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Lawmakers bring home the bacon

OLYMPIA – As the dust settles from the 2005 legislative session, local lawmakers in both parties are taking home some battle scars – and a few quiet victories.

This year – like every year – the headlines were the big, contentious bills: a hike in the state gasoline tax, a $26 billion budget, more expensive cigarettes and liquor.

But largely behind the scenes, many local lawmakers went to bat for their home districts. They tried to win tax breaks in hopes of landing a factory. They staved off increases in power rates, made it easier for adopted children to inherit property and pushed for a $1 million fund to help repair fuel tanks and reopen some of the most remote gas stations in the state.

They won more money for Palouse schools and Spokane child care. They tried to curtail the problem of abandoned trailer homes, which attract illegal methamphetamine labs. They honored back-home sports teams, pushed to make homes cheaper for young families and tried to keep bill collectors from hounding National Guardsmen and reservists returning from active duty.

Here’s a look at how your local lawmakers did:

3rd District (central Spokane)

Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane: As Senate majority leader, Brown sponsored several major bills, ranging from a batch of malpractice insurance reforms (failed) to the bill authorizing special Gonzaga alumni license plates (passed).

She said her top priority, though, was getting through a budget that maintained the social safety net. Among the victories: Some school funding will now be based on the percentage of low-income students, something Brown had pushed for unsuccessfully for years. And child-care providers – particularly in low-paid Spokane – will get more money for taking care of state-subsidized kids.

Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane: Sponsored a dozen bills, mostly technical changes to do things like license soil scientists, allow for bulk sale of malt liquor, and require continuing training for electricians. He also passed a bill that sets up a new state agency to oversee civil legal assistance, as well as HB 1264, which creates an optional “Share the Road” license plate, costing $40 more. The money will promote bicycle safety.

Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane: Ormsby’s biggest victory was House Bill 2163, which adds a $10 surcharge to real estate documents filed with a county auditor. The bill, he said, steers $18 million to $23 million more per year into programs for the homeless. In Spokane, that will be $1.5 to $1.8 million more per year.

For next year, Ormsby has proposed a bill requiring lower phosphorus in dishwasher detergent. It would help the Spokane River’s phosphate problems, he said, and mirrors a similar law passed years ago for laundry detergent.

4th District (Spokane Valley)

Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley: McCaslin got several bills through, including SB 5966, which bars parking lots and others from immobilizing a vehicle by attaching a locking wheel “boot.” He also sponsored a sentencing-reform bill that gives judges more flexibility in crimes where a weapon was present but wasn’t used. That bill died in the House.

Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane: Crouse only sponsored one bill – HB 1318, a public-employee pension bill – and it died.

“People think you should come over here and run bills. But I’m over here to solve problems,” Crouse said.

His biggest successes this year, he said, were quietly helping kill off proposals like requiring power companies to diversify their energy sources to include environmentally friendlier sources. That would have raised the cost of power, he said.

“When you’re in the minority (party), the biggest thing you can do is try to stop the bad stuff,” he said.

Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards: One of the most vocal conservatives in the House, Schindler spent much of the session unsuccessfully arguing on the House floor against Democratic bills. Taxes are already too high, she said. Election reforms didn’t go far enough. None of her bills – and few of her more than two dozen amendments – survived. She sponsored HB 2231, which would have required parental consent for abortions and a 24-hour waiting period, among other abortion limitations. HB 2139 would have required parental consent for sex education. HB 1959 would have reduced impact fees for first-time home buyers. In Olympia and Seattle, such fees can account for $17,000 to $25,000 of the price of a house, she said.

6th District (Spokane)

Sen. Brad Benson, R-Spokane: Benson sponsored a bill to shield National Guardsmen and reservists from creditors for 180 days after they return from active military service. (A similar federal law covers only active-duty service members.) A House version of the bill passed. He also sponsored a bill that bans interfering with search and rescue dogs while they’re working. It passed.

Rep. John Serben, R-Spokane: Serben, a freshman, sponsored HB 2173, the successful House version of Benson’s bill temporarily shielding Guardsmen and reservists from creditors. He also got through a bill to streamline the probate process, making it easier for adopted children to inherit money. He also sponsored a couple of tax-break bills, which failed.

Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane: Ahern, who touts Spokane in nearly every floor speech, enjoyed some early success this year when the House passed his bill to remove the statute of limitations for sex offenses against a child. But then it died in a Senate committee. He sponsored a bill declaring that no health worker would be held liable for refusing to participate in an abortion, another to penalize anyone who shows sexual images to a child, and another increasing penalties for drunken driving. All died.

7th District (northeast Washington)

Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls: Morton sponsored 19 bills, three of which passed. Among the victories: SB 5111, which includes tax breaks for solar power manufacturers, and SB 5831, which revises well standards. The other winner: SR 8662, a resolution honoring the Cusick Lady Panthers team.

Rep. Bob Sump, R-Republic: Sump introduced only one bill this year, a resolution honoring the Curlew Job Corps. Democrats killed it in committee. He also tried unsuccessfully to amend a Senate election bill to require that people registering to vote show proof of their identity.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda: For a freshman, Kretz had a busy year. He got a bill passed to require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to post on the Internet details of all reported contact between cougars and humans, pets or livestock. He also got through a bill setting aside $1 million for grants to help remote gas stations fix tank problems and start selling fuel again.

“When DOE (the Department of Ecology) raised standards, we lost a lot of stations out in the rural areas,” he said. “Now, by the time you get home, you’re a third of a tank down.”

9th District (southeast Washington)

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville: Another outspoken conservative, Schoesler had a tough year in Olympia. He proposed 11 bills, including one to make it easier to shift agricultural water rights, to require the state to check if a teacher’s credentials come from an unaccredited “diploma mill.” Only a couple of things passed, including a resolution honoring the Lind-Ritzville Broncos and longtime coach Mike Lynch.

Rep. Don Cox, R-Colfax: One of the most widely respected local lawmakers, soft-spoken Cox introduced only one bill – which failed – and a handful of amendments. But Cox also convinced Democratic budget writers to put more money into local schools.

Rep. David Buri, R-Colfax: Up-and-comer Buri, a former legislative aide, had a good freshman year. He pushed through a bill to allow out-of-state kids of local parents to get a low-cost resident hunting or fishing license. Another Buri bill will ensure that public libraries be notified of sex offenders and kidnappers. And lawmakers passed Buri’s bill requiring old mobile homes to be certified before they’re moved, not after. Too many were failing inspection and being abandoned, he said.