, you're probably old enough to remember when television was mostly black and white and national television news was dominated by three networks with avuncular anchormen.

Now the horse race for the next presidential election starts the day after the votes are counted in the last election, fed by the need for 24-hour news networks and online news&views sites to generate content. It also keeps the publishing houses busy, because any candidate worth his or her salt must prove gravitas by writing a book that can be purchased by the pundits, who then discuss the book and its critics, the candidates response to the critics, the critics response to the criticisim of their critiques…

Spin Control is reluctant to get into discussion of the 2012 presidential race quite so soon, but did recently receive a press release from a Washington state man announcing his plans to run.

Don Hansler of Spanaway said he will be the nominee of the Common Sense Party, providing, of course that he can muster the people needed to constitute an independent third party of that name, hold a national convention in Tacoma next July and get on the ballot in 50 states.

So is Hansler, a retired Bellevue math and science teacher, delusional? No, although he allows  “I might sound like a kook to most people. My chances of getting elected president are not zero, but they're probably pretty close to zero.”

So why send out a press release announcing the campaign? in part it's a way of generating interest in his book, “Rescuing America”, in which he discusses 10 problems facing America and how to fix them. Aha, you say, another scheme to generate profits for the publishing houses.

Ask him about a platform or a way to solve any of the nation's problems, he replies: “Read my book.” That may sound like a publishing ploy, but Hansler's book is self-published, and he's only asking $7.24 to cover printing and shipping, so no one's getting rich off this one.

“I'm my own campaign chairman and my own treasurer,” Hansler said. But he's not a complete political novice. He ran for governor in the 2004 primary, and for superintendent of public instruction in the 2008 primary. Didn't make the cut either time.

If his third-party presidential candidacy doesn't gel by next summer, he's drop that plan and run again for SPI, which would be OK with him  because education issues are really his main thing.

For information about the book, go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 78: House budget today?

OLYMPIA — A House version of the 2011-13 general operating fund budget is rumored to be set for release today. Nothing official yet, but folks from the governor on down last week were pegging the release for today.

Gov. Chris Gregoire also observed that there would then be less than a month left in the session to work that spending plan through the process…the prospects for which she didn't seem terribly sanguine about.

It's a state furlough day, so many state employees have the day off without pay as a way of balancing out the 2009-11. Furloughs don't apply to legislators, however, so they have floor sessions and committee hearings.

When Ferraro did Spokane

It was just days after the 1984 Democratic National Convention, when she'd been named the first woman vice presidential candidate on a major party's ticket, that Geraldine Ferraro did Spokane.

For those who can't remember back that far, think back to 2008, when another relatively obscure female elected official was a surprise addition to the Republican ticket. There are plenty of differences between Ferraro and Sarah Palin, to be sure, but the level of interest the two generated in those first few weeks of campaigning was about the same.

And Ferraro was sent on a Northwest swing, hitting Spokane for a late afternoon rally in the Davenport lobby, then overnighting at what was then the Sheraton Hotel before flying to Portland. A crowd estimated at 2,500   packed the main floor and mezzanine before the fire marshall said “that's all, folks.”  Another thousand or so were outside, and some of them were not fans, but foes of abortion who came with signs that accused her of “waging war on the unborn.”

Whether the Davenport's air conditioning couldn't keep up or was just non-existant, I can't remember. But it was hot, Ferraro was running late and a few people were starting to pass out before she arrived to chants of “We want Gerry.”

She noticed a sign in the crowd that said “Jane Wyman was right, Dump Reagan”, read it for a laugh and gave a rally speech that was sometimes hard to hear over the cheering. She warned of growing deficits, turning Ronald Reagan's phrase of a rising tide lifting all boats to say the tide that's rising is red ink. If that sounds a bit like 2011, it's important to note that she followed it with the 1984 Democrats' solution for solving the deficit, raising taxes. “Let's raise them fairly,” she said.

Outside, a group from the Montana Democratic Party was hawking the poster shown above, that featured Ferraro as the key character in Delacroix's painting of Liberty Leading the People. (Mondale had a smaller role, with a stove-pipe hat and a musket that sported an ERA sign). The Montanans had printed 20,000 posters which were going so fast they'd ordered another 50,000.

In an interview the next morning, Ferraro was asked what she thought of the poster, which she had been autographing for the national press corps assigned to her campaign. She laughed and said she was glad they altered it a bit — the original Lady Liberty was bare from the waist up, but she was tastefully draped in white gauze.

She talked about how she wasn't going to be the “attack dog” of the campaign, a role assigned to Bob Dole in 1976. But when talking about all of Ronald Reagan's policies that she thought were wrong, it was hard not to go a bit on the attack, she added.

When the interview was over and her press aides were saying the bus was about to leave for the airplane, she looked out the Sheraton window, across the Spokane River to the east and asked about the twin steeples. St. Al's Church at Gonzaga, she was told.

And that odd shaped building a few blocks this way? The Museum of Native American Cultures, which has a great collection of Indian artifacts, I said.

“I'd like to see that some day,” she said. “If I win, I'll come back and you can show it to me.”

She didn't win, of course, and the campaign was as brutal to her and her family as the 2008 campaign would be to Palin.

As far as I know she never returned to Spokane, which is too bad. The MONAC isn't a museum any more, but there's a great collection at the Museum of Arts and Culture. And the Davenport is much nicer…the air conditioning actually works.

The posters sell on EBay from time to time for $35-$50.

Geraldine Ferraro died Saturday of blood cancer at age 75.

WA Lege Day 75: House passes tranportation budget

OLYMPIA — The House overwhelmingly passed an $8.9 billion spending plan for roads, bridges and ferries for 2011-13 this afternoon.

On an 89-6 vote, the House sent its transportation plan, HB 1175, to the Senate, which has a plan with some key differences. A story on the House transpo budget rollout can be found here.

Among Spokane-area representatives, John Ahern, Larrly Crouse, Susan Fagan, Joel Kretz, Joe Schmick and Shelly Short, all R, and Andy Billig and Timm Ormsby, both D, voted yes. Matt Shea, R, voted no.

Brown: Senate looking for other way to save MAC

OLYMPIA — Fans of Spokane's Museum of Arts and Culture who were cheered by news the House may tap a special fund to keep the MAC open should be warned: The Senate isn't wild about the idea.

As reported Thursday, the House has a new bill that would take money from a fund set up build a Heritage Center in Olympia to keep open the MAC and the State History Museum in Tacoma. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 8 a.m. next Thursday in the House State Government Committee.

But Senate Majority Lisa Brown, whose district includes the MAC, said Friday if the bill gets out of the House it could run into trouble in the Senate: “We want to come up with a source of funding. We don't want to go down that road.”

The Senate hopes to find money for the MAC and the Tacoma museum in the general operating fund budget, Brown said.

WA Lege Day 75: Senate OKs phosphorus fertilizer ban for lawns

OLYMPIA — The Senate approved a ban on phosphorus in lawn fertilizers, but with changes that will send the bill  back to the House for another vote.

Among the changes: HB 1489 no longer exempts commercial organic fertilizers that contain phosphorus, and no longer has a broad statement about the problems the chemical can cause because of disputed research. It still allows phosphorus fertilizers to be used to get lawns started or to restore damaged lawns, and is aimed at discouraging residential users from putting the chemical on healthy lawns for fear that it will wash off with the rain or excessive watering, then flow into nearby lakes and streams.

It's opposed by farm groups but supported by some cities, including the City of Spokane, as well as other entities that discharge into the Spokane River as a way to reduce the phosphorus levels in the river and Lake Spokane, where the chemical is thought to contribute to algae problems.

Among the companies backing the ban is the Inland Empire Paper Company, which has the same corporate parent as The Spokesman-Review.

The bill passed 32-16, but not before a floor debate that included a dispute over, ahem, human waste in organic fertilizers.

“All human waste contains phosphorus,” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said.

OK then. Good to know.

WA Lege Day 75: Workers comp is 100

OLYMPIA — There's an air of TGIF around the Capitol, with light schedules in committees and some morning floor activity.

The Senate has a resolution commemorating the 100th anniversary of the state's Workers Compensation System. Democrats may be eager to wish it many happy returns but some Republicans and many in the business community would like to see it retired, if not pushing up daisies. (Speaking of flowers, spring is starting to take hold around Olympia, with daffodils up and cherry trees starting to blossom.) When that's done, they are scheduled to vote on several bills including banning phosphorus in lawn fertilizer and assessing fees for electric vehicles to make them help pay for road construction and maintenance that's covered by gasoline taxes.

The House is expected to vote on a Transportation Budget and a bill that would make vote-by-mail the standard throughout the state…which is to say, get rid of poll site voting in Pierce County.

It's a cut-off day, and any policy bill from one chamber that isn't out of the committee in the other chamber by day's end is essentially dead.

Speaking of anniversaries, it's the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which helped crystallize the modern labor movement. There's a demonstration to mark that anniversary in Spokane at 5 p.m. tonight at the corner of Ruby and North Division.

WA Lege Day 74: Plan to keep MAC open surfaces

OLYMPIA — A proposal that would keep the Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane and the State History Museum in Tacoma open, by taking money from a fund to build a Heritage Center in Olympia, was introduced today in the House.

Supported by Spokane Reps. Andy Billig, Kevin Parker and Timm Ormsby, as well as members from the Tacoma area and even Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, the plan also creates a state Department of Heritage, Arts and Culture, which would oversee the three facilities.

“Rather than saving for a new museum, we're going to save two excellent museums we already have,” Billig said Thursday. “Ideally we would do it all, but we're not in ideal conditions.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed is not a fan. “It's like killing one institution to save two others.” Finding money for the two museums is “vitally important” but taking money for the Heritage Center — which would primarily be a home for the state archives and state library, and with display space but not a full-blown museum — is the wrong way to do it, he said….

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 74: New workers comp bill in works. House budget coming next week?

OLYMPIA — An attempt to breathe life back into efforts to revise the state's workers compensation system will be released late today or Friday by the governor's office — a new bill that tries to find savings to help make the system solvent, Gov. Chris Gregoire said.

What it won't have, she said, is a provision for “compromise and release” a change much desired by business and much loathed by organized labor. A bill with that change, which passed the Senate weeks ago, is bottled up in the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee, and isn't likely to see the light of day.

Republican House leadership believes they could pass that bill if they could get it to the floor. Democrats say they couldn't, and Gregoire said she's not taking any chances.

Her new bill will have a provision for voluntary settlements for workers over age 55, along with a freeze of cost of living adjustments and offsets of workers comp payments with Social Security, and a Rainy Day fund system, she said. But no compromise and release.

“I'm not willing to risk…it fails and we have nothing and go home,” Gregoire said.

The Legislature has one month left in its regular session, and still has not produced a comprehensive budget in either house to address the 2011-13 biennium and a projected $5 billion shortfall between money expected to come in and money that would have to be spent for existing programs.

Gregoire said she's been told a spending plan from the House, which takes the lead this year on budget writing, should be released early next week. She's been told it will not propose an increase in gambling to increase state revenue. If any legislator has such an idea, “they need to tell me…because there are real legal issues associated with the tribes.”

The state and many of the tribes have gaming compacts that define what each can offer in the way of gambling.

Taking the idea initiative

OLYMPIA — Two questions for the big thinkers out there:

Do you have an idea how to improve Washington state in the future?

Do you think it would stack up so well to other peoples' ideas that it could make the top 100?

If so, a group calling itself 100 Ideas for Washington's Future has a deal for you. (And, of course, a website, because you can't do anything in 2011 without a website.)

The group is trying to get as many ideas as possible to an Advisory Board that will divvy them up, check them out and try to come up an even hundred. Those top 100 will go in sort of a greatest hits book, with details of the ideas and attribution to the person or persons who thought it up. The book will go to government officials, civic leaders and others around the state, and could wind up as legislation or administrative laws if any of them have a “Eureka!” moment while perusing the pages.

The program is the brainchild of Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, who is getting an assist from several other elected officials, including Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane. Hope notes, however, that it's been tried successfully in Florida and Oklahoma, so they aren't coming up with this completely out of the blue.

Adults who come up with a list-making idea will have the satisfaction of seeing themselves in the book, and possible of seeing their idea turned into a law or a policy. High school or college students who come up with one would be eligible for scholarship money.

There's a few unknowns about this, Hope said this week when announcing the program. One is the size of the scholarships, which will depend on the donations. The other is some of the funding; they're looking for donors to the 501 (c) 4, that is the main organization, and the 501 (c) 3 that will hold scholarship money.

The group is still looking for people to sit on its Advisory Board that already includes some state and local politicians, along with represenatives of academia and business.

Reagan Dunn, a King County councilmember and member of the board, said the program is about representative democracy. “It's a way to directly connect citizens to their government.”

While they mentioned transparency during the rollout at the Capitol Building, organizers said they won't necessarily be talking about where their money comes from, however. Hope said if someone wants to donate anonymously to the effort, or the scholarship program, theyl'll take it and not reveal the source. It's not a political organization or a campaign committee, so it's not subject to Public Disclosure Commission rules, Hope said.

And are there really 100 great ideas out there? Hope thinks so. When Gov. Chris Gregoire set up a website to ask for ideas to transform Washington, she got almost 2,000. A shortcoming for that process, he said, was that the person submitting the idea wasn't getting any credit. With this program, the top idea meisters would wind up  in the book with their name, picture and bio along with their idea.

if that's an incentive for you, check out 100 Ideas For Washington's Future.

WA Lege Day 74: Earlier primary, Ed Department

OLYMPIA — Committees are trying to wrap up “policy” bills with the approach of Friday's deadline that says they must be out of the committee in the second chamber if they want to stay alive.

So the Senate Government Ops has a hearing on moving the primary up a couple weeks in August so the state can get general election ballots to overseas voters sooner (and comply with federal law). It could  also be voting on whether booking photos are open to the public as soon as the suspect is charged. Senate Early Learning has a hearing on new version of a bill to create a state Department of Education, something Gov. Chris Gregoire is pushing to improve education systems from pre-school to grad school.

House Education is scheduled to vote on whether technology should be added as a “core concept”. House Higher Ed has a hearing on changes to the GET program that supporters say are needed to keep it solvent, and may vote out a bill involving a proposed University of North Puget Sound.

It is Science Day with folks from the Pacific Science Center in the Rotunda, and Catholic Advocacy Day, with the state Catholic Conference in the conference room.

In honor of the latter, dominus vobiscum.

Legislators to State Patrol: Stop gun dealer ‘fishing expedition’

OLYMPIA – Three dozen legislators are taking the Washington State Patrol to task for sending a letter to gun dealers that they fear is an unconstitutional “fishing expedition.”
The patrol, which is searching for one of its semiautomatic rifles that might be stolen, concedes the letter from an investigator “was not as well worded as it should be,” WSP spokesman Bob Calkins said. “We touched a never we had no intention of touching”. . .


To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Envision Spokane will make second run at ‘Community Bill of Rights’

Representatives from Envision Spokane on Wednesday moved forward on their plan to offer city voters a new version of its “Community Bill of Rights.”

In order to make the November ballot, the group will need to collect an amount of signatures from registered voters in Spokane equal to 5 percent of the total number who voted in Spokane in November 2009. That number is about 2,800.

The new proposal is a streamlined version of what the group proposed in 2009 when the longer proposal received only 21 percent support.

The new list would contain four rights, portions of which were in the 2009 proposal. They include extra requirements for the approval of certain kinds of development and protections for the Spokane River. Gone from Envision Spokane’s new “Community Bill of Rights” are stipulations for the city of Spokane to guarantee its residents affordable preventive health care, affordable housing, affordable and renewable energy and regulations on local banks.

A copy of the petition, which includes the proposal, is available here.

On health care reform birthday, not everyone happy

The federal Affordable Care Act, aka health care reform, aka Obamacare, turns one year old today.

Those who would like to celebrate with a cake and a candle include Gov. Chris Gregoire, who said in a prepared statement that it's doing good things including providing some 45,000 seniors with $250 toward prescription drug costs and keeping kids from being denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

Those who would be more likely to blow out the candle and wish the law would go awayh or be changed dramatically include Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who called it a disaster that is more expensive than suspected a year ago.

Somewhat coincidentally, the House Health Care Committee passed a bill to begin the process, albeit slowly, to set up health exchanges, one of the provisions of the act.

Want to read the full comments from Gregoire and McMorris Rodgers, or comment on them? Click here to go inside the blog…

WA Lege Day 73: Medical marijuana bill out of committee

OLYMPIA — The House Health Care Committee voted 6-5 this morning to send a new version of the medical marijuana bill to the floor.

The now heavily amended bill, SB 5073, would allow the state Health Department to decide how many medical marijuana dispensaries to be located in each county, and would set up a lottery for licenses for that number, so there's no guarantee the current dispensaries could stay in business after July 2012 when the new law takes effect.

It also provides additional protection from arrest for persons who receive a letter from their doctor that marijuana would be the right treatment for their condition. A patient can be on a voluntary state registry, which would protect him or her from both arrest and prosecution for possession of 24 ounces or less of marijuana, or  have the doctor's letter, which would protect from arrest, but could still result in prosecution where the medical marijuana defense could be argued.

The bill also forbids medical practices that are “solely” for recommending marijuana. That's a small but potentially significant change from the previous language, which banned practices “primarily” around recommending marijuana.

The requirement that dispensaries be nonprofit operations is also gone, and a collective marijuana operation can serve 10 people, rather than three under the old proposal. The Department of Agriculture would still be in charge of licensing marijuana growing and processing operations.

Health Committee Chairwoman Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, said she thought the new version had enough support to pass the House, predicting it would lose a few Democratic votes but pick up a few Republican votes. the original Senate bill  had bipartisan sponsorship.

The Health Care Committee had a busy morning in executive session, also sending to the floor a revised version of a bill to establish a health benefit exchange — a system that would allow small businesses and individuals to shop for health insurance from different companies and take advantage of potential discounts for larger numbers that some bigger employers receive. The exchanges are called for in the federal health care reform law that passed one year ago today.

An amended version of SB 5445, which Republicans said would slow the process down while federal courts decide if the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and Congress decides how to pay for it, passed 9-2.

Senate Transportation Budget: No $ for Keller Ferry

OLYMPIA – The two legislative committees trying to decide how to spend nearly $9 billion on transportation over the next two years “largely agree” on how to spend it, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen said Tuesday.
Neither would seek an increase in the gasoline tax this year, although some members of both panels say that could happen in 2012. Both would spend nearly $72 million on the next phase of Spokane’s North-South freeway.
There is one big difference between the two budgets for Eastern Washington, however. The House proposal sets aside some $12 million to replace the 63-year-old Keller Ferry, which crosses the Columbia River between Ferry and Lincoln counties. The Senate proposal sets aside no money to replace it, and specifically states  that none be spent.
“As long as the boat continues to float, I’m not so sure it’s as big a priority,” Haugen, the Camano Island Democrat and longtime head of the Senate Transportation Committee, said as the panel’s spending plan was released…
  

 To continue reading this item or to comment, go inside the blog.

For charts on the Senate and House Transportation budget proposals, click here.

WA Lege Day 72: Road money, prison sentences and bottled water

OLYMPIA — The second of two plans to spend nearly $9 billion in transportation funds is set for release this afternoon. The Senate Transportation Committee will release its budget proposal today and hold a hearing on it tomorrow — somewhat better, legislative watchdogs say, than its House counterpart which announce its budget at noon and held a hearing at 3:30 p.m. Monday.

Hearing topics today include plans to change the state's worker's compensation program in the House Labor Committee, motorcycle profiling in the House Public Safety Committee, and the process for review tax breaks in House Ways and Means.

In the Senate,  the Human Services Committee has a bill that would reduce prison sentences to save money. The Government Operations Committee has a hearing on the presidential primary and the election of precinct committee officers, and the Judiciary Committee has a hearing on a bill that would provide immunity from alcohol possession charges for a minor who called to report a possible alcohol poisoning of another person. The latter led to some spirited debate before passing the House, with opponents saying it was sending the wrong message by condoning teen-age drinking.

Elsewhere around the Capitol, folks who want to cut down on the use of bottled water have a press conference to make the area a bottle-water-free zone, encouraging folks to drink tap water instead. It's also Online Learning Day and Equality Day; the latter, sponsored by Equal Rights Washington and the Religious Coaliltion for Equality, may bring some 600 to the Capitol steps.

WA Gasoline tax: We’re No. 6

That's what the Tax Foundation says, anyway.

Washington's 37.5 cents per gallon tax on gasoline ranks behind:

California (46.6 cents), New  York (44.6 cents), Hawaii (44.4 cents), Connecticut (41.9 cents) and Illinois (39 cents), the foundation reported last year.

Idaho and Oregon are tied for 21st, with a 25 cents per gallon tax. Lowest state gas tax of 8 cents per gallon is in Alaska.

In case the previous post had you wondering.

WA Lege Day 71: Gas tax hike unlikely on this year’s ballot

OLYMPIA — Washington voters will not be asked to raise gas taxes or any other tax related to roads, at least not this fall. 2012, however, is another matter.

As they announced the House proposal for an $8.9 billion transportation budget, the chairwoman and ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee agreed Monday that there'd be no request for a tax increase to pay for more road projects this year.

“Sometime in the future” Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said.

The state will need more money eventually for some ongoing projects, including Spokane's North-South Freeway, Rep. Mike Armstrong of Wenatchee, the panel's ranking Republican said. But he's not willing to support an increase in the gas tax yet.

“New revenue is going to be needed. I'm not sure a gas tax is going to be part of it,” Armstrong said.

The proposed House Transportation budget sets aside some $72 million over the next two years for the freeway, also known as the North Spokane Corridor, about $27 million of it from a special account fed by the extra five-cent per gallon tax on gasoline voters approved in 2003.

But gasoline taxes are not the reliable source of money for road projects that they were in the past because of higher gas mileage in new cars and decreased driving by motorists, committee members said.
Clibborn said she wasn't looking at any new revenue sources beyond a gas tax but Armstrong said Republicans were “looking at a bunch of options”, which he declined to detail.

“There's really no silver bullet that would save us from decreasing gas tax revenues,” Clibborn said.

Rep. Marko Liais, D-Edmonds, the committee's vice chairman, argued that raising the gas tax on a per gallon basis really should be seen as an increase on motorists because they'd be paying about the same amount in taxes with their fuel efficient cars. “It's really keeping steady as gas use declines.”

WA Lege Day 71: Corrections officers

OLYMPIA — Corrections officers from around the state are in Olympia this morning to testify in support of a bill that would grant them collective bargaining rights for safety issues.

Meanwhile, the governor is at the Monroe Corrections Facility announcing the results of the study into the largest “safety failure” in corrections, the strangling of a guard at that facility earlier this year.

EHB 2011 is before the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee this morning, where it's sponsor Rep. Mike Sells of Everett described it as a common sense approach: “Who's going to know the moste about the safest way to do things at our  institutions?” he asked. Answer: The people who work there.

In other action, the House takes up changes in the GET program and the Senate had a resolution recognizing Turkey..

So long, Sen. Bob McCaslin

The Senate debates a resolution honoring Bob McCaslin, courtesy of TVW

Many years ago, when I’d written something he enjoyed about low voter turnout, Bob McCaslin sent me an oversized reproduction of an editorial cartoon that summed up his feelings on the topic.
A disheveled, cigar-smoking man slouches in an easy chair, beer can in hand, watching TV. His better-groomed wife is behind him in a coat, apparently just returned from the polls and talking on the phone. “No,” she says, “Mr. ‘Perfection’ didn’t vote because neither of the candidates met his high standards.”
I called to thank him and we shared a laugh, which was pretty standard for talking with the Republican Valley legislator who died last week. George M. Cohan may have believed one should always leave them laughing when you say good-bye. McCaslin believed in getting them laughing from the get-go.

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Obama’s bracket: Are you doing better than the prez?

In keeping with tradition for the start of the NCAA basketball tournaments, President Obama filled out  his bracket and the White House released it.

Something new was added to the mix this year, however. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich criticized Obama for spending too much attention to basketball and not enough to other things going on in the world. 

(video courtesy of Talking Points Memo. It's a longish clip from the Sean Hannity show, but the discussion of basketball begins about 2:50 in.)

So what do you think…should Obama have skipped bracketology this year to attend to Japan, Libya, the Middle East, Afghanistan, the economy, Iraq, Iran, Republicans in the House, jobs, health care or anything else you think he's not doing correctly?

Are you willing to let it slide this time because he picked Gonzaga men and women to win their first round games?

Or is the real problem not the filling out of the brackets but the amount of time one spends watching games and rooting/hoping/praying that the final shot in a close game will go the way of the team you picked for this round? Click here or on comment and add your two cents.

Today’s fun video: Super Moon

There's nothing political about a full moon, even a “super moon” like we're scheduled to have on Saturday.

But this is a pretty good reminder to go out and look at the sky at moonrise tomorrow, because this is a rare phenomenon.

If the weather cooperates, that is.

WA Lege Day 68: Slow day in Olympia

OLYMPIA — The Legislature appears to be catching its collective breath today after activity surrounding the economic forecast on Thursday.

With relatively few committee hearings and little expected floor activity, the honorables will be able to knock off by mid afternoon at the latest. Some are  heading home for more town hall meetings over the weekend, including Reps. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, and Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, who have a  joint town hall meeting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Fire District 8 Station, 6117l S. Palouse Highway. That's pretty close to the southern border of Parker's 6th District and the northern reaches of Fagan's 9th District.

Among things that are happening today, the Senate will vote on a resolution on the tragedies in Japan.

McMorris Rodgers starting 2012 campaign

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers will kick off  her 2012 re-election campaign next month with fund-raisers in Spokane, Walla Walla and Colville.

Traditionally, McMorris Rodgers' campaign starters are around St. Patrick's Day, and have Irish green theme. But they're also usually in the year of the election. This time around, they'll be around Easter week, but quite a bit earlier.

Having coasted to victory last November and moving up in a GOP leadership returned to the House majority, there's little doubt McMorris Rodgers will be a tough incumbent to beat in 2012. After giving birth to her second child last year, the early announcement may at least quiet GOP hopefuls who like to speculate she'll give up her House seat to spend more time being a mom.

In other McMorris Rodgers' related news, the Eastern Washington congresswoman got a pat on the back from the Washington Post for her explanation of a budget problem. The Post has what it calls the Pinocchio Test for pronouncements by public officials, and the more factually challenged a statement is, the more Pinocchios it receives.

If, however, the statement is true, it receives a “Gepetto Checkmark” (It's not clear why it doesn't receive a Jiminy Crickett checkmark, since it was the the singing insect that was so big on truthiness.) McMorris Rodgers received a checkmark for her explanation that the federal government borrows $7 for every $10 it spends. The full article can be found by clicking here.

Gregoire: Don’t bring me budget gimmicks

OLYMPIA — With the projected gap between income and expenses growing another $500 million to $5.1 billion, Gov. Chris Gregoire said the Legislature may be forced to eliminate popular programs they had  hoped to merely trim.

They aren't going to be able to raise taxes, and they shouldn't try some of the budget “gimmicks” being suggested by some Democrats, such as adding revenues from a “25th month” into the 2011-13 budget or borrowing money by selling more bonds. Asked if she would veto any such plans, Gregoire replied: “Don't bring it to me.”

She would consider increasing gambling options, and even a proposal to license and regulate medical marijuana, which supporters say would bring in more revenue to the state. Saving money in the Corrections Department by allowing early release of more felons is “the last place I'd go.”

She also discounted a suggestion by Republicans the Legislature should reject contracts her staff has negotiated with state employees' unions for the coming biennium and demand more cuts in wages and benefits. The contracts already have a 3 percent wage cut after several years without cost-of-living increases, furloughs and increases in health care costs, proof that “public employees have stepped up to the sacrifice,” she said.

Rejecting the contracts could mean the state pays the higher wages and benefits rates of the current contracts for the first year, and a guarantee of a better deal in the second year of the budget cycle is “a hard promise to keep,” she said.

In her budget proposal in December, Gregoire proposed eliminating a series of state programs not required by federal law, including the Basic Health Program and the Disability Lifeline. Legislators balked, saying they'd rather reduce the programs by reducing the income levels that make a person or family eligible, and that system worked for a supplemental budget that patched the shortfall for the rest of this budget. Asked whether they'd be able to do that for 2011-13, Gregoire was doubtful: “I don't know. I think it's tough.”

An hour before her press conference, the Capitol Rotunda and hallways outside her office were filled with protestors demanding that the state cut tax breaks for businesses, and raise more tax revenue, rather than cut programs. She offered no hope that would be a strategy she'd follow.

“It's much easier said than done. How am I going to get a two-thirds vote?” she said. Closing tax exemptions are considered a tax increase, which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses under an initiatives the voters passed in November.

WA Lege Day 67: Budget gap grows by $778 million

OLYMPIA — The gap between state projected revenues and current programs grew by $778 million in the latest economic forecast for the next 27 months, resulting in a possible deficit of about $5.1 billion if nothing were changed in the next biennial budget.

Arun Raha, the state's chief economic forecaster, said several factors are stifling economic recovery in the state: Uncertainty over oil prices, the tragedy in Japan and a slow housing market. “Clouded with a great deal of uncertainty,” is the way he put it.

Revenue is projected to drop another $80 million for the rest of this biennium, which ends on June 30. It will be about $700 million lower for the 2011-13 biennium.

The forecasting council released a preliminary forecast two weeks ago, but since that time, the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, which is one of the state's major trading partners, Raha said.

“The preliminary economic forecast presented two weeks ago is already outdated,” he said. Forecasts have updated their models with “early and rough estimates” of the effects of the disasters in Japan.

WA Lege Day 67: Economic day of reckoning

OLYMPIA — Today is F-Day in Olympia, as in Forecast Day.

Arun Raha, the state's chief economist, will issue his forecast of the amount of revenue the state can expect to collect in the 2011-13 biennium, which will guide budget writers in the Legislature for however long it takes for them to write the General Operating Budget.

Until noon, the state budget is projected to have a $4.6 billion gap between what the state can expect to bring in with taxes, fees and other sources of revenue, and the cost of all the programs, services and salaries it currently has on the books.

The forecast released at noon is expected to widen that gap, and the real question is, by  how much? The low side is about $500 million; the high side is $2 billion.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. to talk about the new numbers.

But that's not all, as they say in the Ronco commercials.

The Poker Players Alliance, who are fans of online poker are in Olympia lobbying their favorite legislators to change the law to make the online version of their favorite card game poker legal in Washington. They'll  shuffling up and dealing with legislators at a closed door reception later in the evening.

And…

The Washington Association of Churches and other faith-based groups from throughout the Puget Sound are mounting an InterFaith Advocacy Day to lobby for their favorite programs, and will be able to join the Protect our Future Revenue Forecast Rally on the north steps of the Capitol about the time the forecast is being announced. The Backbone Campaign has a “Prioritize People” vigil across the lawn on the Temple of Justice steps. The state's newspaper publishers are also in town. It's Massage Awareness Day with massage therapists in the Capitol Mezzanine. Many of the staff are wearing green for St. Patrick's Day, although some members of the SEIU who are doing some lobbying will be dressed in a different shade for Purple Presence Day.

Recovering from surgery, Verner makes ‘fashion statement’

As she recovers from surgery, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, has embraced a new look.

Since she returned to work March 7, Verner has been donning scarves to cover her neck brace and incision.

“It makes a nice place to drape a scarf,” Verner said.

Verner had surgery March 2 at Deaconess Medical Center to remove a bone spur that was affecting her spine. She's been ordered to wear a neck brace for at least six weeks.

“The doctor's orders were way too restrictive for my lifestyle.” But, Verner said, “no matter what I do to violate the doctor's orders, I have to wear the brace.”

Verner has maintained her public schedule, including reading her declaration of Julia Sweeney Day on Friday before Sweeney took the stage at the Bing Crosby Theater. Sweeney, a Gonzaga Prep graduate, comedian and Saturday Night Live alumna, was performing with Jill Sobule in “The Jill and Julia Show.” (Sobule: “I sing.” Sweeney: “I tell stories.”)

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Verner is “making a new fashion statement” at City Hall.

Verner says she hasn't bought any new scarves, but is supplementing her collection by “borrowing.”

WA Lege Day 66: Marijuana bills

OLYMPIA – Legislators are spending some of their time on pot this week. Not smoking it, of course, but discussing it as both a potential revenue source, through outright legalization, and an administrative problem for the medical marijuana voters approved in 1998.
A day before the state's revenue forecast, supporters of a bill to legalize cannabis, a term they prefer over marijuana, made a push to revive a bill that they claim would be worth $440 million to the state budget in a two-year cycle.
HB 1550 already had one hearing last month in the House Public Safety Committee, where it attracted the usual list of supporters who noted some of the Founding Fathers grew hemp, and detractors who warned of growing usage by teens and drivers should marijuana become legal. That committee has yet to vote the bill up or down, but it was granted a special “work session” Wednesday in House Ways and Means, the budget-writing committee, to discuss the money the state might make from legalizing, taxing and selling marijuana in state liquor stores.
“We’re trying to help the Legislature understand the revenue prospects for the bill,” said Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, the bill’s sponsor. . .

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Spokane social agencies: In survival mode

OLYMPIA — Spokane social service agencies, facing budget cuts like anyone who gets some money from the state, hosted lunch for the Spokane-area legislators today and used an old Saturday Night Fever song to make their point:

“Stayin Alive.”

Groups that work with street kids, substance abuse patients, juvenile offenders and a host of other social programs held their annual Homesick for Spokane luncheon, featuring Longhorn Barbecue and table decorations that had the Our Kids Our Business pinwheel theme.

They've cut pay, expenses and staff, and they know more bad budget news is on the horizon with the state revenue forecast due to be released Thursday at noon. Just don't forget about us when you get down to the nitty gritty of building the expense side of the ledger line-by-line, they said.

When legislators got a chance to talk, most offered as many assurances as possible, which is to say, not much. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said legislative efforts so far have been to scale back many state social programs rather than eliminate some of the key ones like Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed earlier.  They won't know until the revenue forecast comes out if that strategy will hold up.

Republican Rep. John Ahern used some of his time to try to goad Brown into supporting his bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex offenders. It passed 98-0 in the House but can't get a committee hearing in the Senate, he said. Anyone who would vote yes is voting for kids and anyone voting no is voting for pedaphiles, he suggested.

Ahern needs to deal with Sen. Jim Hargrove, the chairman of the Human Services and Corrections Committee which was assigned the bill, Brown said. A hearing is up to him.

When Ahern suggested Brown should apply pressure, Brown was emphatic. She wouldn't override her committee chairman. Deal with Hargrove, she said.

WA Lege Day 66: Higher ed, cigars, legalized pot

OLYMPIA — Hearings today include several bills on community colleges, another on cigar lounges and a “work session” on marijuana.

And no, the last one doesn't involve learning how to roll.

Senate Higher Education has an afternoon session that features a bill on need grants for college students, another on salaries for community college instructors, another on innovation at community college and another on student loans for the aerospace training program. Then there's a proposal to allow universities out of state laws requiring them to buy at least 2 percent of their supplies and equipment from Department of Corrections operations.

Senate Ways and Means will hear a proposal to set up special licenses for “cigar lounges” and tobacco shops that would let them get around state laws against smoking in public buildings.

House Ways and Means has a session on regulating the production, distribution and sale of cannabis, which will follow closely on the heels of a press conference of legislators and others who support legalizing marijuana. It's designed to support HB 1550, which got a hearing early last month in the House Public Safety Committee, which has shown no sign of voting it out. That's slightly better than the Senate companion bill, however, which didn't even get a hearing.

Waldref gives birth to healthy girl

Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref gave birth on Monday to a girl. Waldref missed Monday’s City Council meeting and delivered shortly after 6 p.m. at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, said city spokeswoman Marlene Feist. Waldref and her husband, Tom Flanagan, named their daughter Nora Cecilia Waldref Flanagan.

Nora weighed 6 pounds, 7 ounces and was 19 inches long at birth, Feist said.
  

Something to scream about: Dean coming to N. Idaho. YEAAH

 

Howard Dean — former Vermont governor, former Democratic National chairman, former presidential candidate — is coming to Coeur d'Alene Casino and Resort next month to talk to Idaho Democrats.

Dean will be the guest speaker at the state party's Spring Training luncheon on April 16th.

For those whose memories don't extend to 2004, Dean gives a rousing speech. You'll note in the above clip, he never mentions going to Idaho. Maybe he's making up for that omission now.

Surrogacy bill: Needed changes or exploitation?

OLYMPIA – Because Washington state outlaws paying a surrogate mother to have a baby, some couples with fertility problems go to Oregon or California where they can hire women to carry a child.

Because state law also presumes that the birth mother has parental rights, some gay and lesbian couples have to go through legal adoption, even if one of them is a biological parent.

A bill in the Legislature would change both of those laws, and allow the state to recognize that not all families look like “Leave it to Beaver,” said the proposal’s sponsor, Rep. Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle. Laws against paying a surrogate mother have never been enforced, he added.

But HB 1267 would also turn surrogate mothers, and the babies they have, into commodities, opponents told the Senate Government Operations Committee Tuesday. The state doesn’t allow people to sell kidneys or other organs, and shouldn’t allow surrogate mothers to receive money for having a child…

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 65: GMA, surrogacy, cougars and gophers

OLYMPIA — A heavy hearing day today for legislative committees, with animal issues in the morning for the House Agriculture Committee and domestic partnerships and growth management bills before the Senate Government Operations Committee after lunch.

Two bills in Government Ops deal with a topic that often draws a vocal and passionate crowd, domestic partnerships. One would allow any domestic partnership in another state is specifically recognized as a domestic partnership in Washington. The other would allow for surrogacy contracts between a couple and a surrogate mother, and cover couples in domestic partnerships.

As if those weren't controversial enough topics, the committee also has a hearing on a plan to let several Eastern Washington counties withdraw from the Growth Management Act if they want.

House Ag drew all three animal bills that sailed through the Senate before cut off earlier this month. Tougher restrictions on shark “finning”, allowing hunters in northeast Washington to hunt cougars with dogs and a study to get a better count of the Mazama pocket gophers all drew testimony at the 10 a.m. hearing.

Animal rights groups argued there's no good reason to extend hound-hunting of cougars in northern counties, while Fish and Wildlife officials said it's an important tool, which with other things, helps cut down on the complaints of cougars interracting with people. Cattle and farm groups were generally in favor, while supporters of the 1996 initiative that outlawed using dogs to hunt cougars, bears and bobcats  and passed with about 63 percent voter support managed to work in a few “will of the people” references.

The bill to ban the practice of catching sharks, cutting off their fins and throwing the rest of the fish back into the water to die brought one bit of interesting testimony: Shark fins, despite their popularity in certain foreign markets, have no taste but can be high in mercury — it's one of the places the toxic chemical tends to build up.

Mazama pocket gophers were pretty roundly derided as obnoxious critters that seem to be doing just fine and don't need any protections as a threatened or endangered species. References to the movie “Caddyshack” were mercifully few.

Waldref expected to have baby soon

Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref missed Monday's council meeting because of the pending birth of her second child.

Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan said Waldref was in the hospital on Monday and was expecting to give birth soon.

Waldref's due date isn't for a few weeks, but she alluded last week to the possibility of giving birth earlier when the council decided to delay a vote until March 21 on new contracting rules that Waldref had proposed.

“We'll see if the baby is willing to wait a few weeks,” Waldref said. “I hope I'm around in two weeks to debate this with you.”

In an interview a few weeks ago, Waldref said she and her husband were waiting to find out if they were having a boy or girl.

WA Lege Day 64: IT piracy bills getting reworked

OLYMPIA – Bills aimed at fighting the theft of Information Technology around the globe were criticized Monday by retailers and some high tech companies as legislative committees tried to reconcile different proposals on the topic that passed each chamber with large margins.
The bills are sought by Microsoft, which estimates as much as 90 percent of manufacturing in China is done with stolen software and IT, and supported by the Motion Picture Association of America.
But the Washington Retail Association, Fred Meyer stores, IBM, General Motors and an information technology association to which Microsoft no longer belongs all oppose the bills, saying they would embroil stores and manufacturers in lawsuits.

To read the rest of this post or to comment, click here to go inside the blog
  

WA Lege Day 64: IT piracy, medical pot, Ed Sec visit

OLYMPIA — The Legislature is in “hearings” mode today and Gov. Chris Gregoire has a special guest to discuss education, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Both chambers have a hearing on Information Technology piracy legislation, a key priority for Microsoft in this session. Both have passed a bill on the topic, although they don't quite mesh, and each is being amended for a hearing in the other chamber today. Senate Labor and Commerce has a morning hearing and House Judiciary has a 1:30 p.m. session on the other chamber's respective bills. (For more on the topic, check out a previous Spokesman-Review report here.)

At the morning Senate Labor hearing, most committee members showed due deference to Microsoft, and the software giant got both a chance to open testimony and rebut some of the negative things that opponents, who included the state retailers, IBM and Fred Meyers, said about the bill.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, seemed to be the main dissenting voice, asking Microsoft and supporters if there wasn't some inconsistency in the bill. The state doesn't levy a property tax on intellectual property, yet the IT industry is asking the state to protect that property. Committee Chairwoman Jeanne Kohl-Wells cut Kline's inquiries off as being outside the scope of the bill, saying  he should take that up with the software companies privately.

Also over in the House this afternoon is a hearing in the Health and Wellness Committee on the latest iteration of the medical marijuana bill, SB 5073.

Duncan's appearance is by video conferencing. Good thing, too, considering that on a previous visit of a cabinet secretary to talk about his area of expertise, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner decided to check out the Port of Tacoma with Gov. Gregoire to highlight international trade. They got drenched by a rainstorm that hit just as Geithner arrived at the port.

Duncan will be on a monitor, and everyone else will beinside a Senate hearing room, so everyone will stay dry.

Status quo on initiative laws

Left in the legislative ash heap last week was a bill to revise rules for initiative campaigns by charging as much as $500 to file a ballot measure and putting stricter rules on people paid to gather signatures.
Like previous attempts to change ballot measure rules, SB 5297 brought out Tim Eyman and other initiative entrepreneurs who understandably don’t want the Legislature messing with a system they’ve figured out. Certain progressive “good-government” groups, eager to clean up abuses they see, provided the opposing view and generated heartfelt if conflicting testimony at the hearings.
Eyman is always quotable, in an “Armageddon is the next stop if we get on this railroad” sort of way. The good government groups warned of dastardly deeds by signature collectors, and usually mentioned a case from Spokane involving the mother-daughter team of Theresa and Mercedes Dedeaux.
The Spokesman-Review detailed the case early last year, when it became a cause célèbre for another bill with another set of restrictions on paid signature gatherers which also ultimately died. This seems a good time for an update…
  

Got something to say to your legislator? Here’s your chance

There's a break in the legislative action this weekend, so several Spokane-area legislators will be back in their home districts to hold town hall meetings.

The break is a result of the Legislature passing a major deadline for voting bills out of one chamber, and not yet reaching a key point in crafting the next biennium's budget, the state economic forecast which comes out March 17. Because of that, neither house is in session this weekend, so it's a good time for legislators to head home for a few days, and Saturday seems like a good day for town hall meetings.

Here's a list of what's scheduled for Saturday.

3rd Legislative District
Sen. Lisa Brown, Reps. Timm Ormsby and Andy Billig.
  10 a.m., Northeast Community Center, 4001 N. Cook St.
  2 p.m., Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, 2316 W. 1st Ave.

6th Legislative District
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, Reps. Kevin Parker and John Ahern
  10:30 a.m. Northwood Middle School gymnasium, 13120 N. Pittsburg St.
Parker
  2 p.m., Education themed town hall at Northwood Middle School library, 13120 N. Pittsburg St.
Baumgartner
  5 p.m. town hall at the MAC, 2316 W. 1st Ave.

9th Legislative District
Rep. Susan Fagan

  10:30 a.m., WHMC Public Education Building, 1200 W. Fairview St., Colfax
  2 p.m., Cafe Moro, 100 E. Main St., Pullman

WA Lege Day 61: Bill to reject state employee contracts “does not make sense” — Brown

OLYMPIA — A Senate proposal that would result in the Legislature rejecting contracts negotiated between the governor's office and state employees' unions will likely face opposition from Democratic leaders in that chamber.

“It does not make sense to me,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said of the proposal. “I think it's a distraction from the bigger problems we have.”

SB 5870, introduced this week, would essentially refuse to provide the funds needed for the contracts that have been negotiated and “encourage the parties … to reconven to reach an agreement that takes into account the Legislature's concerns and better recognizes the state's fiscal situation.” It was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled.

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said it is simply an attempt to get new contracts in light of the state's declining revenue picture.

“It's not Wisconsin. It doesn't eliminate collective bargaining,” he said, referring to the controversy in that Midwestern state over a bill recently passed by Republicans that did strip many bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees. 

Brown said, however, state employees have already agreed to lower wages, furloughs and higher benefit costs, as well as staff reductions from the closure of state facilities. To arguments by some Republicans that state workers have better pay and benefits than their counterparts in private industry, Brown countered that the studies are mixed: “I don't know there's really clear evidence of that.”

But the bill could wind up costing the state more money, she said. It would force contract negotiations to resume, but there's no guarantee when an agreement would be reached. That could mean the existing contract, with higher pay and benefits, would remain in place for the first year of the biennium, she said.

WA Lege Day 61: How bad will forecast be? We’ll know Thursday

OLYMPIA — Washington officials are bracing for more bad budget news next week, and the only real question seems to be “How bad?”
Already expecting a $4.6 billion gap between the cost of existing programs and the expected revenue for the coming two-year budget cycle, legislative leaders have said that figure could grow by at least $500 million — and maybe as much as $2 billion — when the state economic forecast is released on Thursday.
Gov. Chris Gregoire used the $2 billion figure Thursday in an interview with The Spokesman-Review editorial board, and Republican legislative leaders put it at the top of the range they were hearing discussed during a press conference Wednesday.
State officials are already looking at an array of budget reductions, such as eliminating or significantly scaling back some programs like the Basic Health Plan and the Disability Lifeline, cutting funding to colleges while allowing them more power to raise tuition, cutting pay to state workers and charging them more for benefits. But even with all the proposed cuts, closing a $4.6 billion gap was already difficult so the degree of difficulty increases with the projected deficit.
“I don't know that we have a Plan B yet,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.
Brown said she considered two ideas being floated by some House Democrats unlikely: One would be creating a “25th month” by using July's revenues to pay for expenses in June, the end of the current biennium; the other is “revenue securitization” which basically raises money now by a bond sale based on the promise of future revenue.
The Senate is “not looking at” the 25th month at this point, she said, and securitization “is not where we're headed….we're looking at the cut side”
But there are only a few things that can definitely be ruled out: “We will not do a sales tax on food. No income tax, either.”
A sales tax on food, levied in the early '80s when the state faced an economic downturn, was quickly repealed by voters. Income taxes have been tried several times, including last year when an initiative to impose the tax only on “high earners” was soundly defeated at the polls.”

Gregoire, too, has ruled out tax increases, saying the voters spoke clearly last year that they expect government to reduce spending, not raise taxes. The lower revenue projections may convince legislators to eliminate programs as she's proposed, rather than trying to pare them back as they did in a supplemental budget that tries to keep the state out of the red through June 30. Legislators are “going to see my ideas aren't so hare-brained in the next week,” she told the editorial board Thursday.



  

Today’s fun website: Test your knowledge of Middle East

Middle East Geography Quiz

 

 

 

Heard a little bit about stuff happening in the Middle East lately, in places like Tunisia and Libya and Yemen?

Sure, haven't we all. But how well do you know where those places really are?

Click on the box above, and it will take you to a mapping game that tests your geographic knowledge of the area much in the news. Don't worry. Unlike 5th Grade Geography, no one's keeping score, so you can correct your mistakes.

And thanks to Edward Thomas Jr. for sending the link.

Bomb suspect arrest surpised Tucker

OLYMPIA — News that the FBI was making an arrest in the MLK Day bomb plot came as a surprise here yesterday — not just to legislators who have been ensconced in the capital for two months but to Spokane County's top law official.

Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker was in Olympia for “Law and Justice Day”, a day set aside for the state's prosecuting attorneys to lobby their legislators. He was enroute from one Spokane-area senator's office to another's Wednesday morning about the time FBI agents (and some media) were closing in on Kevin Harpham's home near Addy.

Bumping into Tucker on the sidewalk, I decided to see if I could pick up a tidbit of news to feed back to Spokane. So, I asked,  the FBI is picking up someone in MLK parade bomb attempt?

They are? he replied, surprised. When told that was the word coming out of Spokane, he seemed pleased, but still surprised, and asked if I had any  more details. The FBI, he said, always keeps things close to the vest.

A short time later, I happened upon Rep. Timm Ormsby, a Spokane Democrat who's district includes the downtown route of the parade, and mentioned the feds were making an arrest, again hoping for some little nugget of news. His brother, Mike Ormsby, is, after all, the U.S. attorney in Spokane.

Rep. Ormsby was surprised, too, and asked who and where. US Atty. Ormsby doesn't talk about the cases, he said.

Who comes up with these acronyms?

The U.S. Senate is considering a new bill designed to help small breweries with a tax cut, which will in turn create jobs.

Or so says a press release from Sen. Maria Cantwell, who is a co-sponsor of the legislation, along with Sen. Mike Crapo. So microbrews apparently  have bipartisan support, considering Cantwell is a Democrat and Crapo is a Republican.

The proposal for a tax cut isn't surprising, nor is the claim it would help create jobs. It's a rare piece of legislation that isn't introduced with a compliment for how many jobs it will create or save.

The most interesting thing about it is the title: The Brewers Employment and Excise Relief Act.

Which means its acronym is the BEER Act.

Do you suppose they have one person in a room somewhere whose job is coming up with bill titles that make catchy acronyms? And if they do, is this among the  highest-paid staff members in the entire Congress?

Just wondering.

As for the BEER Act and its potential salutory effects on Washington state, you can read Cantwell's press release inside the blog. Click here to read or to comment.

WA Lege Day 59: Fertilizer among the topics

OLYMPIA — Another full day of hearings today for the House and Senate, with bills that include topics such as fertilizer.

Some people may think that most of what the Legislature spends its time on is a certain type of fertilizer. But this is lawn fertilizer…the kind that has phosphorus in it.

The Senate Environment Committee has the House proposal to ban lawn fertilizers with phosphorus for residential lawn use as a way of reducing the chemical in streams after storm runoff. It's supported by environmental groups and some cities, including Spokane, but opposed by some agricultural interests, among others.

There's also a hearing in Senate Judiciary on easing restrictions on noise suppressors for firearms, a bill that passed the House  before cutoff.

Among hearings in the House is a bill that would trim a day off the max sentences on gross misdemenanors.

That last may be appropriate for the designated “Law and Justice Day” which this is, by decree of the  Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Legislative cutoff: Some that are still living, and some that aren’t

OLYMPIA – Some animals fared well this week as the Legislature rushed to pass bills before a critical deadline. Folks hoping to sip local liquor at the farmers market, buy pot at a state liquor store or require proof of citizenship before the state gives out a driver’s license, didn’t do as well.


As is the case in most legislative sessions, many bills are all but dead after failing to pass at least one chamber before Monday’s cut off. There are a few parliamentary maneuvers that can shock a bill back to life, but they are far less frequent than a patient recovering when someone grabs defibrillator paddles and yells “Clear” in a TV doctor drama.
  

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Today’s video: McMorris Rodgers on YouTube

 

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is among the House of Representatives most active social media-ists. This is her monthly YouTube video, which may be most notable for all the different places and different people the camera catches her smiling in or with as the background music plays relentlessly on.

WA Lege Day 58: Back to the committees

OLYMPIA — Having gorged on floor votes in the last few days, both chambers of the Legislature return to committee action to hear bills the other house sent them.

It's an unusual mix of bills, including a bill on embalmers and another on disposition of unclaimed remains in Senate Government Operations, several liquor related bills in Senate Labor and Commerce and gifts to the state Ag Department in Senate Agriculture.

House Environment will take up the establishment of the Puget Sound Corp and the re-establishment of the road to the upper Stehekin Valley, House Education will study ways to blend student and family support programs with local health services, including a look at Spokane Public Schools and Community Mental Health.

Marijuana legalization supporters interrupt Spokane council meeting

Tonight's Spokane City Council meeting was halted for about three minutes after a few protesters stood in the audience and initially refused to sit or leave the room.

The protesters were from Sensible Washington, a group that supports marijuana legalization. They stood during the annual report to the council from Police Ombudsman Tim Burns, prompting City Council President Joe Shogan to order them to sit or leave.

Rebeckah Aubertin, who said she is the Spokane recruiter for Sensible Washington, held two large signs. One read: “Stop funding dirty cops.” Another said: “Prohibition hurts family.”

When they refused to comply Shogan asked Police Detective Ben Estes to remove them and the meeting stopped.

Referring to the money the city spends for a police ombudsman's office, Aubertin told the crowd, “Fiscal responsibility would be nice, as well.”

Shogan responded: “I don't know what the hell you're talking about, lady, but that's fine.”

After talking with the protesters for a couple minutes, Estes persuaded them to leave and he escorted them outside the council chambers peacefully. About ten people from Sensible Washington stayed in the lobby of the chambers for most the rest of the meeting.

Tim Loe, who also was escorted from the meeting, said he was protesting because he has been repeatedly harassed by police as a result of his use of medical marijuana.

At one point during his negotiations with the protesters, Estes told Aubertin that signs were not permitted in the hearing.

Aubertin claimed that she wasn't holding protest signs: “These are art projects,” she said.

Shogan overheard the conversation.

“Yeah, and I'm Leonardo da Vinci,” he said.

Burns' report is available here.

Growth Management: Should counties be allowed out?

OLYMPIA – The state's environmental community is fighting a plan to allow four lightly populated Eastern Washington counties to opt out of the Growth Management Act.
But in trying to generate opposition to the proposed change, the group Futurewise seriously overstated the impact that law has on Ferry County, one of four that would be allowed to drop the law under HB 1094 .
 GMA is protecting nearly three-quarters of a million acres of farmland in Ferry County, keeping it from being “paved over,” the Seattle-based organization claimed in a recent website posting and a separate appeal for funds.
“In Washington, it’s far too easy to pave over farmland if it’s not designated as such,” the group said on its website. “That’s why we were fighting so hard to get the county to property designate and protect the best of the county’s 749,452 acres of land in farms and ranching.”
Wait a minute, said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, sponsor of the bill. There aren't 750,000 acres of farmland – or any other kind of land – subject to GMA in Ferry County…
  

To read the rest of this post or to comment, go inside the blog.
  

WA Lege Day 57: Sometimes, it’s a zoo

OLYMPIA — With time running out on the deadline to get bills out of their first chamber Monday, the state Senate spent some time taking care of animal concerns.

They passed a bill to study the Mazama pocket gopher. They passed another to place more sanctions on  shark “finning”. And they said dogs should be able to be used to hunt cougars for the next five years.

As they churned through a stack of bills before the 5 p.m. cutoff, senators seemed to find the most mirth in the Mazama pocket gopher bill, SB 5264, which calls for a study to determine whether they are in danger of being endangered. The state Fish and Wildlife Department would do the study, and come up with a recovery plan if they were.

“Is this a gopher found in pockets, is it one that would fit in pockets or does it have pockets?” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood asked.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester,  said he didn't know for sure.

“I represent Mazama,” Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said. “Are they moving in or out?”

“I can't answer that question, either,” Swecker conceded.

What's the difference between a regular gopher and the Mazama pocket gopher, Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam asked Sen. Kevin Ranker, the chairman of the committee that held hearings on the bill.

It was explained in committee by someone from Fish and Wildlife, Ranker said, but he hesitated to say because there may be school children in the galleries.

The answer, apparently, is that males have rather large genitalia…which they don't keep in their pockets. The bill passed 44-3.

SB 5688, which would make it illegal to catch a shark, cut off its fin and throw the rest of the fish back in the ocean, passed 47-0. It's unclear whether Ranker's appeal to vote yes for three sharks in the movie “Finding Nemo” — Bruce, Anchor and Chum — swayed the vote.

SB 5366, which extends the time for hunting cougars with dogs for another five years, passed on a 37-11 vote. Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, said the cougar population exploded in the northern counties bordering Canada and this was the best way to keep them under control. “There isn't any other way to control cougars. We'd like to keep a few around.”Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, voted for the bill but couldn't resist a WSU-UW basketball dig: “Last two games, it's been the Cougars hunting the Dawgs.”

We'll have more on bills that made the cut off, and those that didn't on Tuesday.

WA Lege Day 57: Alcohol poisoning bill passes House

OLYMPIA — Teen-agers who call to report a possible alcohol-related poisoning would be immune from prosecution for possessing alcohol under a bill approved today by the House.

Despite objections from some Republicans that the bill was sending the wrong message for illegal underage drinking, HB 1166 passed by a  mostly party-line 57-39 vote

Democrats said it doesn't encourage drinking, it merely encourages someone to call for help when a friend is in danger of dying from an alcohol overdose.

“This is not a blanket exemption…it's for one person to make a phone call,” Sen. Christopher Hurst, a former police officer said.

But Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said people should be willing to save another's life, regardless of the consequences: “Where have we come to in this state if that's the way we treat our fellow human beings…that human life isn't worth what we think it is?”

WA Lege Day 57: Cutoff day — Coaches turn to pumpkins at 5 p.m.

OLYMPIA — This is cutoff day in the Washington Legislature, a day in which some bills die a quiet death and others live or die after contentious debates.

Any bill that isn't tied to the budget must get out of its original chamber by 5 p.m. today. OK, there's a couple of caveats — if a bill is under debate before 5 p.m., it can still be voted on later in the day; and there are ways to amend bills later to resurrect portions of dead bills.

But in general, a bill that doesn't get its ticket punched today is more likely to be relegated to the scrapheap of history than to find itself on a big conference table in the governor's conference room with a big tray of pens nearby and a photographer telling the gov and its sponsors to smile while a signature is affixed.

So both chamber started early and can be expected to run bills throughout the day, with some breaks for caucuses so the leaders of the two parties in each chamber can judge support for the individual pieces of legislation.

Meanwhile, the Washington Students Association has planned a rally for noon on the north steps of the Capitol Building.

WA Lege Day 54: Earlier primary gets Senate OK

OLYMPIA — A proposal to move the state's August primary up by two weeks, making it easier to ensure military and overseas voters get their general election ballots delivered and returned, sailed through the Senate this morning as both chambers continue churning through bills.

SB 5171 now goes to the House, which has a companion bill to do the same thing.

The problem arises with federal law that requires states to have at least 45 days between the time absentee ballots are mailed to military voters and the election. Washington state moved its primaries back from mid-September to mid-August several years ago to accommodate military and other overseas voters, but the time it takes to count ballots, settle close elections and possibly hold recounts means many counties don't  have the results of the primary available to print up the general ballots 45 days ahead of the November election.

Last year Washington got a waiver of the law because the state doesn't stop counting ballots on election day like most states.  It continues to count properly marked ballots that come in for more than two weeks, so military voters actually had more than 45 days to cast a ballot. (This fact did not keep legislators from demagoguing about protecting the voting rights of the brave men and women fighting in forward operating bases in Afghanistan so the rest of us had the right to vote, but such statements are pretty  much a given on this topic.)

With the change in dates, the state won't need to ask for a waiver. It also allows military voters overseas to vote by fax or e-mail.

Ben Stuckart enters race for Spokane City Council president

City Councilman Steve Corker has a challenger to his bid to become Spokane City Council president.

Ben Stuckart, executive director for Communities in Schools of Spokane County, said this week that he will run for the office.

Stuckart's announcement isn't much of surprise. He confirmed last month that he was strongly considering a run.

Former City Councilman Steve Eugster filed paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission in 2009 indicating he would run for council president this year, but Eugster said late last year that he had changed his mind about running.

So here's a review so far of the 2011 Spokane races:

Mayor:

Mary Verner: Running

Christopher W. Fenton: Running

David Condon: Seriously considering a run

Nadine Woodward: Not ruling out a run, though not seriously considering it

City Council president:

Steve Corker: Running

Ben Stuckart: Running

Steve Eugster: Not running

City Council seat representing northwest Spokane:

Steve Salvatori: Running

City Council seat representing northeast Spokane:

Donna McKereghan: Running

John Waite: Running

City Council seat representing south Spokane:

Richard Rush: Running

Mike Allen: Running

Now the champagne corks can pop on Boeing tanker

Washington state elected officials are practically giddy this morning as the European manufacturer of Airbus announced it will not contest the Air Force decision to give a humongous tanker contract to Boeing.

The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. officially bowed out of the competition this morning, saying it will not appeal last Thursday's award of a $30 billion-plus contract for the first phase of replacing KC-135 tankers.

Here are a couple official yippeeee!!! statements.

From Gov. Chris Gregoire: “The decision by EADS is more proof that Boeing submitted the best proposal to the U.S. Air Force, and provides the public with more assurance that Boeing will build the most cost-effective and safest refueling tanker that best serves our military and our taxpayers. There’s no doubt Boeing and its workforce build the best planes in the world. I congratulate the 11,000 Washington aerospace workers that will play a role in manufacturing the next tanker, and look forward to seeing the first tanker come off the line.”

From Sen. Maria Cantwell: “Today is a proud day for all Washingtonians. Today’s announcement makes official what Washingtonians know in our bones: We build the best airplanes in the world. Even with the deck stacked against them, Washington aerospace workers prevailed over long odds, stiff competition and illegal foreign subsidies. Boeing, its workers and my colleagues in Congress never gave up in fighting for these 11,000 jobs.”

Remember that when EADS won the contract in 2008, Boeing challenged the decision and the Air Force had to start all over again. This decision suggests that Boeing can get going with the R&D portion of the contract.

Today’s fun video: New state song?

OLYMPIA—Latest idea for a ballot measure: Let's change the state song.

Quick, what is the state song right now?

If you said “Louie, Louie” or “Roll On, Columbia” you're wrong. Those are the state's unofficial rock song, and the state's official folk song, respectively.

The official state song is” Washington My Home”. But an initiative has been filed by Kristopher Bannon of Tacoma that would let voters change it to “Not In Our House,” By Sir Mix A-Lot. This is in honor (or possibly in dishonor) of the Seattle Supersonics being spirited out of Seattle and plunked down in someplace like East Podunk, Oklahoma.

The initiative, if it should get at least 241,153 valid signatures from voters, and get a simple majority in the November election (admittedly a pair of substantial ifs) would turn the state song back to Washington My Home if an NBA franchise were to return to a city in Washington.

Not in Our House, (above) was remixed back when the Sonics made their playoff run in 92-93. It is much loved by true Sonics fans, among whom Bannon counts  himself.

So, let's get this straight. The desire to land an NBA team is so close to the tipping point that it requires a boost from folks who prefer sappy anthems over rap? And they'll be rewarded for joining the find an NBA team effort by getting their sappy anthem back when Washington gets a team? Does that make sense to anyone out there?

For a video of Washington My Home, or to comment on this post, click here to go inside the blog.

Recent Whitworth grad is Verner’s first challenger

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has her first official opponent in this year’s mayoral race.

Christopher W. Fenton, 32, filed paperwork last month announcing his intention to run for the city’s highest office.

Fenton, who works as a lab analyst at Signature Genomics in Spokane, said he began to think about running for mayor after the Spokane Police Department did not respond to three calls in 2009 reporting vandalism happening in the Logan Neighborhood, where he lives.

He said the lack of response is a sign that the city is not adequately serving its citizens and that more police officers need to be hired. He also said he is concerned about the city’s bond debt – including debt approved by voters that was accompanied by property tax increases to pay it off.

Federal records indicate that Fenton has personal experience with debt. He and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 2003 owing creditors $58,000.

Fenton said if elected he would work to speed up paying off the city’s bond debt by selling city property. He said he hasn’t identified any specific city-owned parcels that should be sold.

WA Lege Day 53: New campaign disclosure rules pass Senate

OLYMPIA — Campaign committees would be less likely to hide who they are and where they get their money under a bill passed today by the Senate.

With a 46-0 vote, the Senate passed SB 5021, which requires political action committees to list the name of the person or group sponsoring them and raises the fine for major violations to $10,000. It was amended, however, to allow much lower fines for what Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, called “small, unintentional mistakes.”

Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said the bill is  not about reining in campaign spending. “It addresses who's giving.” he said, but it's not a panacea. “There will always be people who try to violate our rules.

The bill now goes to the House.

WA Lege Day 53: Bills, bills, bills

OLYMPIA — With the session now officially half over after late evening sessions on Wednesday, both chambers are scheduled Thursday for a day of votes on a wide range of topics.

Last night the Senate passed the latest version of  SB 5073, which sets up rules for the dispensing of medical marijuana, on a 29-20 vote. It allows patients to purchase medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries if they're part of a regulated patient group, or to get it from a designated provider. The Department of health would regulate growers and the Department of Health would regulate dispensaries; patients could also sign up on a voluntary registry which police could check before making arrests.

Among the bills passed last night in the House was HB 2003 which changed the eligibility levels for the Children's Health Insurance Program. Families above 200 percent of the federal poverty level would have to pay the costs of premiums to stay in CHIP. It's part of the enabling legislation that follows the supplemental budget approved last month.

Sometime this morning the Senate is expected to vote on new campaign rules that would make it easier for the public to tell who's behind some of those political committees that pop up around election time and dump boatloads of money into ads and mailers.

WA Lege Day 52: How much ed reform, how fast?

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire repeated her call for a giant leap forward in education reform Wednesday while the Legislature showed it was inclined to take baby steps.
Gregoire gathered with a handful of legislators, a parent and a Boeing executive to give another push to a plan she unveiled in January. All the state’s various offices, agencies, boards and commissions for education, from pre-school children through doctoral programs, should be in one department overseen by a secretary appointed by the governor, she said.
“It’s not adequate for tomorrow, it’s not even adequate for today” she said of the state’s scattered authorities on education. “Everybody’s defending their turf.”
But even one legislator she invited to the press conference cast doubt on the chances the Legislature would move the state’s colleges and universities into a department with pre-school and kindergarten through high school.
Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, the chairwoman of the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee, said the House was more likely to pass a bill to set up a council to study a way to consolidate education into a single agency and come up with a transition plan. “I did not feel her plan was going to make it through,” Haigh said of the bill she proposed to take the place of Gregoire’s.
That same afternoon…

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 52: Halfway done, mathematically

OLYMPIA — The Legislature continues moving bills through both chambers, with a group of education-related bills set for debate today in the House.

Gov. Chris Gregoire also has a press conference this afternoon on education reform.

It is day 52 of the 105 day session, which means the  halfway point will be passed at some point in the afternoon. Seems like the second half will be more action packed than the first, considering it has to come up with a full two-year budget, rather than just a six-month adjustment.

First thing this morning in the Senate, Spokane's newest legislator, Sen. Jeff Baxter, made his first floor speech, which as per custom created a bit of razzing from more senior members.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Baxter's conservative stances and opposition to taxes, as well as his recent nickname of “Old Spice” among the freshman senators dubbed the Spice Boys, means “it is as if Bob McCaslin never left.”

Not so, argued Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “I don't believe our new senator is going to fill the shoes of Bob McCaslin. You haven't asked me to marry you yet”, a reference to McCaslin's reputation as a inveterate flirt.

Brown said their districts adjoin each other and she often bikes through the 4th on the Centennial Trail. She's talked to her appointee to the state Redistricting Commission about it, also. “I like your district so much … we've decided to redistrict you into Idaho.”

Baxter, a bit  nervous with his first speech, began reading from prepared remarks, only to be told by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who serves as president of the Senate, that he wasn't allowed to read from the floor without permission.

“May I  have permission?” Baxter asked.

“If there are no objections,” Owen replied, which prompted some Noes from the background. “Pretend like you are not,” Owen advised.

Idaho’s open primaries ruled unconstitutional

This just in — Idaho's open primary elections were ruled unconstitutional today by a U.S. District Court judge.

Check out Eye on Boise, the SR's political blog for Idaho, for continuing coverage and a copy of the ruling. The open primaries were challenged by the Republican Party of Idaho.

WA Lege Day 51: Prosecutions extended for child sex cases

OLYMPIA — The House removed time limits on prosecuting pedophiles, allowing charges to be brought long after victims become adults.

With a unanimous vote, the House approved HB 1647, which eliminates the statute of limitations on the most serious child sex crimes, and extends it to 10 years for certain sexual assault cases involving adult victims. The bill's sponsor, Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, said the change will give closure to victims and act as a deterrent to child rapists.

Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said that may be true for some victims, but noted sex assault convictions can be difficult even when reported promptly: “We will create some hopes that will be dashed by a prosecutor or maybe a jury.”

The bill now moves to the Senate.

Today’s fun video: How to sequelize King’s Speech

 

Hollywood loves a sequel, but that could be hard with The King's Speech. Or so one might think.

Not so, suggests Jimmy Kimmel.

WA Lege Day 51: Running of the bills

OLYMPIA — Both chambers continue full day floor sessions today as the Legislature rushes to get bills through their first house before the March 5 cutoff.

The Senate is running relatively non-controversial bills. For example, a bill to clarify some portions of the sex offender registry passed 49-0 in the Senate.

House has some controversial bills on the afternoon agenda, including new eligibility for Basic Health and the Children's Health Care programs. They'll also take up one that could lead to their own pay being cut.

Today's random fact: The Spanish rendering of notary public, notario publico, translates into lawyer. Because of that, the Legislature is considering a law to clamp down on people who may be improperty representing themselves as immigration attorneys to Spanish-speaking immigrants. SB 5023 passed 44-5 in the Senate and now heads for the house.

2010 Census: One more legislative district map

Here's a Spokane metro-area map generated for last night's post with a slightly different color key, as well as population figures.

2010 Census: Another legislative district map

Last night's post discussed the population in Washington's legislative districts and had a statewide map. But we also generated more local maps for analysis. Here's a Spokane County map tied to the same color key.

District  2010 population Growth since 2000 Difference from ideal 2012 size  Rank by population
3rd District (central Spokane city, includes Hillyard, Northtown, West Central, East Central, Logan, downtown, lower South Hill.)  120,601 314 -16,635 2nd smallest.
4th District (City of Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Millwood and areas north to Pend Oreille County line) 141,254 20,968 4,018 14th largest
6th District (Parts of Spokane city and county, including Whitworth, Indian Trail, Latah Creek, South Hill above 17th Avenue, parts of Moran Prairie, parts of West Plains east of Airway Heights) 141,123 20,830 3,887 15th largest
7th District (Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry, Lincoln counties, parts of Okanogan and Spokane counties, including Deer Park, Airway Heights, Fairchild Air Force Base and nearby portions of West Plains.)  130,475 10,185 6,761 15th smallest
9th District (Asotin, Garfield, Whitman, Adams counties, parts of Franklin and Spokane counties, including Cheney, Medical Lake, small towns and most of rural areas in the southern third of county.)  136,199 15,879 1,070 27th smallest

McMorris Rodgers staffer, David Condon, mulling run against Verner

The deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMoris Rodgers confirmed Tuesday that he is “seriously considering” entering the race for Spokane mayor.

David Condon, 37, said he is “trying to assess” if the city needs new leadership.

“It's something that I've always wanted to do, and I'm just trying to figure out if now is the time to do it,” Condon said.

Candidates have been slow to announce challenges to Verner and most of the people rumored to be considering bids last fall have said they won't run for mayor.

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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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