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Spin Control

Archive for March 2014

Today’s fun video: SNL looks at Obamacare promos


Saturday Night Live suggests other places President Obama could try to boost the website for the Affordable Care Act.

Sunday Spin: What the McMorris Rodgers report tells us about campaigns

Cathy McMorris Rodgers may or may not get the House of Representatives equivalent of 20 lashes with a wet noodle for improperly mixing campaign business with congressional business.

But documents released from an official investigation into a disgruntled former employee’s complaint makes one thing clear: By limiting debates with opponents in 2010 and 2012 campaigns, McMorris Rodgers wasn’t showing a lack of political courage; she was being a good steward of the public treasury.

They also show that anyone thinking a congressional debate will produce earth-shattering revelations probably thinks reality TV is reality. . .

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

Bills, bills and a plate of oysters

OLYMPIA – Children will have to have lawyers before a court can sever their parents’ rights. Juveniles will have more protection against self-incrimination in Washington.

Marijuana growers won’t get tax breaks that other farmers get. People who sign local initiative petitions more than once will get one signature counted when the others are thrown out. The state will try to buy products that are free of cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls.

And the Olympic oyster is the official state oyster. . .

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

Gun surrender law could save lives, victim says

Stephanie Holten, center, talks with Rep. Laurie Jinkins and Grace Huang of the state Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

OLYMPIA – When her ex-husband pointed a gun at her and threatened to blow her head off while she knelt in her Spokane living room, there was a point when Stephanie Holten thought “I’m going to die.”

Still, Holten remained calm enough to slip out her cell phone and dial 911 when Corey Holten turned his head away for a few seconds, then slip the phone under a blanket hoping the line was open. When he ordered her upstairs and demanded she surrender custody of their son, she stayed clear headed enough to bargain with him to give her the ammunition and put the gun down in return.

 As the last round was ejected from the chamber, she heard “Spokane Police. Show us your hands” as officers arrived, guns drawn, and arrested him.

As calm as she was on that January night in 2012, Stephanie Holten had a brief panic attack Friday after watching Gov. Jay Inslee sign a bill that will make it less likely that someone under a no-contact order and prone to domestic violence, as Corey Holten was that night, will show up at another former spouse or partner’s house with a gun.

The shakes, she explained later after catching her breath, were partly adrenaline from seeing a goal accomplished and partly post-traumatic stress that lingers.

“I’m overjoyed,” she said. “I truly believe that it will save lives.”

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

Has the Dream of the ‘90s found its way to Spokane?

Spokane's latest push to expand urban farming opportunities had at least one councilman wondering if TV sketch comedians Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein might be lurking nearby.

“Sometimes when I'm reading this ordinance I feel like I've landed in an episode of “Portlandia,'” Councilman Mike Allen said during this week's debate over allowing small livestock such as goats, sheep and pigs to be raised in residential neighborhoods. “People are trying to create something that may or may not be good for an area.”

The urban farming plan was approved Monday night by the City Council and was described by supporters as a way of helping Spokane residents to embrace more sustainable lifestyles.

Allen, who raises chickens, supported plans to ease restrictions on growing and selling fruits, vegetables and produce in residential areas but opposed plans to allow backyard livestock, though he was out-voted.

Whether that means “The Dream of '90s” is now alive in Spokane remains to be seen.


Inslee signs suicide prevention bill, dozens of others

Gov. Jay Inslee hands the pen used to sign a suicide prevention bill to Zoe Adler, 5, of Seattle, while her brother Jake, age 9, looks on.

OLYMPIA – With strokes of a pen, Gov. Jay Inslee approved statewide suicide prevention training for medical professionals, raised some motor vehicle fees pay for a new ferry, banned most teens from tanning salons, toughened penalties for drunk drivers and required public records training for most elected officials.

Between the official signings of some four dozen bills in a marathon session Thursday morning, Inslee criticized the Legislature for exempting itself from rules it imposed on other officials and at one point broke down when describing the losses in the Oso mudslide, where he’d talked with families of victims the night before.

He agreed with a recent assessment that the Snohomish County mudslide could top the Mount St. Helens eruption and produce the largest loss of life from a natural disaster in state history, but added: “We’re looking for miracles” . . .

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


Inslee signing boatload of bills

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is scheduled to sign more than four dozens of bills this morning, including:

— a bill to raise fees on vehicle tab replacements and transfers for people who do that online or at county auditors' offices to help pay for the state's next 144-ca.

— a bill to outlaw tanning for minors without a doctor's prescription 

— a bill to require suicide prevention training

— a bill to establish a license plate for breast cancer awareness

— a bill requiring training in the open meetings and records act for public officials.

In signing that last one, he took a swipe at legislators, whom he said were “disingenuous” by exempting themselves from that training while requiring it for other elected officials. The original bill, requested by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, included legislators and Inslee said the amendment that took them out was a “serious error.”

Today’s fun video: Strangest qualification for Congress

For her first qualification for the U.S. Senate, Joni Ernst of Iowa lists one of the most unusual ever.

If the pigs in this commercial look a little nervous, they may have good reason…

Robocall may have prompted death threat

Robocalls may be annoying, particularly during campaign season, but for Rep. Kevin Parker, one apparently prompted a death threat.

The Spokane Republican contacted the Washington State Patrol this week after someone left a message on  his office voice mail with graphic threats to him and his family. The patrol handles security for legislators, and they brought in Spokane police detectives, who tracked down the caller, interviewed then arrested him.

Here's the kicker: This wasn't a campaign robocall. According to the police affidavit it was the far more innocuous type, a simple invitation to a town hall meeting. From January. The Airway Heights man  apparently had kept it on his machine and over time he became angrier and angrier until he decided to call back.

For more information, check out Reporter Kip Hill's story by clicking here.

Parker said the incident raises questions about untreated mental health problems in the community.

“Mental illness is far more prevalent than people think,” he said today. As many as one person in four may deal with someone who has a mental health problem in their family. “I'm hoping this individual gets help while he's in custody.”

Today’s fun video: Dissing coverage of Flight 370



You can't make up how bad some of the coverage of the Malaysian Flight 370 was. At least Jon Stewart didn't have to as he reviewed some of the low lights.

Senators’ per diem pay going up 33%

OLYMPIA — State senators will be able to collect an extra $30 a day for expenses during legislative sessions under a rule approved Tuesday by a committee of their members.

The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee voted 4-3 to raise the allowance for daily expenses by 33 percent, upping the per diem to $120 from the $90 it has been since 2005.

Over objections from some senators who said the question of expenses requires a more comprehensive look, the committee agreed to match the House of Representatives, which raised per diem for its members before the 2014 session started.

“I think it's inappropriate to raise the per diem for members and staff with less than 24 hours notice,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “This is the wrong message at the wrong time, and possibly not even the right measure.”

The main expense for legislators living in Eastern Washington or other districts far from Olympia isn't food and rent, he said. It's the cost for trips to and from home. Raising the per diem “is going to reward the people who live closest to the capital,” he said.

Committee Chairman Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said the committee had discussed it enough, and cast the deciding vote to raise the expense allotment for senators, as well as a jump from $30 to $40 in the per diem for legislative assistants.

Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, said legislators haven't received a pay increase since 2008. “We don't need to get rich being in public office, but we sure as hell don't need to go broke.”

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, made the motion to raise the per diem, even though she doesn't collect it during the session. It would be reasonable to consider other expenses in the coming months, she said, and those who object to the increase have an alternative: “Nobody has to take the full amount of per diem. You can take less.”

Raising the per diem in the House added about $176,000 in expenses for a 60-day session like the most recent one, and would add about $308,000 for the longer 105-day session. Estimates for the committee say the increase for the Senate would add $95,000 in a short session and $155,000 in a long session.

The $30 increase was the largest per diem raise since the Legislature started yearly sessions in 1979. The rate started at $40 in 1979, and was raised gradually, every few years, for most of that period through 2005. Ten years is the longest it has ever remained at the same rate.



FEMA gives Oso mudslide emergency declaration

OLYMPIA — The Federal Emergency Management Administration issued a verbal declaration that makes the area around the Snohomish County mudslide eligible for immediate assistance.

Gov. Jay Inslee received assurance from FEMA this morning that it will issue a limited emergency declaration for the mudslide area which will include an Incident Management Assistance Team and other federal personnel. The notice “means we will receive immediate assistance from specialists and clears the way for more aid in search and rescue, recovery and rebuilding,” Inslee said in a press release.

Sunday Spin: Tab fees could go up to pay for ferry

OLYMPIA – Coming soon, to a county auditor’s office near you, may be a chance to help pay for a new ferry.

Whether you want to or not. Whether there’s a ferry anywhere near you or not. Whether you have ever ridden or expect to ever ride on a ferry or not. And all you have to do is renew your car tabs. . .


Today’s fun video: Local reference at start of “Late Night”


Not the best March Madness joke ever, but there's no such thing as bad publicity, particularly if they say your name right. And Seth Meyer does do that.

It's the first joke of the monologue, after the obligatory commercial from NBC.

WA Supreme Court decision on Yates

OLYMPIA — The Washington Supreme Court handed serial killer Robert Yates what could be a pyrrhic victory in his appeal of his 408-year sentence for 13 murders and one attempted murder.

Yes, the court said in a 7-2 ruling, the two 20-year-sentences for a pair of 1975 murders were incorrectly calculated. But given that you aren't getting out of prison in this lifetime, anyway, it's essentially no harm, no foul, case dismissed.

As part of his agreement that allowed him to escape the death penalty, Yates agreed that if he challenged his sentence, Spokane County could file the one murder charge it was holding back, and seek the death penalty if it got a conviction on that murder. That didn't keep him from appealing his sentence, the Supreme Court said, but it also means Spokane County could now file that case and seek the death penalty.

But Yates already has been sentenced to death for two murders in Pierce County, and Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said he's not sure Spokane would file that charge and give him another 10 to 15 years of appeals.

Full story can be found here. To read the court's decision on Yates's appeal, technically known as a personal restraint petition, click here.

Immigrant protections added to labor law

OLYMPIA – Washington employers who threaten their immigrant employees with deportation or the destruction of their documents while forcing them to work can be charged with a felony.

A new law signed Wednesday stiffens the penalties for coercing workers into forced labor, adding to existing law that makes it illegal to threaten a person with physical harm to make them work. The law now allows employers to be charged with a felony if they threaten to withhold or destroy documents connected to a worker’s immigration status, or threaten to report them to immigration officials to force them to work.

Reporting someone to federal officials for being in the country illegally is not against the law; using it as a threat against workers as a form of “involuntary servitude” is.

Another term for that practice, Gov. Jay Inslee said when signing the bill, is slavery. 

Inslee offers E. Washington asides at bill signings

Gov. Inslee pets service dogs Huckleberry and Huey who attended a bill signing with Darly Abbot of Olympia.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee might want to think about making more trips across the mountains to Eastern Washington.

Back from Tuesday's sojourn to Dayton, Starbuck and Palouse Falls State Park, the governor was in an especially chipper and talkative mood at his daily bill signing ceremony with plenty of East Side anecdotes.

Signing a bill for better management of the Milwaukee Road rail corridor, Inslee asked Rep. Matt Manweller,R-Ellensburg, the sponsor, if that wasn't also the John Wayne Trail. Yes, said Manweller, at which point the governor launched into an explanation of how Wayne learned lots about acting from Yakima Canutt, a fact he learned on a poster during the trip. Canutt, who did teach Wayne that rolling walk and was his stunt double in several films, was born in Colfax.

A bill to expand the authority of Fish and Wildlife officers to order people to produce identification and have fishing or hunting gear inspected would be welcome news to the mayor of Starbuck, who owns a tackle shop, he said. And he had the best burger of his governorship at the Rawhide Bar and Grill in that town.

One of the highlights of the trip, he said,  was signing the bill to make the falls the official state waterfall surrounded by students from Washtucna Elementary School, who came up with the idea and with good teachers turned it into a successful multi-grade project.

Inslee also signed bills outlawing involuntary servitude by coercion, and  legalizing growlers — the large bottles that can now be used to take cider home from bars and breweries, not the four-legged kind he's petting in the photo. 

Smile when you call it “weed”

OLYMPIA – “Weed” is not an official weed, at least not in Washington, not now.

So says the state Noxious Weed Control Board, which recently discussed whether various forms of cannabis, from recreational marijuana to industrial hemp, should be considered for its list of plants that need to be controlled. . . 

To continue reading, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Pot possession prosecutions plummet

OLYMPIA — Prosecutions of adults for misdemeanor possession of marijuana have practically dropped off the charts since the passage of Initiative 502, the ACLU of Washington said today.

Data from the Administrative Office of the Court says there were 7,964 such prosecutions in 2009. That had dropped to 5,531 by 2012, when voters approved I-502, which legalized private use of marijuana for recreational purposes for those 21 and over.

Last year, there were 120 cases. That's about 98 percent less.

“The data strongly suggest that I-502 has achieved one of its primary goals – to free up limited police and prosecutorial resources. These resources can now be used for other important public safety concerns,”  Mark Cooke, Criminal Justice Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Washington, said in a press release. 

Today’s fun video: Obama fills in brackets


In what has become an annual tradition, President Obama filled in  his NCAA brackets for ESPN. The clip picks up when the president is at the Sweet 16 level, so you'll have to look at the ESPN website to realize that he dissed Gonzaga, expecting them to lose to OK State in their first game.

Of course, he had the Zags going pretty far last year, and like many bracketologists in Spokane, was knocked out of the money early.

Now we can expect the annual tradition that follows this annual tradition: Conservative pundits complaining that Obama should be doing something more important with his time than filling out his bracket on ESPN. This year, one can expect those complaints to include the words “Putin” and “Crimea” as well as the old standards like “Benghazi” and “Syria.”

Feel free to weigh in on the comments section on whether you think the president should be spending his time doing something else than filling out his bracket on ESPN.

Alternate question: In the interests of gender equity, shouldn't Obama also fill out a bracket for the women's tournament on ESPN?

Click here to weigh in.


As Palouse Falls. . .

OLYMPIA – Palouse Falls is officially the state water fall.

In a ceremony this afternoon with the Eastern Washington falls as a backdrop and dozens of Washtucna Elementary students around the table, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill that bestows the title on the geologic feature. The students came up with the idea as a way to draw attention to the falls and a handful of them traveled to Olympia to testify on behalf of the bill.

It was one of two successful efforts to name an official state something in the last session. The Legislature also named the Olympia oyster the official state oyster. 

Inslee hints at state action over Hanford cleanup

OLYMPIA – The federal government's latest plan to cleanup nuclear waste at Hanford is short on details and the state is considering its options to force a better one, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday. . . 

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

Justice Jim Johnson to step down

OLYMPIA — State Supreme Court will lose one of its more conservative members next month as Justice Jim Johnson announce today he will retire at the end of April.

Jim Johnson — the court has also has Justice Charles Johnson — is a former state assistant attorney general who became a voice for strict construction, limited government and the ability of the public for input in their government. He was the author of blistering dissents in one of the court's most controversial and wide-reaching decisions, the so-called McCleary ruling that the state was failing in its constitutional duty to provide adequate support for schools which essentially ordered the Legislature to spend more. He termed it “a clear usurpation of the Legislature's constitutionally mandated duty.”

“Judges sometimes have delusions of grandeur,” he wrote in his dissent. “…this order oversteps the bounds of proper judicial action.”

When the justices were introduced during a joint session of the Legislature earlier this year, Jim Johnson got a standing ovation from the Republicans in the chamber. 

Before his election in 2004, Johnson helped write or defend several state initiatives, including I-601, which capped the state budget. The press release announcing his early retirement said he “vows to continue such efforts, to protect and exercise the people's right to control government.” He was easily re-elected in 2010, besting Stan Rumbaugh by more than 265,000 votes in the primary and appearing by himself on the general election ballot.

He has been absent from oral arguments since mid February for what a court spokeswoman described as “unexpected health concerns” and wasn't expected to return for the court's winter term.

Johnson's term ran through 2016, but the state will hold a special election this year for a replacement to fill out that term. Gov. Jay Inslee can appoint a replacement to fill the seat in the meantime.

If you find yourself missing the Lege. . .

OLYMPIA – So the Legislature blew Dodge on time for the first time since 2009. Sure, you’re saying “good riddance” now, but that may change if they avoid a special session and don’t show up until next January.

Political junkies who have been glued to TVW could suffer withdrawals for the speechifying that has been the soundtrack for the last two months.

Should anyone be Jonesing for a little legislative eloquence in the meantime, here’s a bit of all-purpose rhetoric. Adopt a serious tone, start anywhere and end when the mood hits you. For real verisimilitude, have a friend yell “Point of Order” when the mood hits:

Mr. Speaker, I didn’t intend to speak on this bill, but I can’t resist the opportunity to address the body on an issue that’s of vital importance to the good men and women of my district and the hard-working folks all over the great state of Washington, who send us here to do the people’s business. . .


WA Lege 2014: The done and the undone

OLYMPIA – The Legislature closed up shop with seven minutes before its constitutionally mandated midnight stopping time Thursday, ending a short session that was short on expectations, and many would argue, short on accomplishments.

After passing an updated operating budget that even supporters said contained plenty of things to dislike, a couple of bills on many legislators’ priority lists were saved from oblivion and moved back and forth between chambers with admirable speed.

Military veterans were granted in-state tuition at Washington’s public colleges and universities, regardless of how long they’ve been in the state. A $40 fee home buyers pay to file their documents, which pays for programs to fight homelessness but due to expire this year, was extended until 2019.

Meanwhile, the subject getting the most attention seemed to be deciding what medical procedures can be performed by plebotomists, medical assistants who draw blood. A phlebotomist bill ping-ponged back and forth across the Rotunda and showed up on one floor or the other eight times in the last eight days as the chambers tweaked the bill with amendments. It eventually had to be untweaked because the wrong amendment was added – and approved – before people noticed, so that amendment had to be subtracted and replaced, prompting three roll-call votes on the last day.

“I didn’t know what a phlebotomist was until today,” Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, deadpanned. . . 

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


Inslee raps Legislature for no transportation package

Gov. Jay Inslee says Republicans in the Senate kept changing demands on the amount of sales tax they wanted redirected for transportation projects.

OLYMPIA — Washington faces reduced maintenance on roads and bridges as well as cuts in mass transit because the Legislature did  not pass a major package this year of transportation projects funded by higher gasoline taxes, Gov. Jay Inslee said early Friday morning.
The Legislature finished its 60-day session at 11:53 p.m. after a flurry of final day bills that included some modest changes to its operating budget, a bill to allow all veterans to receive instate tuition at state universities and colleges and an extension of a fee that helps pay for programs that fight homelessness.
There were big wins in the constitutionally short session, particularly a law earlier in the year that allows the Washington high school students who aren't legal residents but grew up in Washington to be eligible for some college aid, Inslee said shortly after midnight. But, he added, “there's a lot left undone”…
To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

WA Lege: That’s all, folks

OLYMPIA — Legislature called it quits at 11:53, with seven minutes to spare before they'd be forced to quit, constitutionally

Down to the wire

Gov. Jay Inslee and his wife Trudi watch floor action in the Senate on the last night of the session.

OLYMPIA — With time running out, the Legislature agreed to let military veterans attend Washington's public college on in-state tuition, and extended a fee on documents to help programs for the homeless.

A pair of bills that had wide support but seemed mired in the parliamentary mud became unstuck tonight. The veterans tuition bill, described by Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo as a “tiny token” of thanks for service to the country, passed the House 96-0. It had passed the Senate unanimously in January.

A few minutes later, the extension of the $40 filling fee on documents like home purchases passed the Senate 41-8, was sent quickly to the House, where it passed 74-22. Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, described it as a bill on “a rocky path to a good outcome.” The fee has been in place since 2005, and was extended until June 30, 2019.

Supplemental budget passes

OLYMPIA — Barely six hours after it was unveiled to the public, the Legislature passed the 2014 supplemental budget and sent it to Gov. Jay Inslee.

The budget passed the House 85-13, and the Senate 48-1. For a full report, go inside the blog.

Stick a fork in the medical pot bills

OLYMPIA —Washington's two marijuana systems — an older one for medical patients and a new one for “recreational use” by adults —may remain separate at least for another year.

Legislators involved in negotiations over proposals to merge the two as Washington gets its new legal recreational marijuana system off the ground agreed there was little chance bills would pass in the waning hours of the session.

Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, said House Republicans wanted a portion of the tax money to be collected from the newly licensed marijuana growers, processors and retail stores to go to local governments. Initiative 502, which voters approved in 2012, sends all marijuana tax revenue to the state. Without that change, the main proposal to merge the two systems had “no hope, no how,” he said.

But Condotta held out hope that a separate bill calling for a group to study ways to improve and merge the two marijuana system would pass before the Legislature adjourned.

Cities and counties around the state have imposed moratoriums on allowing new medical marijuana businesses within their borders, but Condotta said those objections would disappear if they were promised revenue to help pay for the extra law enforcement many local officials think will be needed when the businesses open.

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, said the proposed change to send some tax money to local governments didn't have the votes to pass and was “95 percent dead.” The study bill wasn't going to pass without the larger bill dealing with the merger, she said, but Gov. Jay Inslee could call for a study through an executive order.

Ezra Eickmeyer of the Washington Cannabis Association, a group that represents medical marijuana patients, accused local jurisdictions of “holding the initiative hostage” for tax money. But merging the two systems and closing the current medical marijuana dispensaries without some agreement to drop the moratoriums and allow recreational stores all over the state meant patients would have trouble getting the medical version of the drug.

Without controls on the growing number of medical marijuana growers and dispensaries, Cody said the state could have trouble with the federal government, which still considers the drug illegal for all uses. “The feds may come in and start closing some of them down,” she said.

Budget deal released

OLYMPIA — A supplemental budget that raises no taxes, offers no new tax loopholes and provides no state-funded raises for teachers is expected to be pushed through the Legislature today on a fast track.

Budget negotiators unveiled their negotiated spending plan to the public at lunchtime, using words like “modest”, “stable” and “pretty small.”

It will send an extra $58 million to public schools around the state for books and supplies. It will spend an extra $25 million on Opportunity Scholarships for college students, $22 million on mental health services and $4 million to expand prison capacity.

But some items that prompted major political arguments over the last two months are not in the budget. There is no cost-of-living adjustment for public school teachers, something Democrats in both chambers said they wanted. There are no new taxes, or increases of existing taxes, that would have paid for those raises. There are no major new or extended tax exemptions, which were supported by Republicans.

It is a traditional supplemental budget, legislators said, making small adjustments in the two-year spending plan approved in 2013 after two extensions to that legislative session. It is unlike recent supplemental budgets, which were essentially rewrites of previous spending plans made inoperable because of changing revenue estimates in the recession.

And it leaves until next year a  major fight over public schools, which the Legislature is under a state Supreme Court mandate to improve. The Legislature will need to come up with at least $2.2 billion for school programs, and perhaps another $1 billion for school employee wages, for the 2015-17 biennium to satisfy that court order. 

The budget is scheduled to be put to a vote in the House late this afternoon and be sent to the Senate for a vote later in the evening. That means the Legislature will suspend several rules that allow time for the public to see legislation, and for members to read and consider it.


WA Lege Day 60: Final day?

OLYMPIA — On the last day of the regular session, the Legislature has a few things on its plate:

A supplemental operating budget, which apparently will be shown to members around 10 a.m., and to the public around noon. It will have to pass in both chambers, plus any additional changes to state law to make the appropriations in the budget work

Possible changes to the state's teacher evaluation system, in an effort to keep getting $40 million from the federal government to send to the public schools.

A possible merger of some elements of the state's medical marijuana system with its new, and as yet unproven, recreational marijuana system

Legislation that gives veterans in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.

This is, to be sure, a more ambitious agenda for one day than the Legislature has accomplished in the previous 59.

They have until midnight. The question is, do they have enough time, or will they need to go into extra innings?

House passes end of Innovate WA bill

OLYMPIA — The latest version of a bill to end the Innovate Washington program passed the House 97-0 Wednesday evening.

In the latest iteration, the Spokane-based agency becomes a program in the state Commerce Department that ends on June 30, 2015. In the meantime, it will have money to secure federal grants for projects that involve the use of new technology for energy efficiency and finding ways to bring jobs back the the United States that have been moved overseas.

Most of the money for Innovate Washington was removed in last year's state budget, making it what Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, called a “zombie agency.” When it ceases to exist,any money not spent to keep the federal grants will be transferred to Commerce.

Assets like its building on the Riverpoint Campus will be transferred to Washington State University, which will move some of its classes out of the campus's Phase 1 Building and turn that facility over to Eastern Washington University. Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said the bill will continue development of the campus, which is the site of a new medical school facility.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed a different version of the legislation.

No budget rollout until Thursday

OLYMPIA — The Legislature will start the last day of its scheduled session without showing the public its supplemental budget.

The budget, which is the update of the biennial budget passed last year, is said to be close, with only relatively small things in the way of a handshake between negotiators. Plans as of Wednesday evening call for the final product to be unveiled in caucus meetings for both chambers around 10 am. and a public roll out after that. For niggling clock-watchers, that means the Legislature will have something less than 14 hours to pass the budget, without amendment, in both chambers.  Plus any ancillary legislation that changes things that will be needed to make the budget work.

They have until midnight, and there's a good chance they'll need it.

The budget, in its current iteration, is 292 pages long. That raises the obvious question: How many legislators will read the whole thing before voting on it?



Transpo package is dead

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler talks about what will and won't happen during the remainder of the session at a press conference with House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen and Senate Republican Caucus Chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette.

OLYMPIA — Good news for Spokane motorists: You won't be paying an extra 11.5 cents in taxes for gasoline over the next three years. Bad news: The Legislature doesn't have a plan to come up with the money to finish the North Spokane Corridor or several other “mega projects” many people think it needs.

A possible $8 billion transportation package that would raise fuel and motor vehicle taxes and generate money for major road projects, maintenance and mass transit will not pass the Legislature this session, Republican leaders of both chambers said today.

The lasts chance for a package crashed with recriminations all around.

They blame with Senate Democrats for not being willing to accept reforms to the way the state plans, funds and builds major transportation projects Senate Democrats, in turn, said the predominantly Republican coalition that controls the Senate never even scheduled a committee hearing on their package so it could be brought to the chamber for a vote.

House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen said Inslee should have led a “cohesive effort” to bring the leaders of both chambers together and negotiate a deal. A spokesman for Inslee said the governor had a meeting with Senate Transportation Co-Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, on Monday and asked if a new proposal was worth bringing all leaders together for negotiations and was told “No.”

 Inslee, who has made a transportation package one of his top priorities since taking office last year, said he was disappointed there would be no package and found it difficult to understand why the Legislature couldn't reach an agreement on something the state clearly needs.

 The Housed passed its version of a package last year, and Democrats who control that chamber said they were ready to negotiate as soon as the Senate passed one of its own. Senate Republicans introduced a different proposal last month that never had the necessary votes to pass and thus never came to a vote.

That Senate version had $750 million to finish the corridor, sometimes called the North-South Freeway.  The House version had about $480 million, which would complete the next phase.

The failure to reach agreement on the package is not a surprise. On a lobbying trip to Olympia in January, Spokane's business, political and civic leaders were told not to get to expect a package would come out of  the short legislative session.

Lege to pot businesses: No tax breaks for you

OLYMPIA — Legal marijuana growers in Washington will not get any of the tax breaks other farmers get, under a bill passed today by the Legislature.

The House gave final passage to a bill that makes marijuana farming different from any other agricultural product, and not eligible for various exemptions or credits for business and occupation, sales or utility taxes. 

Thousands of would-be pot growers have applied for licenses and the Liquor Control Board, which regulates recreational marijuana under Initiative 502, began awarding licenses last week. They'll have to make their new operations work without the kind of tax help the state gives many other new industries.

House Finance Committee Chairman Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said other agricultural producers get help to keep them competitive with farmers in other states, which also offer tax breaks. But marijuana farmers won't have that kind of competition, because growing marijuana remains illegal in most other states, he said.

If the marijuana industry needs help down the road, the Legislature can always consider tax breaks in a future session, Carlyle said.

But legal marijuana growers do have competition, Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, said, from illegal growers who pay no taxes or fees to the state. Without tax breaks, legal recreational marijuana  might be so expensive that people won't switch from the black market, and the system the state sets up will be “destined for failure.”

Legal growers will get no breaks from the state or federal government and pay a 25 percent excise tax on sales to processors, who will pay a 25 percent tax on sales to retail stores. The stores will add another 25 percent excise tax, plus a sales tax, to consumers.

An estimate by the Office of Financial Management said will collect some $25 million over 10 years on the taxes that marijuana businesses will pay, that many other businesses don't.

The bill passed on a 55-42 vote, Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller ruled it didn't need a two-thirds supermajority because it didn't change any provision of I-502.

Budget still ‘A work in progress’

OLYMPIA — Here's a bad sign for anyone expecting the Legislature to conclude its business by midnight Thursday: Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler this morning described the supplemental budget, and two controversial bills, as “a work in progress.”

Budget leaders of both chambers have been negotiating differences in the supplemental budgets passed by the House and Senate. No deal has been announced yet, and time is running out to do the work of double-checking and printing the massive spending document before the deal can be introduced in the Senate for a vote.

Two other controversial issues, a bill to add scores on statewide tests for students to teacher evaluations, and the continuation of a fee on document recordings to help projects to fight homelessness, were on a list of bills presented to the Rules Committee as items the Senate could take up today. When Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson said her caucus has problems with both bills, Schoesler said they are, like the budget, a work in progress.

That prompted a question from Lt. Gov. Brad Owen as to when the Legislature might adjourn for good.

The state Constitution, Schoesler said, says it will sine die by midnight Thursday.

“That wasn't my question,” Owen replied. Schoesler offered no response, and the Rules Committee approved the list of bills for floor action.

If the Legislature doesn't pass a budget before midnight Thursday, or has other major issues hanging fire, they could be called back into an overtime session by Gov. Jay Inslee.


WA Lege Day 59: Final day, minus one

OLYMPIA — The penultimate day of the session, or Sine Die Eve, dawned without an announcement on a deal for a supplemental budget, or all the things that might go with it, such as a plan to add statewide student tests to teacher evaluations or a way to merge the recreational and medical marijuana systems.

The Senate started its day by confirming gubernatorial appointments to the many state boards, commissions and task forces. If they are anything like yesterday's string of affirmations, some people were nominated by Gov. Chris Gregoire, and just waiting around for the official Senate Okey-Dokey.

They also adopted a resolution honoring Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter, a Medal of Honor winner and North Central High School grad.

House is set to go into caucus meetings right after convening.

Could be a long day's journey into night, both today and Thursday, if the Legislature is going to avoid going into special session for the first time since 2008.

Drone bill heads to Inslee

OLYMPIA – State and local law enforcement agencies would need specific approval from their elected officials to buy drones, and a search warrant to use an unmanned surveillance aircraft for much of the information they might collect, under a bill that passed today. . .

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

Should GU v. UW basketball game become law?

OLYMPIA — State law would make the Huskies play the Zags in basketball every year under a proposal introduced Tuesday by a Spokane senator.

Considering there’s barely time left int the legislative session to negotiate a budget, getting a vote in both chambers on the merits of forced resumption of the ‘Dawgs versus Bulldogs matchup is as likely as a No. 16 seed winning the NCAA tournament. But the bill’s sponsor, Republican Mike Baumgartner, said he wants to make emphasize the advantages of a statewide rivalry, which was popular with fans when the teams played between 1998 and 2007. . . 

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

Senate turns back effort on vets tuition, homeless housing

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats failed in a parliamentary maneuver  to force votes on granting in-state tuition for military veterans and funding for homeless projects. 

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, tried to force those two bills — which have strong support from both parties but are stuck in committees — onto the Senate floor with a motion to go the “Ninth Order” essentially a point at which anything can be put to a vote.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, argued against the move, saying leaders of all four caucuses have agreed those two issues will be part of budget negotiations, which are continuing. The motion failed 23-26, with all members of the minority Democrats voting yes and all members of the coalition caucus voting no.

Billig called the vote frustrating, despite Schoesler's comments that the bills would come up later:”We have three days left and it's time to take care of these important bills.”

The majority coalition calls the vote just a procedural vote, Billig said, “but it's a procedure not to help vets.”

The session is scheduled to end Thursday.

Today’s fun video: Obama between 2 ferns

President Obama sat down with Zach Galifianakis for a mock interview, with the main purpose of plugging the health care website but which wandered into many bizarre topics.

Am guessing that conservative pundits who get angry when Obama goes on ESPN to make his NCAA bracket picks will go ballistic over this one.

But parts of it are pretty funny.

Click here to see the 6 minute Funny or Die video.

Lege bans minors from tanning booths

OLYMPIA — Be prepared for more pale teens, particularly during the winter months in Washington. Most minors would be banned from sessions in tanning booths under a bill receiving final approval in the Legislature this morning.

With a 42-6 vote, the Senate agreed with changes to SB 6065, and sent the ban to Gov. Jay Inslee.

The House recently made a slight change in the bill, allowing physicians to write a prescription for minors to have sessions in the ultraviolet light chambers. Other than that, the bill says a person must be 18 o r over, and produce identification, to use a booth at a tanning salon in Washington.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, the sponsor of the bill, said he thought a doctor's prescription for tanning booth time would be relatively rare, so he didn't think the amendment resulted in much change to the original bill. 

WA Lege Day 58: Time is running out

OLYMPIA — One would expect to see a budget agreement sometime today, considering the Legislature has less than 72 hours left in the session, and it takes time to take the agreement and turn it into a printed document on which the two chambers can vote.

No word as to when that might occur as both chambers convene, but stay tuned for updates.

Other than that, each chamber will be running through lists of bills on which they agree to various amendments the other chamber has made, so they “concur”, or those which they think they other chamber has its collective head where the sun never shines, so they “do not concur” and send them back so that the other has a chance to see the light. 

Democratic senators tag-team all-nighter

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate is pulling an all-nighter.  More than two dozen senators will take turns speaking from tonight through tomorrow morning to drum up support for legislation to address climate change.

Technically it's not a filibuster, since the senators aren't delaying a vote on a bill. So it's not quite like the last all-nighter staged by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, prior to the government shut down in October, when he spoke for over 21 hours by himself.

In a speech in the beginning hours of the event Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., cited the effects climate change is having on the federal budget and how businesses stand to benefit from efforts to combat it.

“We know the solutions to reduce pollution and emissions that cause climate change create good-paying jobs,” Murray said. “Jobs that put money back in families’ pockets through low-cost energy sources and increased efficiencies in homes.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., briefly spoke at the event's beginning about the affect climate change is having on Washington's fishing industry. She's expected to speak more Tuesday morning as the event is winding down.

Eide calling it quits

OLYMPIA — Sen. Tracey Eide, a Federal Way Democrat, said she will not run for re-election this year, opening up a seat in one of the state's swing districts.

Eide, an 18-year-veteran of the Legislature, has served for the last two years has shared bipartisan leadership of the Senate Transportation Committee. During that time the Legislature has tried, without success, to find a package of major transportation projects and related tax increases that would satisfy both the Democrat-controlled House and the Senate controlled by a coalition that is predominantly Republican.

As part of that effort, Eide joined with Republican senators for a statewide “listening tour” of voters on transportation issues last summer and fall.

Eide said in a press release that she had decided after her 2010 election that this term would be her last “and that I would pour myself into this term and then open the door for someone else.”

She's the senator from the 30th District, which has a Democrat Rep. Roger Freeman and Republican Rep. Linda Kochmar.

Sunday Spin: Shouldn’t all fields be level by now?

OLYMPIA – There is so much talk in legislative debates of the need to level the playing field that one wonders if an army of bulldozers should be dispatched to sporting facilities around the state.

Such leveling is almost always a major part of any call for tax breaks, whether it's for server farms or border-community retail stores. But the playing fields for alcohol sales are apparently the most cattywampus, judging from efforts to “tweak” Initiative 1183.

You remember I-1183, the initiative that was going to lower the price of hooch and make everyone happy by getting government out of the liquor business and letting the marketplace take control?. . . 

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

Seahawks’ Taima is in the House…

OLYMPIA — The Seahawks' flying mascot Taima made a guest appearance in the Legislature this morning, posing for pictures and being present in the House when a resolution of his honor was adopted.

The resolution, by Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, commended the augur hawk as a good luck charm and a uniting element of Eastern and Western Washington. The bird is owned and trained by David and Robin Knutson of Spokane County's West Plains, who bring  Taima to the Seattle stadium for every home game so he can be the first Hawk out of the tunnel at game time.

“He's a symbol of excellence and possibilities,” Parker said.

Taima didn't do his signature flight above the House chamber, or during his visit later to the Senate. David Knutson said he's worked bigger, noisier crowds, so that wouldn't have been a problem. But Taima is molting and not in training, so he isn't up to his game-day standards.

…while Cougs’ Leach is in Senate

Mike Leach addresses state Senate.

OLYMPIA — The Washington Senate elevated the 1915 Cougar football team to the status of National Champion today, honoring the team that went undefeated and won the 1916 Rose Bowl. 

With current WSU Coach Mike Leach at the rostrum, the Senate passed a resolution honoring the 1915 team as the first West Coast team to win a Rose Bowl, beating Brown University 14-0. That victory “helped restore the nation's faith in college football and put an end to the practice of celebrating the Pasadena Tournament of Roses with events such as ostrich races, polo matches and chariot races, beginning the annual tradition of the Rose Bowl Football Championship”, the resolution said.

Technically, Cornell University was the national champion in 1915 — at least according to, which lists champions recognized by the NCAA. That team went 9-0, but didn't play in a bowl.

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, acknowledged that the practice of naming a national champion didn't take hold for decades after the 1916 game, but for much of the last half century, any team that went undefeated AND won the Rose Bowl would have been declared the national champion.

Leach started his remarks by saying he watched “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” in preparation for his visit to the Senate chamber. “So I stay up here and talk until I collapse,” he said.

But he didn't. Leach thanked legislators for everything they do to support higher education and said he hoped “to put a team out that everybody can be proud of” in the fall.

Domestic violence offenders could be ordered to give up guns

Padden calls for a vote on firearms bill.

OLYMPIA — A person under a restraining order for domestic violence can be ordered to surrender all firearms under a law that passed the Legislature this afternoon.

In a 49-0 vote, the Senate sent to Gov. Jay Inslee a bill that allows the subject of such a restraining order to be required give up his or her guns after a hearing if a judge rules that person is a credible threat. The bill was first proposed last year in the House and went through several changes as it moved back and forth between the chambers.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said the bill complies with both the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the stronger protections for having firearms in the state constitution. “There are times when people should not have these firearms,” he said.

With an amendment for due process procedures that include a notice, the hearing and the judge's finding, the National Rifle Association dropped its opposition to the bill, Padden said. HB 1840 passed the House 97-0 last month.


Inslee to GOP: Untwist knickers over carbon standards

Inslee said legislators have moved to the center, but still haven't come together on a transportation package.

OLYMPIA — With time running out in the legislative session, Gov. Jay Inslee acknowledged “something's got to break very very soon” to pass a package that would pay for major transportation improvements through higher gas taxes.”

That something, however, is not going to be a promise from him not to impose by executive order low carbon fuel standards that would raise gasoline costs. There's no plan to do that, Inslee said, and any standards would only come after extensive study, conversations with interest groups and public hearings.

Discussions with lawmakers take place almost daily, Inslee said, and both Republicans and Democrats have moved closer to the middle on a transportation package. But there's  no agreement.

Republicans said Wednesday fears that Inslee would impose carbon fuel standards by executive order after the session ended, thus raising gas prices even higher than the 11.5 cents in increased fuel taxes, had some of their members balking at the transportation package.

They're just using the carbon fuel tax as an excuse for inaction, Inslee said today. There's no proposal, so there's  no way to calculate costs.

“I think everybody needs to take a deep breath and not get their knickers in a twist,” he said.

Inslee pushing for testing to keep federal money

Inslee urges Legislature to approve student testing bill.

OLYMPIA — The Legislature should approve a bill requiring statewide testing in an effort to keep $40 million in federal funding for local schools, Gov. Jay Inslee said today.

Speaking at a press conference while teachers opposed to testing requirements were filling the halls outside the legislative chambers, Inslee said he does not “have the luxury” of getting into a philosophical discussion about the value of standardized testing. To have any chance to keep federal money from the No Child Left Behind program, the state should pass a law that requires that by the 2017-18 school year, students' scores on statewide tests are used as at least part the way teachers are evaluated. 

Collective bargaining agreements and local school boards would be able to determine how the tests are used, Inslee said.

Federal education rules require standardized statewide tests to receive the money; state law currently says those tests can be used, but doesn't say the must be used, causing the U.S. Department of Education to say it will cancel the money. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has not given “an absolute guarantee” the state will get a waiver and continue to receive the money before 2017-18, Inslee said, but added: “I'm highly confident we will.”

A bill to require testing died recently in the Senate when most Democrats joined with the chamber's more conservative Republicans to kill it. Opponents said they had heard from teachers, administrators and school boards in their districts concerned about the time and expense of additional testing on top of new evaluation procedures.

Racist heckler flips off immigration activists

Activists trying to rally support for immigration reform outside Spokane City Hall got a rude welcome to the Inland Northwest this morning.

A young man walked briskly past the ongoing news conference and, with TV cameras rolling, muttered, “Go back to Mexico.” He then continued toward the intersection of Post Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard and swiveled back to face the group, raising his arm in a Nazi salute and yelling, “Heil Hitler” before extending his middle finger as he scampered away.

The activists from Fast for Families ignored the racist antics and continued their rally, though one of the organizers later confided that while the group is accustomed to occasional heckling, the one-fingered Nazi salute marked a new low.

It also marked another reminder that while the Inland Northwest has made huge strides in confronting the region's ugly history as a haven for white supremacist movements, reminders still linger.

The activists are criss-crossing the country trying to drum up congressional support for the immigration reform bill that won approval in the U.S. Senate last summer but the House version has bogged down in that chamber. The group called on Eastern Washington residents to urge Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane to use her leadership status to let the bill onto the floor for a vote.

“We know that if the vote were held right now it would pass,” said Rudy Lopez, who was among a group of activists who fasted for 22 days outside the U.S. Capitol to hep call attention to the need for immigration reform.

Joining the activists in a show of support this morning was Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and several community members.

Senate expands liquor rules for restaurants

Majority Coalition members watch vote count on liquor sales bill. It passed 26-23.

OLYMPIA — In a fight  over fixing problems with an initiative that got the state out of the liquor business, the Senate tried to make it cheaper for restaurants and bars to restock from local stores.

After much talk about the proper way to “level the playing field” and not “pick winners and losers”, the Senate voted 26-23 to allow restaurants and bars to buy liquor from retail outlets without paying the 17 percent tax that other consumers pay. It was an expansion of a law passed last year that allowed them to avoid the tax by buying from the old “contract” stores the state had before Initiative 1183 ended the state's monopoly on wholesale and retail liquor sales.

Some senators wanted to remove the tax for all purchases, arguing the state should not pick winners and losers with its liquor tax policies, but an amendment to do that failed on a 21-28 vote. Others said they should only even out the laws for different retailers, not giving some stores an advantage in selling to bars and restaurants who need to restock certain items between deliveries by distributors.

SB 6220 now goes to the House, which must pass it in its current form before next Thursday or send any changes back to the Senate.

Legislature ‘apologizes’ for salmon wars

OLYMPIA — Native Americans who were arrested and jailed for”off-season” fishing in tribal waters before a federal judge ruled they were within their treaty rights are getting the legislative version of an apology.

A unanimous Senate approved and sent to Gov. Jay Inslee a bill allowing those pre-1975 convictions from what's sometimes called the salmon wars to be vacated, wiping away any criminal records from tribal members arrested and jailed for fishing outside seasons set by the state. Native Americans insisted they had treaty rights that allowed them to fish regardless of state rules, and in a landmark decision in 1974, U.S. District Judge George Boldt ruled they were right and the state was violating their rights. His ruling stood through the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the convictions remained on the records of tribal members who were arrested and state law didn't provide a good way to expunge them. HB 2080 allows any tribal member with a conviction related to fishing activity prior to the Boldt decision to apply to the sentencing court to have it vacated. For tribal members who have died, family members or the tribe can apply to have convictions vacated posthumously. 

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said the bill was a chance for the state to apply justice and get the matter behind it.

“Every now and then we get a correct a mistake,” Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle said. “It's the closest this branch of government can come to an apology.”

First pot grower’s license goes to Spokane’s Sean Green

OLYMPIA – Sean Green's big plans for a nationwide manufacturing and sales empire got a boost today when the Spokane native got Washington's first license to grow legal marijuana.

Green, who operates medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane and Shoreline, will begin growing recreational marijuana Thursday in a new facility at E. 1919 Francis.

The former real estate appraiser got into the medical marijuana business after the housing market crashed. On Wednesday, the state Liquor Control Board said Green did the best job of some 4,700 applications from would-be pot entrepreneurs at filling out forms, passing inspections and otherwise meeting requirements for a license to grow and process marijuana. The board awarded him the first license issued under Initiative 502 in a ceremony part patriotic oration and part Chamber of Commerce pep talk.

“Freedom is what brought us here today,” he told a packed hearing room and a half-dozen television cameras. “This program is a testament to what we can achieve in our country if we are persistent enough… Cannabis prohibition is over” . . . 

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

Another predator tangles with Shelby

Last year we brought you the story of Shelby, the dog who showed up at a Senate hearing in support of a bill to make it easier for landowners to fight off wolves attacking their livestock and pets. 

The six-year-old Siberian Husky mix didn't speak, of course, but she did show off the wounds from his encounter with a wolf on her owner's ranch outside of Twisp. Shelby was definitely Spin Control's favorite hearing witness of the entire session, and the bill eventually passed.

Now comes word from the Wenatchee World, via colleague Rich Landers Outdoors blog, that Shelby is back on the mend after another tussle. This time it was a cougar.

She's expected to recover. A depredation permit has been issued for the cougar.

Murray questions OMB head about Hanford cuts

WASHINGTON - Sen. Patty Murray continued her criticism of President Obama's proposed cuts for cleanup of waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, taking his budget director to task at a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee which she leads.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Office of Management and Budget director, defended the proposed Hanford cuts, as well as the rest of the president's budget, during this morning's hearing.

“A number of those programs are for pieces of work that have been completed,” Burwell said. “The administration is committed to make the progress we need at Hanford.”

Murray wasn't convinced: “Yeah, well we have really serious challenges in making progress at these nuclear clean up sites across the country,” she said. “We need a long term, sustainable plan for this.”

The Department of Energy said Tuesday it has made significant progress at the site and has shrunk the size of the cleanup area. As a result, the department plans to shift money to other cleanup sites.

In January, Congress approved $2.15 billion for cleanup at the nuclear weapons facility. Obama's budget has $2.083 billion.

House passes budget with teacher raises

OLYMPIA — In a prelude to end-of-session budget negotiations, the House dumped the Senate's no-new-taxes budget that extended some tax loopholes for businesses, replacing it with a plan to spend an extra $140 million on education and other programs, partly by raising several taxes.

Democrats and Republicans traded charges of who was being irresponsible in making plans to raise money and spend it. . . 

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


Senate passes Palouse Falls designation

OLYMPIA — A plan to name Palouse Falls the official state waterfall passed the Senate and was sent to Gov. Jay Inslee this afternoon.

On a 46-3 vote, a plan devised by students at Washtucna Elementary School cleared its last legislative hurdle and seems likely to become law.

The falls is one of the nation's tallest, and the park around it is one of the few state parks that operates in the black, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said. Nearby Lyons Ferry State Park, among those close because of budget constraints, will be one of the first to reopen and a hiking trail will link the two parks, he said.

“Let's show the kids in the Palouse area the process does work if it's a good idea,” Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said.

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said he grew up near the falls and has many fond memories of it. Next year he said he might introduce a bill to rename the state Flaming Geyser State Park for Roach.

Senate: No tax breaks for pot

OLYMPIA — A unanimous Senate voted to bar tax breaks for the state's fledgling marijuana businesses.

On a 47-0 vote, it passed SB 6505, which says the state's new marijuana entrepreneurs who have filed for licenses to grow, process and sell recreational marijuana won't be eligible for various tax preferences that other businesses might enjoy.

Marijuana is not an agricultural commodity, and growers won't get certain tax breaks farmers who grow other crops receive. The bill excludes marijuana and marijuana-infused products from which eliminates the ability for persons in that industry to take advantage of tax breaks for agriculture. Marijuana businesses will also be ineligible for eight B&O tax preferences; 16 sales and use tax preferences; four additional excise tax preferences; and four property tax preferences, two for real property and two for personal property.

The bill was sent to the House.

House votes to spend lottery money for classrooms

OLYMPIA — A bipartisan plan to use state lottery money for bonds to build new classrooms passed easily in the House today.

On a 90-7 vote, the House approved a bill to build some 2,000 classrooms for kindergarten through Grade 3 classes which will be reduced in size as part of a plan to improve public school. It would sell $700 million in bonds, and pay them off over 20 years by taking $50 million annually from the state's lottery revenue.

A few Republicans said they agreed with using lottery money for education but objected to the bond plan. The state should be patient, use the lottery's cash flow, and avoid bonds and their interest payments.

House Capital Budget Committee Chairman Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said bonds would quickly provide the money school districts will need to have all the necessary classrooms by the 2017-18 school year.

Earlier in the morning the House passed a separate Supplemental Capital Budget with $166 million in new projects.  Included in the lists are $1 million for the Spokane Valley Tech center and $2.9 million for the Veterans Cemetery Expansion.

Today’s fun video: Colbert jabs McMorris Rodgers over ‘Bette in Spokane’


The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers made the national “fake news” last night for her use of Bette in Spokane as an example of Obamacare problems.

Stephen Colbert referred to her as “Republican den mother” and aired a snippet of her response to Obama's State of the Union address in which she decries Bette's plight… followed by the explanation from The Spokesman-Review that Bette wouldn't use “that Obamacare website.”

“There's another flaw with Obamacare,” Colbert reported in mock seriousness. “You have to go on it to use it. That's how they get you.”

It's a pretty funny bit… and we're not just saying that because he mentioned the newspaper's coverage. On the other hand, it didn't hurt.

For more on Bette, check out here , here and here.


Committee votes to close 4 tax breaks

OLYMPIA — Bottled water would carry the standard sales tax and out-of-state shoppers would have to apply for a refund of taxes they pay at the register under a proposal approved this morning by the House Finance Committee.

On an 8-5 party-line vote, the panel voted to close four tax exemptions and dedicate the estimated $100 million it would raise next year to a cost-of-living raise for teachers and school supplies. 

Also among the tax preferences the committee voted to close is an exemption on fuel that oil refineries use to operate their facilities and a preferential rate on the business and occupation tax that drug resellers have.

“We have a tax code that is Swiss cheese,” said Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, who voted for the bill while acknowledging “this won't fix that bigger problem.” 

But Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said charging out-of-state shoppers Washington sales tax will hurt retailers in cities that border Oregon and Idaho. Even though they can apply for a refund, they'll see the tax at the check out register, they'll say “I'm not fillin' out no form”, leave their goods on the counter and never come back.

Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said voters rejected putting the sales tax on bottled water, and the other proposals have been studied and rejected. “This is a tired, worn-out set of proposals.”

The bill now moves to the House, where it is separate from majority Democrats supplemental budget but could be added later. The Senate budget has no similar set of tax changes. 

E-cigarette tax passes committee

OLYMPIA — Washington could levy a 75 percent tax on e-cigarettes under a proposal narrowly approved this morning by the House Finance Committee.

On a 7-6 vote, the committee approved a plan to tax the mixture of nicotine, flavoring and water vapor despite objections from some that the product offers a safer alternative to cigarettes and helps some people stop smoking. Supporters said the industry is targeting young people with an addictive product, and the liquid would still be cheaper than a comparable amount of cigarettes.

Under an amendment, the liquid nicotine solutions would be tax free if they were part of a tobacco cessation therapy prescribed by a doctor. The same amendment lowered the tax rate from 95 percent in the original bill. 

Senate panel OKs state pot biz mega-committee

OLYMPIA – Facing a wide range of challenges for allowing different forms of legal marijuana, the Senate budget panel voted to set up a 22-member committee board to try to work things out.

The proposed State Cannabis Industry Coordinating Committee would have four legislators, representatives from seven state agencies, one each from cities and counties, and nine members from businesses involved in recreational or medical marijuana or industrial hemp.

Legislators are wrestling with different ideas to merge the state’s separate recreational and marijuana systems as a way to avoid a federal crackdown on a substance that remains illegal under federal law. But some longtime supporters of medical marijuana object to being brought into a system with high taxes and strict limits on how much they can grow and possess.

Meanwhile, other groups are pushing the state to allow cultivation of industrial hemp, a variety of the same plant that contains low levels of the chemicals in recreational marijuana.

Senate Bill 6542 emerged in the last week as a possible compromise to ease the state through many unknown developments in the next two years. The committee would set up a comprehensive plan “for business opportunities within the cannabis industry” and could appoint a state coordinator for that industry.

The bill was sent to the committee that will decide whether it gets a vote by the full Senate in the nine days remaining in the session. 

Hill: Lobbyists get “a hall pass”

OLYMPIA — Faced with 16 bills up for a hearing and 27 that need a vote in executive committee, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andy Hill suggested lobbyist stay seated, and quiet.

“You can tell your employers I said you couldn't testify,” Hill said at the start of this afternoon's hearing. “I'm giving you a  hall pass.” 

Anyone who testifies was only getting a minute to talk, anyway, he said. And it was a fiscal hearing, not a policy hearing, so they need to stick to money issues, he said.

Anything that doesn't get out of committee today is pretty much done for the year.

The list of bills is inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 50: Ten days left

OLYMPIA — A day of floor votes expected today — and possibly the evening — with only the Senate Ways and Means Committee scheduled to meet this afternoon.

With only 10 days left in the session, that suggests the spillways will be opening for legislation that have passed one chamber and sit languishing in the other after getting out of the appropriate committees. The gate in the spillway is each chamber's Rules Committee.

Early reports this morning say the Senate Rules Committee will not allow a vote on HB 1413, the Washington Voting Rights Act, which is designed to reduce discrimination against minority groups by encouraging district elections instead of at-large elections. The bill passed the House in January on a partisan vote.

Stay tuned for updates.


Sunday Spin: Death penalty bill dies, but not quietly

OLYMPIA – Whether Washington state should execute some people for crimes like aggravated first-degree murder is a good debate to have.

Whether the governor or the Legislature has the constitutional authority to do certain things is a good debate to have.

Mix capital punishment with separation of powers and you get a not so-good-debate, but an excellent vehicle for diatribes. . .


Say what?

Kids may say the darnedest things, as Art Linkletter once insisted. But folks at legislative hearings can be a close second. This week’s best description came from an opponent of a plan to raise taxes on vaporized nicotine, or e-cigarettes. Vaping, as it is sometimes called, is a much better choice than smoking cigarettes, Anthony McMullen told the House Finance Committee.

“It’s like going from licking dirt to eating cake,” he said. 

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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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