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Archive for February 2013

Supermajority for taxes struck down. Now what?

OLYMPIA – For months, legislators have waited anxiously for the Washington Supreme Court to answer a political question that has roiled the state for two decades: Can voters make them pass any tax increase with a two-thirds majority?

No, a divided court said Thursday, not without a constitutional amendment. Supermajority requirements in Initiative 1053 were struck down.

Because I-1053 and other similar ballot measures since 1993 have been sold as a way to rein in free-spending legislators, voters might now be asking if they need to brace for an avalanche of new taxes.

Probably not, based on comments of legislators in the wake of Thursday’s decision.

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

To read the court's majority and minority opinions, click on the document file below.


GOP: Reform before gas tax hike

OLYMPIA – Legislative Republicans say they will not vote for a gas tax increase or other new vehicle taxes until the state makes major reforms in the way it builds big road projects.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who has urged the Legislature to find new money for road and bridge projects, agreed the state Transportation Department needs reforms to restore public confidence. But he doesn’t think the state should delay a decision on taxes for new projects and needed maintenance.

“We cannot allow these problems to derail us,” Inslee said.

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

Inslee signs his first bill

Jay Inslee prepares to sign SB 5147 with prime sponsors Sen. Jim Hargrove, left, and Rep. Tina Orwall, right.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee signed his first bill today, a new law that requires youth shelters to notify parents of the state welfare offices after three days.

He got a few tips on bill-signing protocol from Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, the sponsor of Senate Bill 5147, who said Inslee was the fifth governor to sign one of more than 300 bills that he's sponsored the became law. Hargrove got the pen by which the governor signed “Jay” and House sponsor Rep. Tina Orwall got the pen he used for “Inslee.”

The bill requires youth shelters and organizations designed to protect children to contact parents or the Department of Social and Health Services after 72 hours when they have a child that is known to be away from home without permission. They must report the child's whereabouts, physical and emotional condition and how the child came into contact with the shelter.

Starting in 1995, shelters were required to report a child's whereabouts within eight hours, but that was expanded to 72 hours in 2010 on a temporary basis, to give shelter staff more time to talk with the child and locate the parents. 

WA Lege: An official ‘Yay’ for Seahawks

Pete Carroll signs an autograph for Rep. Reuven Carlyle at the House rostrum.

OLYMPIA — In a bold move, the Legislature came out officially in favor of the Seattle Seahawks today, with resolutions in both chambers congratulating the team for making the playoffs, and lauding Head Coach Pete Carroll for the team's showing and for work in the community.

Carroll was there to accept the resolutions and sign autographs for legislators — some of whom seemed fairly thrilled by having a real NFL head coach in their midst. State Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane Valley, snagged a Carroll autograph on a pristine football. He said he keeps a supply of footballs and baseballs in his office for autograph opportunities that pop up from time to time. 

Carroll made a pitch for support for a program that brings the NFL, YMCA, law enforcement, church groups and local businesses together to help curb youth violence, one person at a time.

The effort started in Los Angeles when he was at USC, Carrol said, and the model is spreading to Seattle and other Washington cities. Private enterprise is providing the funding right now, but it can't cover everything, he said.

“We need to get to the next level. We need state support,” he said.

WA Lege Day 45: Shout out for Seahawks, first bill signing

OLYMPIA — Legislators will pause from the long slog of bills on spending and taxing this morning to pass resolutions honoring the Seahawks, with Head Coach Pete Carroll in the House (and Senate).

Carroll is scheduled to be present when the chambers pass resolutions of congrats for the 'Hawks recent season.

Also today, Gov. Jay Inslee will sign his first bill as governor. And the budget, finance and transportation committees have full hearing schedules, which can be found inside the blog.

Debate over tax super-majority continues


OLYMPIA – A proposed constitutional amendment gave a Senate panel another chance to argue whether democracy is helped or hurt by requiring legislative super-majorities to approve tax increases.

Definitely helped, Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, the sponsor of the amendment, told the Ways and Means Committee. The requirement has been approved five times by voters through the initiative process, she noted, including last year. Spokane voters recently changed their charter to require a super-majority from their city council on taxes.

“It’s time for the people in the Legislature to match the people of the state,” Roach said, and began listing approval percentages for committee members.

Sens. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Ed Murray, both Seattle Democrats, were quick to raise their hands to indicate their districts rejected that initative.

Definitely hurt, said Nick Federici of Our Economic Future Coalition, an umbrella group for progressive and liberal organizations. If it takes a two-thirds majority to pass a tax increase, that means a one-third minority can block one, he said.. . 

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

Tribe: McMorris Rodgers ‘misinformed’ about casino process

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers seems “misinformed” in her recent request to delay a government recommendation on the proposed Spokane tribal casino on the West Plains, the tribal chairman told a federal agency this week.

But the tribe won’t object to the requested 45-day delay, if the department doesn’t allow future attempts to delay the process “for reasons beyond meaningful justification.”

In a letter to a top Interior Department official, Tribal Council Chairman Rudy Peone said the reasons McMorris Rodgers listed in last week’s request for a delay don’t match the facts of the long process of studying the project . . .

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

Gun ranges pull for tax break on clay pigeons

OLYMPIA — Non-profit gun clubs want the Legislature to tell the state to stop double-taxing them for the targets that skeet shooters use.

 The club pays a sales tax when it buys the clay pigeons in bulk, and is required to charge target shooters another tax for each target used in a session. They're being taxed twice for the same clay pigeon, said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who proposed a bill to give non-profit clubsan exemption from the taxes.

Couldn't golfers make the same complaint about balls at the golf course, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, asked.

Not the same thing, Rivers replied. Golfers take possession of the balls.Because of safety concerns, a range employee loads targets into the machine.  “The consumer never physically touches the clay pigeon.”

The clubs could raise their fees to cover the taxes, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, said. But that would hurt people on limited incomes, and amounts to raising rates to pay an unfair tax, club managers said.

Total cost to the state of granting the tax exemption is estimated at $29,000, the Senate Ways and Means Committee staff said. 

Today’s fun videos: Evolution of dance evolution?

If you're on Facebook, someone has probably sent you a link to this video, with Jimmy Fallon and Michelle Obama doing the evolution of Mom Dancing.


Not to be outdone, conservative pundit Michelle Malkin now has her own video, which she calls The Evolution of Liberal Dance.


Which one you think is more funny may depend partly, although not entirely, on where you fall in the political spectrum.

WA Lege Day 44: More on 2/3rds majorities

OLYMPIA — There are many different attempts to cement a requirement for a two-thirds supermajority for taxes into law.

Today, the Senate Ways and Means Committee has a hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment that would do that. The same panel also has a hearing on declaring wolves “big game” under the state's fish and wildlife laws, and setting up a fund to reimburse landowners for loses to the big carnivores. (The financial committees are coming up on a deadline to pass bills, so their hearing schedules are a bit of a smorgasbord.)

House Finance Committee had a hearing on a bill that tries to sort out a problem arising out of the state getting out of the liquor sale business, and the dispute between distributors and stores over who pays what taxes when a store sells booze to a bar or restaurant.

House Appropriations Committee's list includes a bill on the costs of operating the state health insurance exchange.

A full list of committee hearings is inside the blog.

In keeping with tradition, and history

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., will begin today's legislative day in Congress with a tradition dating to Washington state’s first days as a part of the union.

 The reading of President George Washington’s Farewell Address  , first published in the Philadelphia Daily American Advertiser on Sept. 16, 1796, has been an annual February event in the Senate since 1893, just four years after Washington was admitted to the United States.

 However, Washington senators have been largely overlooked for the honor. The most recent — and only — senator from Washington to deliver the address was Republican Miles Poindexter, who gave the speech on Feb. 22, 1922.

 Senators inscribe their names and a brief message in a ledger after delivering the address. Poindexter, an assistant prosecuting attorney in Spokane County from 1898 to 1904, kept his remarks brief in the vein of his contemporaries.

 “Read by me upon the designation of Vice President Calvin Coolidge, February 22, 1922, in the Senate of the United States,” Poindexter wrote, before signing his name.

 Poindexter garnered no good luck from his delivery. Fellow Spokane resident and Democratic opponent Clarence Dill defeated him in elections nine months later, and Poindexter never returned to the Senate.

 By contrast, Idaho senators have received the honor on four separate occasions, including Fred Dubois of the Silver Republican Party and Democrat Weldon B. Heyburn in back-to-back appearances in 1903 and 1904.

 Republican Sen. Dirk Kempthorne delivered the address most recently among the Inland Northwest delegation, on Feb. 24, 1993.

 Kempthorne’s entry to the ledger  echoes the generalized praise for the first president’s words that appear in lengthy personal statements made by speakers in recent years. Democrats and Republicans trade turns to deliver the annual address.

 “Thank goodness this has become a tradition because as citizens we must never lose our exposure and connection to the principals and wisdom of our Founding Fathers,” Kempthorne wrote.

 Democratic Sen. Frank Church, the other Idaho senator who delivered the speech, addressed the Senate in 1958.

 Washington’s address, which was never delivered in person, is overtly humble and expresses a fear of “faction” among the states that was common during the early years of the republic. Despite its age, the address contains foresight of political difficulties that prompted its reading to both chambers of Congress during the height of the Civil War.

 “The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations,” Washington wrote in 1796.

 Ayotte is scheduled to deliver the speech at 11 a.m. Pacific time.

Kip Hill, a graduate student in the University of Missouri's Washington, D.C., reporting program, is a correspondent for The Spokesman-Review.

How far is too far?

Mike Fagan’s response to criticism of the language in that e-mail is that he was not expressing himself as a city councilman; rather, he was expressing himself as a tax-fighting activist.

That raises a question: Is a councilman, or any elected official, ever NOT in his official capacity? There may have been a time when a bright line separated the official with the personal, and even a president’s personal foibles weren’t subject to public scrutiny. But that time predates the Hula-Hoop.

But a council position is supposedly a part-time job, and Fagan was a political activist before he was an elected official. So giving him the benefit of the argument, the issue may boil down to this: Is there a time when it’s OK for a political activist to call a governor – any governor – “a lying whore”?

Feel free to enter an opinion by clicking on the comment link.

Sunday Spin: Tough sledding on gun bills

OLYMPIA – The massacre of first graders and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary may result in some major national gun-control legislation this year. Too soon to tell.

But it may also block some smaller gun-related legislation in Washington state. At least that’s what several Senate Democrats contended Friday afternoon after an unusual meeting of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

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

Susan Fagan not the one slamming Inslee

OLYMPIA — Rep. Susan Fagan and Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan don't share any constituents, but both do have voters in the Spokane area.

And the Pullman legislator wants them to know that she is not the Fagan who called Gov. Jay Inslee a “lying whore” in a recent fund-raising letter.

Councilman Mike Fagan, who signed onto an appeal with initiative partners Tim Eyman and his father Jack Fagan, is coming under criticism from his council colleagues for the use of that language. (See posts below.) The governor, who is in Washington, D.C., and has a few other things to worry about like additional tanks leaking at Hanford, has declined comment.

But headlines tend to stick with last names, which is causing Rep. Susan Fagan some heartburn. She's a Republican legislator from the Palouse who is likely to disagree with Inslee on any number of issues over the course of the session, and agree with Eyman and Co., on some.

But that kind of language “would never cross her lips,” an aide said.

Condon weighs in on Fagan letter

Spokane Mayor David Condon has issued statement criticizing a letter signed by City Councilman Mike Fagan that calls Gov. Jay Inslee “a lying whore.”

“Words like this have no place in public discourse,” Condon said in a prepared statement released this afternoon by the city. “This language doesn’t represent the community we all live in.”

When asked about the letter on Thursday, Condon said he wanted to talk to Fagan about it beforre making a comment.

Five Spokane City Council members, Mike Allen, Steve Salvatori, Jon Snyder, Ben Stuckart and Amber Waldref, also have condemned the letter. City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin is on vacation and attempts to reach her have been unsuccessful.

Allen, Salvatori call on Fagan to apologize

A majority of the Spokane City Council is calling on Councilman Mike Fagan to apologize for the letter he signed calling Gov. Jay Inslee “a lying whore.”

The council's three Democratic-leaning members issued a statement condemning Fagan's letter this morning.

Now two of the council's Republican-leaning members, Steve Salvatori and Mike Allen also say he should apologize.

“I know Mike believes in the intent of his message, but his choice of words were inappropriate and unprofessional, and in my opinion, he should issue an apology,” Allen said.

Reproductive Parity bill passes

OLYMPIA — On a mostly party-line vote, the House passed the Reproductive Parity Act, sending it to the Senate on a 53-43 vote.

Both sides argued that they were defending “choice.” Supporters said women should have medical insurance that allows them to choose abortion, regardless of their employer's religious believes.

Opponents said women who oppose abortion should be able to choose a medical plan that does not pay for abortions.

Reproductive Parity bill debate: whose choice being taken away?

OLYMPIA The Reproductive Parity Act is a “simple, technical fix”, its sponsor said in introducing the debate. It doesn't change anything right now, but it would protect the right to choose abortion if that becomes a problem under the federal Health Care Act changes.

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, the chairwoman of the House Health Care Committee, downplayed the significance of the bill, while Republicans blasted it as “anti-choice.

Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said it takes away her right to choose a medical plan without abortion coverage: “Under Obamacare, there is a requirement that one plan be offered that not cover abortion. Medicaid right now covers abortion…Voluntarily, insurance companies provide that coverage. Organizations provide that cover… “We have very few options in my district…That (Obamacare) plan would not be available.”

Washington doesn't force doctors to perform abortion or prescribe lethal drugs if it goes against their conscience, and shouldn't force businesses to cut maternity care because they oppose abortion, other Republicans said. Choosing an abortion may be a constitutional right, but other people shouldn't be forced to pay for exercising that right any more than they should be required to buy someone a gun to exercise Second Amendment rights.

Women want to be able to make their own decision about their lives and their bodies…They do not want some bureaucrat in an insurance company telling them how to make their decisions, Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, said. We are empowering women to follow their conscience.”

If women have the intelligence and capablity to determine whether to abort a pregnancy…why would we choose to take away my choice not to,” Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, said.

Reproductive Parity debate starts

OLYMPIA — Debate over the Reproductive Parity bill starts after a pair of caucus meetings. First up, a call for a Republican amendment with a “conscience clause” to be inserted into the bill.

That allows an organization to keep from offering abortion as part of its medical coverage if it has a religious objection to it. It passes unanimously.  

Democrats then offered an even broader amendment with a more encompassing conscience clause. It passes 52-44.

“We are not changing anything in the conscience clause,” Rep Eileen Cody says. 

Some opponents of the bill are sporting white, looped ribbons on their lapels or jackets. Supporters have lapel buttons that say “Privacy, Justice, Freedom.”

WA Lege Day 40: Abortion debate on tap, and it’s cut-off day

OLYMPIA — The House is expected to debate the Reproductive Parity Act this morning, likely passing a bill over to the Senate that Republicans in that chamber have worked very hard to ignore.

The RPA, as some folks call it, would require any insurance plan that offers maternity care to also cover abortion. Supporters say it's an issue of fairness for women's health options; opponents say it forces people who oppose abortion to pay for others who have one through their health plan.

Both sides are sporting lapel decorations to signal their support, and it could be the most contentious House debate of the session thus far. The galleries are filling up in anticipation; and since everyone drove through pretty nasty weather to get here, one can only hope they aren't disappointed.

Three identical bills were introduced in the Senate, but none got a hearing as the leaders of the Law and Justice and Health Care committees both refused to hear the bills. That put Coalition Health Care Chairwoman Randi Becker has said, however, if the House passes its version, she will hold a hearing.

Elsewhere, there will be a scramble to get”policy” bills out of their first committee today, which is a cut-off day. Translation: Those that don't get out may as well get Last Rites, because they are all but dead.

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

McMorris Rodgers asks more time on casino study

The federal government should delay its decision on a proposed tribal casino on the West Plains an extra 45 days to allow Spokane County to voice its objections, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Thursday.

In a dw-ah letter to a high-ranking Interior Department official, McMorris Rodgers asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to extend the comment period for the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino and retail development on land just outside Airway Heights. The congresswoman said Spokane County commissioners, who until recently were barred by a legal agreement from saying anything about the proposal, should be given an adequate opportunity to comment.

The current county commissioners oppose the project.

The bureau, in an impact statement released Feb. 1, said a plan to build a casino, hotel and shopping mall is the “preferred alternative” of four options it considered for the 145 acres purchased by the tribe away from its Eastern Washington reservation.

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

State could legalize hemp along with pot

OLYMPIA — The cannabis plant could provide Washington state with two new agricultural crops: One for smoking, and one making rope and fabric.

Different strains of the plant would be used for the different products, and different state agencies would control the different crops. But they share one key similarity: They're currently both against federal law.
Despite the federal ban, the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee this morning approved HB 1888, a bill that would pave the way for farmers to grow industrial hemp in Washington. Legislators and a representative from the state Agriculture Department agreed there are some details that need to be worked out… 
To read the rest of t his item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog. 

Vapor cigs would be banned for minors

OLYMPIA — “Vapor” cigarettes, which deliver nicotine without the need to light up tobacco, would be illegal for minors in Washington under a bill that got unanimous support from a House panel this morning.

The House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee voted 8-0 to put so-called vapor products under the same age restrictions as cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products. The products give the user a dosage of nicotine in a device designed to look like a cigarette that releases a vapor.

Committee members described House Bill 1937 as a “no brainer” in a state that doesn't even allow the sale of cigarette papers to minors, and a representative of RJR Tobacco said the company supports it. Chairman Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said the issue is nicotine and “this is just different delivery system.”

Some gas tax money for N. Spokane Corridor

OLYMPIA – A proposal to raise the state’s gasoline tax by 2 cents per year for five years and impose or hike other taxes would provide some $420 million for further work on the North Spokane Corridor.

The long-running road construction project – sometimes called the North-South Freeway – is one of five designated statewide “impact” projects in the Connecting Washington package proposed Wednesday by House Democrats, and the only one in the Spokane area. . .

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

Background check bill passes House panel


OLYMPIA – A bill requiring almost all gun buyers in Washington to undergo a background check passed a key House panel Tuesday and will likely be part of a package of gun laws up for a floor vote in March.

Despite heavy criticism last week from gun-rights activists, the House Judiciary Committee passed the so-called Universal Background Check bill on a 7-6 vote.

It would require buyers in most private firearms sales either to submit to the same background check they would undergo if buying the gun at a licensed dealer or to produce a valid state concealed pistol license. . .

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

Gas tax proposal coming

OLYMPIA — A major transportation plan will be unveiled Wednesday that features 2-cent per year increases in the state's gasoline tax.

The proposal, from House Transportation Committee Chairman Judy Clibborn, will divide the money between new projects and maintenance and eventually raise the state's gas tax by a total of 10 cents.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who has said he wants a transportation package that would both build new projects and fix some of its crumbling infrastructure, refused to endorse it Tuesday, saying only that it is “a good start on that discussion.”

Inslee named a new transportation secretary as one of three cabinet-level appointments, selecting Lynn Peterson, who is currently a transportation advisor to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said majority Democrats in that chamber view the projects the tax increase would support as a jobs package, and said the plan will set aside significant amounts for maintenance. Previous gasoline tax packages have been criticized as emphasizing new mega projects and not leaving enough for ongoing road repairs.

Chopp said it was too early to say what the exact split would be, or the prospects to pass such a plan in the House. “It's just a concept paper at this point.” 

Another unknown: what type of majority such a plan will need. The state Supreme Court is deliberating on the constitutionality of voter-passed laws for a two-thirds supermajority on any tax increase.

If that standard is upheld, “it's going to be extremely difficult” to pass that type of tax increase in the Legislature, Inslee said. That would mean voters would have to approve it in the November election.

Tax hike for medical marijuana blasted

OLYMPIA – Washington will soon have two very different systems for legal marijuana, but a plan to tax medical patients similar to recreational pot users is unfair and unworkable, a legislative committee was told Monday.

The proposal to place higher taxes on medical marijuana did what a long-time cannabis advocate said once was unthinkable. It is turning a normally dysfunctional family of regular marijuana users into “normal citizens, complaining about taxation,” Jeff Gilmore told the House Finance Committee . . .

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

Wa Lege Day 36: Protests, pot, prevailing wages and more

OLYMPIA — With the legislative session one-third gone, the pressure ramps up this week to get bills heard and voted out of their first committee. 

“Policy” bills — changes to state law that don't come with a price tag — must be out of their committee by Friday. Budget bills have another week. So the hearing schedule is heavy today and throughout the week, with some committees holding evening sessions to vote on bills they've alreadyheard.

Because it's a holiday for some, the protest schedule is heavy today also The Washington Student Association has a “lobby day” with members gathering in the Flag Circle north of the Capitol starting at 9 a.m.

 Abortion-rights advocates have a rally on the Capitol's north steps at 12:30 p.m. They want the Legislature to pass the Reproductive Parity Act, which is caught up in a political fight in the Senate.

 Our Economic Future Coalition, which says it represents more than 160 groups, from unions to church communities “working together to fix our broken revenue system, has a rally at 1:20 on the Capitol steps, and speeches in the Rotunda in the afternoon.

Service employees also have a lobbying day.

Hearings include bills that would extend the taxes that I-502 places on recreational marijuana to medical marijuana; several possible exemptions to the state's prevailing wage law; the ability to buy health insurance from other states and a health care plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Complete list of hearings is inside the blog.

Maiden speech for Billig

Freshman Sen. Andy Billig made his first official floor speech last week, which is traditionally a time for new senators to give gifts and older senators to give grief. It was during a resolution marking service of women in the Legislature, appropriate since Billig’s 3rd District has one of the best records of sending women to Olympia. “It means a lot to me, as the father of a daughter,” he said of the state's record of electing women.

As part owner of the Spokane Indians, Billig gave out team caps and baseballs. The razzing wasn’t particularly tough. A few bad baseball references, and Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, wondered about Billig’s support for “made in America” efforts because the caps and balls were made in China. What drew the most interest in the version of the Indians’ cap that  with the team name in Salish.

Sunday Spin2: Speaking of names

There was a time when the U.S. Navy received its ransom for naming rights. It didn’t hit up corporations but cities that were seeking the prestige of having their names on the latest frigate or cruiser. When the U.S.S. Spokane was christened, it received gifts from the residents of its namesake city, including a silver tea service.

It’s unclear when that practice ended, but the state apparently didn’t have to come up with anything when the USS Washington, the Navy’s newest nuclear submarine, arrived in Seattle this month for its welcoming ceremony. Well, nothing but the governor, who seemed more than happy to greet the boat.

The ceremony may shows how things have changed in the 30 years since the Navy sent another brand-new nuclear submarine named for a state into Washington waters. The USS Ohio’s maiden trip into the Sound was met by a flotilla of anti-nuke protesters who tried – bravely according to some, foolishly according to others, but unsuccessfully by any measure – to keep the first Trident sub from reaching Bangor.

Sunday spin: Name that bridge for (name that price)

OLYMPIA – Legislators are considering – not too seriously, it seems – a plan to allow the state to sell the naming rights to its many roads, bridges, tunnels, buildings and other facilities.

Should it pass, Spokane residents might at some future date drive east on the Avista Interstate, cross the Microsoft bridge over Lake Washington, take an exit onto the Starbucks Expressway, grab the REI exit ramp to the Nordstrom Terminal, then catch the Ivar’s Acres of Clams ferry boat for points west.

There’s no rate structure in the proposal which had a hearing last week in the Senate Transportation Committee, so how much the state might collect from such a scheme isn’t known. That was clearly a shortcoming, for sponsor Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, could only say the state ought to at least explore any chance to rake in some money that “we don’t have to take out of the taxpayers’ pockets.” Legislators respond better when more definite pots of money are dangled in front of them, such as the possible windfall from legalized pot.

The bill drew predictable harrumphs from purists who think the state ought not to besmirch its fine infrastructure. A member from Gig Harbor seemed leery about the prospect of renaming the Tacoma Narrows Bridge the Chuck E. Cheese bridge, although it’s not immediately clear if he’s spent too much time eating their pizza while screaming kids thrashing about in the pit of plastic balls or just thought it would be unseemly for the company to paint its giant cartoon rat on the structure.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with it if the Legislature can extract a decent rate, although naming structures for corporate entities can be a problem when a corporate change comes along. Just about the time one gets used to Seahawks Stadium being Qwest Field, it gets changed to CenturyLink Field, which requires a search for a catchy nickname like the Clink.

Besides, the state has a tendency to name its various structures and facilities already, but on a very narrow criteria and for no cash in hand. They are almost all named for politicians who are either dead, or at least so long retired that their former adversaries can’t put up a fuss when the naming resolution comes around. Don’t believe me? Get off I-90 on the Jimmy Keefe Bridge, take a left at the light and go down to Division, where if you turn right you will cross over the Sam C. Guess Bridge. Keefe, a Democrat, and Guess, a Republican, were both longtime legislators. Over here, the naming game is nothing if not bipartisan.

Baumgartner town halls today

State Sen. Mike Baumgartner returns to Spokane today for a pair of town hall meetings.

He has a 10 a.m. session at the Cheney Middle School, 740 W. Betz Road.

and a 2 p.m. session at the Museum of Arts and Culture in Browne's Addition, 2316 W. First.

Cops, chiefs clash over firings bill


OLYMPIA – The fight over who decides what can get a police officer fired prompted a legislative hearing that pit beat cops against their chiefs and prompted Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to say a state senator was attacking his character.

“It was very insulting,” Knezovich said of questions from Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, about whether he’d ever used publicly funded fuel for his personal use, an allegation he denied.

Roach said she was just asking a question someone else had suggested and if he thought she was challenging his integrity, “he doth protest too loudly.”

The exchange came in a hearing over Senate Bill 5668. . .

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

1 year for initiatives to get signatures? How about 2 years?

OLYMPIA – As state law enforcement officials began investigating more than 8,000 allegedly forged signatures for a pair of ballot measures, a legislative panel looked at changes to the century-old avenue for grass-roots democracy, the initiative process.

One suggestion the Senate Governmental Operations Committee aired out Thursday: Give initiative campaigns more time to circulate petitions.

“If we give citizens more time to get involved, you wouldn’t need paid signature gatherers,” Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said. . .

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

WA Lege Day 32: Initiatives, GMO food, college tuition — and a massage

OLYMPIA — Time is running out for “policy” bills — the ones that don't affect the budget — so today's hearing schedule is extremely full.

Interested in changes to the initiative system, or genetically modified food, or changing the college tuition foreign students pay, or requiring drug tests for welfare recipients, or alterntaive energy? There's a hearing for that, and dozens of other things.

Plus, it's Massage Day at the Capitol, when licensed massage therapists are offering free massages at chairs set up outside the House and Senate chambers doors.

The hearing list, with the bills on tap, and the links to information on each bill, can  be found inside the blog.

Mapping the Vote: Latest on Prop 2

Proposition 2, the requirement for a supermajority approval by the City Council of any tax increase, gained slightly in Wednesday's count. Here's the latest map of precinct results.

For a closer look, click on the document below. To compare with the election night tally, click here.


WWJD about guns? Gun bill debate offers answers

OLYMPIA – What would Jesus do about gun control? A debate between a Spokane Valley legislator and a Seattle minister seemed to raise that question Wednesday in a hearing on proposals for new gun laws.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, and the Rev. Sanford Brown of the 1st United Methodist Church of Seattle seemed to be quoting from the same Bible, but came up with different answers.

Inslee releases jobs package

Gov. Jay Inslee explains his Working Washington Agenda Wednesday.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee added some specifics to his campaign themes of generating more jobs in key industries, releasing a package Wednesday of tax breaks and spending projects designed to train workers and cut unemployment.
The bills call for more training for future aerospace workers, money for a new research center in alternative jet fuel at Washington State University, a single location for a business to get all the information on the vast array of regulations it must meet and permits it must obtain, and help for veterans. Others would push to develop “clean energy” and electric cars.
Washington is “the most innovative state in human history,” Inslee said, but it needs to be as dynamic in the coming century as it was in the last.
He plans to release more proposals to increase jobs in the near future: “This is the first step.”
Republicans in the Legislature said they'd been briefed on some of the governor's proposals, and offered qualified support for those that mesh with theirs, such as faster and easier permits for businesses, and more support for science and technology training. But they said they were waiting for more information on others proposals and suggested the clock was ticking on bills.
“We're extremely close to cut off,” Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said. The last day for hearing a bill in a committee is Feb. 22 if it's not connected to the budget, and March 1 if it is.
“If he's going to run out a 75-point plan, I'd like to see it soon,” House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis said. That's a reference to Inslee's statement during last fall's campaign that he had a 75-point plan to increase jobs.
There were some details of Wednesday's package that weren't immediately clear, such as a target for the number of jobs the package of bills would produce for its estimated price tag of $120 million. And there were some clear points of contention, such as Inslee's assertion that the new programs and tax preferences wouldn't make the state's budget worse.
The $120 million is more than covered by the $141 million in projected savings in medical expenses if the state expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Inslee said. That's also a jobs decision, because the state will need an additional 10,000 workers to meet the needs of people with new coverage.
But Republicans aren't yet convinced the state should expand Medicaid under what they usually call “Obamacare.” In the House, which has a strong Democratic majority supportive of the expansion, that likely won't matter. But the Senate is controlled by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats and they aren't sold yet.
Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said the coalition was “looking at that very seriously” but members have concerns about future costs and aren't sure yet there are enough protections for the state. And they still believe the state should find ways to help all businesses, not just key industries. 
One way to do that, Tom and Republican leaders said, is to make changes to the state's workers compensation system to expand those eligible for voluntary structured settlements. But Inlsee has said he doesn't support making changes at this time to a system that underwent reforms that were negotiated less than two years ago.
Inslee also is calling for increased spending on on transportation projects, to fix or expand roads and bridges and create jobs. To raise the money for those projects, the state would need some kind of a tax increase because “there's no transportation fairy,” he said. The state would have to “find the most reasonable way to fund the package.”
Once it did, the Legislature should make the hard decisons to  pass it rather than sending it to the voters, he added.
But Tom said even if the Legislature passed a transportation package, it would likely face a referendum by opponents. “It's going to the voters… one way or another.

Mapping the Vote: Strong library levy support

The Spokane Library Levy, which was Proposition 3 on Tuesday's ballot, received nearly 66 percent approval in the Election night tally. And as the map above shows it had strong support all over the city.

For a more detailed look at the map, check the document below.


Mapping the vote: Slight majority for the supermajority

Proposition 2, the supermajority requirement for tax increases, is slightly ahead 50.65 percent to 49.35 percent in last night's tally. But it has strong support in some parts of the city and strong opposition elsewhere. The map above shows the Election Night totals, and we'll be following it through the ballot counting process.

For a more detailed look at the precinct breakdown, click on the document below


Mapping the Vote: Ombudsman scores big win

Proposition 1 is winning big around the city, as the map of tonight's totals shows.

For more detail, click on the document file below.


WA Lege Day 30: Name that bridge — for a price

OLYMPIA — Driving from Spokane to Seattle might take a motorist west on the Avista Highway, across the Microsoft Bridge to the Starbucks Expressway under a bill the Legislature is considering  to sell the rights to put corporate or other names on the state's roads, bridges, tunnels and ferries. 

Some members of the Senate Transportation Committee made light of the idea, wondering for example, if every legislator would get a chance to name at least one structure after themselves and  what it would cost to rename the Tacoma Narrows Bridge the Chuck E. Cheese Bridge.

The cost is unclear, said the committee's staff. There's no cost estimate or fiscal analysis of the proposal.

A 2009 study on selling the naming rights to name the state's ferries estimated it that proposal could raise about $10 million a year, Dan O'Neal of the Washington State Transportation Commission said. Not a lot of money, but “it may have some merit” O'Neal said.

It's an idea the state should at least consider, Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said, if it will bring some money into the state's road project coffers. After all, that $10 million going into the state transportation fund would be money that isn't coming out of the taxpayers' pockets, he said.

Turnout, ballot drop info for today’s election

Today is the last day to vote in the February special elections in Spokane, Rockford, Spokane County Fire District 13 and East Valley and Orchard Prairie school districts.

Spokane voters are considering three propositions that would give the police ombudsman more authority; require a City Council supermajority ive-sevenths support from the City Council to increase some local taxes; and boost taxes by $7 a year for a $100,000 property to prevent branch closures and expand hours for the Spokane Public Library. Voters elsewhere are considering tax measures.

For more information on the items on today’s ballot, visit The Spokesman-Review’s Election Center as

Ballots returned by mail must be postmarked by today’s date in order to be counted. Voters can avoid having to pay for a stamp by dropping ballots at 13 ballot drop boxes by 8 p.m.

(For the list of where you can drop your ballot without a stamp, keep reading this post.)

Spokane legalizes pot possession

Following the lead of state voters, the Spokane City Council on Monday legalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by anyone 21 and up.

Councilman Jon Snyder, who has led the effort on the City Council to consider the impacts to the city from marijuana legalization, said that Monday’s unanimous vote was a routine matter to keep city law consistent with state law. But bigger decisions are ahead as officials consider if they should regulate pot more strictly than what was approved in Initiative 502, the law that legalized marijuana, he said.

Barkeep: A round of booze hearings

OLYMPIA – Getting a drink of alcohol in a movie theater, a farmer’s market, even a senior center or a massage,  would be easier under a series of proposals considered Monday by a Senate panel.

Getting a taste of that $90 a bottle whiskey or the merlot from an unfamiliar winery selling its wares at a farmers’ market would be possible, too.

While that might make consumers happy, it has folks in the substance abuse community worried that relaxing state liquor licensing laws will mean more places where kids will see adults drinking and where recovering addicts will be tempted alcohol. . .

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

Senate passes school security bill

OLYMPIA – Washington state would spend $10 million over the next two years in an effort protect schools from a massacre like Sandy Hook as part of a school construction proposal that moved quickly through the Senate Monday.

With references to the Dec. 14 massacre at the school in Newtown, Conn., the Senate unanimously approved spending $475 million on school construction over the next two years, with $10 million of it going to make schools safer.

Republicans said the school construction package was a sign they were meeting goals to move their priorities of education, smart budgeting and jobs. The accompanying Safe School Buildings bill has the added benefit of paying for ways to protect schools from an attacker and get police there faster if they are needed, said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup.

Democrats said the school safety measures were a good first start, but called for GOP support on bills they introduced Monday that take further steps to curb gun violence. The state needs better laws on firearms safety and more support for mental health services, Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Seattle, said…

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

Pot forum moved to Convention Center

Anticipating a large crowd at Tuesday’s forum on legalized marijuana rules, a state agency made an 11th hour decision to move to a bigger room.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board’s forum on its efforts to comply with Initiative 502 will be held in the Spokane Convention Center, starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday.. A spokesman for the board said agency officials feared the Spokane City Council Chambers, which holds about 190 people in the basement of Spokane City Hall, wouldn’t be big enough.

The three previous forums all generated crowds bigger than the Council Chambers and an overflow room for 100 people would have held, Mikhail Carpenter said. More than 350 people showed up for the first forum in Olympia, about 500 attended the Seattle forum and about 400 were at the Vancouver forum.

The convention center ballroom will hold 450, and can be expanded if necessary.

The board announced new locations for other planned forums, and added new meetings to its schedule early last week. But the new location for Spokane wasn’t nailed down until late Friday. Because of that, a story in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review and three newspaper ads about the forum all had the old address.

Carpenter said the board hopes to a sign at City Hall directing people to the Convention Center, which is several blocks east on Spokane Falls Boulevard

I-502 made the private use of marijuana by people 21 and over legal, but currently there's not a legal way to purchase the drug. The law put  the board in charge of adopting rules for growing, processing and selling marijuana, with a mandate to have those rules in place by Dec. 1.

WA Lege Day 29: Hearings on booze, health care

OLYMPIA — Most work is in the committees today, with a full day of hearings on dozens of bills.

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee has 11 different bills involving some change to the state's liquor laws,  including allowing beer and wine sales at theaters and spas, samplings at farmers markets and banning self-checkout machines.

The Senate Health Care Committee has bills on long-term care insurance, abuse of vulnerable adults, and a proposal for a joint select committee on  health care oversight.

Government Operations has so many bills it is scheduling a double header, one hearing in the afternoon and another in the evening.

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

WA Lege Day 26: Gun rights activists come armed

Fred Sittmann of Stanwood, Wash., listens to speakers at Friday's gun rights rally.

OLYMPIA – Second Amendment activists came well-armed to a Capitol Campus rally Friday where legislators promised to protect their freedom to have firearms and speakers denounced President Obama and gun control.

With the Legislature considering proposals to ban some firearms and high capacity clips or require background checks for all gun sales, some speakers urged the crowd to prepare for a fight over their gun rights.

But Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, predicted that even if those restrictions  pass the Democratic-controlled House “they will die in the Washington state Senate” . . . 

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

WA Lege Day 26: Parity Bill hearing canceled

OLYMPIA — A hearing on a proposal to require insurance companies to cover abortion services if they cover live births was cancelled this morning, a few days after the committee chairman said he would hear the bill even though he didn't support it.

The Reproductive Parity bill was among several proposals on the schedule for the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which earlier this week held a two-hour hearing on a bill on the other side of the abortion issue which would require parental notification for any minor seeking an abortion.

Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, announced on Monday he was scheduling the Friday morning  hearing, adding that didn't mean he supported it. Padden is a longtime opponent of abortion and a co-sponsor of the parental notification bill. At the time he said the Reproductive Parity bill had problems that would become clear in the hearing.

The committee did meet, discussing bills on boating safety, adding judges in the Tri-Cities and defining subpoena power for the state auditor.

Abortion bills have the potential for splitting the coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats who form the majority in the Senate. Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who supports abortion rights, said earlier this week that he didn't support the parental notification bill, but the hearing was the first on the oft-proposed measure in 10 years. Holding a hearing on that measure showed the coaltion was willing to debate issues that had been “bottled up” by the previous Democratic majority, he said. 

At the time, Tom also noted that the Reproductive Parity bill had been scheduled for today's hearing, and said the hearings would “get us away from demonization” of the two sides on the issue.

“Let's have that debate,” he said.

Padden said this morning he decided to cancel the Reproductive Parity bill because he believes it would jeopardize federal funding and invite lawsuits if it became law. An identical bill has been referred to the Health Care Committee 

“I never was a fan of the bill to begin with and I worked hard to defeat it last year,” Padden said of a similar measure that died when time ran out for a deadline to pass bills. 

After the bill was abruptly pulled from the Law and Justice hearing calendar, Tom reportedly told the Associated Press it was not determined when or where the bill might be heard. An identical bill is before the Senate Health Committee, but is not expected to get a hearing there, either. A similar bill has been heard in the House and is expected to pass that chamber.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, the sponsor of the Reproductive Parity bill that was pulled from Friday's hearing schedule, said he was frustrated by Padden's refusal to hear the bill.

But Hobbs said Tom has “given me his word that we're going to hear it. I'm going to give him the opportunity to get it right.” 

One Democratic source said an option could be for Senate leaders to reassign the bill to the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, because it involves a regulation for insurance companies.

The chairman of that committee is Hobbs.

WA Lege Day 26: Guns and uniforms

OLYMPIA — This will likely be a short day around the Capitol as some legislators like to leave early to be home for the weekend and committees don't schedule late hearings.

The light agenda in both chambers includes resolutions honoring the state's National Guard, and members of the various Army and Air National Guard units are on duty in the halls of the Capitol, some in dress uniforms and some in camo.

Meanwhile, gun owners from around the state are holding a rally at the Tivoli Fountain on the Capitol Campus, and many came armed for the “2nd Amendment Right Rally”. The guns are visible, and thus legal, under the state's open-carry law, but the Department of Enterprise Services which manages the building and grounds sent out a memo earlier in the week, mentioning the rally in an attempt to allay any concerns about armed protesters. 

Legislators needn't feel out-gunned, however. The National Guard has some examples of its weaponry on display in the hallway.

Watch the mayor, police chief in TV forum tonight

Mayor David Condon and Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub will take viewer questions tonight in a live program on KSPS, Channel 7.

Talk to City Hall starts at 7 p.m.

I'll join Kristi Gorenson of KXLY on the program. Viewers can email questions to We'll focus on police department policies and other city business.

Pot forums popular

OLYMPIA — Forums on the state's new legalized marijuana law are proving so popular that the state agency sponsoring is adding to its schedule and in some cases finding bigger venues to handle the expected crowds.

The State Liquor Control Board also moved one forum to Tacoma after a legislator wondered why the state's second largest county was being ignored, and its residents were having to drive to Seattle or Olympia to have their say.

The Liquor Control Board originally scheduled six forums around Washington to discuss how the state should set up legailzed production, processing and sale of marijuana after the approval last November of Initiative 502. Among its forums is a Feb. 12 Spokane event; it's still starts at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Forums in Olympia and Seattle attracted overflow crowds, so the board changed to larger locations for the forums scheduled in Mount Vernon, Yakima and Vancouver. It added a forum for March 7 in Bremerton. 

Today the board announced it is moving a second forum planned for Olympia to Tacoma on Feb. 21, and holding it in the Convention Center. 

At a recent legislative hearing for the board to explain the work being done to set the rules for growing and selling a federally illegal substance legally in Washington, Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, asked why no forum had been scheduled anywhere in Pierce County.

“I would formally request that you add that,” Becker said to Rick Garza, the control board's point man on preparing for legalized pot.

Three days later, the board announced a schedule change, an acknowledgement of Becker's logic or her position as chairwoman of the Health Care Committee. Or both.

WA Lege Day 25: Super-majorities on taxes

OLYMPIA — The Washington Supreme Court did not rule today on whether the initiative-required supermajority for taxes is constitutional, but a Senate committee will consider three different plans to make it so.

The state's highest court traditionally releases opinions on Thursday mornings, so once a week the fast friends and strong foes of the two-thirds majority hold their breath wondering if this is the day they find out whether the justices will uphold a King County Superior Court judge's ruling that overturned the statute that has been approved several different ways by voters.

Not this morning folks.

But at 10 a.m. The Senate Government Operations Committee a hearing on has three — count 'em, three — different resolutions to lock the two-thirds majority down in the constitutions. They're all  have similar wording, and many of the same co-sponsors, so it seems likely they'll all be grouped together for the hearing.

Lots more on the hearing schedule today. For a complete list of the bills and resolutions on tap, go inside the blog. 

WA Lege Day 24: Inslee says skip more workers comp reforms

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee thinks the Legislature should leave the state's workers compensation system alone and work through the reforms approved in 2011.

House Republicans and the GOP-dominated Senate majority think the state needs to reform the reforms.  

Although not terribly surprising, they managed to highlight their disagreement rather pointedly Wednesday.To read more about it or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Opponents of Prop 2 miss finance deadlines

NOTE: This post was updated at 6:25 p.m. Feb. 6, 2013 to reflect that the Public Disclosure Commission provided the Spokane Firefighters Union with incorrect information about when it needed to file campaign spending reports.

Thanks to Proposition 2, Spokane’s special election on Feb. 12 is heating up.

Each side is accusing the other of stealing signs. One side is accusing the other of campaign reporting violations. The other is crying pettiness.

Accusations of sign stealing are hard to pin down and are so common that we don’t typically investigate them. Though there are notable exceptions.

We at Spin Control will make an attempt, however, to sort through the potential of campaign finance violations.

Inlsee: No comment on Spokane Tribe casino

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee has a final say on whether the Spokane Tribe can build a proposed casino on the West Plains near Fairchild Air Force Base, but wouldn't say Wednesday which way he’s leaning on the project or further tribal gambling in the state.

“It will be important for me to make the decision based on the facts and the evidence,” he said at a morning press conference.

Inslee said he would make “the right decision” but quickly added: “I won’t tell you what that is right now, because I have not made it.”

The decision will come …


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

Stuckart, Waldref apologize for violations

Two Spokane City Council members have apologized for using their city email accounts to send campaign messages.

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and Amber Waldref sent electronic newsletters to supporters recently that included their opinions on the three proposed measures that will be decided by voters in the city’s Feb. 12 special election.

The messages were sent via their city email accounts.

Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission, said government officials should not use government email accounts to promote or oppose items on a ballot.

Library campaign reports $21,000

The campaign in support of the library tax in Spokane has fixed campaign disclosure problems with the state Public Disclosure Commission.

The group, Yes for Spokane Libraries, was late in reporting campaign contributions and spending by several weeks. Last week, it filed reports showing how much it has raised and spent.

Campaign manager Nathan Smith, who also is a Spokane Public Library trustee, promised quick action last week to update campaign finance reports. He said that the group misinterpreted the rules.

The group was formed in support of Spokane Proposition 3, a library lid lift that would increase taxes for libraries by 7 cents for each $1,000 of property value to prevent branch closures.

As of this morning, the campaign hasreported nearly $21,300, including seven donations over $1,000 or more:

WA Lege Day 24: Press conferences on tap

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee has a press conference late this morning, and the House Republicans and Senate coalition leaders have one an hour later.

That doesn't necessarily mean the legislators expect Inslee to say something that demands a rapid response. Both sides usually have a mid-week sit-and-chat session with reporters during the session. We'll bring highlights of the events (if there are any).

The Legislature also has a full slate of hearings today, including one on a bill to require parental notification of any woman under 18 seeking an abortion.  It's the first of two hearings this week in the Senate Labor and Justice Committee on an abortion-related bill. Friday morning the committee has a hearing scheduled on the Reproductive Parity Act, which would require insurance companies to cover abortion services in policies that also cover live births.

One might consider that an equal airing of the two sides of the abortion debate, except that the parental notification bill is the only one on the schedule for today's hearing, which starts at 1:30 p.m., while reproductive parity is one of four bills (boat safety, subpoenas for auditors' investigations, the number of judges in Benton and Franklin counties being the subjects of the others) on tap for the 8 a.m. hearing Friday. 

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

WA Lege Day 23: Changing Black Friday to red

OLYMPIA – The day after Thanksgiving would no longer be Black Friday or left-over turkey day in Washington state under a proposal approved unanimously Tuesday by a House committee. Instead, it would be the legal holiday dubbed Native American Heritage Day.

The day after Thanksgiving is already one of Washington state’s 10 legal holidays, but the only one without a name of its own. Designating it as Native American Heritage Day would recognize the sacrifices and contributions of the original residents of the nation, John Sirios, chairman of the tribal council for the Colville Confederated Tribes said recently.

It won't cost the state anything, said Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, chairman of the House Community Development and Tribal Affairs Committee and one of only two Native Americans in the Legislature. . . 

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

WA Lege Day 23: Fight ahead over immigration?

OLYMPIA — Add immigration to the list of issues that could provoke a heated argument in this year's Legislature. Two mutually exclusive proposals involving undocumented students in the state's colleges will be in the Senate.

Young adults who came to the United States with their parents as young children and were raised and educated in this country would be eligible for some state college aid under a proposal announced Tuesday by Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.

What's being dubbed the Washington State DREAM Act would open up the State Need Grant and College Bound Scholarship programs to high school students who are undocument residents. Those programs already have long waiting lines; the State Need Grant last year had 32,000 applicants who couldn't get aid because the program ran out of money. . . 

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

Murray announces Senate budget hearings

WASHINGTON — The first official steps toward passing a Senate budget will be taken next week, Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray said today.

The Democratic senior senator from Washington announced two sessions scheduled for Feb. 12 and 13. Murray has vowed, amid rebukes from House Republicans about the four-year absence of a Senate spending plan, to pass a budget resolution this spring. The legal deadline to bring a resolution to the Senate floor for approval is April 1.

The 22-member committee, which also includes Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, will first hear from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf. Elmendorf will answer questions about the nonpartisan group’s Budget and Economic Outlook report released Tuesday.

That report projected a shrinking deficit in 2013, falling to around $845 billion from more than $1 trillion in 2012. That would make 2013’s deficit near 5 percent of GDP, its lowest level since President Barack Obama entered office. However, the report predicts rising deficits over the next decade due to “the pressures of an aging population, rising health care costs, an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance, and growing interest payments on federal debt.”

In response to the report’s findings, Murray reaffirmed her commitment to protect certain spending programs and explore revenue-increasing measures.

“We need to continue working to cut spending responsibly, protect and strengthen programs like Medicare, and raise revenue by closing tax loopholes that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations take advantage of,” Murray said in a statement.

On Feb. 13, the committee is expected to hear from representatives of the public testifying on how federal budget decisions affect them. Murray has stressed her commitment to involving public input in the resolution drafting process, which has included soliciting their suggestions on the committee’s website through a program called “MyBudget.”

Senate Democrats are in Annapolis, Md., for a legislative retreat that is expected to last through Wednesday. Budget issues will likely be on the table among a number of fiscal policy issues, including deep spending cuts to defense and discretionary programs set to kick in next month.

Murray announced the hearings via Twitter with the comment, “Looking fwd to getting to work!”

WA Lege Day 23: Election changes and family leave

OLYMPIA — A busy morning in the legislative hearing rooms, with separate hearings on the Family and Medical Leave Act, major changes to the state's election laws and a plan to designate the day after Thanksgiving as a legal holiday named Native American Heritage Day.

The House Ag & Natural Resources Committee has several bills on wolves, and in the afternoon the Senate Natural Resources Committee will look at changes in the Discover Pass system. Senate Energy Committee has a bill that narrows the rules on the purchase of renewable energy by utilities.

Occupational Therapists and the State Residential Care Council are having their “lobby day” and the Governor's Office of Indian Affairs, the Commission on African American Affairs and the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs have a reception this evening.

For a full list of the day's hearings, go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 22: Confusing marijuana laws

OLYMPIA — Washington is in danger of having two different, and sometimes conflicting, marijuana laws, one for those who have it for medical uses and one for everyone else, legislators were told today.

The Senate Health Care Committee is considering a revision to the medical marijuana laws which would try again to clarify how the state would regulate the drug under a 1998 initiative. Among the questions, how does the state designate someone as a qualified patient, and how does that patient get marijuana now that a 2012 initiative says everyone can use small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

Washington is the only state that has a medical marijuana law that does not also have some sort of state registry from patients who have some type of doctor's approval for using the drug. Senate Bill 5528 would require patients to have an authorization card on some type of tamper-proof paper, but no registry.

A registry, which would have a patient's name and address and could be made public, “could be just a roadmap for burglars,” Arthur West, a medical marijuana advocate, told the committee.

The State Liquor Control Board is setting up a system for marijuana to be grown, processed and sold in Washington under last year's Initiative 502. But the stores licensed by the control board will be separate from marijuana dispensaries that have sprung up to supply medical marijuana. And the 502 recreational marijuana will be taxed at a higher rate than medical marijuana.

“That's part of the mess we have right now,” Alison Holcomb, drug policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union-Washington, told the committee.

Medical marijuana advocates said any identification system for patients should be handled by the state Health Department, not the Liquor Control Board.

SB 5528 is the latest attempt to clear up the state's medical marijuana rules. A 2011 effort passed the Legislature only to be gutted by partial vetoes by Gov. Chris Gregoire as federal officials were cracking down on dispensaries. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, who has sponsored many of the legislative attempts to bring clarity to the medical marijuana law, likened the process to the movie “Groundhog's Day” but said I-502 created a “huge change” that has to be addressed.

It's not enough to say medical marijuana patients can simply buy their drug from state-sanctioned recreational marijuna stores, she said. “Some people are not able to go to a store. They are very, very ill.”

Medical marijuana users are able to grow their own drugs, and have up to 24 ounces of it on hand. Recreational marijuana users cannot grow their own, and are limited to 1 ounce.

In Senate Joint Memorial 8000, the Legislature would ask the federal government to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has no legal use, to a Schedule 2 drug, which would allow it to be prescribed for certain medical conditions. That might help medical marijuana patients, but would have not provide any protections to recreational marijuana users. 

Most people would agree that marijuana shouldn't be lumped with other Schedule 1 drugs like heroin and LSD, Kohl-Welles said.

But some marijuana advocates said the state should go farther. Catherine Jeter said the public doesn't need to be protected from marijuana: There is no need for rescheduling. Deschedule it.” 

WA Lege Day 22: Workers comp fight expected

OLYMPIA — The Senate is expected to debate bills that would make changes in the state's workers compensation system today. 

Changes in workers comp? you may ask. Didn't they strike a deal on that back in 2011?

Yes. But one of the changes they made, which was to allow woluntary structured settlements for injured workers aged 55 and older, is the subject of one of the bills, and Senate Republicans want to expand it to cover all workers. Labor-backed Democrats are opposed to that, arguing the younger the worker the greater the likelihood  he or she could be coerced into a bad settlement.

Both business and labor will be watching this first big test of the majority coalition in the Senate. Whatever passes there still faces an uphill fight in the House.

Also on the agenda today are committee sessions on repealing the family and medical leave act, a sales tax holiday for back to school clothes and supplies, training wages, and a request for the feds to reclassify marijuana.

A full schedule for committee hearings can be found inside the blog.

Sunday Spin: A stamp for a ballot is NOT like the poll tax

OLYMPIA – A wise old pol once told me changing the election system is difficult for two reasons. The people who must agree to make the change all got their jobs through the current system; and having won at least one election, they all consider themselves experts in how the system should work.

That may explain why legislators each year consider a myriad of election changes, but rarely approve any of substance. Last week found various committees in the midst of such discussions, considering whether counties should be required to put out more drop boxes, move up the deadline for ballots to arrive in the mail, or change the way the state divvies up its Electoral College votes. Too early to tell how most will fare, but all face a bumpy road.

One change being discussed would require the state or counties to pay the postage to return the ballots mailed out to Washington’s 3 million-plus voters. One can make a good cost-to-benefit argument about such an expense compared to the convenience to voters.

Or one could make a very bad argument…  

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

WA Lege Day 19: Shedding light on officer-involved deaths

 OLYMPIA – Medical examiners would be able to discuss the results of autopsies in case involving police shootings, giving them a chance to clear up what Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich refers to as “misinformation and myths” in some controversial cases, under a bill being considered by the Senate.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, is designed to lift some confidentiality restrictions on autopsy reports when a death occurs in the custody of a law enforcement officer or during police contact.

Confidentiality restrictions, which under state law cover most autopsy and post-mortem investigation reports, also would be lifted for deaths that occur in a prison or jail.

If the proposed law were in effect, Knezovich said he’d be able to explain details of cases like the Sept. 5 death of Edward Gover . . .

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

WA Lege Day 19: Ordinary people testify first?

OLYMPIA — Average citizens who come to Olympia to testify before a House committee will get preference when the list of witnesses is long and the amount of time is short.

The House of Representatives changed its rules Friday to give preference to people who aren't lobbyists or state officials when that chamber's committees hold hearings on bills.

Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said some residents of Eastern Washington travel as far as 400 miles one way to testify for or against proposed laws. They're so passionate they'll get up at 2 a.m. to be in Olympia for an 8 a.m. hearing, then return home that day, she said; they deserve to be heard.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said committee chairmen and chairwomen generally do a good job of making sure people get a chance to be heard, and the Democrats had no objection to the rule change proposed by Republicans.The “Citizens First” rule passed 93-0, the only one of four rule changes proposed by the GOP to pass.

WA lege Day 19: Should every rep get at least 1 hearing?

OLYMPIA — House Democrats turned down a rule that would have guaranteed every representative at least one hearing on a bill of his or her choice during the session.

House Republicans proposed the bill among the package of changes Friday they wanted to the rules for operating the chamber. 

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said said priorities in downtown Seattle are often different than priorities in suburban Spokane, and the rule change would be a way to “give people across the state a voice”

But Democratic committee leader argued that what sounds like a good idea would turn out to be unworkable. “To be able to hear all of thses bills would be  next to impossible,” said Rep. Eileen Cody, chairwoman of the Health Care Committee who added that 64 bills had been referred to that committee already and “there's still more dropping.”

The rule failed 52-41 on the same party-line vote that killed two other proposed changes.

WA Lege Day 19: Education funding rule

Rep. Susan Fagan reads from the state Constitution during a floor debate Friday.

OLYMPIA — House Republicans want to change rules to require the state's general fund budget be split up so education expenses are decided before other state programs.

The “Fund Education First” proposal has been around before, and failed, but GOP representatives are arguing today it makes more sense as the Legislature faces a mandate from the state Supreme Court to improve funding for the state's public schools.

As part of the debate, Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, read from a copy of the state constitution that calls the education of its children the state's “paramount duty.”

Democrats, however, maintain as they have before that this is no more than a gimmick. It's not when the budget decisions are made, but how much, they say.

“It's more important to me that we fund education right,” Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said the Republican rule is an example of form over substance. “It does nothing to actually fund education.”

Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, said it was a significant reform that would send a message the Legislature was tackling education reform in a responsible way. “It is much, much more than a slogan.”

UPDATE: Rule change fails 52-41 on a party-line vote.

WA Lege Day 19: Two-thirds on taxes on the table

Rep. Kevin Parker argues in favor of a two-thirds majority for the House to pass any tax increase.

OLYMPIA — The House is debating a rule that may sound familiar — a requirement that it pass any tax issues receive a two-thirds majority.

Familiar because that's been on the ballot five times, most recently last November. 

But the concept has been rejected by a King County Superior Court judge, has been argued before the state Supreme Court and could have a ruling any time. Anticipating that the Supremes might throw it out unless it passes by a constitutional amendment, House Republicans want to make it a House rule, which isn't subject to a court challenge. Democrats, who hold the majority in the House, don't favor it and it's unlikely to pass as a rule.

The debate sounds familiar too. Republicans say enacting the rule would be keeping faith with the voters who have repeatedly approved the measure at the ballot box.

“We can let the voters know that we're not out of step… we're not like Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. J. T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said.

Democrats say it can lead to gridlock because it keeps the majority from getting things done. “The majority should be able to govern,” Rep. Jaime Pederesen, D-Seattle, said.

The rule change failed on a party-line vote, 52-41.

WA Lege Day 19: House rules

OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives has a bit of housekeeping to take care of this morning, specifically some rules for how they do business.

Minority Republicans have proposed four rule changes, including one that would require a two-thirds majority vote on tax measures should the state Supreme Court rule that the super-majority required by initiative is unconstitutional. At a press conference earlier this week, GOP leaders from both chambers said they were preparing for that possibility.

Another rule change would give every member at least one hearing on one bill, thus allowing minority members a chance to get a public airing of at least one of their ideas.

Elsewhere around the Capitol campus, hearings started early this morning because some legislators will be getting the heck outta Dodge early this afternoon for the weekend. The Senate Law and Justice Committee aired out a proposal that Spokane County officials are watching, which would open up information from medical examiner investigations into officer-involved shootings.

The state's county officials association has some problems with the wording, but suggested a fix that would keep it's members happy. We'll have more on that topic later today.

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

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About this blog

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

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

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

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

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