March 16, 2008 in City

Results of legislators’ labors

Richard Roesler Staff writer
 

On the Web

For more political news, go to Richard Roesler’s blog at www.eyeonolympia.com.

OLYMPIA – After a three-month flurry of activity, the state Capitol seems like a ghost town.

Gone are the lobbyists who crowded around the House and Senate doors, frantically scribbling notes to lawmakers. Gone are the rallies on abortion, school libraries, toxic toys. Gone is the small plane circling the dome and trailing a huge “Save Our Sonics” banner.

What remain, however, are the laws and programs that legislators approved. Some 331 bills are on their way to Gov. Chris Gregoire to be signed into law.

Among the issues addressed by bills passed this year:

•Domestic partnerships: One of the first bills signed by Gregoire, House Bill 3104 expands the rights and responsibilities of same-sex couples who register as domestic partners. Heterosexual couples in which one partner is at least 62 can also register. The bill addresses community property, estate planning, taxes, guardianship and court processes, including dissolution of the partnerships. In less than a year, more than 3,000 couples have signed up as partners.

•Local food for schools: An unusual alliance between environmentalists and farmers, Senate Bill 6483 makes it easier for schools to buy fresh food from local growers. The purpose is twofold: preserving farms and combating childhood obesity.

•Three strikes, no matter where: SB 6184 targets a loophole in the state’s three-strikes law that mandates life without parole for persistent violent felons. It states that a sexually motivated felony that leads to a sentence of a decade or more counts as a strike, even if it occurs in another state. The bill was prompted by the slaying of a girl by a man who got out of a “three-strikes” life sentence because one conviction was out of state.

“This should never have happened,” said state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who fought for three years to pass the bill.

•No power, no gas: In 2006, tens of thousands of Puget Sound area residents were left without power, some for a week. But even the ones who owned generators quickly discovered that gas stations couldn’t dispense fuel without power.

HB 2053 gives gas stations a tax credit of up to $25,000 for installing backup generators.

•DUI breath-locks for cars: HB 3254 would allow a special driver’s license for convicted drunken drivers who have alcohol-detecting devices installed in their vehicles.

Suspending a license doesn’t work, said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, the proposal’s prime sponsor.

“It just wasn’t sensible to expect people willing to drive drunk and break the law to then respect the courts telling them they can’t drive for a year,” he said.

A similar law in New Mexico reduced drunken-driving deaths by 30 percent, he said.

•Foreclosures: HB 2791 is aimed at “distressed property consultants” who lawmakers say often offer to help bail a homeowner out of foreclosure, only to do little except get the house signed over to them, keep the equity and evict the owner.

There are some legitimate organizations that help desperate homeowners, said sponsor Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor.

The bill is designed to target scam artists who prey on desperate, fearful homeowners, she said.

•DNA database: HB 2713 expands the list of people who must provide DNA samples for state and national databases.

That requirement now applies to, among others, those who commit fourth-degree assault with a sexual motivation or second-degree sexual misconduct with a minor or who patronize a prostitute.

•Broadband: SB 6438 got watered down a lot, but it could offer hope to rural areas struggling to get high-speed Internet access.

It requires state officials – by the end of the year – to come up with a plan to boost broadband coverage statewide. Broadband, proponents say, brings job opportunities and education.

•Human remains: HB 2624, prompted by worries about tribal and pioneer graveyards being paved over, creates a legal obligation for people to call 911 if they discover bones.

If it’s a construction site, work must stop until police arrive. If it doesn’t turn out to be a crime scene, state archaeologists and tribes would be contacted. Under current law, desecration of human remains is a felony, but there’s no obligation to contact authorities.

The bill also requires a state database of all known cemeteries and burial sites.

“This is about making sure we respect the people who came before us,” said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.

“I know where there are housing developments now where a whole family buried their children.”

•Whistle-blowers: In a case prompted by allegations from a former Department of Ecology scientist in Spokane, SB 6776 would broaden whistle-blower protections to protect scientists who believe their findings are wrongly suppressed.•Gangs: HB 2712 sets up a statewide gang member database, toughens sentences for adults who recruit juveniles into gangs, creates a temporary witness relocation program and provides grants to local police. But the bill was stripped of a provision that would have allowed cities to bar gang members from associating within designated “safe zones.”

•Cheaper fishing for troops: SB 6465 lets active-duty military members buy temporary fishing licenses at the resident rate, which cuts the price in half.

•Running from police: HB 1030 mandates tougher sentences for drivers fleeing from police.


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