Archive for May 2011
Gov. Chris Gregoire opens a fire shelter during the annual training and test required for being on site at a wildfire or forest fire.
OLYMPIA — With snow still on the mountains and plenty of rain this spring in the lowlands, the danger of wildfires is light, at least for the first part of summer.
That's the word from state officials today as Gov. Chris Gregoire, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste and others took their annual Department of Natural Resources fitness and fire shelter test at Chehalis Western Trail at Woodard Bay.
The test isn't too strenuous: Cover a mile on foot in 15 minutes, which is a brisk walk, or as Gregoire complained at one point “barely a saunter.” Then open a portable fire shelter, get in it and lie on the ground in the right direction for an approaching fire within 25 seconds. (Tip: The right direction is feet toward the fire, under the theory that your head is the more valuable thing to protect.)
The training is necessary for going to the fire line should a wildfire break out. Even the governor and the WSP chief have to qualify.
Everybody passed, although it's probably not something that will be needed in most of the state this summer, except maybe in parts of the Columbia Basin.
If there were a 12-step program for reporters to curb our addiction for stories we know aren’t going anywhere, I’d sign up in a heartbeat after the late, not-so-great legislative session.
“Hi, my name is Jim, and I’m addicted to stupid ideas that I can’t help writing about.”
They’d all say hi back, and I could launch into my tale of woe…
To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA – In a legislative marathon that took an extra 30 days, the 2011 Legislature may have produced an extra helping of winners and losers.
How big the victories and how bitter the losses may not be known for some time, but it is clear which column some legislators, groups and ideas fell in.
To read the list, or to comment, go inside the blog
OLYMPIA – At times, it may have seemed that the only issues the Washington legislature worked on during the past session were budgets and medical marijuana.
Those things did take considerable amounts of time during the last four months, but lawmakers passed 444 different pieces of legislation on a wide variety of topics, from improving elections and streamlining government to protecting livestock and cracking down on big-game poaching. There were issues big and small, and many weren’t controversial….
OLYMPIA — Before I left for Olympia, Photo Editor Liz Kishimoto gave me a camera. A really good camera, with two very nice lenses.
Other members of The Spokesman-Review's prize-winning photo staff gave me some tips on how to use it because, well, it's been a few decades since Press Photography I in Journalism School when students were given a camera and a notebook and told to come back with something in both. Having spent much of that time working with some of the best newspaper photographers in the country (this is objectively true, the S-R has a trophy case to prove it), it's possible to pick up a few things by osmosis.
The thing I learned most was to always carry the camera. The second thing was, it's digital so take lots of pictures. There's a better chance that one will turn out, and you can wipe out the really bad ones so no one else ever sees them.
Over the course of the session, some were published in the paper, and others wound up online. Here's a slide show from some of the images from the just completed legislative session.
OLYMPIA — It is the day after the night before at the Capitol. Not quite a ghost town 12 hours after the gavel came down for the legislative session, but very little trace of what was here for the last four and a half months.
There are no lobbyists stalking the hallways, iPhones in one ear while they type on laptops with the free hand. Almost no legislators, and staff members are packing up offices for what almost everyone hopes will be a long wait before they have to return. (Overheard in the Capitol Dome coffee shop: Migrating legislative staffer to permanent Capitol staffer: “So I told (my boss). Hey, you just voted to cut my pay. Thanks a lot.”)
A smattering of tourists are making the rounds. The most action of the day will probably be the noon concert in the Rotunda by the LaVenture Middle School Concert Band. If they'd only booked in a day earlier, they would've had a much bigger audience.
Next big day on the legislative calendar: June 16, when the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council updates its numbers for state revenue over the next two years.
From the president's rostrum in the Senate chamber, Gov. Chris Gregoire points to twin screens showing the leaders of the House and Senate gaveling the session to a close Wednesday evening.
OLYMPIA — Shortly after the gavel came down on the 2011 Legislative session, Gov. Chris Gregoire and several legislative leaders used some of the following terms to describe it:
“Truly bipartisan. It's a new trend in how we're going to do business,” said Gregoire.
“It's hard to say 'What a great session'.. when so many sacrifices were made,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.
“It was one of those times when the Legislatured did what the Legislature should do — solve problems,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.
“A historic legislative session,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.
They passed budgets in tough economic times without raising taxes. Republicans got some of the reforms they wanted, Democrats saved some of the social safety net programs that were on the chopping block.
There were a few things that didn't get done, like a transportation fee bill that got hung up in the Senate because it didn't have enough votes, Brown said. And some business tax exemptions that got hung up in the House because folks got tired and ran out of time, Sullivan said. While he wouldn't necessarily agree with the term “hostages” — a term that was used by lobbyists watching the bills and some members, Sullivan did say there wasn't a lot of enthusiasm for them among majority Democrats.
“Having passed a budget that didn't fund some of our priorities, it was difficult to get our members to turn around and pass tax breaks,” he said.
Speaking of the budget, the $32.2 billion general operating budget that was hailed as a model of bipartisanship when it passed the Senate Wednesday had to make it through the House the previous day without a single GOP vote. Same budget, very different partisan opinions. How could that be, the group was asked.
You'd have to ask the House Republican leadership, they said. Unfortunately, House GOP leaders were invited to the press conference but didn't attend.
OLYMPIA — Late Wednesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla wait for the vote on the 2011-13 operating budget worked out in a series of compromises between both parties.
OLYMPIA — The Senate gave strong bipartisan support to the state's $32.2 billion operating budget for 2011-13, and near unanimous suppoort to the $2.8 billion Capital Budget.
Senators praised one another for crossing party lines and working together to work out compromises on a budget that everyone could find something they didn't like.
“It's probably the most painful memory any of us have seen in years,” Sen. Ed Murray, the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said.
“One can always find a reason to say no,” Sen. Joe Zarelli, the Republican budget leader, said, but he urged GOP members to vote yes anyway. No one spoke against the budget, and in the end, 34 voted yes and 13 voted no.
The same budget passed the House Tuesday on a strictly party line vote.
The Capital Budget, which has projects large and small for communities around the state, was an easier sell. It passed 46-1. For a list of projects in the Spokane area, click here.
OLYMPIA — Linda Chesnut thought there might be a bit of tension in the Capitol Building Wednesday and decided she should try to do something about it.
So the licensed masseuse from Body Matrix Massage set up a special chair in the hallway between the Senate and the House of Representatives and offered massages for a donation of $2 a minute. She had takers before she had the chair fully set.
“They're running late and I think a lot of people can use a stress break,” she said.
After a while, staff from General Administration told her she'd have to leave because she didn't have a permit. Too bad, because if she'd been allowed to stay, and the state taken say, a 10 percent cut, they might've taken care of that pesky budget shortfall.
OLYMPIA — With prosects for medical marijuana legislation dead in the Legislature, a group unhappy with what's left of the cannabis law post-veto will try to get it on the November ballot so voters can dump it.
Steve Sarich of CannaCare filed Referendum 73 with the Secretary of State's office this week, a proposal that would ask voters to put the law back to where it was before Senate Bill 5073 was passed and partially vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
CannaCare, which operates medical marijuana clinics and dispensaries, lobbied against 5073 as it bounced around the Legislature and contends Gregoire's partial veto that wiped out large sections of the bill made it worse.
Referendum supporters will have to get about 121,000 signatures by August 23 — assuming the Legislature finsihes work sometime today. (They have 90 days from final adjournment.)
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, tried to push a new medical marijuana bill through the Legislature in the final days, but on Tuesday threw in the towel and conceded it was not going to make it; she'll try again next year, she said. For an Associated Press account on the end of that legislative effort, click here.
In other medical marijuana news, Rep. Roger Goodman, a supporter of the medical marijuana legislation, sent Attorney General Rob McKenna a letter challenging him to state his position on medical marijuana, in light of the fact the AG has a well known position on another health-care topic, the federal Affordable Care Act. (McKenna's against parts of it, and joined a lawsuit seeking to block its implementation.)
OLYMPIA — The red blur moving through the hall between the House and Senate chambers a few minutes ago was Gov. Chris Gregoire, shuttling between Speaker Frank Chopp's office and Majority Leader Lisa Brown's with a list of bills in hand.
Bills that apparently legislative leaders and she agreed need to be passed before the Legislature adjourns. Bills that at 3 p.m. had not yet been passed..
She said the Legislature should be able to avoid amending the general operating budget, saving another vote in the House. The problem with the amount of money in the Life Sciences Fund can be handled without an amendment.
So what was she worried about? “Are they going to get out of here,” she said, looking down at a folded sheet of paper that contained a list of bills and power walking past OFM Director Marty Brown and several senators and into Brown's office.
OLYMPIA — A problem with a section of the general operating budget could require an amendment before the bill goes to a vote in the Senate today. Which means the amended bill would have to come back the House for another round of voting — and possibly debating — there.
And if it does, House Republicans will have an amendment of their own. Not of the technical nature, but one that would move money from a program for unemployed persons with disabilities to public education. Just a transer that won't effect the bottom line, Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, said.
The problem involves the amount of money left in the Life Sciences Fund for special projects, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said. Gov. Chris Gregoire believes she had a commitment for $20 million in that fund, which is fueled by money from a settlement with tobacco companies that Gregoire, as an attorney general, helped win.
But the Legislature is tapping the Life Sciences Fund for the general operating budget, as it has in past years, and it doesn't look like that much money will be left in there. Keeping that commitment would require making another change somewhere else. In a $32.2 billion budget, it's probably doable. But it is a change that would require an amendment in the Senate, and a revote in the House.
When stuff like this happens at this point in the legislative session, the problem can be magnified because, unlike the Rolling Stones song, time is not on their side.
Also requiring tweaks to the scheduling is a possible vote over extending the taxes that were used to build the Mariners stadium. Allocation of the money the tax would raise is the sticking point. Some other bills are waiting in the queue until that negotiation is completed.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argues against the Capital Budget supported by some $1.1 billion in bond sales.
OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives gave overwhelming support this morning to some $2.8 billion in public works projects — from new facilities for universities to sewers in small communities — paid for by bonds or special accounts.
The list of projects includes $35 million to start the new Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Sciences Building in Spokane, and $30.5 million for the Patterson Hall Remodeling on the Eastern Washington University Cheney campus and $17.6 million for classroom remodeling on the Spokane Falls Community College campus, $17 million for stormwater overflow improvements in Spokane, and $3.5 million for the Spokane YMCA/YWCA.
HB 2020 also has smaller items, like $1.6 million to buy land around Antoine Peak, $1.25 million for the Spokane Food Bank distribution center, $862,00 for ARC of Spokane, $500,000 for baseball and softball fields at Betz Park in Cheney, $400,000 for the Spokane Aerospace Technology Center and $79,000 to the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program.
All would be paid for in by some $1.1 billion in bonds the state will sell over the next two years.
Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, chairman of the Capital Budget Committee, called the bond bill “the best and biggest opportunity we have to create private construction jobs across the state.”
But some Republicans balked, saying the state is taking on too much debt, and the bill includes money for the state to purchase new land. “We can't manage the land we already have. Why are we buying more?” Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley asked.
He was among 10 Republicans who cast no votes as the bill passed 84-10.
There were no such objections, however, to HB1497, a separate bill for some $1.7 billion in capital projects covered by accounts set up for special public works needs, ranging from sewer and water lines, to cleanup of toxic soils to construction of RV parks. It passed 94-0.
That bill has a budget proviso — a special order from the Legislature to a state agency — requiring the state Military Department to exchange a building and 5.5 acres it has at Geiger field with Spokane Community Colleger; the college will then trade that land with Spokane International airport for land for the Aerospace Technology Center.
Another section directs Eastern Washington University to sell its building at 701 W. First Ave. in Spokane and deposit the money in its capital projects account.
Both bills now go to the Senate, which must pass them by midnight tonight.
OLYMPIA — While the Final Days didn't begin with the Rapture at 6 p.m. Saturday as predicted, the final day of the special session has arrived.
The list of things to do is long. Expect the day to be likewise.
The House starts with a vote on restricting the debt limit, then moves on to the capital budget this morning.
The Senate's schedule isn't set yet, but they've got the operating budget and the capital budget to do, sometime today.
And both chambers have a series of separate bills that are necessary to make the operating budget work. Add to that various bills that individual legislators have nursed through the last 134 days, and need just one more vote in one house or the other, to turn someone's dream into a law.
Today is Day 30 of the 30-day special session. Stoppage time is about to run out.
OLYMPIA – The state’s $2.8 billion Capital Budget will include $35 million to start construction on a new medical school in Spokane.
Legislative leaders announced Tuesday afternoon they have reached agreement on the Capital Budget and a contentious side issue involving limits to the amount of debt the state can take on.
The list of projects that will be covered by some $1.1 billion in bonds won’t be released until sometime this morning, but Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown confirmed the Washington State University Spokane Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Services Facility will be on that list.
“The pieces are coming together,” Brown, D-Spokane, said.
To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.
If David Condon proved anything at his campaign kickoff breakfast for Spokane mayor it's that he can raise money. Probably, lots of it.
Condon spoke for about 20 minutes praising the city and criticizing the bureaucracy of city government. At the end of his speech, he gave his pitch to donors.
More than 350 people attended the $40-a-plate breakfast at the downtown Doubletree Hotel.
“An individual can give $1,600. A couple $3,200, and companies can also give another $1,600,” Condon said. “But I'll tell you, you know what, if everybody in this room gave $100 or pledged $100 we'd have over $35,000 to start this race. That would put me leaps and bounds above my opponent and make sure that we can continue to grow the vision for Spokane. But of course there are some of you — this recession hasn't hurt you so much. You can give $1,600, your spouse can give $1,600 and, of course, your business can give $1,600. So will you consider that?”
Several in the crowd answered him, “Yes.” After he spoke and people began to leave, some stayed at their table filling out pledge forms and writing checks.
Legislative leaders announce proposed 2011-13 general operating budget Tuesday.
OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders unveiled their latest — and possibly final — version of the 2011-13 operating budget they described as painful but sustainable. A deal on the capital budget and changes to the state's debt limit are expected later Tuesday.
The proposed budget, which totals some $32.2 billlion for state programs and salaries, has cuts for every state agency and department. It has pay cuts for state workers and expected cuts for K-12 teachers and other school employees. It cuts but does not eliminate the state's Basic Health program, revamps the Disability Lifeline to end cash grants, cuts higher education but allows the universities and colleges to make up for much of the reduction by raising tuition as much as 13 percent at the University of Washington, Washington State and Western Washington universities, 11.5 percent at Eastern Washington University and 11 percent at community colleges.
The cuts are painful, but in some areas not as bad as earlier proposals, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. Gov. Chris Gregoire's initial budget plan would have eliminated Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline. This proposal saves both, on much reduced levels.
“A budget seems like a math problem, but we all kknow it is really about people,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said.
This proposal is more responsible than previous budgets because it does not count on an infusion of federal cash or borrow from other accounts to keep it out of the red, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman said. The safety net is in place, but “it's thinner,” he said.
“This is the first budget that does not spend more money that we were forecast to have,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.
The proposal is written as an amendment to the bill sitting in the House of Representatives, where it has been since the start of the special session 29 days ago. It will likely come to a vote in the House later today and move to the Senate. There the vote will await the announcement of details of the state's other big spending package, the Capital Budget, and a possible agreement on plans to reduce the state's debt limit.
Negotiators reached a tentative deal on the Capital Budget at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, legislative leaders said, and will announce details Tuesday afternoon.
School districts will see a reduction in their state funding that equals a salary reduction of 1.9 percent for teachers and other certified staff, and a 3 percent reduction for administrators. The Legislature doesn't have the authority to cut those salaries, which are part of labor contracts negotiated between the districts and the individual unions. The districts will be able to reopen contracts to seek lower wages, or they could choose to make other cuts.
Those cuts are separate from the suspension of cost-of-living adjustments that voters approved by an initiative in 2000, and a “catch-up” of COLA raises that were suspended in the 2009-11 biennium. Teachers who are eligible for step increases will receive those raises.
Requirements to reduce class sizes, mandated by another 2000 initiative, are suspended, as is a program to reduce class sizes in Grades K through 4. A separate program for smaller K-3 class sizes in high poverty areas did receive money, however.
State employees would receive a 3 percent pay cut through a previously negotiated contract provision that calls for them to reduce work hours by 5.2 hours per month. Management in state agencies are ordered to cut between 7 and 10 percent.
A new system for daily and annual fees at parks, natural lands and other state properties is designed to offset a total of $68 million in total cuts to natural resource agencies such as State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife. The passes, which have already been signed into law, will cost $10 for daily use and $30 for an annual “Discover Pass.”
Eligibility in the Basic Health program will be reduced to those who are eligible for Medicaid, and new admissions will be frozen, so the plan will cover about 37,000 people per month in fiscal 2012 and 33,000 in fiscal 2013. The state will also cut payments to hospitals, health centers and rural clinics and emergency rooms being used for non-emergency conditions. It will elimnate the Adult Dental Health program and copayments for Medicare Part D copayments for some clients. It will require families enrolled in the Children's Health Program to pay higher premiums.
The Disability Lifeline program, which currently provides health care and cash grants to disabled people unable to work, is will be replaced with new programs for a savings of about $116 million. The state will continue to provide medical care through other programs, and offer vouchers for housing and essential services to eligible participants through the Department of Commerce.
OLYMPIA — There will be no more attempts this year to rewrite medical marijuana laws.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, announced this morning that she's done for now and won't try to move her latest proposal through the Legislature in what's left of the special session. For the entire statement, click to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — This is B-Day in Olympia. The rank and file members of the Legislature, those not involved in budget negotiations, are being briefed on the state's $32 billiion general operating budget at 9 a.m., and the general public gets its first look at 10 a.m.
Read fast, because a vote in the House could come later in the day. No hearings. Not necessary, say legislative leaders, we've seen it all before. This is standard operating procedure, they add.
Why the rush? After all, it took legislative leaders 133 days to settle on the right way to spend $32 billion of our money over the next two years. Well, for one thing, they're running out of time…
It's day Day 29 of the 30-Day Special Session. Ordinarily, we'd do some fun calculations with fractions. But 29 is a prime number, so there's no smaller fraction that it can be reduced to.
Percentage-wise, when they finish today (or probably tonight), 96.6 percent of the special session will be history.
New property taxes are off the table for Spokane in the August primary and probably the rest of the year.
The Spokane City Council on Monday voted 5-0 against a proposal to ask voters to increase property taxes to help balance the budget. Spokane Mayor Mary Verner already had dismissed the idea and administrators said declining property values may make such a tax boost less helpful.
“It had no traction,” said Councilman Richard Rush. “There was a pretty good analysis that if we did, we wouldn't have anything to show for it given the current trend in property valuations.”
OLYMPIA – After tying the Legislature in knots for much of the last three months, changes to the state’s century-old workers compensation sped through both houses Monday with comfortable margins. It passed the House 69-26, and the Senate 35-12.
The changes, which also have the support of Gov. Chris Gregoire and should soon become law, are projected to save the disability system some $1.1 billion over the next four years and stave off double digit rate increases for businesses.
To read the rest of Tuesday's print edition story, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — A key piece to the puzzle of making changes to the state's workers compensation system came from Rep. Matt Shea, who suggested negotiators drop the idea of “lump sum” payments in favor of structured settlements.
Shea, R-Spokane Valley, suggested a system that is more common in settlements over tort claims, or lawsuits involving damages. Rather than giving an injured worker the full amount of any agreed payment all at once, the state could give workers the money over time through a structure set by statute.
Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, complimented Shea during floor debate on the bill and explained later in a prepared statement the suggestion became a key to negotiations because House Speaker Frank Chopp had refused to consider lump-sum agreements that were included in other bills. “It's an innovative suggestion that gained acceptance among negotiators and it was a key piece of the puzzle that allowed us to move forward on needed workers compensation reform.”
Shea, an attorney, said he talked with other attorneys and labor representatives about the concerns with lump sum settlements, that some workers wouldn't have money left for later. He suggested a system used in damage lawsuits that pays out a settlement over time. “The governor accepted the idea and it was written into the agreed conference legislation.”
OLYMPIA — Major changes to the state's workers compensation system passed the House Monday on a 69-26 vote.
Most proposed amendments were ruled out of order by Speaker Frank Chopp, and debate centered around whether injured workers would be helped or hurt by a change that would allow them to take “structured settlements” rather than take part in state retraining programs and go on a pension program.
Rep. Chris Reykdahl, D-Tumwater, said the changes were part of a “relentless pursuit to take on workers”. Businesses will be helped at the expense of workers, he said.
Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, insisted it was a “creative and somewhat experimental” change to the state's century-old system designed to protect injured workers. “If I were an injured worker, I would want this option. If there are problems, I'll be the first to come back and fix them.”
Rep. .Tami Green, D-Lakewood, acknowledged the plan was controversial, but should be given a chance to work. “I guess I would ask us to all calm down a lilttle bit,” Green said in opening the debate. “If there are problemls, we can come back and fix them.”
OLYMPIA — Budget negotiators continue to hold tight on the details of the general operating budget while insisting there is no problem with the agreement.
It's at the printer, will be distributed Tuesday to members at 9 a.m. and to the news media at 10 a.m. There will be no hearings on the budget (Tuesday is,after all, the 29th day of a 30 day session) but Murray said that's standard operating procedure. There will be hearings on about a dozen proposed changes to state law needed to make the budget work, he said.
“There are no surprises. There is no hidden information that people haven't seen,” he said.
Murray had root canal on Friday and was taking antibiotics Monday for the procedure. “The budget negotiations were worse than root canal.”
OLYMPIA — A disagreement over how to set the state's debt limit could lead to billions in state projects, including the proposed Spokane Medical School, being delayed, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.
Rep. Ross Hunter tells reporters Monday there's a deal on the operating budget, but it won't be released until Tuesday.
OLYMPIA — Budget negotiators have reached deal on the 2011-13 operating budget, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle confirmed late this morning.
“The good news is we have a budget. The bad news is it's a painful budget with some deep cuts,” Murray said.
Don't ask what's in it yet. The contents will be released to legislators Tuesdsay morning, tentatively at 9 a.m., and to the public about an hour later. In the meantime, it has to go to the printer.
“I'm not going to discuss details,” Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, repeated a half-dozen times as reporters questioned him in the House wings.
Negotiators reached an agreement and shook hands about 11 p.m. Sunday. Staff is going over the details to make sure what negotiators agreed to is what they thought they agreed to. “There will not be any big issues that block us from solving it,” Hunter said.
Negotiators had been meeting every evening until 10 or 11 p.m., he said. “There were a couple of moments when theings were a little testy,” he said.
Asked whether the budget will get strong support from both parties in both houses, Hunter said: “It will get at least 76 votes.” Which is to say, at least 50 votes in the House, 25 in the Senate and the governor's signature.
Presidential hopeful Herman Cain has a good idea, with bad execution.
Do you know where he messed up? Go inside the blog for the answer.
OLYMPIA — At some point today, probably late morning, the House will do something it has resisted for about 132 days: vote on a bill to change workers compensation system.
The deal announced Sunday evening was printed up over night, setting up a vote sometime after the respective parties chew it over in caucuses. If the House pushes it out in time, the Senate could vote on the proposal Monday evening.
There will be no public hearings. Gov. Chris Gregoire tossed off the suggestion that hearings were needed Sunday evening, saying that all elements of the package had undergone hearings already, with the exception of new provisions to guard against fraud, and who could be against more fraud fighting?
Technically, that's not exactly true. The “structured settlement” provisions haven't had a hearing; their precursor, which was known as “compromise and release” and had some significant differences — presumably they must, else House Democratic leaders who seemed more willing to stick their heads in a lawnmower than vote for c & r wouldn't be voting for “structured settlements”.
But it would seem that in the closing days of the session, hearings are overrated.
A budget agreement also seems likely to be announced today, or they could run out of time to get things printed and read and voted on before everyone's coach turns into a pumpkin at 11:59:59 p.m. Wednesday.
Today's special session math: By day's end, we will be 28/30ths gone; which equals 14/15ths gone; which equals 93.33 percent over.
Gov. Chris Gregoire announces proposed changes to the Workers Compensation system as Sens. Lisa Brown and Mike Hewitt look on.
OLYMPIA – An agreement on offering settlements to injured workers could remove one of the main obstacles to the Legislature passing a budget for the next two years.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and the leaders of both parties in both chambers said Sunday evening they had hammered out a deal on a major overhaul of the state’s workers compensation system that will save $500 million in 2012 and $1.1 billion through 2015.
Key to the agreement was a plan to offer “structured settlements” to seriously injured workers aged 55 and over. Those workers would be able to negotiate settlements to be paid over time through a formula tied to average state wages; in exchange, they would forego pensions and state-funded retraining programs now available under the system.
The age limit would be dropped to 53 in 2015 and 50 in 2016.
“It’s not an annuity,” Gregoire stressed. . .
OLYMPIA — An agreement on changes to the state's workers compensation system that is one of the keys to the Legislature settling on a budget was said to be “very close” this afternoon.
Which is presumably closer than the “very close” it was to fruition Saturday afternoon.
“It's so close I can almost smell the roses,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said Sunday afternoon in the wings of the Senate chamber as that body was getting ready to vote on some momentous legislation like getting rid of the Higher Education Coordinating Board and replacing it with another board that will oversee higher education. An announcement was expected “within a couple hours.”
Late Saturday afternoon, Jim Justin, Gov. Chris Gregoire's legislative director, had also described an agreement as “very close.” But legislative leaders and Gregoire spent time Sunday discussing it, so presumably they got very closer. Or verier close. Or verier closer. Whatever.
As for the general operating budget — the $32 billion two-year spending plan which is the Legislature's constitutional duty to set — well that too is (you guessed it) very close.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said there were some small points to settle, but he was confident that would happen. “I'm more nervous about the time left than I am about the details of the budget.”
That's because as of today, the special session is 90 percent done, and only three days remain until adjournment. After an agreement is reached, the budget still has to be printed and circulated.
Asked what points remained to be settled, Murray declined: “I'm not going to negotiate in the media.”
OLYMPIA – The Senate agreed last week to extend tax breaks for film companies that shoot movies and TV shows in Washington.
That makes economic sense, considering a movie being shot in Spokane generates jobs as well as a certain amount of buzz that can’t be measured in monetary terms but definitely boosts community spirits.
Spotting stars like Samuel L. Jackson or Cuba Gooding Jr. at downtown hotels, bars and coffee shops is great sport. Even the most jaded among us can’t resist watching a locally shot production like The Basket and telling out-of-town friends and relatives: “Well you know, the climactic basketball game is actually played…” **
OLYMPIA – Legislators may reach a deal sometime today on one of the key stumbling blocks to passing a budget and adjourning, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Gregoire said Saturday evening.
They still disagree on major changes proposed for the state’s workers compensation system but progress was made in a day of negotiations, Jim Justin, Gregoire’s legislative director, said. “We are very close. Something’s going to happen in the next 24 hours.”
But a deal is not guaranteed, he added: “Is there a potential for it to still blow up? Yes.”
Justin spoke as the Legislature adjourned after a rare Saturday session. . .
OLYMPIA — Washington would ask potential buyers how much the state could get for its wholesale liquor distribution system in a bill approved today by the Senate.
Overcoming objections of people who said it did too little and merely shifted the state's liquor monopoly to private hands, the Senate voted 31-14 to approve a bill to seek requests for proposals from companies interested in taking over the wholesale system. Retail stores would remain in state control.
Hanging over the debate was the filing Friday of an initiative that would privatize liquor distribution and sales throughout the state by Costco, the state's restaurant association and the region's grocery stores.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, argued the bids should not be sought until after the November election if the initiative gathers enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Uncertainty over the outcome of the election would drive down the amounts on the bids, he said.
“If the initiative is certified, this bill is essentially worthless,” Tom said.
But supporters said the Legislature can't put issues on hold just because an initiative was filed. “If the initiative process is a reason for people not to act, we shouldn't be here,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said.
Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach, said the state should look at more than just selling its wholesale operation; it should get out of the retail stores, too. “This is a big issue and it should have been handled in a comprehensive way,” he said.
But Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said there are some advantages to considering changes to the different parts of the system individually. “This is the piece that you don't see when you walk in the liquor store. This is just a first step.”
The bill now goes to the House.
OLYMPIA — As expected, a new proposal to privatize the liquor system in Washington was filed late Friday.
Supporters include Costco, Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Restaurant Association for a proposal that would let retailers with at least 10,000 square feet obtain liquor licenses and pay 17 percent of their gross revenues to the state. Businesses that get distribution licenses would pay 10 percent of gross the first two years and 5 percent every year after that.
The state would auction off its distribution warehouse and stores. Supporters say they want to inject competition into the liquor biz. They think it's a better plan than the two that voters turned down last year.
They expect to be seeking signatures as soon as wording is checked and petitions are printed, in about a month. The deadline is early July and ordinarily that wouldn't be enough to get all the signatures needed, but last year Costco set up tables at its warehouse stores and grabbed a boatload of signatures fairly quickly.
The state might also order a study on whether it makes economic sense to sell or lease its wholesale liquor distribution system — if a bill on that topic can make it through the Legislature.
With most legislators playing the waiting game, the most productive thing in the Capitol Saturday morning may have been the wedding photos being taken of Evaline and Dennis Zalevskiy, scene here pausing at the top of the Rotunda steps for their videographer. Afterwards, they entire wedding party went outside and did an “Abbey Road” pose in one of the crosswalks.
OLYMPIA — The official start time of today's legislative session was 10 a.m. Actual start time is somewhat less definite.
House went straight to caucus. Senate went at ease. Negotiators continue to discuss the 2011-13 operating budget and a possible compromise on Workers Compensation for Compromise and Release.
Neither chamber will be doing anything until 1 p.m. at the earliest.
Organized labor sent out a press release denouncing the latest iteration they were shown by Gov. Chris Gregoire Friday morning. It still contains voluntary compromise and release settlements for injured workers age 55 and over, State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson said. No major changes but “some nuances are different.”
They're against it. Johnson said it will create a “litigious system” in our state. “It's not a reform of the system. It's a cost-cutting measure.”
Legislative leaders and members of the business community were in on discussions last night in the governor's office. Labor wasn't there, Johnson said. “They didn't invite us. If anything's changed, it's only getting worse.”
OLYMPIA – The latest plan to allow Washington’s most populous counties to set up pilot programs for medical marijuana cooperatives may have limited prospects of passing this year.
The proposal would allow counties with more than 200,000 people, or the cities in them, to adopt ordinances for co-ops to grow and dispense medical marijuana. Those cities or counties could set rules for security, inspections and allowable amounts of the drug, and would report results to a special task force that would give findings to the Legislature in December 2012. Unlike some previous proposals, the state would not keep a patient registry.
It's the latest iteration of a bill that Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, has been trying to craft since Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most parts of the medical marijuana bill that passed during the regular session of the Legislature.
She said she's being urged by local officials in Seattle, Tacoma and King County to give them something to address the growth in medical marijuana dispensaries.
“They're left in a very difficult position, they can't regulate collective gardens,” she said. “I thought it was worth it to give it one more try.”
The latest version of SB 5955 received a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee Friday but may not have enough support to be reported out of committee. If it does, it may not have the required “four-corners agreement” from both parties' leaders in both chambers, necessary to get a vote in the special session dedicated primarily to budgets, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said.
Gregoire hasn't seen it yet, so she hasn't taken a stand, either, Kohl-Wells said.
Some of the interesting wrinkles in this latest version:
* Patient co-operatives would have to be non-profits.
* Patients can only be a member of one co-operative or collective garden at a time.
* Cooperatives couldn't advertise “in any manner that promotes or tends to promote the use or abuse of cannabis. This includes displaying pictures of cannabis.”
* No franchises.
* It sets up a Joint Legislative Task Force on Medical Use of Cannabis. (Go ahead. Insert the joke of your choice between “Joint” and “Legislative”.)
Ezra Eickmeyer, of the Washington Cannabis Association, said getting rid of the registry is a good step, limiting access to co-oops and dispensaries to only the most populous counties, not so good.
“Someone with four months to live with cancer isn't going to start planting their own cannabis,” Eickmeyer said.
Biggest problem for the bill may be that it's a work in progress with only five days left in the special session
Initiative-meister and red-light camera-hater Tim Eyman is urging adherents to send e-mails to city leaders around the state decrying the tactics of a leading camera purveyor.
The Spokane mayor and city councilmember were included in his missive this week to supporters, asking them to urge leaders to take a stand on “sleazeball” tactics of ATS, the red-light company that operates the systems in Spokane and many other communities. It's a response to a story in the Everett Herald this week that indicates a company executive waged an “Astroturf” campaign on that paper’s website to support the systems when locals criticized them.
Spokane city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said city officials had only received a handful of e-mails Thursday. That seemed low, prompting some worrying that Eyman was slipping, until a check of his e-mail links showed addresses were incorrect for several Spokane officials.
The correct e-mails can be found here.
The Spokane City Council on Monday will decide if it will ask voters to approve a property tax increase to help balance the city’s budget next year.
At a meeting earlier this week, there appeared to be little, if any, support on the council for the tax proposal, and council members Nancy McLaughlin and Steve Corker argued that it should be pulled from the agenda. But other council members said they preferred to hold Monday’s hearing to hear from the public before making a final decision.
City administrators say there’s a $6.6 million deficit that must be dealt with to balance the 2012 budget. Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said earlier this month that she opposes asking voters for the higher property tax and prefers raising hotel taxes, diverting money from red light camera tickets and other measures to balance the budget.
OLYMPIA — Day 25 will mostly deal with Ways and Means. Both the Senate and the House committees have hearings, but with two very different agendas.
House Ways and Mean has a 9 a.m. start, with nine bills on the hearing agenda and nine scheduled for executive session. Topics include expanding family planning, raising the cost of Running Start, cracking down on Medicaid fraud and funneling money into a budget stabilization account.
Senate Ways and Means, which has a 1:30 p.m. start, had its agenda posted shortly after 10 a.m. this morning. It will be voting on setting up an Opportunity Scholarship board, the new medical marijuana law, and adding 25 percent to all preferential rates offered on the state's Business and Occupation tax.
Today's special session math: Day 25 means the special session is 25/30ths gone, which equals 5/6ths, which equals 83.33 percent.
OLYMPIA – As the Senate was extending tax breaks for companies that make movie in the state and killing a plan to extend tourism taxes in Seattle, signs emerged the Legislature might at least make an effort to finish work by next Wednesday’s deadline.
Members of the House of Representatives, who had been told earlier in the week they wouldn’t be in session until next Monday, were given notice late Wednesday to report for work Saturday morning and expect to work every day through the deadline. Senate staff was being told Thursday to expect a similar work schedule.
Work on a budget that can pass both chambers continues behind closed doors but negotiators reportedly are closing the gap for different amounts of spending and savings over the next two years. A bigger question might be whether the two chambers can pass between 30 and 50 separate bills that would be needed to change existing state law so any compromise budget will work.
Changes to the state's workers compensation system are still one barrier to adjournment, but there may be movement on that front, too.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said it may be possible to achieve savings in the state’s workers compensation system without the controversial plan to offer injured workers 55 and older a voluntary settlement, known as compromise and release. The Senate has passed such a bill, and Gov. Chris Gregoire supports it, but House Democrats have so far refused to vote on it.
“What I support is a comprehensive workers compensation bill that helps improve the soundness of the system,” Brown said before attending a late afternoon meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, and Gregoire. “I’m not caught up on a specific provision.”
A majority of the Senate, however, does still support compromise and release, she added.
Some sort of compromise and release compromise (comp/rel/comp?) would leave a proposal to lower the state's debt limit as the other major barrier. The Senate has proposed dropping the limit from 9 percent to 7 percent; earlier this week, the House Capital Budget Committee offered a compromise, dropping the limit to 8.5 percent.
OLYMPIA — The Senate narrowly rejected a plan to extend taxes levied to build Seattle's baseball stadium as a way to pay for expansion of the state convention center, arts and culture programs and housing projects.
By a 24-22 vote, a proposal to continue a tax on hotel and motel rooms and rental cars in King County went down in the face of warnings that voters would be convinced of the adage that there's nothing more permanent than a temporary tax. To pass the Senate, a bill needs at least 25 votes. It could be brought back for another vote sometime Friday if one of the 22 “no” votes switches sides.
The taxes were approved in 1995 to build a new stadium for the Mariners, now known as Safeco Field, during a special session of the Legislature. The taxes were to stay in place until bonds were paid off or 2015, whichever came first.
The bonds will be retired later this year. SB 5958 would have continued charging the taxes until 2015, and redirect the money to expand and renovate the Convention Center in Seattle, Pioneer Square preservation projects, affordable housing projects in Seattle and arts programs.
“We made a commitment to the people of King County and the state of Washington,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said. “Voters have to know that when we say a tax is going away, it really will go away.”
OLYMPIA — The Senate extended a tax incentive for motion picture production companies filming in Washington state over objections from critics that it was a “loophole” that doesn't bring much benefit to the state.
On a 30-16 vote, the Senate approved SB 5539 which offers incentives to companies that shoot movies or television shows in the state and hires local workers. It rejected an amendment to set a requirement that at least 75 percent of the workers be state residents.
Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the exemption was first proposed and approved in 2006, when all the surrounding states had incentives and Washington risked losing out to Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia. Spokane-based North by Northwest was being lured to Boise because of tax incentives, she added.
“Spokane hosts several films a year,” she said. It often wins out over Seattle because it's willing to close streets and let film companies reconstruct storefronts for their productions. “It's the kind of thing I'd rather have in Spokane than Boise.”
Sen. Jim Kastama, Puyallup, said the incentives “are not worth the money spent” and that other things like research at the state's universities is a better use of state money. One study suggested the state gets only 14 cents back for every dollar of incentive, he said.
But other studies suggest there's almost $2 of increased economic activity for every $1 spent. And Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, said the number of states offering such incentives has grown, from 14 when Washington first offered them in 2006, to 44 now. The prospect that this incentive would disappear prompted one company to film the television series “The Killing” in British Columbia and Oregon, even though it is supposedly set in Seattle, she said.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said in recent weeks some of the people supporting this tax incentive were calling for the closure of tax loopholes. “We're opening up another loophole,” Tom said.
The bill now goes to the House.
OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives returns to work at 10 a.m. Saturday, with a warning that they can expect to work through the weekend.
One source in the Capitol noted that Saturday is also the day some members of a small Christian sect believe the End Times will start and the Rapture will occur. Won't that mess up the works?, he asked.
Probably not, for several reasons.
One is that the rapture is scheduled for 6 p.m., and anything the House can't get done in eight hours probably can't get done that day.
The other is that the Rapture only involves God's elect, who will be taken into heaven and saved. Note the distinction between “elect” and “elected”. Chances are the House will have enough folks to work through the night, and come back the next day.
Still, if anyone disappears in the middle of a debate, it could mess up one of the close votes. Someone will also have to decide whether they are marked “absent” or “excused” in the official tallies.
We'll keep you informed.
Relatively calm this morning in and around the Capitol.
OLYMPIA — The Senate is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m., but doesn't have a schedule yet. They'll break to get some bills queued up shortly after invocation, then caucus, then go to lunch, then vote on bills.
(Editor's note: Original story suggested they 'd go to work on the floor before lunch. Notice from the Senate staff at 12:15 p.m. says, nope, they're breaking for lunch first, then having a floor session. Apparently they worked up an appetite in caucus.)
There are some “heavy lifting” proposals on the list, which can be found by going inside the blog.
House members will be trying to figure when to head back to the capital by Saturday morning after blowing Dodge earlier this week with expectation they might be off until Monday.
A bit of special session math: We're 24/30ths gone, which equals 12/15ths, which equals 8/10ths which equals 4/5ths which equals 80 percent.
Not that anyone's counting.
OLYMPIA — The rumor mill was working harder than a lobbyist's Blackberry Wednesday.
The Legislature will be in session until the fall. No, it will be done by next Wednesday. No, it will run out of time and be sent home, brought back the last week of June under the threat of a state government shutdown.
All of this is exacerbated by the fact many House members went home Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, with nothing scheduled until Monday. The Senate was in session, but handled only a handful of bills around noon Wednesday before adjourning until Thursday. (See Sunday Spin: Are we in Oz or what?)
There's really not much to do until the two houses get an agreement on a general operating budget, proposed changes to workers compensation and rearranging the state's debt limit.
But Wednesday night came the first sign of some movement in the log jam.
House staff was notified that representatives are bieng called back for a session starting at 10 a.m. Saturday “and will meet every day through May 25th. This includes Sunday May 22nd.”
So clearly, something must be up.
OLYMPIA — One week to go in the special session, but the pace is less than hectic.
Senate Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to vote on proposals to consider selling or leasing the state's liquor distribution system, and to eliminate some tax breaks for businesses.
That will come after harings on long-term disability and teacher pay.
The Senate has floor activity possible, but schedulers say it should be “light” today but “heavy” tomorrow.
There will be no floor action in the House today, with most members told Tuesday they could go home. They might not be called back before Monday.
OLYMPIA –Washington state needs a new way of electing appeals court judges to comply with the constitutional doctrine of one-person, one-vote, Spokane attorney Steve Eugster told the state Supreme Court Tuesday.
But an attorney for the state countered that’s really a doctrine for picking legislators, not judges, and the way appeals court judges are elected and assigned cases is correct. That phrase isn’t even found in the state constitution, which instead calls for elections to be “free and equal,” Deputy Solicitor General Anne Egeler said.
“There is no right to be heard by the judge you personally elected to the bench,” Egeler said.
OLYMPIA — The Senate narrowly passed legislation to allow cigar lounges in Washington, despite warnings from some Democrats that the denizens of such establishments may be setting themselves up for some equipment problems down the road.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, urged a no vote on Senate Bill 5542, noting all the maladies that cigar smoking can cause. Cancer was an obvious one, but Tom added several others. Cigar smokers are twice as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction, he said, so the macho image of cigar-smoking guys may be misplaced.
“I'd hate to see these cigar lounges sponsored by Viagra,” Tom said.
The bill is about personal choice, Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland said. “Are we going to be that much of a nanny state?”
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he had no problem with people making the choice to jeopardize their own health. But employees of the lounges will be required to sign a waiver that acknowledges they are working in a hazardous area. But Republicans who support the cigar lounge bill should pay attention to Tom's warning about medical consequences:
“A vote for this bill is a vote for Family Planning,” Kline said.
The bill passed 26-21, and was sent to the House.
Talking Points Memo prepared this two-minute “Greatest Hits” of the late, grate Donald Trump campaign.
OLYMPIA — It's a rare day for the Special Session: Both the Senate and the House are scheduled for floor sessions today to vote on bills.
Which might cause Gov. Chris Gregoire to feel a little better. As she observed rather pointedly yesterday: “It's very hard to negotiate when you have only one house in at a time.”
The House also has a morning Ways and Means Committee hearing with a potpourri of bill topics like nursing homes, opportunity scholarships and adoptions of hard-to-place children, and a Capital Budget committee hearing on a proposal to lower the state's debt limit, a half-percent a year for four years, starting in 2016.
(Admittedly, that doesn't sound terribly draconian or pressing, but one source on the House Capital Budget Committee said the Senate is demanding the House pass this or there's no deal on the capital budget. With time running out in the session, with is already 70 percent gone, that would mean no bonds would be sold and only projects that could be funded by sales on state timber lands would move forward. And no, the proposed Medical School for Spokane is not one such project.)
A group of House and Senate Democrats, calling itself the Working Families Caucus, had scheduled a 10 a.m. press conference this morning on proposed changes to the Worker's Compensation System, presumably to say what a terrible, horrible, no good really bad deal it is. But it was postponed indefinitely, and no word if they've reconsidered their stance, or just decided they needed to polish the message.
Both the new limits on state bond debt and a workers' comp change that includes voluntary settlements for workers at least 55 are among the roadblocks to the Legislature settling on a general operating budget, Gregoire said yesterday.
City voters soon will have 11 choices to make about the future of city governing.
The Spokane City Council decided Monday to place proposed changes to the City Charter on Aug. 16 ballot.
Officials say the purpose of most of them is to clarify contradictions in existing law or are minor in nature. Still, some changes could make noticeable impacts on city governance and one already has been opposed by the Spokane Park Board.
The most controversy Monday came from a proposal to strip the Park Board’s power to condemn property.
The City Charter currently requires the City Council to condemn land for park acquisition if requested by the Park Board and the board and land owner were unable to come to a “satisfactory arrangement” for compensation. The proposed change that voters will consider will give the City Council the power to turn down Park Board condemnation requests.
Park leaders say the move as a power grab by the council and a move against its independent authority over park policy granted to them by voters more than a century ago. Park Director Leroy Eadie said the board has had condemnation ability since 1910 and has rarely, if ever, used it.
“There is no reason to believe that the current Park Board or future boards will be any less responsible or that it will recklessly exercise its condemnation authority,” said Park Director Leroy Eadie in a letter to the council. He added that “in the coming years circumstance may require use of this power to further develop Riverfront Park, the North Bank or other properties in its inventory.”
The vote to add the park item to the ballot was a rare 4-3 vote in which council members Jon Snyder and Richard Rush were joined by Nancy McLaughlin. (The fourth vote was provided by Steve Corker.)
Snyder and McLaughlin argued that only elected officials should have the power to condemn property from unwilling sellers.
“It’s an important check and balance we need in a strong mayor form of government,” Snyder said.
Gov. Gregoire points to a chart Monday that shows revenue for the ferry system is falling dangerously low.
OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the state's 2011-13 transportation budget Monday and issued a warning to the Legislature to hurry up on other spending plans for the next biennium that seem to be hostage to a disagreements between the two chambers.
Agree on a general operating budget “no later than the end of the week”, she said, or risk running out of time for the special session. If that happens, Gregoire said she’d let legislators go home and stay there until they can strike a deal on the operating budget and a list of other proposals creating a roadblock to compromises.
“Things are not moving as fast as I think they should be,” a clearly unhappy Gregoire said after signing the 2011-13 transportation bill.
To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA – Nearly 3,000 items that someone locked away for safekeeping and either forgot about, or forgot to tell anyone else about, will be auctioned off this week for the state Department of Revenue.
From gold coins and jewelry to baseball cards and arrowheads, items valued by someone were found in safe deposit boxes whose owners have either died or moved, and the bank couldn’t track down. The banks turned the contents over to the department, which spent more time trying to find the owner before placing them in the latest “Lost Treasures” Auction Wednesday and Thursday.
The catalog for the auction reads a bit like the lineup for an upcoming episode of “Antiques Roadshow”: An autographed Michael Jordan baseball. A 1846 U.S. Navy powder flask. A carved Ivory cribbage board. A Dick Tracy pocket knife. A First-Day Issue envelope and stamp for the 1946 “Operation Crossroads” atomic bomb test on the Bikini Atoll.
“Anything that fits in a box that people think is important,” Patti Wilson, the department’s unclaimed property operations manager, said Monday….
To read the rest of this item, or to comment, go inside the blog.
To see an online catalog of items in the Lost Treasures Auction,click here.
To search the Department of Revenue’s database of unclaimed property, click here.
The long-time leader of the neighborhood group representing downtown filed paperwork last week announcing a run for Spokane City Council.
Gary Pollard, chairman of the Riverside Neighborhood Council, said Monday that he decided to run because the council needs more members who are “more pragmatic” and “more job-oriented.”
He said some council members are too focused on “complete streets” concepts and that he would not support asking voters for a new street bond if it included money for sidewalks.
“That would put too much burden on the taxpayers,” Pollard said.
To the dismay of late-night comedians in general and Saturday Night Live sketch writers in particular, Donald Trump will not run for president in 2012.
The Donald announced today that he's not running — even though he insisted he could win — and will host the next season of The Apprentice. It would seem he has his priorities in the right order.
OLYMPIA — The Washington Army National Guard's 81st Combat Brigade got a “Notice of Sourcing” recently that indicates some 3,000 soldiers may be called up for another overseas tour of duty. But there's no indication where or when this could happen.
A Notice of Sourcing is a new process and the earliest word a Guard unit gets about a possible upcoming deployment. It could be followed by an Alert Order, which would be followed by Mobilization Order that would have fuller details of a deployment.
Te 506th Military Police Company, a 50-person unit based in Tacoma, also received a Notice of Sourcing.
Capt. Keith Kosik, a Guard spokesman, said the Notice of Sourcing has been added to the Pentagon's notification process since the last time the 81st was called up, so it's not possible to say with any certainty how much time can elapse between the notice and an Alert Order if one is to come.
“It's certainly not set in stone. We're being considerd as a possible solution to a mission,” Kosik said. “We really don't know if we will receive an Alert Order.”
The 81st has served two tours in Iraq, from March 2004 to March 2005, and from August 2008 to August 2009. The 506th, which was formed in September 2005, was in Iraq from May 2007 to May 2008.
OLYMPIA — The Senate returns from its long weekend to a morning of caucusing, and possibly voting, although the schedule for bills probably won't be available until post-caucus.
Heavy lifting of the day might be done in the Ways and Means Committee, which has an afternoon hearing on fees for teacher certificates, proposed changes for quality education and consolidating natural resources agencies. They're also scheduled to vote on whether to send to the floor the latest plan on the state's liquor distribution system and some other government “streamlining.”
House is in pro forma, which is to say, they aren't around until Tuesday.
OLYMPIA – May might be the cruelest month in the state capital. The rain gives way only sporadically to sun breaks, momentarily lifting the gray gloom that shrouds the dome most days and giving everyone a glimpse of snow-covered Olympics jutting up beyond a sparkling Budd Inlet.
And then it’s gone, with most capital denizens the crankier for being reminded about what they are missing.
Yes, the cherry blossoms were in bloom for a while, until beaten off the trees by intermittent downpours. Yes, as a former Spokanite I am thankful it is not snowing. And yes I know that people who talk about the weather do so because they have nothing better to talk about.
One might assume that with the Legislature well into its special session – as you read this Sunday, it will be Day 20 of a 30-day session, two-thirds gone – there would be plenty to talk and write about: legislative legerdemain worked, compromises struck, budgets debated and passed. One would assume wrong.
The Legislature has come through a Tim Eyman supermajority of the special session as though the work schedule were set by the folks in the Merry Old Land of Oz: “We get up at 12 and start to work at 1/Take an hour for lunch and then at 2 we’re done.” It’s not clear, however, who’s having jolly good fun.
OLYMPIA — Budget protesters dressed as zombies marched on the Capitol Friday in a demonstration against cuts to social services.
Well, shuffled is probably more accurate. Zombies don't actually move very fast, and these zombies moved so slow that by the time they got to the Capitol steps, the House of Representatives had already approved cuts to a key social service program, the Disability Lifeline, and adjourned until Tuesday. The Senate was out all day.
No matter. They performed a bit of flash mob theater, with their own rendition of the Monster Mash, rewritten into “Monster Slash.” They brought their own saxophonist. The dance worked well. The chant — “What do we want? Brains. When do we want them? Brains.” — didn't.
(Don't tell me it's in keeping with zombies. Efficacy is more important than staying in character.)
Heather Duke, an Olympia resident who joined the group, said she doesn't usually take part in protests but is concerned about the budget cuts and thought this was worth joining.
“I liked the creative forces behind this. We need to be extra creative to get noticed in the face of well-paid lobbyists,” she said. “I hope this kind of action will spur other people.”
The chances of Dennis Kucinich winning a congressional seat in Washington if he's redistricted out of his seat in Ohio may be pretty slim politically. They are not-existent, historially, according to this post from SmartPolitics.
No congressman has ever served back-to-back terms from different states, with the exception of a few who didn't move but found themselves in a new state as a result of external events like West Virginia splitting off from Virginia during the Civil War.
OLYMPIA — The House returns for votes on some bills, sometime today.
The bills to be voted up or down (presumably up, else why bother with the vote?) haven't been released yet, but the list of potential bills offers plenty of interesting items from which to choose.
The House will have the spotlight all to itself, because most of the Senate is gone until Monday. Leadership is reportedly around, working on the budget and trying to reach compromises on sticking points like workers compensation changes but the public won't see that until there's something close to agreement. (Think of it as getting the sausage when it's ready to toss on the grill.)
After signing about 30 bills yesterday, Gov. Chris Gregoire may have developed writers cramp. She isn't scheduled to sign any more bills until Monday.
OLYMPIA – Planning on driving to a state park or recreation area for some fun in the great outdoors after July 1? It'll cost you.
The same for visiting a state heritage site or wildlife area, using a state boat launch or trail.
Under a law signed Thursday by Gov. Chris Gregoire, lands controlled by the State Parks and Recreation Commission, Department of Natural Resources or Department of Fish and Wildlife will charge a $10-per-day vehicle fee for visitors who drive in. Regular users can buy an annual “Discover Pass” for all areas for $30.
The Legislature approved the new fees to help offset some $72 million in cuts those three state agencies are expected to get in the 2011-13 general operating budget.
OLYMPIA — There will be no presidential primary in Washington state next year. A law signed Thursday cancels the primary mandated by a voter initiative in 1989.
That move will save the state general operating budget an estimated $10 million for an election that Washington Democrats have never used to pick presidential delegates and Washington Republicans have only partly used.
The parties will use precinct caucuses, as they did for decades before voters approved the initiative, and have held onto despite the support the presidential primary has from state officials like Secretary of State Sam Reed and Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Although the law passed both houses with bipartisan support, Reed was the only one present Thursday when Gregoire signed the new law, which calls for the presidential primary to be reinstated in 2016.
The presidential primary was cancelled once before, in 2004, also to save money. The law doesn't affect the state's Top Two primary for state and local candidates seeking offices in the 2012 general election. That’s scheduled for early August.
OLYMPIA — The State Redistricting Commission, which will redraw the lines for the legislative districts and add a 10th congressional district in Washington, will hold a hearing in Spokane on July 12.
Location and time to be determined.
They'll also be in Walla Walla July 13 and Moses Lake July 14.
The commission announced its schedule of hearings around the state this week. Starting next week, it will make the rounds to 17 cities to hear citizens' questions and ideas about redrawing the lines. For those who can't wait, or can't get enough with the one hearing in their neck of the woods, all the meetings will be webcast on TVW.
Details of the Spokane hearing will be posted as soon as available.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a longtime congressman and sometime presidential candidate from Ohio, could be districted out of his House seat in the Buckeye State. That has prompted speculation that he could move elsewhere, to a simpatico Blue-state district, to run for election and remain in the House.
Washington state has been mentioned as one such state, based in part on the fact that Kucinich has made some trips here and received a warm welcome. Kucinich himself may have fanned that flame a bit this week with an appeal to donors to his re-election campaign that mention's he might not actually be running for re-election in Ohio, but somewhere else.
In a missive headlined “My Next Move?” he writes he won't quietly fade away: “Instead, we're gearing up for a long and difficult campaign in 2012 - wherever that may be…I've been approached by supporters across the country - from Washington to Maine - to explore options outside Ohio should redistricting force me out of my current district.”
Coupled with the fact that Washington state will gain a congressional district, and two of the state's House members could be running for something else next year — Democrat Jay Inslee is running for governor if Chris Gregoire isn't, and Republican Dave Reichert has been mentioned as a prospect for U.S. Senate and governor — This has set off lots of speculating among the political cognescenti.
But remember that the cognescenti are long on speculation and short on memory. Kucinich probablly did warm welcomes in Western Washington…heck, he got a warm welcome in Spokane in 2004 when he stopped in before the caucuses. So did Howard Dean and John Kerry. We're warm and friendly people.
A better yardstick might be how did Kucinich do in the caucuses that year, when folks had to, you know, actually support him?
Not so well, if memory serves. Kucinich finished a distant third, behind Kerry and Dean, in that year's precinct caucuses, with about 8 percent of the delegates. In 2008, when Kucinich again ran for president, he was already out of the race by the time the state held its primary and caucuses. His name was on the primary ballot, but he polled less than 1 percent.
Doesn't sound like much of a foundation to build on, particularly for someone who's going to be labeled a carpetbagger the minute he announces a campaign.
As ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., got an invitation to CIA headquarters this week to see the photos of Osama bin Laden taken after he was killed in Abbottabad.
He said thanks but no thanks. Here's his preparied statement:
“I have decided not to go to Langley to view the bin Laden photographs myself at CIA Headquarters.
I support the President’s decision not to release the photographs. These images are not necessary to confirm that the mission to eliminate bin Laden was a success. Distributing these violent images would also serve no purpose for our national security interests worldwide. Our focus should be on preventing new threats to the safety of the American people.”
Do you think Smith was right to take a pass, or should he have gone to see the photos? Click here to comment.
OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives has the day off, but the Senate convenes this morning. There's no schedule yet, so they'll probably go into caucus after handling routine things.
There are rumors of votes on bills later in the day.
The process will reverse on Friday, and the House will be in session and caucus, but the Senate has nothing scheduled. Nothing scheduled over the weekend for either chamber.
It would seem the Legislature gets its work schedule from the folks in the Merry Old Land of Oz: “We get up at 12 and start to work at 1/Take an hour for lunch and then at 2 we're done. Jolly good fun.”
The governor, meanwhile is closing in on finishing off the signing of bills from the regular session. She'll autograph more than two dozen in the afternoon, including a bill that cancels the state's 2012 presidential primary and another that sets up day use fees and season passes for state parks. Click here for a complete list of today's bills.
OLYMPIA – Washington will stay in the forefront of federal health care reform, and could save as much as $26 billion over the next decade, with a half dozen bills signed into law Wednesday.
Even though the federal health care reforms are being challenged in court and by critics in Congress, Gov. Chris Gregoire and other state officials said the new state laws are needed now. They also make Washington eligible for federal funds while giving the state the chance to reshape health care to fit its needs.
“We can’t sit back and wait,” State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said. “Doing nothing means the feds are going to take over.”
OLYMPIA – With a Senate panel considering a new rewrite of the state’s medical marijuana laws, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday she’ll push to get the federal government to rewrite its laws and make the drug legal to treat some conditions.
The newest attempt to regulate some aspects of medical marijuana had few supporters for its debut in the Senate Ways and Means Committee Wednesday morning. Its sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, conceded SB 5955 was drafted in a hurry and needed revision.
Steve Sarich of CannaCare, which operates medical marijuana clinics and dispensaries, said if the goal was to provide clarity, allowing each city and county to set limits on the drug won’t do that: “You guys are creating chaos if you pass this measure.”..
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OLYMPIA — With speculation mounting that the Legislature will need a second special session to finish all work on the budget, Gov. Chris Gregoire is stepping up her Shermanesque statements.
“I'm not calling them back,” she said when the standard question about the prospects of another overtime session came up at today's bill-signing ceremony.
For the past week, she's offered a different answer, insisting a second special session “is not in my vocabulary”. She's been meeting with legislative leaders off and on, and perhaps some people were thinking she'd picked up the phrase from one of them.
The reason for a second session would be the same as the reason for this one, that the Legislature didn't adopt the 2011-13 budgets and all the legislation needed to make them work. So if she's not calling them back, what would she do come July 1, when the state starts a new fiscal year?
“When they get ready to pass a budget, they can let me know,” she said. “We're not going to sit here. People are just going to have to compromise.”
OLYMPIA — The sponsor of a new medical marijuana proposal conceded Wednesday it was put together quickly after a disappointing partial veto of a previous measure, and critics ranging from patients to dispensaries to law enforcement criticized it on most points.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, said Gov. Chris Gregoire's veto of most sections of her previous bill left the state in a bad way: “The law is now worse than what it started out to be.”
So she crafted a new bill, SB 5955, which she conceded was imperfect and done quickly. It had little support at this morning's hearing in front of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Many witnesses agreed with the “imperfect” assessment.
Jim Cooper of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, said the bill would encourage more teens to try pot.
Valtino Hicks, a medical marijuana patient from Yakima who recently was found innocent in a trial over his use of the drug, said it would do nothing to curb overzealous law enforcement. (Editor's note: An early version of this story misspelled Hicks' name.)
Steve Sarich of CannaCare, which operates marijuana clinics and dispensaries, said it would lead to a hodge podge of rules across the state by allowing cities and counties to decide how many medical marijuana facilities, if any, would be allowed locally.
Don Pierce of the Washington Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said the state should require medical marijuana to be dispensed the way other drugs are, through pharmacies. To do that, it should change its classification from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug.
But that's not really practical, said Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, a pharmacist, only the federal government can make that change.
That might not prevent the state from trying, however, Sen. Karen Keiser said a bill was introduced this morning that would change marijuana place on the drug schedule in Washington.
The committee took no action on the bill.
For a good spoof on Bin Laden raid announcement, click here.
OLYMPIA — Both House and Senate Ways and Means committees have hearings today with long lists of bills on the agenda.
Among the bills in the Senate is the latest iteration of a medical marijuana law, introduced late Tuesday and scheduled for a 10:30 a.m. hearing today. The fast-tracking of the bill prompted legislative watchdog Jason Mercier to wonder “Dude, where's my public process?” this morning.
SB 5955 avoids things most objectionable to federal prosecutors and Gov. Chris Gregoire, like state oversight of growing and dispensing medical marijuana and concentrates on other aspects like a voluntary registry. The Cannabis Defense Coalition, which represents the existing medical marijuana operations, calls it hastily drafted and devastating. Not clear yet whether it has the necessary OK from leadership of both parties in both houses to get a floor vote in this “all budgets, all the time” special session.
House Ways and Means has a longer agenda, with hearings on a couple of business tax changes, including one that blends rates for print and online advertising in newspapers, and a vote on a bill that would eliminate the Higher Education Coordinating Board.
In the afternoon, Gregoire is set to sign a series of health care related bills designed to get the state in position for federal health care reform.
Maj. Margaret Witt, a Spokane nurse who won a major legal battle against the Pentagon in the campaign against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” will not return to uniform and her unit. Instead, she’ll retire with full benefits and with an unlawful discharge wiped from her service records.
Witt, a decorated flight nurse who became a beacon for those fighting for the rights of homosexuals to serve openly in the military, announced Tuesday that she has reached a settlement with the military. She will retire and “move forward” with her life, working on a doctorate in physical therapy. The military will drop its appeal of last fall’s landmark decision that she was improperly discharged under the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“I did fight hard for almost seven years,” Witt said in a phone interview after the announcement. “Every minute of it was worth it … But we made a family decision to move forward.”
To read the rest of this report or to comment, go inside the blog
OLYMPIA – Local governments should see a jump in tax revenue in mid May as the state funnels some $57 million from a recent tax amnesty to them, but the exact amount each city and county will see from the program won’t be known for weeks.
A state Department of Revenue spokesman said the increase in revenue from businesses that didn’t pay their sales and use taxes could be roughly equal to each area’s share of the state’s economy. The city of Spokane represents about 3.7 percent of the economy in the state’s most recent figures, and all of Spokane County about 6.8 percent, Mike Gowrylow said.
Using that yardstick, the city could see an extra $2.1 million and all governments around the county a total of $3.9 million. But that assumes businesses that avoided or underpaid taxes until the amnesty was offered are equally distributed throughout the state, and they probably aren’t, Gowrylow said.
“Some communities are going to see bigger bumps. It depends on where the business was located,” he said.
OLYMPIA — Supporters of better laws defining medical marijuana procedures are “rolling another one”.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, introduced a bill today that she believes will overcome Gov. Chris Gregoire's concerns about the previous bill, which was mostly vetoed late last month.
The new bill, SB 5955, proposes a voluntary registry that would shield medical marijuana patients from arrest and set up a system of non-profit cooperatives where they could buy their supplies. It would also allow local governments to control where dispensaries can be located.
But it does not set up a system that has the state Department of Agriculture licensing growing and processing operations and the Department of Health licensing dispensaries. The last bill proposed that, and set off a debate over whether federal agents could arrest state workers involved in medical marijuana tasks could be arrested under federal drug laws.
The bill gets a hearing at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
OLYMPIA — Police could not park their unmarked cars on private property and do routine administrative work under a bill introduced by two Valley legislators.
The bill, a reaction to the shooting of Pastor Wayne Scott Creach in the Spokane Valley, isn't likely to get a hearing in what's left of the special session. But Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said he wanted to get a conversation started on the issue and have law enforcement raise their concerns during the interim. He expects to reintroduce a bill on the topic in the 2012 session.
The special session, which today finished the 15th day of the 30-day session, was called to finish work on the 2011-13 budgets and any legislation needed to implement those spending plans. Bills that aren't tied to the budget require agreement of both parties' leaders in both chambers to come to a vote.
Spokane will borrow about $4 million from itself to pay for improvements near the University District along Division Street.
The money will be repaid in payments of $250,000 a year over 25 years with sales tax money collected in Spokane that otherwise would have been earmarked for the state.
The Spokane City Council voted 7-0 on Monday to issue the bond and to allow them to be purchased by the city’s investment fund, which is made up mostly of money held in reserve for future sewer, water and trash system upgrades.
OLYMPIA — Federal prosecutors may mean what they say about charging state employees who oversee medical marijuana operations, a state lawyer told legislators looking for direction on finding a law that can navigate the controversy.
Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even told legislators he can't predict the risk of federal prosecution to state employees after U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby and Jenny Durkan raised concerns about sections of a medical marijuana law. Federal drug laws preempt state laws in most cases, he said, so it's not possible to assume that a bill directing state workers to license and regulate the growing and sale of medical marijuana would be immune from prosecution if that bill became law.
A group of 14 House members asked last week for Attorney General Rob McKenna's opinion about the conflict between state and federal drug laws after Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed much of the medical marijuana bill. The response they got today was “a non-response,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, the drafter of the letter.
“I want to know what the attorney general's opinion is to providing safe acess to patients. His response is an effort to evade the issue,” Goodman said.
Even wrote that the state attorney general's office doesn't normally interpret federal law, but federal prosecutors “have already stated the position of the United States with respect to this issue.”
Ormsby and Durking did that in April, in a letter to Gregoire that the governor used as a reason for vetoing much of the medical marijuana bill that passed the Legislature with bipartisan support.
Even said he couldn't predict whether there would be prosecutions: “This office has no control over the (federal Controlled Substance Act) and cannot meaningfully predict what the United States may or may not do in that respect.”
Goodman said Monday he believes prosecutions are unlikely and that the Justice Department would seek a court order barring enforcement of a state law regulating medical marijuana. But that law isn't likely to emerge any time soon.
“We're not going to be able to override the governor's veto,” Goodman said, and crafting a new bill on growing operations and dispensaries is unlikely in the special session which will be half over on Tuesday. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, has a proposal that would help clarify rules for patients using cooperatives, he said, but currently lacks agreement from the leaders of both parties in both chambers to introduce it.
During a major fund-raising dinner Friday, state Republicans held a “straw poll” on the field of GOP candidates for president in 2012.
The winner, by a whisker, was Herman Cain.
For those of you out there saying “Herman who?”, Cain is the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, former CEO of the National Restaurant Association, member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and radio talk show host. He's got an exploratory committee, which means he's not quite a candidate, but will be if he discovers something he hopes to find on his exploration. (Think Stanley looking for Livingston or Lewis and Clark looking for the Pacific).
Cain got 54 votes, compared to 52 votes for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and 51 votes for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. That represented 15.13%, 14.57% and 14.29% of ballots cast, respectively.
The state GOP's take on the results: “The close results demonstrate that the Republican Party does not have a clear frontrunner. Herman Cain has been doing an excellent job getting his name out among Republican voters and his style appeals to many people. As the process moves forward and more individuals enter the race, it will be interesting to see how the perception of the various candidates changes.”
OLYMPIA — The cherry blossoms are out on the trees near the Capitol Building along the appropriately named Cherry Lane.
These are the Kwansan cherry trees, which bloom a few weeks later than the Yoshino cherry trees, Steve Valandra of the Department of General Administration said.
So it's a good time to stop and smell the flowers. Maybe that's why so little has been happening in the Legislature in recent days.
Normally, Spin Control wouldn't pay any mind to a campaign commercial from a mayoral race in New Jersey. But this one is so much fun that it makes one wonder what sort of creative spots we could see in the Spokane municpal campaigns if candidates put their minds to it.
First, Spokane probably rhymes with more things than “North Bergen.”
Second, Mayor Mary Verner can sing, as she's proven in the past at columnist Doug Clark's annual street music event. Maybe all she needs are some good campaign lyrics to adapt “Proud Mary.”
Third, we've got several months for the candidates who can't sing to dig up creative Web video enthusiasts.
OLYMPIA — Both chambers of the Legislature are scheduled to be in session today after a long weekend.
No details yet on what they'll be doing. Senate will go straight to caucus after their 11 a.m. start, and is expected to take votes on some bills in the afternoon.
House will get going late morning, but it, too, hasn't kicked out a list of legislation yet. The start of anything serious may be delayed a bit by waiting for the end of the Education Committee hearing, which is running long.
Not to make too big of a deal over it, but Tuesday will be Day 15, which is also the halfway mark in the special session.
OLYMPIA – Business organizations regularly bemoan how little recognition, respect and support they get from the state. But evidence to the contrary was clear last week, when the state announced a “windfall” of some $321 million from a tax amnesty program.
It showed that when there’s something fishy about what they’ve been doing, businesses get the benefit of the doubt that poor people don’t.
Cheers for the money were second only to Mariner’s improving win-loss record, and with good reason. The state originally thought it might pick up about $24 million by offering businesses a chance to clear up their tax debts without penalties or interest. It got $321 million – $264 million of which the state keeps after sending local governments their share – which is real money in anyone’s book. It offers the Legislature, in the words of Gov. Chris Gregoire, a chance to balance the state’s biennial budget and “go home.”
No one seemed concerned, however, about the reason for the unexpected bonanza….
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The honor guard arrives Friday for the Law Enforcement Medal of Honor/Peace Officers Memorial ceremony.
OLYMPIA – After the bugler played “Taps”, the bagpipers played “Amazing Grace” and the honor guard was dismissed Friday, Marjorie Petersen and Manuel de Encio went to the state Law Enforcement Memorial to get graphite rubbings of the newest name on the stone monument.
Their friend and co-worker, Monroe Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl, was the first person killed in the line of duty in a Washington prison in more than 30 years. Department of Corrections officers in their dress uniforms joined immaculately attired police, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers and even red-jacketed Canadian Mounties in the honor guard.
“It’s kind of a change in our culture,” said Petersen, a corrections officer, as de Encio, a volunteer at the installation made some final pencil swipes over the paper that showed Biendl’s name and date of death. Some security changes have already been made, and more are on the way, she said…
For those who are tired of the over-analyzing of the political significance of Osama bin Laden's death.
OLYMPIA — The Legislature may be gone, but the Capitol campus won't be empty today. Gov. Chris Gregoire and Attorney General Rob McKenna will be presenting the state's Medal of Honor to two law enforcement officers at a ceremony today.
The 1 p.m. ceremony, at the Law Enforcement Memorial just north of the Temple of Justice, will also recognize two killed in the line of duty.
OLYMPIA — Don't look for anything out of the Legislature today. Both chambers are gone through the weekend.
No committee hearings until Monday, either.
Perhaps they are resting up for the grueling pace yet to come. It's unlikely they'd need to rest from the pace so far.
Tuesday will mark Day 15 of the session. That's the halfway mark for those keeping track at home.
OLYMPIA — The special session finishes its first third today with both chambers in “pro forma” session.
Pro forma is Latin for “nothing much going on and most of the members somewhere else.” They won't be doing floor work until next week.
House and Senate Ways and Means committees are having what amounts to stereo sessions in the Cherberg Office Building because the House office building has started its major remodel. They've got hearings on gaggles of the bills needed to make the budgets work — if and when they reach an agreement on the budgets.
During a break in bill-signing ceremonies this morning, Gov. Chris Gregoire was asked about progress or the lack of it, and repeated her belief that the Legislature should be able to come to an agreement and “get out of town” now that the state has come up with a couple hundred million extra in money from businesses taking advantage of the tax amnesty.
“They now have the capacity to reach agreement. That doesn't mean they have,” she said.
Gregoire also insisted that reporters were the only ones talking about a special session (not quite true…we only ask about it because sources in the Legislature keep talking about it.) Earlier in the week she said she doesn't want the Legislature to quit without reaching an agreement on changes to the state's workers compensation system, a major sticking point between the two chambers. Today she said that's not a reason for a second session, because the Senate won't vote on the general operating fund budget without “a resolution on workers comp.”
A possible solution to differences between the Senate and House education proposals is also in the works regarding teacher's salaries, she said. The Senate has proposed all school employees get a 3 percent cut, which would be equal to the cuts proposed for state employees but problematic for school districts that have already signed contracts with their teachers. The suggested compromise would take into account the loss of training days and lower the salary cut to about 1.9 percent for teachers, Gregoire said. Administrators and classified staff would still face a 3 percent cut.
OLYMPIA – From frozen bull semen and chicken bedding to big banks’ mortgage profits, Senate Democrats took aim at the state’s system of tax breaks for businesses Wednesday.
They generated support from people who don’t want the Legislature to close the projected $5.1 billion gap in the state budget solely with cuts, including the Service Employees International Union, the American Association of Retired Persons and the Our Economic Future Coalition.
They generated opposition from the business owners who said they need the various tax credits, exemptions and preferences to stay afloat, including the state Retailers Association, Farm Bureau and Association for Washington Business.
And sometimes, the Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing generated chuckles or applause from an overflow crowd as members tried to sort through three different bills on tax breaks…
For those who couldn't stay awake to catch the Colbert Report, here's his take on the suggestion that President Obama is using Osama bin Laden's death to boost his poll numbers.
OLYMPIA — With American flags sprouting from every desk, senators seemed to swell with patriotic pride and honored members of the armed forces and their commander-in-chief after Sunday's mission that killed Osama bin Laden.
Senate Resolution 8661honors President Obama for “strong, thoughtful leadership”; the military and intelligence agencies for “unstinting bravery” and the Navy Seals for “extraordinary skills, courage and precision teamwork of the highest order”. It notes the military and naval installations in the state, including Fairchild Air Force Base.
In nearly an hour of speeches, legislators lauded members of all branches of the armed services and mentioned many of the state's bases and units. After unanimously approving the resolution, they stood to applaud members of the armed forces who were watching from the gallery.
The Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which brought the Navy Seals to and from the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has ties to Joint Base Lewis McChord, Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said.
“We all remember Sept. 11, 2001,” Carrell, a sponsor of the bill, said. “A constant question for 10 years has been 'Where is bin Laden?'”
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, a former member of the U.S. State Department, said he was glad the resolution recognized the work of the nation's intelligence agencies and noted that Spokane Valley resident Ryan Crocker is returning to foreign service to serve as ambassador to Afghanistan.
Others recalled their military service. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, another sponsor, mentioned his time in the Washington National Guard and praised the mission that eliminated bin Laden: “My only regret is I didn't pull the trigger.”
Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, said he'd served in the Army after being drafted in 1958, and would be willing to serve again if needed.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said she's available if needed: “I may be getting older, but I can still shoot.”
OLYMPIA — Senate Ways and Means Committee may generate the most excitement of the special session to day, with a hearing on several proposals to change tax exemptions, thus bringing in more revenue and mitigating the need for as much as $5 billion in cuts to the 2011-13 budget.
Senate Democrats have several proposals for cutting back on tax preferences (substitute “loopholes” if you prefer), including a reduction in the break for investments, for some agricultural items like bull semen and bedding material for chickens, and a plan to remove the two-thirds majority for changing tax exemptions.
Progressive groups are likely to show up in large numbers in support. Tim Eyman has called for his troops to come to Olympia to protect the supermajority on taxes that they've won over the years at the ballot box.
Earlier in the day, the Senate was floor action on some bills necessary to make the budget work. They might also have a resolution honoring the troops involved in the mission that got Osama bin Laden.
OLYMPIA – Large cattle trucks coming into Washington from Idaho will have to use Interstate 90 and stay off other roads like East Trent or face a $1,000 fine under a law signed Tuesday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
The law targets commercial cattle trucks, some of them from Canada, that are using State Highway 290 to bypass the port of entry weight station just west of the Idaho border.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, was the prime sponsor of the bill and said hundreds of trucks are skipping the port of entry by taking the alternate route which becomes East Trent through the Valley. They’re avoiding entry inspections which can detect sick animals and traveling on a road not built to handle heavy trucks.
“The high volume of these trucks is not only causing damage to the highway but creating dangerous congestion for local traffic,” Shea said.
The new law, which was written so it applies only to Spokane and Pend Oreille counties, requires any truck with more than 40,000 pounds gross weight that’s carrying cattle to stop at a port of entry. It passed both chambers unanimously, and goes into effect July 22.
OLYMPIA — A few days after their party's governor vetoed most of the medical marijuana bill last week, House Democrats are asking a likely Republican gubernatorial candidate for a little help on crafting a new version.
Fifteen Democratic representatives, including Spokane's Andy Billig, signed a letter to Attorney General Rob McKenna for help redrafting a bill that would do some of the things that Gov. Chris Gregoire chopped out of the medical marijuana bill with her veto pen.
“We need your guidance as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, given the current heightened uncertainty about the legitimacy of Washington’s medical cannabis program,” the group wrote, adding that the veto has thrown the state's program “into a crisis.”
In the signing some, vetoing most session last week, Gregoire said she hadn't consulted with McKenna about the issue after receiving warnings from federal prosecutors that state employees involved in the regulation of medical marijuana, as required by the bill, could face prosecution under federal drug laws that still make the drug illegal for any use.
Update 1: A spokeswoman for McKenna said they have not yet received the letter (they know about it, having read versions of it on-line) and when the request comes in it will be referred to the head of the opinions office. How long it might take to craft an opinion is unclear, but the office will try to expedite an opinion because legislators are looking at a deadline with the special session, Janelle Guthrie said.
But an AG opinion is supposed to “hold great weight”, so the office will have to study the issue carefully, Guthrie said.
Update 2: At a press conference Tuesday, Gregoire said she didn't ask McKenna for an opinion because the issue involves federal law, not state law. “It's fine they're asking for an opinion, but it's not relevant.”
If state employees did face federal prosecution, McKenna's office would have to defend them, she added.
So to review, House Democrats are asking the Republican state attorney general to help them get around the warnings from federal prosecutors appointed by a Democratic president and a veto by a Democratic governor. This is also the same Republican state attorney general whom legislative Democrats have vocally dissed for his legal opinion on another matter of federal/state relationships regarding health care.
Although to be fair, in challenging federal health care reform, McKenna is on the side arguing state laws overrule federal mandates, which is the side House Democrats want him to take in this issue.
OLYMPIA — The state collected $321 million in delinquent taxes from nearly 9,000 businesses through an amnesty program that ended Saturday. The success of the program surprised state officials, who were expecting to pick up about $24 million when the program was proposed in December.
To read the rest of this item, click here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — The Senate returns today from a long weekend to caucuses in the morning and a Ways and Means Committee hearing in the afternoon.
The committee has a recently added bill, one that calls for a study of best way to lease the state's liquor distribution system and pull in some cash to the state coffers.
Readers with good memories might recall that the House budget called for selling or leasing the liquor distribution system and pulling in $300 million for the cash-strapped general fund. But that figure was questioned by many as too high, or at least not bankable for budget purposes.
Still the idea for getting the state out of liquor distribution persists, a corollary of the perennial cry to get the state out of the liquor business, period. This morning Ways and Means added a hearing on a new bill to study various ways to lease out the distribution system and give the Liquor Control Board direction on which — if any — make the best economic sense.
Also on Ways and Means agenda is a vote on a bill to end the low-income property tax deferral program, and to expand family planning services.
OLYMPIA — House Republicans tried to force a hearing and vote on a proposal to change the state's workers compensation system but failed Monday afternoon.
At issue is a plan which would allow for voluntary compromise and release of workers compensation payments an employee might have if injured on the job. Such lump sum payments could reduce costs to the workers comp system and stave off a rate increase, supporters contend. It has the potential for taking advantage of injured workers when they are vulnerable, opponents counter.
The bill has Gov. Chris Gregoire's backing and passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote. But it hasn't had a hearing, let alone a vote, on the House side.
Monday afternoon, Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, asked to suspend the rules and call up a new bill on the plan for a hearing and full debate right away. Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, argued against the maneuver, contending the issue was “one of those issues, along with a number of others, we will continue to work on.
The parliamentary move failed on a 43-52 vote.
The House then recessed until Thursday morning.
Spokane Mayor Mary Verner finally has an obstacle in her bid to reelection.
David Condon, the deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, said Monday that he will enter the race for Spokane mayor.
Until now, only Christopher W. Fenton, a political unknown and lab analyst at Signature Genomics, had entered the race to challenge Verner.
Condon, 37, really made his announcement yesterday at Bloomsday. Some of his supporters, including his wife, Kristin Condon, wore “Elect David Condon” T-shirts. The shirts stress that the position is nonpartisan — a likely acknowledgment that the city leans Democratic.
He said he took a leave of absence from his job representing the Republican congresswoman as of Friday and will work full time on his campaign.
In a brief interview Monday, he said he has enjoyed positive relations with Verner.
“”I'm not going to run a race against Mary Verner,” he said.
Instead, he said he would focus on job creation.
“You do need to outright partner with the business community,” he said.
He said that he opposes the license tab tax that was endorsed by Verner and approved by the City Council in February.
He said that he hasn't formulated an opinion about the need to raise property taxes to help balance the budget next year. Verner said she plans to present the City Council with two budgets. One would solve the city's estimated $6.6 million gap in 2012 with a levy lid lift (property tax boost). The other would rely mostly on layoffs and cuts in case voters or the City Council reject it.
Washington State Democrats will almost certainly select their presidential delegates for the 2012 convention through the caucus system.
At state Central Committee meeting over the weekend, party officials decided to hold their precinct caucuses on April 15 next year. The plan must still be approved by the Democratic National Committee this fall, but that seems a foregone conclusion.
One, the state has cancelled its presidential primary to save about $10 million, so about the only other way would be some sort of random draw of registered voters.
B., the Democrats have used caucuses to award delegates for decades, whether the state has held a primary or not.
Third, the party pretty much knows who its nominee is going to be, so there's not likely to be any suspense to whom the delegates will be chosen.
David Condon, a congressional aide and Army veteran, said today he's running for Spokane mayor.
Condon, 37, is taking a leave of absence from his job as district director and deputy chief of staff for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. He said more than a month ago he was studying a challenge to incumbent Mary Verner; today he made it official, saying he wanted to be a “collaborative leader.”
“City government is about the basics: snow removal, street paving, police discipline and public safety,” he said. “These are not the kind of challenges that lend themselves to partisan politics.”
Condon is a nine-year veteran of the Army, and left as a captain. Military and veterans affairs were among his areas of expertise on McMorris Rodgers' staff, on which he served since 2009.
Verner has already announced her plans to run for re-election. Christopher W. Fenton, a lab analyst for Signature Genomics, also has filed with the public disclosure commission.
Under Washington law, candidates don't become official until July when they are required to file petitions with the Spokane County elections office.
Bridgeport High School was selected as one of three finalists in a national competition to have President Obama give the commencement speech.
The White House has a competition for what it calls the Race to the Top School Commencement Challenge, and schools from all over the country enter for the chance to get Obama as their graduation speaker. Bridgeport made the short list, along with a school in San Diego and one in Memphis. Winner to be announced later this week.
For those unfamiliar with Eastern Washington geography, Bridgeport is in Douglas County, near Chief Joseph Dam, down the road from Brewster
Interesting logistical question, though: It's pretty easy to land Air Force One in San Diego and Memphis. Where would they put a 747 down in Bridgeport? Closest big runway is probably in Moses Lake, at Grant County Airport, formerly Larson Air Force Base, which is pretty accustomed to jumbo jets taking off and landing.
Not surprisingly, the congressional delegations and other political leaders are sending out statements about U.S. forces killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, ending a nearly 10-year-long manhunt.
We'll just let the statements speak for themselves:
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., 9:17 p.m. Sunday
“The President's announcement tonight is tremendous news for all Americans and for counterterrorism efforts worldwide.
“The superb work of our military and intelligence communities have led to the death of the mastermind of the worst attack in our nation's history. It is indeed a great moment.
“I applaud our troops, intelligence operatives, and the Administration for never wavering in this important goal in the broader war on terrorism.
“This is a particularly important day for the thousands of Americans who lost a family member, friend or loved one nearly ten years ago. And all of our thanks go to those who have been lost in our military efforts and to our veterans and their families.
“This is indeed a significant moment and one that will continue to propel our efforts to root out terrorists wherever they reside. We must continue to remain vigilant and focused on the protection of the American people.”
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, 10:02 p.m. Sunday
“Today is a day that brings some closure for the victims of the September 11th attacks, the American people and those who have suffered from terrorism around the world. For nearly 10 years, capturing Osama Bin Laden has been our number one objective. The dedication and persistence the U.S. military and intelligence community have shown in accomplishing this deserves our praise and gratitude. We should be proud of what this operation achieved, but we must also remain vigilant in the war on terror because al-Qaeda and others are determined to bring destruction to America and our allies.”
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, 10:53 p.m., Sunday
“Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans. Many of America's bravest men and women lost their lives pursuing him and in the ongoing War on Terror. President Obama and former President Bush deserve praise for their resolve in following through on this long mission of justice. All U.S. military and intelligence personnel once again proved they are the best in the world and I thank them for their tireless dedication. This is a great day for America and freedom.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., 8:16 a.m. Monday
“Like all Americans, I remember where I was on September 11, 2001 when almost 3,000 innocent Americans were killed on U.S. soil. Since that day, we as a nation have been resolved to ‘bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies,’ as President Bush eloquently put it in the aftermath of that awful day, and today, the American people – and all peace-loving people around the world - can celebrate the fact that’ justice has been done.’
“I want to thank the brave special forces who carried out this dangerous, successful mission. I also want to express my deepest gratitude to all of our servicemen and women who have fought bravely – and continue to fight bravely - in Afghanistan and other fronts of the War on Terror. No corner of the world is too small or too remote to offer safety to America’s enemies. We will continue to prosecute this war against al-Qaeda until every terrorist has been brought to justice.”
Kirby Wilbur, Washington State GOP chairman, 9:36 a.m. Monday
“The killing of Osama bin Laden by American special operations forces is welcome news and a significant blow against al Qaeda and radical Islamic terrorists. However, the war on terror continues and we need to remain vigilant in case of retaliatory responses.
“My deepest congratulations to the American military forces and intelligence and counter-terrorism personnel who carried out this operation. There are none better in the world. As they say, you can run but you'll just die tired, because we will find you.
“I also want to congratulate President Obama as well, for continuing the policies of pursuit of these terrorist leaders and authorizing their termination. Justice has been partially served this day, but we are a long way from winning this war. The outcome is not in doubt but the length and cost of the war, in both human and material terms, remain as unanswerable questions. May God bless the American military, the intelligence community, our President and the United States of America.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., 9:49 a.m., Monday.
“The long wait from 2001 is over. Osama Bin Laden's death will be remembered as a major turning point in our efforts to fight his terrorism network. The American people are grateful for the service of all our military and intelligence community.
“Today, we remember the lives of those who were lost on September 11, and we give our deepest appreciation to those who defend our freedom every day. The death of Osama Bin Laden is a major step forward in the fight against terrorism, but we must continue our efforts to confront the social and economic conditions that give rise to violent extremism around the world.”
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., 1:07 p.m., Tuesday
“Our military forces, working together with intelligence personnel, executed to perfection an operation in which terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed on Sunday. We are grateful for the courage and professionalism with which these Americans carried out their orders and thank them for their service.
“In 2008 Barack Obama promised to take out Osama bin Laden, and as President he has succeeded in doing so. I join all Americans in relief that bin Laden’s reign of terror is over.
“Now we must continue to maintain our vigilance to root out terrorists and terror organizations wherever they may be.”
OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives returned this morning, and quickly went into caucus. They may have floor votes this afternoon, then adjourn.
The Senate is scheduled to return Tuesday for floor votes, and has a Ways and Means Committee hearing on ending some tax exemptions Wednesday afternoon which should draw a crowd from both sides on that issue.