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Spin Control

Archive for May 2013

Spec Sess Day 19: Budget writers in the open

OLYMPIA — A rare public work day for the Senate's budget writers, who reportedly have been meeting privately — albeit unsuccessfully to this point — on a compromise for the state's 2013-15 operating budget.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee has a hearing this morning on an array of topics, including tougher laws for repeat offenders of driving under the influence, lower tuition at the state colleges and universities and a change in the state's estate tax law.

Most members of the Senate and House are elsewhere. The morning's Senate pro forma session lasted a few minutes longer than normal when Sen. David Frockt, D- Seattle, used a point of personal privilege for a call to redouble efforts so the Legislature can finish by June 11 and not need a second special session.

Along with the 30-day limit on the special session, the Legislature is also looking at an even bigger day on the calendar: July 1. That's when the state's new fiscal year starts, and it's unclear how the state would proceed with all services and salaries if it doesn't have a budget in place to provide the authority to continue them. 

Baumgartner bill: Check routes of oversized loads

OLYMPIA — The state Department of Transportation shouldn't let trucks with oversized loads on routes where the bridges are too small, state Sen. Mike Baumgartner said Thursday.

The Spokane Republican introduced a bill that would require the DOT to better label the height of state bridges, and refuse to issue permits to truckers whose oversized loads aren't going to fit through bridges that are too low or too narrow. It's a response to the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River, which fell after being struck by an oversized load.

This wasn't the first time the Skagit River bridge was struck by an oversized load, Baumgartner said. The solution to the problem is not more transportation taxes to fix bridges, but better oversight so trucks aren't allowed on bridges that are too small.

Today’s fun video: TPM does day in 100 seconds

Ricin is big news in New York.

Could this be one time where Spokane was ahead of the curve?

Spec Sess Day 18: House passes estate tax ‘fix’

OLYMPIA — Over objections that the Legislature was unconstitutionally reaching into the past to collect taxes, the House passed a change to the estate tax law that attempts to erase a loss in court.

House Bill 2064 passed on a 51-40 vote after Democrats described it as a technical fix to close a loophole the Supreme Court opened in tax law, and necessary to pay for schools. The estate tax is deposited in the school trust fund.

Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said the Legislature has reached a consensus that it must do a better job of paying for education, and closing the loophole in the estate tax law is one component of that.

“The clock is ticking and we have some responsibilities to fill.” he said. The tax affects the state's wealthiest families — it applies only to estates with assets over $2 million — so the choice is between giving them a refund from estate taxes they've paid or keeping the money in the school trust fund, he added.

Republicans argued that rewriting the law to fix the problem the Supreme Court found, and applying it retroactively, was unconstitutional.  The state was collecting taxes it shouldn't have, and now needs to give them back, Rep. Terry Nealey of Walla Walla said.  If the state loses another court battle, it will have to pay the back taxes, plus interest and attorneys fees.

The issue involves a type of trust that some married couples use known as a qualified terminal interest property or QTIP, which keeps the assets from being taxed when the first spouse dies, deferring the estate tax until the second spouse dies. The Legislature passed the current estate tax law in 2005, and voters approved it through a referendum. But last year the state Supreme Court said the Department of Revenue was incorrectly collecting taxes from trusts in which the first spouse died before the law passed and the second spouse died after it took effect.

The state Department of Revenue will begin preparing refund checks next Monday for 70 estates that are effected by the court ruling, and expects to mail those checks, totalling more than $40 million, the following week, Mike Gowrylow, a department spokesman, said. Without the legislative changes, the state's Education Trust Fund would lose about $140 million over the 2013-15 biennium, between the refunds and taxes that it wouldn't be able to collect, the Office of Financial Management estimates.

Ormsby said it's a simple choice between writing refund checks to some of the state's wealthiest families or supporting schools. Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said the bill was just a “technical fix” of the law and the Legislature always intended the estate tax to be applied in this  manner.

But Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, said making the law retroactive runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution, and suggests “all sins are forgiven if it's done in the  name of education.”

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said the bill won't just hit the wealthy, but estates that are high in property assets but with little liquid capital: “What are we going to do retroactively next?” he asked.

Spec Sess Day 18: House back. Maybe voting?

OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives returns to the floor this morning, with members expecting to vote on a bill involving the state's estate tax.

After a work schedule that might charitably be described as light, that may seem a heavy lift, considering the bill just passed the House Finance Committee yesterday. But it could be a significant piece in completing the jigsaw puzzle that is the 2013-15 operating budget, so there is some urgency in at least airing it out.

The vote would be the first significant floor action on legislation since the special session began on May 13. It's scheduled to end (or require a second overtime session) on June 12.

House session started at 10 a.m. with a moment of silence for Mike Carrell, who served in that chamber before moving to the Senate. Then they went into caucus, which could take minutes or  hours before the actual debate and vote occurs.

The Senate has a pro forma session at 11 a.m.

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream to back I-522

One of the founders of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream said today his Vermont-based company will back a Washington initiative to require all foods to be labeled if they contain genetically modified ingredients.

Jerry Greenfield said Wednesday the company would give away “tons” of ice cream, send its “Scoop Truck” to Seattle and put up billboards in support of Initiative 522. The company's web site said the truck was scheduled to be in Seattle from mid August to mid September promoting its Greek frozen yogurt.

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Panel passes estate tax change

OLYMPIA — A bill that would fix what some believe is a loophole in the estate tax created by a state Supreme Court ruling passed a House committee Wednesday. Supporters said it would provide fairness to the state tax system by requiring the wealthiest residents to help pay for education, while opponents denounced it as “picking at the carcasses of dead people.”

On an 8-3 vote, the House Finance Committee approved a bill that would retroactively apply the state's estate tax on property for high-income residents who put their property in a type of trust known as a qualified terminal interest property or QTIP trust.

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Inslee to Legislature: Pick up the pace

OLYMPIA — Time is running out for the work the Legislature needs to do in the special session, Gov. Jay Inslee said today.

Inslee called a committee vote earlier in the morning on legislation go fix a problem with the state's estate tax “good progress”, adding he expects the Legislature to reach an agreement on the bill in the next couple of days.

“However, there is still much that remains to be done and time is running out,” he said. Today is Day 17 of the 30-day Special Session.

“If budget negotiators are able to reach key compromises in the next week, we will be able to finish on time,” he said in a press release. “But negotiators need to pick up the pace to make it happen.”

Sen. Mike Carrell dead

OLYMPIA — The State Senate held a moment of silence today for Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, who died earlier this morning.

Carrell, 69, a 19-year veteran of the Legislature, was a champion of legislation to help at-risk youth, fight sex trafficking, help members of the military and veterans and support law enforcement. The retired math and science teacher was diagnosed with a blood disease earlier this year that is a precursor to leukemia, and was undergoing stem-cell transplants and chemotherapy for treatment. He was unavailable to be present for the closing weeks of the regular session while he went through treatment, although he did keep up with legislation with regular phone conversations with other members.

Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, the Senate Republican Leader, said Carrell died peacefully in his sleep at University of Washington hospital with his wife Charlotte nearby. He succumbed to lung complications from the medical treatment.

“Senator Carrell was at true statesman who put the people of Washington above all else during his 19 years of public service as a legislator,” Schoesler said in a press release. “His commitment to his community was always evident in his work and you always knew exactly where you stood with him.” 

Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, the lone member of the Majority Coalition Caucus in the chamber who was managing thebrief  pro forma session, announced Carrell's death and asked for a moment of silence. The announcement stunned minority Democrats, who were in the chamber while taking a break from a caucus meeting to prepare for the second half of the special session. 

Carrell's death creates a political challenge for the Senate as it tries to pass an operating budget or any other controversial legislation in the special session.

He was a member of the Majority Coalition Caucus, the 23 Republicans and two Democrats who banded together late last year to wrest control from the remaining 24 Democrats. Until a replacement is appointed, the Senate is split evenly at 24-24.

Under state law, Carrell's appointed replacement will be a Republican, nominated by precinct committee officers in the 28th District, which covers parts of Pierce County,then selected by the county council. It's a process that usually takes two weeks or more.

Spec Sess Day 17: Signs of life?

OLYMPIA — The House Finance Committee holds one of its first hearings of the special session this morning on a proposal to revamp the estate and transfer tax on some property sales.

You remember the special session. The one that started 17 days ago and has so far produced…well, it's not really clear what it has produced because all discussions on the state's 2013-15 operating budget have taken place outside of public view while most legislators have stayed away from Olympia. Hearings on other topics, with the exception of tougher DUI laws, have been all but non-existent.

But not to worry. Although the Legislature only has 13 days left in the special session, it has a full 32 days before the state's new fiscal year starts, and the authority to spend money on most things the state does expires.

The Finance Committee's hearing is an attempt to fix what some refer to a tax loophole that stems from the “Bracken Decision”, one of those pesky state Supreme Court decisions that say something the state is doing isn't legal, and the amount of taxes it collects goes down. It involves some fairly complicated estate tax law involving QTIP Trusts, which have nothing to do with the little sticks with cotton on each end. Instead, they're a system used by married couples that protect money in the estate when one spouse dies and passes the money to the surviving spouse.

Fixing problems the court found with the way the state was applying the estate tax could generate as much as $150 million in the next biennium, if it is applied as retroactively as the bill suggests… and survives another court challenge that would likely arise.

State taps reserve for businesses hurt by bridge outage

OLYMPIA — Washington will spend $150,000 from the Economic Development Strategic Reserve for a program to let the public know that businesses in and around Skagit County are open, even though a section of the I-5 bridge is down.

Gov. Jay Inslee today said he directed the state Commerce Department to tap the reserve to help get the word out about alternate routes while the state works on a temporary and a permanent fix to the Skagit River Bridge. The money will be used for marketing and promotion efforts, not just for Skagit but for Whatcom, San Juan and Island counties, who are likely to feel the pinch. The state may also apply for a disaster declaration from the Small  Business Administration after it collects data on the economic impact.

Money from the reserve will be used to develop a marketing program to tell people what businesses and attractions are open and how to access them on alternate routes or ferries.

“People need to know that these counties are open for business and that the bridge collapse need not interfere with vacation, business or recreation plans,” Commerce Director Brian Bonlender said in press release announcing the money.

A section of the 58-year-old bridge collapsed into the river last Thursday evening after a truck collided with some of the support structure. Traffic will be detoured to other bridges at least until next month while a temporary replacement section is built and installed. A more permanent replacement section might be finished by September. 

Spec Sess Day 16: Beyond halfway mark

OLYMPIA — The Legislature starts the second half of the special session with the pace it maintained through most of the first half… if standing still can be said to be a pace.

While much of the rest of the state returns from its three-day weekend, legislators have at least a four day weekend. There is nothing on their schedules in or around the Capitol. The Senate has a pro forma session — where a couple of members are on the floor for a brief run-through of routine business — at noon Wednesday. The House may have a session on Thursday.

It's likely there will be more politicians in Spokane today than in Olympia.

Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell each have public events — Murray's is on early childhood education and Cantwell's is on an item of the farm bill that helps farmers and school nutrition programs — and state Rep. Marcus Riccelli and state Sen. Andy Billig are joining a group at the Health District Building to talk about the recent ricin investigation.

Sunday spin: 8 simple rules to survive your campaign

The lineup card for the August primary shows we’re fielding quite a few rookie candidates for local office this year.

Welcome to the ring. Watch out for all those hats being tossed around.

Many of you will do as well as most of the veteran pols, and some of you will do better than a few of them. Without casting aspersions on anyone’s abilities or intelligence, Spin Control each year at this time offers candidates and campaigns its eight simple rules to make it through Election Day. As my dad always said, free advice is usually worth what you pay for it, but here goes:

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With bridge down, chances for Transportation package up?

OLYMPIA — The collapse of a section of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River could spur the Legislature in to action over the much-debated transportation package with its increased gasoline taxes, but some of that action could be to rearrange how money is spent.

Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, one of two Democrats in the Majority Coalition Caucus that controls the Senate, said he thought the accident was “a game changer” for debate on the package, which is one of three top prioritiesfor the special session listed last week by Gov. Jay Inslee. 

It should definitely provide impetus to discussions over the package in what has so far been a quiet special session, Sheldon said after presiding over a two-minute “pro forma” Senate session that essentially opened and then closed until Monday morning.

Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, chief negotiator for House Republicans on the operating budget,  agreed that collapse should generate momentum behind some kind of transportation package. But he thinks the spending will have to be revised, with more emphsasis on repairs and maintenance, either in the package under debate or by amending the budget for existing transportation funds which the Legislature passed before the regular session adjourned.

“Frankly, I'd like to see us do more to protect what we have,” said Alexander, who had just emerged from discussions over the 2013-15 operating budget, which is one of the other priorities for the special session.

Neither Alexander nor Sheldon were sure what the bridge collapse would do to one of the biggest sticking points in the package, money for the Columbia River Crossing bridge between Vancouver and Portland. Also a span on the Interstate 5 corridor that stretches from Canada to Mexico, the existing bridge is far older than the Skagit River structure — It was finished in 1917, compared to 1955 — and is also rated as “functionally obsolete.”

The current iteration of the package could raise between $8 billion and $9.5 billion over 12 years through higher gasoline taxes and vehicle fees for construction of new projects and maintenance or restoration of existing roads and bridges. The cost of repairing the Skagit River bridge, and whether more than the one span that collapsed will have to be replaced, isn't known yet, nor is the state's share for a structure that's part of the federal interstate highway system. But state costs could become part of the package, Sheldon said.

The Washington State Labor Council, which helped organize a rally at the Capitol earlier this week to support the transportation package, said the collapse was a “sober reminder” thepackage is needed and the Legislature needs to stop “partisan bickering.”.

“We need to invest in our infrastructure, including the Columbia River Crossing, now,” Jeff Johnson, the council president, said in a press release. “We neeed to keep the public safe, keep our economy rolling, and put folks back to work.” 

But Kirby Wilbur, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the package as it is currently drafted spends too little on fixing failing roads and bridges. That's unacceptable, Wilbur said in a prepared statement, and Inslee and House Democrats must “finally get serious about a transportation plan.” 

Poll: ‘Cut spending’ beats ‘Raise taxes’

A new survey suggests Washington voters would rather the Legislature cut spending than raise taxes, the folks at Moore Information say.

Wow. Bet you didn't see that coming. (Next week, Moore will poll people on whether they'd rather have rain or sunshine tomorrow.)

As with most polls, it's not just the overall results that matter, but what questions were asked, and how strongly people feel about them. . .

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

Workers get ‘password protection’

OLYMPIA — Employers can't ask their current workers or job applicants for access to their social media accounts under a law signed Tuesday.

Sometimes called the “Facebook Bill”, Senate Bill 5211 makes it illegal for an employer to request a worker or a job applicant for the login information to a social media account or to make the employee access the account with the employer present. An employee or applicant can't be required to add someone to a contact list or change the settings to give a third party access to the account.

Sen. Steven Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said Washington is the eighth state to have such a bill. “Privacy shouldn't be a thing of the past that we are forced to sacrifice every time technology moves forward.”

After signing the bill, Gov. Jay Inslee said it was a solid step for protecting people's privacy today.

“We do have to realize that technology changes so fast that we may turn around tomorrow and find circumstances where people are not adequately protected by it, from new technologies we haven't even thought of yet,” he said.

Wolf bill signed into law

OLYMPIA — Washington will set up a special fund to pay for losses of livestock to the state's growing wolf population under a bill signed Tuesday.

The new law sets aside up to $50,000 each year from the money raised by selling personalized license plate for losses from wolves. It also allows farmers and ranchers to be compensated for all animal losses, not just for animals being raised for commercial purposes under the previous law.

Senate Bill 5193, sponsored by Sen. John Smith of Colville, was a key to expansion of Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations that allow property owners to shoot a wolf that is attacking livestock or pets.

The Legislature debated several plans to control wolves in Eastern Washington because the rapid growth in the formerly endangered animals' population as a result of successful recovery efforts.

“This is something where Washington state can really lead the nation in figuring out how to deal with the recovery process,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Inslee on Med School flap: We can work it out

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee downplayed any conflict between the state's two research universities over operations at the new joint medical school facility in Spokane, saying he wouldn't even call it a disagreement.

“I'm confident that we can find a way that Huskies and Cougars can work together on this,” Inslee said during a press conference this afternoon.

As to whether the state would build a new, complete medical school in Spokane if the two universities can't come to an understanding, Inslee said that is “getting a thousand miles ahead of ourselves.”

As reported in this morning's Spokesman-Review, Washington State University President Elson Floyd said the University of Washington is not sending enough second-year medical students to the new program at the Riverpoint campus in Spokane that the two are jointly operating. The school will have only 17 students for the 20 slots approved by the Legislature for a pilot program, and Floyd criticized UW for not recruiting enough students to fill the slots.

If UW won't cooperate, WSU will “plow our own way” and explore setting up its own four-year med school, Floyd said.

UW President Michael Young said only 17 students were interested in the Spokane program. To the suggestion that WSU would set up its own med school, Young said, “Good luck.” Floyd doesn't understand how a med school is run.

Inslee said he talked to people about the med school when he was in Spokane over the weekend and “I'm confident in our ability to work through this.”

Suit filed to keep Hamilton off ballot

Spokane City Council candidate Mark Hamilton’s residency problems continue.

Two voters in Spokane's northeast council district filed a lawsuit today claiming that Hamilton's name should not be allowed on the ballot because he was not a resident of the city or district for a full year previous to filing to run last week.

The Spokane City Charter requires that candidates be resident at least a year before officials file to place their names on the ballot county auditor.

Inslee signs autopsy bill

Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Mike Padden talk before the autopsy bill is signed.

OLYMPIA – Spokane County’s medical examiners should feel free to talk about the results of investigations into deaths that involve actions by law enforcement officers.  Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Monday allowing county medical examiners and coroners to discuss the results of autopsies and post mortems of people who die in encounters with police or while in jail.

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

Inslee vetoes part of transportation budget

OLYMPIA – A legislative compromise over a controversial bridge over the Columbia River was sliced out of the state’s $8.8 billion transportation budget Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee, who insisted it would endanger federal money and could lead to the bridge not being built.

Just hours after he joined a rally on the Capitol steps by union members and business leaders who are calling for even more spending on roads, bridges, buses and ferries, Inslee cut a provision that would limited the amount of federal money funneled through the state to the Columbia River Crossing bridge at $81 million – and then only if the U.S. Coast Guard approved the project’s building permit. If the Coast Guard doesn’t approve the permit, the money would be spent to study on a new bridge design.

If the Coast Guard doesn’t issue the permit, there’s no need to spend that money on a new design, he said. The state will lose federal funding for the bridge and “there is no other viable option to building this bridge in the next 10 years,” he said.

The bridge was a major sticking point over the state’s two-year transportation budget during the regular session, with some Republicans from southwest Washington insisting it was a flawed design that should be scrapped. The $81 million limitation and study provision was an attempt to strike a compromise that allowed the entire two-year transportation budget to move through the two chambers. But Inslee insisted Monday that deep concern over the bridge was held by only a few senators.

“We don’t build appropriations to nowhere,” Inslee said. “This veto help sharpen legislators’ minds.”

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Supporters of roads package rally

Ava Conner, 6, accompanied her mother Jennifer to the Capitol for today's rally for a transportation package.

OLYMPIA — Shouts of “Pass it Now” filled the Capitol steps this morning as supporters of a new package of taxes and road projects tried to goad the Legislature into action.

In front of the podium where a couple hundred sign-carrying protesters in hard hats and safety vests. Behind the podium were folks in suits and ties. It was a visual reminder that the package has the support of labor unions and the state's business community, backed up by speakers like Gov. Jay Inslee, who has made passing a transportation package one of his top priorities for the special session.

“We've got to finish what we have started,” Inslee told the crowd. “It is crunch time…There is a tooth fairy but there is no transportation fairy.” 

Where it lacks support, however, is in parts of the GOP caucuses in both chambers of the Legislature, where opponents of the Columbia River Crossing bridge between Portland and Vancouver are against including money for that project. Some members also want any taxes the package will include to be sent to a statewide vote in November by including a referendum clause in the legislation.

Some politicians trust the voters only so far

The progression of thought for some politicians about the wisdom of the voters can be as predictable as it is ironic.

At the end of the first campaign, most winners are honored – and sometimes pleasantly surprised – at being chosen by voters. It is the rare first victory speech that doesn’t include the phrase “humbled by the trust the people have placed in me”, or words to that effect.

Over time and subsequent victories, that evolves for many into the certitude that the voters are making the wise decision. Later, some decide that voters smart enough to elect them aren’t smart enough to make other decisions that might be laid before them.

The journey goes from “Let the Voters Decide!” to “What do they know?”

City Council members seem dangerously down this road. . .

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Spec Sess Day 5: Casual Friday in the Lege

OLYMPIA — Anyone looking for a frenzied pace of activity in the special session would so far be disappointed, and today might best exemplify the pace.

The House isn't doing anything and the Senate had its own version of casual Friday. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who normally presides over Senate activity, wasn't available for the 10 a.m. pro forma session, so Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville was pressed into service to bang the gavel.

Schoesler took the rostrum without a tie, which isn't just a fashion faux pas but outside the normal dress code of the chamber. “I didn't find out I was doing this until five minutes to 10,” Schoesler said. 

With one Republican and one Democrat on the floor, Schoesler banged through the business of the day — reading the journal (dispensed with), reading of new bills (skip to the last line), accepting partial vetoes from Gov. Jay Inslee (message received) and adjournment — in three and a half minutes.

Probably not a record, but pretty fast for his first time.

Marijuana rules: Grow inside, felons need not apply

Official logo for legal marijuana in Washington state, courtesy Washington State Liquor Control Board.

OLYMPIA — Anyone planning to grow legal marijuana in Washington should expect to do so inside, pass a tough background check and keep up with their paperwork.

The state agency setting new rules to comply with the voters’ decision to legalize recreational marijuana for adults released a 46-page draft of dos and don’ts Thursday for would be growers, processors and sellers of the drug.

Sellers would have to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, child care centers, public parks or libraries. Stores could have limited signage or advertising, with no views of products from the street. And absolutely no kids allowed in the stores, processing facilities or growing areas.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board will be taking public comments on the proposal through June 10 before issuing final rules. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, or for a link to the complete draft of the Liquor Control Board Rules, continue inside the blog.

Most money for I-522 from outside WA

OLYMPIA – Out-of-state money pouring into the campaign coffers of this fall’s initiative to require labeling of genetically modified food products make clear that Washington will once again be a battleground state for progressive causes.

Supporters of Initiative 522, which would require any product sold in Washington stores to say if it contains genetically altered substances, have raised nearly $2 million for various campaign organizations. Three-fourths of it came from businesses or people outside Washington who won’t be voting on the measure this fall.

“It’s part of a national movement,” Liz Larter, a spokeswoman for the Yes on I-522 campaign, said of efforts to require consumers be told if their products contain modified ingredients. But Washington is likely to be the only state where the battle will be joined at the ballot box this fall after a similar measure failed last year in California. . .

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

Today’s fun video: Stewart skewers Obama for IRS, AP scandals


The Daily Show makes fun of President Obama's “I didn't know about this until I heard it on the news” explanations for recent scandals.

A calm day in Olympia

The Capitol Building above Capitol Lake on Wednesday morning.

OLYMPIA — Day 3 of the special session is quiet, inside the Capitol and out.

The Senate Government Operations Committee had a “work session” in the morning on recall elections. The Senate had a four-minute pro-forma session at noon before adjourning until Friday. Two new bills were introduced, including SB 5935, which would turn Washington into a Right-to-Work state. That whirring sound you hear is Big Jim Farley, coiner of the term “the soviet of Washington”, spinning in his grave.

Budget negotiators met during the morning.

Gov. Jay Inslee is signing some bills passed in the regular session at 1:30 p.m. 

Lawyers say city could challenge charter changes before election

The city may have grounds to challenge two proposed charter amendments and seek court orders to keep them off the ballot, lawyers have told the Spokane City Council.

Groups supporting the initiatives say that would be “a direct subversion of the democratic process” but the Spokane Home Builders Association is urging the city to go to court.

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


Drunk driving crackdown moves forward as booze bills are signed

OLYMPIA – As a Senate committee approved tougher laws against impaired drivers Tuesday, some senators wondered aloud if the Legislature isn’t at least partially responsible for putting more drunks on the road by expanding the places where alcohol is consumed.

Less than an hour after the Senate Law and Justice Committee gave unanimous approval to a proposal that would require more and quicker jail time for drivers convicted of alcohol or drug impairment, Gov. Jay Inslee signed four bills the Legislature recently passed that add new places from which a person might be driving after legally consuming alcohol. . .

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Spec Sess Day 2: Tougher DUI bill passes committee

OLYMPIA — A law that toughens the state's drunk driving laws, in part by increasing mandatory jail time, received unanimous approval this morning from the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Despite concerns by some senators that it didn't go far enough, or provide money to cities and counties for the higher costs of extra prosecutions for driving under the influence, all committee members gave it at least tentative support.

Just who was responsible for some of the drunks on the road was part of the debate. The Legislature must accept some responsibility, Sen. Jeanne Darnielle, D-Tacoma, said because it continues to increase the number of places where a person can consume alcohol — at movie theaters, public markets and spas —  and then drive home.

The voters should accept some of the blame, said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. They opened up sales of distilled spirits in supermarkets through a 2011 initiative, and legalized marijuana consumption by adults in 2012. Stores like Costco now have mountains of liquor on display in their aisles, she said.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, tried unsuccessfully to attach amendments that would pay for increased prosecutions and incarcerations by extending the temporary tax on beer that was imposed in 2010 and is due to expire on June 30.  Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said taxes to pay for the bill is something the Ways and Means Committee will address.

The bill makes a fourth conviction for driving under the influence a felony, down from five convictions under the current law. It sets up mandatory jail time or treatment programs for earlier offenses, would allow judges to order a drunk driver to abstain from alcohol and submit to mandatory daily testing.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday that tougher drunk driving laws were one of the three top priorities for the special session, along with passing an operating budget for 2013-15 and a package of new transportation projects that will require some new revenue.

Inslee narrows top priorities for special session

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee has shortened his top priorities on the Legislature’s “to do” list for the special session to three things:

Pass an operating budget. Pass a new package for transportation projects. Toughen penalties for those who drive drunk or high.

At a press conference on the opening day of the 30-day special session, Inslee acknowledged that three other things he listed as priorities two weeks ago might not get done.

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

WA Spec Session: On not negotiating in the media

OLYMPIA — Neither the governor nor the leaders of the caucus controlling the Senate will negotiate the budget in the news media.

We know this, because the said so this afternoon in press conferences, which were called to talk about the special session that started today and is mostly about getting a budget agreement

At various times over the span of an hour, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Mark Schoesler and Sen. Rodney Tom all stated emphatically that they would not negotiate in the media. They said they were making progress, or that they were encouraged or that they hoped to be done in the allotted 30 days although it's possible that wouldn't happen.

Inslee said budget negotiators had agreed to “some of the fundamental assumptions” that would underlie the $33 billion plus, two-year operating budget. They hadn't started exchanging offers yet, but he was encouraging them to do so, to reach a consensus.

So what might those fundamental assumptions be? It has to do with how much savings some reforms might produce or revenue a change might produce, he said. But to get beyond that would be beyond the agreement not to negotiate in the media, he added.

Would Inslee support a budget that would close some tax loopholes but not extend temporary business taxes on professional services or continue a temporary tax on beer, as he proposed?

 “It is unwise to negotiate in the media,” he said. “The budget I have proposed is a great … but I am going to be agreeing to something different.”

Sen. Rodney Tom, the Democrat who leads the predominantly Republican Majority Coalition Caucus, said his caucus members aren't in a compromising mood, believing they already compromised to put together their no-new-taxes budget that picked up some Democratic votes when it passed the Senate. Republicans gave on accepting federal money from the expansion of Medicaid, which is supporting “Obamacare.”

Of course, that sort of ignores the fact that most of those Democrats voted for that budget as a way of moving the process along, and said they expected it to come back from the House with some tax preferences changed. Bu would any Senate Republicans support any budget that contained any tax changes?

“Right now, we've put together a budget that doesn't require revenue,” Tom said. “We're not going to negotiate the budget in the media.”

The prospects of getting a deal in 30 days after failing to reach agreement during the 105 days of the regular session? Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he's a farmer, so he's an optimist. Senators are being told to be flexible, and either stay in Olympia or be available for teleconferences to discuss negotiaitons.

WA Spec Session: They’re back. Sort of

OLYMPIA — The special session of the Legislature began officially at 9 a.m. with a flurry of inactivity. The House passed a few resolutions and adjourned until Tuesday morning. The Senate went at ease until the afternoon, when Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler said enough members would be present to do opening day business like passing the resolutions to get things moving.

Update: At 1 p.m. they managed a quorum, a prayer, and the resolutions from the House that essentially keep all the bills that were introduced in the regular session but not passed in the chamber where they started, at the highest level they reached before sine die.

Total time elapsed: 6 minutes before they adjourned until Wednesday.

So no action on the floor this morning, but there was a floor show  of sort in the Rotunda, where the North Klackamas (Oregon) Christian School choir was performing acapella. The accoustics are quite good under the dome, and lots of musical groups stop by to sing or play instruments.

Some of the hymns they sang only confirmed the deeply held beliefs of the press corps that we are all in limbo — we can hear the music of heaven but aren't allowed to get there. Also appropriate was their rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.

Wimoweh, wimoweh. The lege, it sleeps right now.   

A close look at the House reader board in the above photo might cause some people to worry where it says “the first special session” — as though the Legislature is preparing for multiple special sessions, rolling on as far as the eye can see. 

Not necessarily. That's just how they officially describe things.

Sunday Spin: Stop me if you’ve heard this one — Lege starts Monday

OLYMPIA – The Legislature returns to town Monday in search of a compromise on a two-year operating budget that keeps the state in the black, uses relatively few accounting gimmicks, may or may not raise taxes and doesn’t get them hauled into court on a case they can’t win.

If those lines give you a sense of déjà vu, it’s probably because the same thing could have been written about the start of every regular session and special session since 2010.

A Google search would likely show it has been written by someone each of the last four year. Probably at least once by me.

Every regular session starting in 2010 required at least one special session to finish work on the budget. (Some careful readers might note that was when I started covering the Legislature full time in Olympia, and wonder if the two are connected. Probably not, but don’t give legislators any ideas. Bad ju-ju from the press might be too handy of an excuse for some to pass up.)

Some years they go directly from the regular session into the special session, or take just a few days off for Easter or some other holiday that coincides with end of their allotted time. This year, Gov. Jay Inslee called a two-week break before going into overtime, sending most of them back to their districts to spend time with their families, and in a few cases, raise money for this year’s campaigns. While most don’t have to worry about re-election this year, a few have dreams of another office, like Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray who’d like to be mayor of Seattle. A few others, like Sen. John Smith in the 7th Legislative District, were just appointed a vacancy that developed late last year, so they have to win the seat in a special election this year.

Not everyone was sent home for the duration, however. Leaders of the budget committees and their staffs were searching for a compromise that could be presented to the caucuses or sent to a hearing soon after other legislators return. At the end of last week, Inslee was doing his best to remain optimistic without over-promising.

Negotiators were making progress on a budget compromise, Inslee said, but not enough he could say for with any certainty the Legislature will be working full-time from the get-go Monday. He expects negotiators from both parties and both chambers will “start making the hard compromises necessary” and legislators could have a few other issues, like getting tougher on repeat drunk drivers, to occupy their early days back.

Compromises are a given, considering operating budgets passed by the Senate and House are more than $1 billion apart in terms of total spending, and the House budget calls for ending or shrinking some tax exemptions the Senate does not.

Inslee included himself among the folks who will have to compromise, although he didn’t suggest what his compromises might be, which would be akin to a poker play turning up his hole cards before going all-in during a game of Texas Hold ’em.

When the Legislature adjourned on April 28, Inslee described the sides as “light years apart.” Other than to say they were making progress Friday, Inslee said he couldn't elaborate: “We've agreed not to talk about negotiations.”

Perhaps, as colleague Jerry Cornfield of the Everett Herald suggested later, they’re approaching a point where they’re at least in the same solar system.

But don’t expect the rocket to land any time soon.

Felts tower to stay open

Remember how Congress moved almost like greased lightning to keep stop the slowdown in commercial flights that the sequester was going to cause?

And remember how the jaded among you said that was just because they were getting to leave on recess, and didn't want to face delays as they flew home for the break?

Well, turns out there's some dough left from the money the FAA moved around to keep air traffic controllers off furlough, and it's going to help the little airports like Felts Field. And gee, they almost never fly into the little airports…at least not outside of campaign season.

Read more inside the blog.

Yo, would-be candidates: Filing starts Monday

People thinking about running for local council or district offices who haven't yet made up their minds need to make a decision pretty quick. Filing week starts Monday morning.

On the ballot this year are council seats in cities and towns throughout Washington, as well as many mayoral slots. The City of Spokane has three openings — one for each council district — and the City of Spokane Valley has four at-large seats on this year's ballot. 

Neither of those cities have a mayor's race — Spokane's isn't until 2015 and Spokane Valley's mayor is chosen from the council — but Cheney, Deer Park, Fairfield, Latah, Medical Lake, Millwood and Rockford are all electing mayors this year.

Many school districts, fire districts, water districts and cemetery districts also have positions on the ballot.

Most races are non-partisan, but Eastern Washington's 7th Legislative District has a partisan race to fill a state Senate seat. Bob Morton resigned his seat at the end of last year, and John Smith, a Colville businessman, was appointed to fill the position at the start of the legislative session. To retain the seat, Smith will have to survive the August primary and win the November election.

Smith is a Republican, but under the state's Top 2 primary system, the two candidates with the most votes in the primary advance to the general election regardless of party. In the strongly Republican 7th District, it's not unusual for two GOP candidates to be on the general election ballot. 

Most candidates have until the elections office in their county closes on Friday afternoon to file for office. Candidates for offices in districts that cover more than one county, such as the 7th Legislative District, file with the Secretary of State in Olympia.

Inslee: Progress made on the budget

OLYMPIA —Negotiators are making progress on a budget compromise that would cover the state's operating costs for the next two years, Gov. Jay Inslee said this morning.

But not enough that Inslee could say for certainty whether the Legislature will be working full-time starting Monday, when the special session starts.

“I think progress was made this week,” Inslee told reporters after ceremonial bill signings in his office conference room. He expects negotiators from both parties and both chambers will “start making the hard compromises necessary.”

The Legislature failed to pass a two-year operating budget during its 105-day regular session which ended April 28. Inslee called a special session to begin May 13, but budget staff and key leaders have spent parts of the last two weeks trying to find areas for compromise. Operating budgets passed by the Senate and House are more than $1 billion apart in terms of total spending, and the House budget calls for changes in tax exemptions the Senate does not.

When the Legislature adjourned on April 28, Inslee described the sides as “light years apart.” Budget negotiators met on Tuesday and today, he said. Other than to say they were making progress, Inslee said he couldn't elaborate. “We've agreed not to talk about negotiations.”

After convening at 9 a.m. Monday, legislators could hold hearings on some other issues that they or Inslee would like brought up in the special session. Among those are tougher rules for repeat drunk-driving offenses which had strong support when introduced but hit a few roadblocks over questions of funding in the final weeks of the session. Inslee said he thought negotiators were “99.5 percent of the way” to a compromise that would save counties and cities money on drunk-driving cases but may cost the state more money. If that's the case, budget negotiators will have to be sure the operating budget will have money to cover those changes, he said. 

Sales tax collections up

OLYMPIA – Taxes collected from all retail sales grew by 5 percent in Washington last year, the biggest jump from one year to the next since the recession began in 2008.

Figures released Thursday by the state Department of Revenue showed that taxes from retail sales, which make up nearly half of the $109 billion in taxable sales, rose about 5.3 percent. Mike Gowrylow, a department spokesman, said the drop in consumer-driven retail sales tax revenue bottomed out in 2011 and showed increases in all quarters of 2012. But “it’s not like a big boom,” he added.

Total sales were still well below the nearly $119 billion collected in 2007.

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

Mapping the beer tax: WA is No. 8 from top

Washington beer drinkers pay a higher tax than any state west of the Mississippi in the continental U.S.

So says the Tax Foundation in its weekly map feature that shows various tax rates. 

The rate in Washington is 76 cents per gallon, which is eighth highest in the nation. Alaska and Hawaii are higher, but all the states around Washington are significantly lower.

The listed rate includes the temporary tax set to expire on June 30. Some folks in the Legislature were considering making that tax permanent, but the beer tax extension was pulled from the most recent tax proposal in the House of Representatives.

If that tax goes away, the beer tax will go down to about 26 cents per gallon, which would still make Washington the highest in the region, but bring it down to about 25th in the nation.

State officials restricted from lobbying


OLYMPIA – State officials who ask the Legislature for more money or expanded programs could be fined, and pay the penalty out of their own pocket, if they don’t properly file lobbying reports with the Public Disclosure Commission.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, sets up a civil penalty of $100 per statement on a state agency head who fails to file lobbying reports with the commission and allows any state official or employee who improperly spends public money on lobbying to be fined.

Supporters say it’s a way to keep public money from being used to lobby for more public money. It doesn’t keep state officials from supplying information in response to legislative requests.

Signed Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee, it takes effect at the beginning of 2014.

Inslee signs felony gun register bill, calls for background checks


OLYMPIA – Anyone convicted of a felony involving a gun could be required to register with the state law enforcement agencies for four years under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The felony firearms registry, which would be maintained by the Washington State Patrol, was the most significant gun legislation to pass in the recently concluded session. Inslee challenged legislators to go further in the upcoming special session, which starts Monday, and vote on background checks for all gun purchases.

“We’ll not leave until gun violence is addressed in our state,” Inslee told reporters after signing a total of 25 bills on a wide variety of topics.

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

Verner lands new job

Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has landed a new job at the Department of Natural Resources.

She will start next month as the deputy supervisor of resource protection and administration, said department spokesman Matthew Randazzo. That is the lead position over the resource protection division, he said.

Soon after leaving office at the end of 2011, Verner was named the CEO of Spokane Tribal Enterprises.

Murray questions AF about retaliation against sex assault victims

During a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing today, Sen. Patty Murray questioned Air Force officials about reports that nearly two-thirds of military women who reported sexual assaults were retaliated against by their commanders.

The answer by Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, “we have to investigate that extensively.” He also said the Air Force is looking at how to change its organizational structure.

At the beginning of the clip, Murray, D-Wash., offers condolences for the recent loss of the KC-135 tanker with the Fairchild Air Force Base crew over Kyrgyzstan and gets in a plug for bringing the first squadrons of new tankers to the West Plains base. 

Welsh said the decision on the first base for the new tankers is expected later this month.

McMorris Rodgers, Spokane Tribe casino statements

As reported in this morning's paper, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers formally came out against a proposed West Plains casino as “encroachment” on Fairchild Air Force Base and the Spokane Tribe, which is planning the development, reiterated that it is no such thing.

Want to read more about it?

McMorris Rodgers' letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs is below.

The statement of Spokane Tribal Chairman Rudy Peone can be found inside the blog.


Waldref cruises to Bloomsday win

Congratulations to Councilwoman Amber Waldref, this year's top Bloomsday finisher among elected leaders (at least among those whose time we checked).

She easily beat out the rest of her City Council cohorts, though in defense of the others, she is the youngest elected official we located who ran the race.

Spin Control also offers the following trophy-less awards:

Participation Award: The Spokane County Commission. All three members finished the race. They are a shining example to the legislators serving the Third Legislative District. None of them completed the race even though the race is in their district.

Doomsday Hill Award: Jon Snyder, barely beat out Michael Baumgartner for the fastest time up Pettet Drive.

Here are the finishers we found. They are a bit slower than last year when former county commissioner and mountain climber John Roskelley ran the race.

In parenthesis are the official's age, followed by his or her final time, per-mile pace and his or her time on Doomsday Hill.

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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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