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Spin Control

Archive for February 2014

Flurry of excitement in the Senate

OLYMPIA — Friday's debate over the Senate capital budget amendments prompted a brief but interesting bit of parliamentary drama in the ongoing maneuvering between minority Democrats and the predominantly Republican coalition that controls the chamber.

Democrats first objected to a fairly minor amendment to add $250,000 to the budget to study designs for a new State Patrol headquarters, which has its current home in antiquated building north of the Capitol. They said they were for the study, but didn't like the line in the amendment that said new HQ couldn't be on the Capitol Campus. Why keep the patrol off-campus, they asked

That's not what the amendment says, said coalition members. Yes it is, said Democrats, including Andy Billig of Spokane, who read directly from the amendment: “The predesign must consider a variety of sites, excluding sites on the West capital campus.”

Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat who votes with the coalition, said Billig was reading it wrong. No, he wasn't, Democrats grumbled on the floor. (For the record, he wasn't.)

The amendment passed on a voice vote, but arguments quickly followed on another small amendment, supported by Democrats, to add money to fight flooding on the Chehalis River. Democrats called for a head count on that amendment. Those in favor stood and were counted; those opposed stood and were counted. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who presides over the Senate, announced the count as 24-24, voted yes to break the tie and pass the amendment, and brought the gavel down. Coalition members, who have 26 members, claimed a miscount, but Owen told them staff had counted three times and arrived at the same number, and that he'd already announced the vote and dropped the gavel. So the decision stood. 

When the coalition put further debate on the budget on hold, Democrats moved to go to the Ninth Order of Business, essentially a move to force something onto the floor that's stuck somewhere in the process. They wanted a vote on a bill to aid the homeless, Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson said. The bill is stuck in a committee, and apparently dead without something like this to shock it back to life.

“It cannot wait,” Nelson said. “Let's not turn our backs on homeless children.”

The bill has bipartisan support, so in one sense this was a way of getting Republicans to bypass Committee Co-chairwoman Jan Angel to bring it to the floor for a vote. But going to the Ninth Order is real test of who controls the chamber sort of a parliamentary coup. So naturally, the Senate went to the equivalent of DefCon 1. Objections were shouted, questions were asked, errant members were brought back to the floor, a recorded vote was demanded.

Democrats lost 23-26, which is, of course the split between them and the Majority Coalition Caucus.

Back to ordinary business, and eventually, the passage of the Capital Budget on a bipartisan 31-18 vote.

Spokane GOP caucuses Saturday

Republican activists in Spokane, and those who might be thinking of becoming more active, will be gathering Saturday morning for precinct caucuses.

No, there isn't a presidential election this year that's sneaking up on you. Although caucuses get the most attention when they occur during the quadrennial presidential election, Spokane County Republicans hold them every two years as the starting point to holding a convention and writing a platform. They also are seeking an early test of 2016 presidential candidates with a straw poll for caucus attendees.

Any registered voter who considers himself or herself a Republican can attend a caucus. County rules require each attendee to show a photo identification so party officials can check names against the county's voter rolls.

Caucuses were once a neighborhood affair, taking place primarily in living rooms or church basements. A few still do, but most are held at “pooled” locations, with many precincts gathering in a school gymnasium, public library or event center. For a locator for Spokane County Republican precinct caucuses, click here.

Democrats are skipping precinct caucuses this year, starting their convention process with caucuses in the Legislative Districts. Those meetings will be held March 9.

Senate passes budget plan

OLYMPIA – With strong bipartisan support, the Senate passed a budget plan that was described by supporters and opponents more for what it doesn't do than what it does.

It doesn't put state spending out of balance, doesn't raise taxes or college tuition, supporters said. It doesn't offer raises to public school teachers and doesn’t do enough toward meeting the court order to improve public education, opponents countered.

Both sides agreed the budget discussion will continue for the next two weeks… .


Classroom building plan passes committee

OLYMPIA — On a unanimous vote, a House committee approved a plan to build some 2,000 new classrooms at schools around the state by tapping lottery funds.

The House Capital Budget Committee voted 13-0 this morning in favor of a proposal to sell $700 million in bonds to build classrooms for the kindergarten through Grade 3 classes that will be downsized as part of efforts to improve public schools. Smaller class sizes in those grades is one of the goals for meeting a state Supreme Court order to meet constitutional requirements for education.

HB 2797 would take $50 million in state lottery proceeds each year to pay off the bonds. The lottery is a steady and dependable source of money to pay off bonds, Committee Chairman Hans Dunshee said. Selling the bonds would allow the state to build the extra classrooms by the 2017-18 school year, when the classroom size reductions are scheduled to be in place, he said.

There would be no local match required from school districts, he said. The districts would apply to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction office to receive the money.

“We're not doing this because the court told us,” Dunshee said. “This is what we want to do. This is what we ought to do.”

Trash burner power bill dies

OLYMPIA – A proposal to make power from the West Plains garbage incinerator worth more money, one of the city of Spokane’s top legislative priorities, died a quiet death Wednesday in a House committee.

A proposal to reclassify power from the city's Waste-to-Energy facility as renewable energy, which would make it more valuable to the region's utilities, failed to come up for a vote in the House Technology and Economic Development Committee before a key deadline. Members of both parties said it is dead for the year. . . 

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

WA Lege Day 45: Another day, another budget

OLYMPIA — House Democrats will unveil their operating budget at noon, and their capital budget at 12:45 p.m.,at back-to-back press conferences, in a day filled with committee hearings and media events.

Also around the Capitol, Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry talks about studying lower taxes for the liquor industry at a 10 a.m. press conference; Sen. Steve O'Ban denounces Gov. Jay Inslee's moratorium on the death penalty at an 1:15 p.m. press conference in advance of a committee hearing on O'Ban's bill on that topic; Inslee signs the Real Hope/Dream Act at 2 p.m.

The House Appropriations Committee holds a hearing on the Democrats budget at 6 p.m. and the Law and Justice Committee has a hearing on drone bans at 6:30 p.m.

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

WA Lege Day 44: Senate Dems offer education tax package

OLYMPIA — A day after some of their members showed support for a no new taxes budget “update” with few changes to existing state spending plans, Senate Democrats unveiled a more ambitious, and politically difficult — proposal to end four tax breaks and raise $100 million for schools.

Their hope: in the 16 days left in the session — or some time before an April 30 deadline to tell the state Supreme Court how the Legislature plans to improve state schools — they can get both houses to settle on this plan or something close to it. They'd give teachers a cost-of-living raise, give schools more money for books, labs and heating bills, speed up the move to all-day kindergarten and shrink the size of Second Grade classes in high poverty areas. . . 

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


Read full statement from Air Force official on casino and Fairchild

Last night's revelation that an assistant secretary of the Air Force believed the proposed casino from the Spokane Tribe of Indians would create “insignificant disruption” to Fairchild puts a major damper on the efforts of the project's opponents to label the casino a threat to Fairchild.

Below is the full email from former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Terry Yonkers that Council President Ben Stuckart read at last night's meeting:


Mr. Stuckart,

In the essence of timeliness, I’ve decided to respond to your gracious request by email.  I’m disappointed I will be unable to make these remarks, in person, during your Council meeting 24 Feb. 2014.

Senate budget plan ‘simply an update’

OLYMPIA – Public schools would get more money for math and science supplies and state colleges would keep tuition from going up in a proposal released by the Senate budget writers.

But there would be no major new expenses, no cost-of-living raises for teachers, no new taxes and no closing of tax loopholes under the supplemental budget with a net increase of $96 million to the $33.6 billion two-year spending plan approved last year.

“Last year we did the heavy lifting,” Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said. “This is just simply an update” . . . 

To read more about the Senate budget proposal, or to comment, click here to continue inside the blog.

To get further details on the proposal, check out the documents below.


WA Lege Day 43: Senate budget to be released

OLYMPIA — Members of the Senate from both parties will unveil their proposal for a supplemental budget this afternoon, a day before they hold a hearing on it in the Ways and Means Committee.

Not much time, government watchdog Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center says, but better than the usual schedule of announce it at noon and hold the hearing a few hours later. A whole day to review is “progress,” he said.

Other than the budget “rollout”, there's a fairly full schedule of committee hearings and some potential floor votes. Hearing schedule can be found inside the blog.

Sunday Spin: Beat the Clock on teacher bill falls short

OLYMPIA – A vote in the Senate last week brought a result about as rare as a sunny day in the state capital, and much harder to explain.

A bill to require statewide student tests as part of teacher evaluations – a requirement designed to keep the state kosher with federal No Child Left Behind rules and the money that comes with them – went down in defeat on a floor vote of 19 yes and 28 no.

Rare because hardly anything that comes to a vote in the coalition-led Senate fails, let alone so decisively. It’s almost an article of faith that if coalition leaders bring a bill to the floor, they have the votes to pass it on their own regardless of what Democrats do. But not this time. . . 

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

Legislative town halls at the MAC today

The Museum of Arts and Culture will be a busy place this weekend for Spokane residents who want to ask their legislators what’s happening in Olympia.

As the 2014 session nears the two-thirds mark, legislators from the 3rd and 6th Districts have town hall meetings Saturday at the MAC, 2316 W. First Ave.

Democratic Sen. Andy Billig and Rep. Marcus Riccelli will have a meeting there from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Their district includes downtown, Browne’s Addition, the lower South Hill and neighborhoods as far north as Hillyard.

Republican Sen. Mike Baumgartner, Reps. Kevin Parker and Jeff Holy will be in the same location from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Their district includes parts of northwest and south Spokane, the West Plains, Cheney and Airway Heights

Inslee: Minimum wage prospects not good in Lege

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said he wants a public conversation about raising the state's minimum wage but acknowledged today the chance an increase will pass the 2014 Legislature are not good.

“I can't be optimistic it's going to pass the state Senate this year,” he said during a telephone press conference from Washington, D.C., where he's attending the National Governors Conference. . . 

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


WA Lege Day 40: 66.66667 percent done

OLYMPIA — The Legislature hits the two-thirds  mark in its 60-day session today with a relatively light work, fairly typical for Friday, work schedule.

Some hearings in the morning and early afternoon, nothing late in the day to get in the way of legislators heading home for the weekend.

Gov. Jay Inslee is in the other Washington for the National Governors Association meeting, and has meetings over the weekend with Obama administration officials. A good bet is he'll bring up a waiver to the No Child Left Behind rules so the state doesn't lose about $40 million in federal funds.

Full meeting schedule can be found inside the blog.

Will state ban ‘conversion therapy’ for gay youth?

OLYMPIA – Doctors and licensed therapists in Washington could soon be barred from trying to turn gay teens straight through techniques known as “conversion therapy.”

A bill labels such practices, also known as sexual orientation change efforts or reparative therapy, as unprofessional conduct if used on people under 18. It passed the House overwhelmingly last week and generated passionate testimony both for and against in a Senate committee Thursday. . . 

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

Extending online voter signup

OLYMPIA — Procrastinating voters who delay registering as the election approaches would have a little more time to sign up on-line before an election under a bill moving through the Legislature. But those who would prefer to go to the elections office and fill out the form would have a little less.

Washington currently has two deadlines for eligible residents to register to vote: 29 days before an election for filling out a form and mailing it in or filling out the online registration form and pressing the send button; eight days before the election for those willing to go to the county elections office and fill out the necessary paperwork.

But processing online registrations is more cost-effective and efficient, Secretary of State Kim Wyman said, while processing the paper forms takes more staff time. HB 1267 would allow online signups until 11 days before the election, which would also be the last day to register in person at an elections office. Paper forms that are filled out and mailed to the elections office would have to be postmarked no fewer than 28 days before the election. 

The shift for mail-in registrations means the deadline will never fall on the Monday holiday of a three-day weekend, when post offices are closed and letters can't be postmarked. The three-day shift for in-person registration moves the last day from a Monday to a Friday, which may be an easier day for a voter to take time off from work to make the trip to the elections office, Wyman said.

The bill was originally proposed to allow registration at the elections office on election day, was changed to have the different deadlines before it passed the House last year but didn't get a vote in the Senate. It passed the House again last month and received a hearing today in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

WA Lege Day 39: Sexual orientation, bullying and voters

OLYMPIA — Each chamber's committees continue looking at the other chamber's surviving bills now that legislation has been winnowed by this week's cut off.

The Senate Health Committee holds a hearing on a bill restricting sexual orientation change efforts. Senate Government Operations has several bills on the voting process, including one that would allow voters to register online as few as 11 days before the election (current cut off is 29 days). House Education has hearings on bills on school bulllying and youth suicide.

Full schedule can be found inside the blog.

Liquor Board sets new pot-growing limits

UPDATE: OLYMPIA — Faced with far more people wanting to grow legal marijuana than state rules would allow, the Liquor Control Board upped the amount of land that can be planted to the drug by more than five-fold. But it also put some new restrictions on would-be growers.

The board agreed Wednesday to limit applicants to one grower license per business entity, cutting down on the multiple requests some new marijuana entrepreneurs have turned in for as many as three grower licenses. It also reduced the amount of land all requests will be allowed to plant by 30 percent.

“We are going to do this right,” Board Chairwoman Sharon Foster said. “The Department of Justice is not going to have anything to complain about for the state of Washington.”

The board’s decision came as the state’s fiscal analysts made their first estimates of legal marijuana’s boost to state coffers – a possible $51 million bump in tax revenue from recreational sales – and the Legislature continued to examine ways to merge the separate existing medical marijuana system with the untried recreational system. . . 

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

House calls for more info on tax preferences

OLYMPIA — Some large companies would have to reveal how much their tax preferences are worth under a bill the House approved Tuesday.

On a mostly partisan 52-45 vote, the House approved and sent to the Senate a bill requiring publicly traded companies in 32 different tax preferences to reveal to the public how much they pay in state taxes.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle and chairman of the House Finance Committee, said the public can go on the internet and find out how the state spends its money but “the other side of the ledger is dark” because it doesn't know where the money comes from.

“We have the right to know the value of a tax preference,” Carlyle said.

Washington's unusual tax system, which relies heavily on the business and occupation tax on a company's gross receipts, is different from many states that tax profits. The system has some 650 different exemptions, exclusions and credits for the B&O, sales or use taxes, approved over the years by the Legislature.

“This tax code is nothing more than 100 years of random acts of kindness,” Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Olympia said.

But Republicans argued the bill could discourage new businesses from coming to the state or convince existing businesses to leave rather than reveal confidential information that could be used by their competitors.

“Sometimes information can be used as a weapon,” Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said arguing the bill didn't have enough safeguards to protect small businesses.

Some E. WA counties could opt out of Growth Managment

OLYMPIA — Four small Eastern Washington counties could opt out of many requirements of the Growth Management Act under a bill approved unanimously by the Senate.

SB 6194 allows counties with fewer than 20,000 people that voluntarily agreed to join the GMA in the past can decide to drop out of the law, which is designed to control development and fight urban sprawl. They'd have to provide the same level of legal protection for some critical environmental areas and comply with other state land use laws.

The law would cover four counties — Pend Oreille, Ferry, Garfield and Columbia. The bill was sent to the House on a 47-0 vote.

Contract liquor stores offered help

OLYMPIA — Owners of former contract liquor stores struggling with the new law on liquor sales would get some help from fees under a bill approved Tuesday by the Senate.

After voters approved a ballot measure getting the state out of the wholesale and retail liquor business, the number of stores offering distilled spirits multiplied rapidly. Owners of stores that had a contract with the state to sell liquor in small communities were allowed to obtain licenses for their stores, but were required to pay the same fees as all other stores, 17 percent of the revenue from all sales.

Contract stores have struggled because they lost much of their market, both to restaurants and bars which once made up a significant portion of their sales, and to national retailers who can sell liquor for less. SB 6237 revises the fee structure so that any former contract store that has less than $200,000 in sales in a month will not pay the fee and those with sales between $200,000 and $350,000 a month will pay 7 percent of the receipts. Those with sales of more than $350,000 a month will still pay the 17 percent fee.

The bill was sent to the House on a 30-17 vote

Senate passes stronger penalties for ‘knockout game’

OLYMPIA — The Senate gave strong support for tougher penalties for assaults stemming from the so-called knockout game, despite a warning from some Democrats state laws already are adequate to handle what's may be a criminal “fad.”

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, sponsored SB 6011 to make random attacks of unsuspecting victims a Class 3 felony. Such assaults in which assailants try to knockout someone, often elderly or a member of a racial or ethnic minority, with a single punch, are sometimes filmed and posted on the Internet.

“It is a phenomenon that has been going on nationwide,” Padden said. “There is some indication it may have come to our state. What we're trying to do is get ahead of the curve.”

One assault last November in the Spokane Valley is being investigated as a possible knockout game attack, although no charges have been filed in that case.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, argued a new law isn't needed because the state already has four different levels of assault on the books, and if the victim is targeted because they are members of a racial or ethnic minority, assailants can also be charged with a hate crime.

“There are fads in crime. Fads come and go, our law doesn't,” Kline said.

The bill passed on a 38-9 vote and was sent the the House.


WA Lege Day 37: 5 p.m. witching hour

OLYMPIA — The hopes of many interest groups, lobbyists and citizens with hopes for key pieces of legislation hang in the balance today, a major “cut-off” day for bills.

If a bill doesn't have some fiscal aspect to it, it must have passed the chamber where it was introduced by 5 p.m. today. That means the morning could be filled like the last few days, with quick votes on non-controversial bills. But the afternoon could become a chess match over controversial legislation that could generate heated, and possibly long debates and eat up the clock.

Any non-fiscal bill that doesn't pass, or at least have debate start, before 5 p.m. is all but dead and would need significant parliamentary maneuvering to be resuscitated. 


Pakootas hopes McMorris Rodgers’ rank works against her

As a member of Congress gains stature in Washington, D.C., opponents often have more trouble defeating them in elections back home. Eastern Washington Democrats are hoping the reverse is true this year as Joe Pakootas prepares to run against Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

He’s counting on a boost from the public’s general low opinion of Congress, its partisan wrangling and its short time in session will work against the 10-year incumbent who is part of Republican leadership. . .

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

New license plate could help Finch Arboretum

OLYMPIA – The Finch Arboretum would get a share of the money raised by a new license plate the features the state tree under a bill approved Monday by the House.

The plate with the Western hemlock would be added to the dozens of specialty plates available in the state, carrying a $40 fee when new and $30 for a renewal. An estimate by Office of Financial Management projects it would raise about $140,000 over the next five years.

Originally written to send all the money to the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, but an amendment pushed by Spokane Reps. Jeff Holy and Marcus Riccelli to make it a “statewide bill” would send 15 percent to the Finch Arboretum in west Spokane. The revised bill now goes to the Senate.

Didier: ‘All in’ for 4th District race

For anyone who had any doubts about his intentions about running for Congress, Clint Didier ended them today.

He scoffed at the prospect of setting up an “exploratory committee” and announced he was a candidate at a morning press conference in Pasco. He's got a second event at 2 p.m. at the Davenport Hotel in Spokane.

“I'm all in and up and running,” he said. The full press release can be found inside the blog.


Didier likely in the 4th District congressional race

Clint Didier, a Pasco-area rancher and former pro football player with strong ties to tea party organizations, is getting into the race to replace Doc Hastings in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Didier scheduled press conferences in Pasco and Spokane today to “make an announcement concerning the race” an early morning press release said. Doesn't say what the announcement is, but hardly anyone schedules two press conferences to say they are not running.

So we're betting he'll either say he's running, or forming an exploratory committee, which usually amounts to the same thing.

WA Lege Day 36: 125th Anniversary, sort of . . .

OLYMPIA — The Senate marked the quasquicentennial of the official beginning of the state of Washington today, with a resolution honoring the act of Congress that led to establishing the state in 1889.

Technically, they're five days early as the actual calendar goes. But they're on the mark as far as the official calendar goes. Here's why:

Congress passed the enabling act for the state of Washington on Feb. 22, 1889, a way of marking George Washington's birthday, which was a federal holiday back then. The Washington's Birthday holiday has been morphed into the President's Day holiday, which isn't tied to a particular day but to a Monday that forms a three-day weekend in mid February, apparently so car dealers and furniture stores can offer big sales.

So in a sense this is the appropriate day to take up the resolution, particularly since the calendar said Feb. 11 when George was born, if there was one in the colonial home at the time because they were using a different system then.

The enabling act set in motion the process for a state constitutional convention, approved by voters in October, and a proclamation of statehood on Nov. 11 of that year.Things moved much quicker in those days, Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, noted.

Look for more quasquicentennial, or 125th anniversary, mentions as they year continues.

So Washington's Birthday/President's Day isn't the state's 125th birthday. It's more like the 125th anniversary of getting a positive pregnancy test.

The resolution was a bit of early activity in what could be a long day of votes on bills that could continue into the evening as the Legislature plays beat the clock on the deadline for all bills not connected to the budget to be voted out of at least one house by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Another run at a port district coming?

OLYMPIA – It’s possible that in politics, like in fashion, everything comes back in style.

I believe in the latter and save a particularly striking, albeit too wide, paisley necktie from the 1970s that I really like but don’t wear because of my daughter, who makes her living telling other people what not to wear and suspect she’d be all too happy to give me her expert advice for free. I keep it in the back of the tie drawer, bring it out on occasion to consider with new shirts or jackets, then put it back without knotting a full Windsor.

Spokane political leaders apparently believe in political full circles, salivating once again over the prospect of a port district. They’re supporting legislation that would change the way such districts are formed in hopes of gaining approval from voters who in the past have been skeptical.

How skeptical? In 1982, a proposal to form a port district in Spokane County suffered one of the worst defeats in local electoral history, a no-to-yes ratio of about 4-to-1. For perspective, Barack Obama did better than that in Kootenai County and Mitt Romney did better in the heart of Seattle.

There are several reasons why the port district proposal sank like the Titanic 32 years ago. One was that when people think of a “port” they think of a place where large ocean-going ships pull in to unload, and the Spokane River seems a tad small for that. A larger factor was probably that the election took place in the middle of a recession, and voters were being asked “Would you like to have a new tax?”

Since then, a significant portion of Spokane’s powers-that-be have bided their time for a redo, convinced that given a second chance, voters would come to their senses and approve this portal into economic prosperity.

This year the Legislature has the latest wrinkle in making port districts acceptable with a pair of bills to change the way they are constituted. Under current law, when a community votes whether to form a port district it also elects district commissioners. In 1982, this resulted in three folks being elected to a board that didn’t exist, and possibly creating a Final Jeopardy answer for the category Spokane Political Trivia.

 Under House Bill 2457 and its companion Senate Bill 6315, voters would first decide if they want a district, then elect commissioners at the next election if the proposal succeeds.

HB 2457 sailed through the House on a 95-2 vote last week; SB 6315 is awaiting a vote by the Senate. Nothing is certain in this legislative session, but the bipartisan support for these two bills makes the idea a good bet.

Then the question will be whether this small change is enough to help dress up a port district and make it fashionable for Spokane voters. Otherwise, the leaders may have to stick it way back in the political ideas drawer for a while.

Innovate WA on the chopping block

OLYMPIA – A state agency with roots in Spokane’s 1980s push to attract more high-tech jobs to the region would be eliminated under legislation approved this week by the House.

Innovate Washington would cease to exist and its Riverpoint building, leases on other office space in the area, reports and even furniture would be turned over to Washington State University under a bill that passed Thursday evening on an 88-9 vote… .

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


Holmquist Newby may run for Congress

OLYMPIA — State Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry said she has formed a committee to explore whether to run for the congressional seat opening up in Central Washington's 4th District.

Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, said she plans to visit “with key leaders throughout the district… to assess the viability of my candidacy.”

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings announced Thursday morning that he would not seek re-election to the seat he has held for 20 years. Holmquist Newbry said shortly afterwards she had not made a decision on whether to run “at this time.”

Friday she said she has formed an exploratory committee with several key advisers, including Yakima Mayor Micah Cawley.  Under federal election law, a person can receive and spend money before becoming an official candidate by forming an exploratory committee.

First elected to the House in 2000, Holmquist Newbry was elected to the Senate in 2006, where she now serves as the chairwoman of the Commerce and Labor Committee. She recently removed her name from the list of senators on the website for the Majority Coalition Caucus, telling the Seattle Times she was protesting decisions by some of the more moderate members of the caucus. 

The 4th is a solidly Republican district that routinely gave Hastings at least 60 percent of the vote in his re-election campaigns. Also considering the race is rancher Clint Didier, an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate and state lands commissioner, who may make an announcement on Monday.

School bills move through Legislature

OLYMPIA — Washington schools would be required to protect students against emotional bullying, keep more data on homeless students and test out whether extra days would help some students retain more from one year to the next under bills that advanced Friday. . . 

To read about the bills, or to comment, continue inside the blog.



WA Lege Day 33: V-Day, as in votes

OLYMPIA — Legislators are spending Valentine's Day moving as many bills as possible through their respective chambers. Eastern Washington members may not be home in time for a romantic dinner with their significant others, but may get the rest of the weekend off.

Why the hurry? A deadline looms next Tuesday which kills many of these bills if they don't get a passing vote in their originating house. So we can expect to see a lot of legislation brought to the floor with the introduction of “This is a good little bill…” Big, controversial bills, which gum up the works, will be relatively rare.

We'll provide updates as warranted.

There was a rainbow briefly over the Capitol Building this morning as the House and Senate began work. Don't know whether to ascribe anything deep to its appearance… or the fact that it didn't last long.

With all the rain the Puget Sound is having right now, it's probably not a good idea to make too much of it.

Senate majority offers roads package

OLYMPIA — The coalition controlling the Senate released a $12 billion transportation package that would raise gasoline taxes by 11.5 cents over three years and finish several major projects, including Spokane's North-South Freeway.

They said they have support from 13 of their members — or half the ruling caucus — meaning they'd need 17 votes from minority Democrats to pass the spending package and its accompanying bonds. 

At a lunchtime press conference, a group of eight senators, including Spokane Republican Mike Baumgartner, called for quick negotiations with House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee to try to find a package that can get super majority support in both chambers. The Senate proposal differs significantly from the House plan in spending for some projects and calls for changes in the way the state plans, builds and taxes transportation projects. Among those changes, an end to sales tax on those projects, which is a financial hit to the state's general fund.

Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said removing the sales tax lowers the price of the project, and the general fund will more than make up the loss through the added economic development the projects will generate. The reforms are necessary to restore the public's faith after some high profile problems with big projects like the 520 bridge and the Alaska Way tunnel.

The package would spend $750 million to finish the North-South Freeway, which is also called the North Spokane Corridor, so it connects with Interstate 90. By building that and other large projects in phases, the state doesn't see the economic impact of a completed project, Republicans argued.

The North-South Freeway has been under construction for years, and under discussion for decades. Baumgartner said he grew up believing the road “lives in the land of fairies and flying unicorns.”

“I will not support a package that does not allow full funding for the North-South Freeway to come to I-90,” he said.

Also on the project list are $15 million for widening State Route 904 from Cheney to I-90, and $11.7 million to add a passing lane on U.S. 195 between Colfax and Spangle.

The gasoline tax would go up 4 cents next year, 4 cents in 2016 and 3.5 cents in 2017. The proposal doesn't have language that automatically sends it to the ballot, but senators said it could easily wind up there.

They challenged House Democrats and Inslee to meet with them next Wednesday morning to begin negotiations. Tom said he “absolutely” believed a transportation package could be passed in the current legislative session, which is now slightly more than half over.

House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, cast doubt on the prediction, however. She released a statement that described the package as undoing work from last year and putting “untested ideas” on the table. And the package doesn't have clear support from the coalition she added.

“We remain insistent that the Senate Majority either pass its proposal or provide a clear demonstrations that it has enough votes to pass,” she said. “We look forward to resuming negotiations once the Senate Majority has finished negotiation among itself.”


Doc Hastings to retire

Hastings at news conference earlier this month discussing the Endangered Species Act. AP Photo

Richard “Doc” Hastings, Central Washington's veteran congressman, will call it quits this year after 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hastings, 73, announced today he will not seek re-election to the 4th Congressional District seat he has held since beating one-term incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee in the 1994 Republican wave that turned control of the House over to the GOP. Inslee had edged Hastings for the open seat in 1992, but Hastings easily won the rematch.The defeated Inslee later moved to western Washington, where he won a House seat in 1998.

Hastings won most of his re-election contests with 60 percent of the vote or more, and his 20-year tenure makes him currently the senior member of Washington's House delegation. That's twice as long as Hastings said he serve when running for election in 1994, setting a personal term limit of 10 years, which was higher than the six years some other Republicans were advocating in the so-called “Contract with America”. Washington voters had approved an initiative limiting House members to three terms, but that law was later overturned by U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The Spokane native is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee which sets most federal land and water policies, including the Endangered Species Act, which he has tried repeatedly to revise to  make it  more accommodating to business and development. He's been a watchdog of federal cleanup efforts of radioactive waste from weapons production at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which is in his district.

His Central Washington district is solidly Republican and Hasting's retirement is likely to set off a scramble in the August primary. Under the state's Top 2 primary system, two Republicans could finish first in second in that election and vie for the seat in November. 

Execution moratorium misuse of power, Republicans say

OLYMPIA — Legislative Republicans accused Gov. Jay Inslee of misusing his power by announcing a blanket moratorium on all executions during his term.  

“It's the Legislature that decides whether (capital punishment) is an appropriate policy,” Sen. Steve O'Ban, R-University Place, said, while a governor has the authority to stay the execution of a particular inmate on an individual basis. “He has usurped his role.”

Inslee announced Tuesday he would not allow anyone who has been sentenced to death by the courts and exhausted all appeals to be executed while he is in office, hoping that would spark a discussion on whether equal justice is being served by capital punishment in Washington. A successor could allow the executions to go forward if he or she chooses, Inslee said.

Criticism from O'Ban and other Republicans was varied, and at times seemed contradictory. At one point, O'Ban said it could take a valuable tool out of the hands of prosecutors, who have used the possibility of not seeking the death penalty as a way to force serial killers to reveal information about victims; later he said it won't save the state any money because prosecutors will still be seeking the death penalty for cases that qualify for them.

O'Ban later said that defense attorneys will bring up the moratorium in discussions and “undercut” a prosecutor. It would also lead to “open season” on prison guards for inmates serving life without parole, because they'd have nothing to lose by killing a guard.

The threat of the death penalty didn't keep Monroe inmate Byron Scherf from strangling prison guard Jayme Biendl in 2012. But Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, said he is hearing from prison staff who want to know the Legislature is doing the best they can “to make them safe.” 

The Legislature could address problems with the cost of capital punishment and the long delays from appeals without a complete suspension, O'Ban said.

A spokesman for Inslee said the governor acknowledged Tuesday that people will disagree with his decision. As to the suggestion that Inslee was usurping his power, Attorney General Rob Ferguson said Tuesday the decision was within Inslee's authority as governor, and spokesman David Postman said the public can judge who was right on that point.

To read Ferguson's press release on the legality of the moratorium, click here to go inside the blog.

GOP raps Inslee in advance of their transportation package

OLYMPIA — A transportation package from the predominantly Republican Senate majority may be announced Thursday, although coalition leaders couldn't say Wednesday how much support it has in their caucus.

Instead, they took aim at Gov. Jay Inslee, accusing the governor of a lack of leadership in negotiating something that he and legislators have said the state needs for more than a year — a plan to build new highway projects, fix roads and bridges, reform transportation practices and generate support for the taxes needed to accomplish that. They haven't had a meeting with Inslee since the first day of the legislative session, Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, said.

“We need to get back in that room,” Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said. “The governor's going to have to show a lot of leadership.”

A spokesman for Inslee called the criticism “utter nonsense” and a sign that those leaders are feeling the heat from constituents and business groups for their own inaction.

David Postman said staff from the governor's office has been in contact with the Curtis King, the Senate Republican working on the package, on a daily basis. The governor convened a dozen meetings on transportation with legislative leaders last year. They broke up in December with King saying it would be up to the Senate to come up with a package as a counter to the proposal House Democrats passed in that chamber, Postman said. According to some recent reports, that package might not be ready until a “lame duck” session after the November elections.

Tom and Schoesler parried questions about whether they had the votes to pass a transportation package by questioning whether House Democrats have the votes to approve the bonds needed for their proposal. Although a list of projects and taxes can pass with a simple majority, the bonds needed to build some of those projects by using the tax money require a three-fifths majority, 60 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate.

“To get to 30, the governor needs to get us in the room. Maybe then you can start meeting everybody's needs,” Tom said.

Inslee and House Democrats can't negotiate with Senate Republicans unless they have the votes to pass their package and get their members to agree to changes they sign off on. “The people who need to be locked in a room is the coalition,” Postman said.


Do yellow highway stripes contain PCB?

Sen. Andy Billig plugs bill limiting products with PCBs.

OLYMPIA — State agencies would be required to buy products that are free of cancer-causing PCBs if they are available under a bill approved today by the Senate.

The proposal is a way to reduce the sources of polychlorinated biphenyls that show up in the state's rivers and streams, pile up in fish and eventually get eaten by people. They were used in many solvents, degreasers and paints before their use was severely limited because of links to cancer.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the idea came from conversations he had after visiting a waste water treatment facility with a permit to discharge water into the Spokane River. The yellow ink in a single Cheerios box can produce enough PCB to produce readings at the Inland Empire Paper Co. plant, he was told.

After viewing the steps taken to remove PCBs, he was travelling a car when someone familiar with the chemical pointed to the yellow stripes on Trent Avenue. If they're yellow, they probably have PCB in them, Billig said he was told. When the paint breaks down, the rain washes it away and eventually it winds up in the river.

Billig said he called the state Department of Transportation, because that section of Trent is a state highway, and asked if the paint had PCB. The chemical is banned, he was told. No, Billig said, it's allowed if it's below a certain level. Department employees checked but couldn't say for sure if the paint has PCB, only that it meets federal standards.

The bill doesn't require the department to perform expensive tests for all materials, Billig said. But if competitors have a product that is PCB free, they'll probably be quick to bring that to the attention of a state agency using products that contain the chemical. 

SB 6086 was sent to the House on a 48-1 vote.

House passes Palouse Falls bill

Washtucna elementary students pitched Palouse Falls at House committee hearing last month.

OLYMPIA — Palouse Falls would become the official state waterfall under a bill receiving unanimous approval in the House today.

The proposal originated with students at Washtucna Elementary School as a way to call attention to the falls, which is a remnant of prehistoric floods that washed across Eastern Washington.

Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, the bill's sponsor, said, the falls draw so many visitors that the state park that surrounds it is one of the few that actually operates in the black.

Washington might be the only state to have an official state waterfall. HB 2119 was sent to the Senate for consideration.

Senate OKs tanning booth age limits

OLYMPIA — Minors would not be allowed to get a tan in a tanning salon in Washington under a bill that passed the Senate today.

In a 40-8 vote, the Senate set the age limit for using a commercial tanning bed or booth at 18 or older — but not before veering into a brief debate over abortion.

The bill sets a civil penalty of $250 for each time a salon allows a minor to use an ultraviolet tanning device. It does not restrict minors from getting spray-on tans at a salon.

Supporters said it was necessary to protect young teens who don't realize the tans they get now can cause damaging and even fatal skin cancers in their 20s or 30s.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, tried to add a line to the restrictions for minors using tanning booths that would have required parental approval of “any surgical procedure.” The bill aims to protect young people from making bad decisions that can cause them physical harm later in life, but supporters seemed to be “compartmentalizing” their concern for their well being, he said.

“They may also make a very poor choice that could cause them mental disfiguring for years,” Benton said. “If this body intends to protect minors from making bad decisions…why do we single tanning out?”

But the Legislature regularly restricts teens from certain activity such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or using marijuana, and restrictions on tanning are no different, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent said.

Benton's amendment was ruled out of order and SB 6065 was sent to the House without any amendments.

Senate approves nuke study

OLYMPIA — Washington should study whether more nuclear power should be added to the state's power grid, the Senate said today.

In 34-15 vote, the Senate approved a bill calling for a study of new “modular” nuclear technologies to see whether they make economic sense. It wasn't a call to build more nuclear plants but a study on whether to incorporate nuclear energy in the future, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said.

The Navy operates nuclear reactors on ships in Puget Sound without incident, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said. “We shouldn't just say no because it's nuclear.”

The debate featured some of the same back and forth that has marked discussions of nuclear power in the country for 40 years. Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said fears about nuclear safety “have been overblown” and contended residents of the southeast and Atlantic Coast who are facing long power outages because of a storm would be happy to have more power. Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he was confusing power generation with power transmission, which was the source of those outages.

But Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, cited nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukashima, and said the state was “only lucky” it hasn't had such problems at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. 

“Why would be looking at this as a new source of energy? Over the last 50 years it has been a disaster,” Rolfes said.

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said he had no problem with the study, but did say the language e in the bill's intent section was too broad in declaring nuclear power a “safe industry.”


WA Lege Day 31: A day of votes

OLYMPIA  — Both chambers are expected to spend much of Wednesday voting on bills that have been sent to them by the various committees that spent the first half of this session reviewing legislation. 

Initial lists from the Senate call for votes on ski lift safety, PCBs and vote signatures, among others. House may be voting well into the evening, the staff said.

Stay tuned for updates.

WA Lege Day 30: Halfway mark

OLYMPIA — The Legislature hits the midway point today, which is also the final day for bills that cost money or affect taxes to get out of the committees in charge of those topics. Any legislation that doesn't make that deadline is likely dead for the year without some Lazarus-like parliamentary maneuver

That means the days ahead — and possibly some evenings, too — should be filled with floor debates over the bills that have survived.

Gov. Jay Inslee had a press conference in the morning where he announced a moratorium on executions while he's in office. In response to questions from reporters, he also said the state expects the contractor for the Alaska Way tunnel to pay any cost overruns caused by prolonged stoppage of Bertha, the tunnel boring machine. 

“We are going to insist the taxpayers are protected,” Inslee said, adding “the tunnel gets built of the contractor pays.”

Oil transport bill gets committee OK

OLYMPIA — The public would have access to more information about crude oil moving through the state by rail or barge under a proposal sent to the House Monday.

On a mostly partisan 18-12 vote, the House Appropriations Committee sent HB 2347 to the committee that schedules bills for debate after Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said the public's right to know what's moving through their communities “is paramount to public safety.”

Republicans said they believe the bill still needs work to answer concerns by the oil industry about confidential information about shipments being released.

To read previous coverage about oil transport legislation, click here.

Call from Caribbean may be a scam

OLYMPIA – If someone calls your cell phone from a Caribbean island but hangs up before you answer, chances are some friend wasn’t calling to gloat about sipping daiquiris on a beach.

You didn’t win a free trip to a resort hotel. The Beach Boys aren’t calling to sing a few verses of “Kokomo”.

Don't call back, or you could be out $20 or more, the Washington attorney general's office warns. . .

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


WA Lege Day 29: Left-turning motorcycles

OLYMPIA — Motorcyclists could turn left at an intersection if the traffic light doesn't give them the green arrow after a complete cycle under a bill that received strong support from the Senate.

SB 5141 would change state traffic laws to account for a problem some motorcyclists have at intersections controlled by some sensors triggered by weight. They don't weigh enough to register on the sensor, and the left-turn arrow never turns green.  

Sen. Jim Hargrove, a Hoquiam Democrat who rides a motorcycle, said he's experienced the problem and joked that some Priuses also don't weigh enough to register on some sensors.

A motorcyclist would have to weight through a complete cycle of lights changing for all directions before making a left-turn when clear. The bill passed on a 46-2 vote.  The same bill passed the Senate last session but didn't receive a final vote in the House.

Sunday Spin: Representation v. judgment

OLYMPIA – For about 30 minutes last week, the Senate rang with debate on an issue at the very heart of our democratic republic.

The resolution at hand was a constitutional amendment requiring the Legislature to come up with a two-thirds supermajority to enact tax increases. But the underlying issue, and much of the argument, involved something more basic:

When we elect someone to Congress, the Legislature or the City Council, do we send them there to represent us or do we send them to exercise their best judgment? . . . 

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


Amy Biviano returns to political arena

Amy Biviano, whose unsuccessful attempt to unseat GOP state Rep. Matt Shea two years ago became one of the most watched races in the state, is back.

The Spokane Valley accountant has filed paperwork signaling her intent to run for Spokane County treasurer. The incumbent, Rob Chase of Liberty Lake, also has filed paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission indicating his intent to seek re-election.

Although candidate filing is still months away, state law requires prospective candidates to file with the PDC before soliciting campaign contributions. Biviano, a former county Democratic Party chairwoman, filed Jan. 28. The libertarian-turned-Repbulican Chase, who lost a bid for county commission two years ago, filed in February of last year.

Look for Biviano to emphasize fiscal discipline by pointing to her financial management experience to combat the customary GOP attacks on Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals.

Chase, meanwhile, will look to unify the split in the local GOP that became apparent in his unsuccessful bid for a county commission seat. Hailing from the most conservative wing of the party, Chase raised eyebrows when he suggested investing a portion of the county's tax dollars in precious metals such as gold, though he pointed out that he was talking about a small amount and that state law permits only conservative investments.

Biviano has struggled politically in the conservative Spokane Valley despite campaigning for the Legislature as a fiscal conservative promising tax reform benefiting small businesses. She also was among a handful of applicants passed over for an appointment to an open seat on the conservative Spokane Valley City Council.

Chase, a real estate agent and nutritional products distributor, also has struggled politically. In addition to losing his bid for county commission, he unsuccessfully sought a seat in the state Senate in 2000 and tried to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt in 2002.

But he beat the odds with his 2010 election to county treasurer, starting with a write-in campaign, which received enough votes in the primary to get his name on the ballot in the general election. Chase, whose 1,500 primary write-in votes put him ahead of “Bozo” and other names frequently jotted down in the write-in portion of ballots by some voters, went on to defeat Democratic incumbent Skip Chilberg.

Straub’s pick for assistant chief is veteran officer

Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub’s top candidate to be assistant police chief is an internal candidate.

City Councilman Jon Snyder, the chairman of the city’s public safety committee, said Friday that Straub’s choice is Capt. Rick Dobrow.

Dobrow started work as a police officer in Stockton, Calif. in 1982, according to a department newsletter. He joined the Spokane force in 1994. Dobrow was given the department’s purple heart award after a serious motorcycle crash in September 2006.

Assistant Police Chief Craig Meidl informed Straub last week that he was stepping down and wanted to return to being a lieutenant.

Tuition caps for state colleges rejected

OLYMPIA — An effort to put firm limits on future tuition hikes at state colleges and universities was scuttled Thursday as a key Senate committee replaced the idea with a task force that could make recommendations to the governor.

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, proposed Senate Bill 6043, which would have required two- and four-year state colleges to have tuition no higher than 10 percent of the current average annual wage, and removed tuition setting authority from the schools. 

Members of the Senate Higher Education Committee said, however, that without a guarantee of more money from the state, the quality of education at the schools could suffer. “These are laudable goals, but it doesn't help students if they have lesser access and lesser quality,” Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said.

An amendment by Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, rewrote the bill to set up an eight-member task force to study tuition increases and make its recommendations by Dec. 1. The title of the bill was changed to remove any reference to “establishing caps” before it was sent to the Ways and Means Committee on a 5-0 vote.

Signature gatherers could need to register

OLYMPIA — Paid signature-gatherers for statewide ballot measures would need to register with the Secretary of State and their employers would need to conduct background checks before hiring them under a bill approved Thursday by a House panel.

They would have to sign a statement saying they understand election laws, list what initiatives or referenda they are being paid to collect signatures, and couldn't collect signatures on other petitions for free at the same time. Companies that hire unregistered signature gatherers, or allow their employees to be paid for one ballot measure while collecting names on another for free could be fined $500 

The bill is the latest attempt to address concerns some legislators have expressed about the growth of paid-signature gathering for the statewide initiatives, which now rarely qualify for the ballot solely with volunteer staff. Several campaigns in recent years have had paid gatherers who turned in forged signatures.

Katie Blinn of the Secretary of State's elections office said the agency had opposed previous proposals but was supporting this measure because it does not require the signatures to be rejected if the person gathering names violates the law. A House appropriations subcommittee passed the bill on a 7-1 vote.


Risch ‘most conservative’, Cantwell on liberal list

WASHINGTON — Idaho Republican Jim Risch is the Senate's most conservative member and Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell is tied for its fifth most liberal.

So says the National Journal in its annual ranking of the chamber's most conservative and liberal. 

Risch is making his third appearance atop the most conservative list, which this year has seatmate Mike Crapo at No. 10. This is the first time Cantwell cracked the top 10 of the most liberal listHe is all alone at the top, while she's in a seven-way tie for the fifth spot.

Risch issued a statement Thursday touting his placement: “To earn the distinction of ‘Most Conservative’ is a reflection of the wishes of the people of Idaho and their commitment to strong constitutional values.”

Min wage wars: Up for all or down for teens?

OLYMPIA – The state’s minimum wage would go up for some workers and down for others under proposals moving through the Legislature this week.

It would go up to $12 an hour by 2017 for all hourly workers under a proposal approved Wednesday by the Democratic-controlled House Labor and Work Force Development Committee. It would be at least $15 an hour for school employees under a separate proposal the committee passed.

It would go down to as low as $7.25 an hour for teen-agers under a proposal approved by the Republican-controlled Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. . . 

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

RPA passes House, not likely to get Senate vote

OLYMPIA — The Democratic House passed its latest version of a bill that would require insurance companies to cover abortion if they cover maternity care, but the Reproductive Parity Act seems unlikely to come to a vote in the Senate.

On a mostly partisan 54-44 vote, the bill passed despite objections from Republicans that it infringed on some people's religious rights because it forced them to pay premiums to a company for a procedure they found morally wrong.

Both sides used the term choice — a key word for supporters of abortion rights — in arguing their case. Opponents like Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said the Legislature was taking away the choice of people who want a policy that doesn't cover abortion.”There's no choice in a mandate,” Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said.

 Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said he supported the bill because it left the choice on whether to have an abortion to the woman, not to her employer who decides what policy to offer, or the insurance company. “There is no choice that is more significant to a woman,” Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said.

As is typical for abortion legislation, the debate sometimes got emotional. Rep. Leonard Christian, R-Spokane Valley, compared the bill to Nazi Germany, saying that some churches covered up the fact that Jews were being shipped concentration camps by playing their music louder as the trains passed. Some churches are objecting to the bill, but some legislators were playing their music louder and not listening, he said.

The Senate, which is controlled by a predominantly Republican coalition, is not likely to have an emotional debate over the RPA, or any vote at all. Majority Caucus Chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee said she didn't believe the bill was necessary because abortion is covered by most insurance. (Editor's note: Sen. Evans Parlette's caucus position was incorrect in earlier versions of this post.)

“I think it's not going to come up for a vote,” Evans Parlette said.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said he personally supports the legislation but doesn't think it's as important as some other issues the Legislature faces this session.

“We leave full discretion up to our committee chairs,” Tom said. The bill died in committee last year.

2/3rds for taxes amendment fails in Senate

OLYMPIA — The Senate turned down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required a two-thirds majority to raise taxes, failing to give it that same two-thirds approval on the vote.

Supporters insisted “the will of the people” dictated that the Senate pass the amendment onto the November ballot because voters had repeatedly approved such a restriction by initiative.

Opponents countered that it would actually create a “super-minority” that could control any legislative discussion of taxes because as few as 17 senators could block any tax measure.

The proposal by Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, received a 25 - 21  vote, but it needed at least 33 yes votes under requirements for amending the state constitution.

An attempt to amend the amendment, allowing the Legislature to repeal tax exemptions with a simple majority while keeping the supermajority for new taxes, failed on a 20-26 vote. 

Among Spokane-area senators, Republicans Brian Dansel, Mike Padden and Mark Schoesler voted yes, Democrat Andy Billig voted no. Republican Mike Baumgartner was excused.


Gov proclaims ‘moment of noise’ for ‘Hawks

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is calling for a “moment of noise” at 12:12 p.m. today to celebrate the Seahawks' Super Bowl victory.

Actually, 30 seconds worth of noise. Feel free to make as much noise as you want, unless you're in some place inappropriate like a library, a church or a  hospital.

Inslee has pretty much been in full-fan mode since the weekend. He attended the game in New Jersey, and will attend the victory parade in Seattle at 11 a.m. plus the 1 p.m. celebration at CenturyLink field. 


WA Lege Day 24: Carrot, stick for pot businesses get OK

OLYMPIA — A House panel approved what it described as both a carrot and a stick for local governments that are reluctant to approve new marijuana businesses that have been licensed by the state.

In a 9-0 vote, the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee approved a proposal that would send some of the tax money collected from recreational marijuana businesses back to the city or county where the business is licensed. It also adds language to state law that says state law pre-empts local ordinances on recreational marijuana.

A few cities have approved complete bans on recreational marijuana businesses, and dozens  more have passed moratoria on approving them while certain issues are studied. That could set up a scenario where the drug can be purchased legally at state regulated stores by adults in one community, but onlly on the black marked in a neighboring community, Committee Chairman Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said.

“Initiative 502 won't work unless it works everywhere,” said Hurst, referring to the ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana for adults in 2012. “The voters have spoken…This is about making it work.”

It's likely not the last change the law will need, he added. The bill now heads for the House Finance Committee because of changes in the way taxes are distributed. If it is approved there, it goes to the full House.

Later today, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee holds hearings on a pair of bills that try to merge the recreational marijuana system with the medical marijuana system which was set up by a different initiative in 1998. 


Legislature wrestles with oil train proposals

OLYMPIA – The Legislature took some tentative steps Tuesday to demand more information and develop stricter controls on crude oil moving through the state by rail and barge.

But unlike the Spokane City Council, which Monday night voted unanimously to request more controls on the growing number of oil shipments, the Legislature is clearly split on how much information to request and how quickly to develop new regulations. . .

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


Today’s fun video: Colbert on Super Bowl Coke ad


Stephen Colbert makes fun of the conservative furor over “America the Beautiful” being sung in multiple languages in Coca Cola's Super Bowl ad. 

Don't know about anyone else, but I'm waiting for some furor — conservative, liberal, bipartisan, academic or whatever — over Fox's selective editing of the Declaration of Independence, which was only partially read before the start of the game. Who are they trying to appease?

To see what the “reading” left out, go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 23: Health care, oil trains, minimum wage

OLYMPIA — Legislators have a full day of hearings with a wide range of topics today,including proposals for health insurance changes, restrictions on oil trains and minimum wage.

The Senate Health Care Committee considers several bills on insurance, including one that would allow Washington residents to buy “catastrophic care” plans from other states. Sen. Steve O'Ban, the bill's sponsor, is bringing people who had plans they liked cancelled to the hearing to make the pitch.

House and Senate committees will both consider legislation on transporting crude oil by trains through the state. It was a hot topic last night for the Spokane City Council, but these bills have been in the works for a while.

The House Labor and Workforce Development considers a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $12 over three years.

House Government Operations & Elections has a hearing on new rules for signature gatherers on initiatives and referenda. Senate Government Operations has a hearing on a constitutional amendment to require two-thirds majorities for the Legislature to pass tax increases.


Committee moves bill to cut high court down to 7

OLYMPIA – A plan to reduce the size of the state Supreme Court by two justices was praised as a money saver and criticized as payback for decisions some legislators don’t like.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, would cut the nine-member court to seven. It moved out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee Monday on a voice vote, giving it a chance for a vote by the full Senate in the coming weeks… 

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

WA Lege Day 22: An unelected insurance commissioner?

OLYMPIA — Clashes over Obamacare helped spawn a  proposal to end Washington state's 65-year-old system of electing an insurance commissioner, replacing it with an appointed board who would select someone for the job.

Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville and the chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee, described her bill as a way to get broader representation in the office, with a 10-member board assuming the powers and responsibilities of the current commissioner, who is elected every four years. Each of the Legislature's four political caucuses would nominate three people, and the governor would select ten, making sure that the board includes at least one consumer advocate, one insurance expert, one small business representative and one economist or actuary. Other groups would also have to be represented on the board.

The board would then hire someone as the insurance commissioner.

Such a board would provide “a much more open approach of how we deal with health care,” said Becker, who was critical of a decision by current Commissioner Mike Kreidler not to allow low-cost, high-deductible plans in the state that didn't have some basic services covered by the Affordable Care Act. 

Kate Nichols, who lost a plan that she said worked for her family, contended that having a person at the top without anyone to review his or her decisions increases the possibility the commissioner will make a mistake.

But others said the commissioner's performance is reviewed every four years, by voters. Becker's proposal would make the commissioner accountable to an unelected board and increase the bureaucracy.

“The insurance commissioner is accountable to the citizens and the Legislature,” Mary Clogston of AARP said. “He can only enforce the laws that you write.”

Telephone town hall tonight in 7th Lege District

The 7th Legislative District's delegation is the most recent group to schedule a telephone town hall meeting. They'll be phoning in tonight.

The district's three Republicans, Sen. Brian Dansel of Republic, and Reps. Joel Kretz, Wauconda, and Shelly Short, Addy, will be on the line starting at 7 p.m. Constituents can call 1-877-229-8493 and enter  112381 when prompted.

Sunday Spin: Marijuana a racist slur? No dude, it’s not

With more than 100 bills addressing marijuana this session, it may be no surprise the silliest thing said so far has involved this topic.

Granted, we’re only a third of the way through the session, and a huge amount of silliness may lie ahead. But it will be hard for anyone to top a point being raised with great conviction – albeit not much thought – at several recent hearings on marijuana bills:

“Marijuana is a racial slur.”

Because of this, some hearing witnesses say, the state should stop using the word, strike it from the law books, and replace it with “cannabis.”

Dude, please. . .

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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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