February 5, 2009 in Washington Voices

Reforms may be going to the dogs

Richard Roesler
 

OLYMPIA – Declaring that dogs “are neither a commercial crop nor commodity,” several state lawmakers say it’s time to clamp down on inhumane practices at puppy mills.

“Without proper oversight, puppy mills can easily fall below even the most basic standards of humane housing and husbandry,” said Senate Bill 5651, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.

No state agency regulates such operations, Kohl-Welles said, and abuses can lead to unnecessary suffering and problems with abandoned or neglected dogs. Officials in Skagit and Snohomish counties recently seized more than 600 dogs from two suspected puppy mills there.

Kohl-Welles’ bill would ban people from having more than 25 dogs, unless the animals have been neutered or spayed or are under the age of four months.

For anyone with 11 or more such dogs, the bill spells out how much space the dogs should get, how much exercise and how often. It requires adequate ventilation, a smoke alarm and temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees.

The bill would also require annual veterinary exams and limits female dogs to one litter a year. There are exemptions for animal shelters, researchers and other facilities.

There’s a new political pinata in town

For the past two years, homebuilders have gone toe-to-toe with crusading state lawmakers who were trying to make it easier for homeowners to sue over shoddy construction.

Sen. Brian Weinstein lambasted building officials in hearings. He cut them off when they tried to testify. He blasted new home warranties as virtually worthless.

The Building Industry Association of Washington blasted Weinstein back, calling him a “builder-hating trial attorney.” They published a photo of Weinstein’s home in their newsletter. And they got his proposal killed. Repeatedly.

Weinstein’s gone, leaving the legislature to go back to a law firm specializing in asbestos litigation. But the builders now have a new pinata: Rep. Brendan Williams.

Williams, an Olympia Democrat who worked with Weinstein on the previous bills, is backing similar House Bill 1045, which would strengthen warranties on new homes. The homebuilders say it’s unreasonable, would sharply drive up costs and would devastate an already-reeling industry.

This time, however, the builders are a more fractured presence in Olympia. A longtime ally, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, is reportedly open to some of the changes.

The schism “has become the most serious issue facing BIAW,” the group’s new president, Kyle LaPierre, said in a recent letter to members. “A cancer is eating this association, and soon this cancer will cripple us.”

Critics, he said, “argue BIAW is too aggressive, too strident. We are too politically incorrect, and we don’t work hard enough to collect friends at the Capitol. They say we need to take the ‘fight’ out of BIAW’s language. To that, I say NO. When you take the fight out of BIAW, you’re done. You become weak, ineffective and marginalized, like every other business organization in this state has become.”

“Our enemies know BIAW is wounded by this division, and like sharks smelling blood, they are circling,” he wrote.

Stay tuned.

A tax on plastic?

A senator from a struggling timber district has come up with a new idea: a tax on plastic.

The money would go into a special “climate protection forestry account,” which would be used to pay for incentives to the forestry industry. The goal: to reduce carbon, presumably by growing trees. The money could pay for tree-thinning, for example, or fertilization.

Senate Bill 5747 comes from Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, a self-employed forester.

Plastic- and plastic-container makers in Washington would have to pay a tax equal to about one-fifth of 1 percent on the value of the products they churn out.

Lawmakers try to rewrite state’s controversial ‘pay up or you can’t vote’ law

Two years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that even after felons are released from prison, the state can bar them from voting until they pay off all their court-ordered fines and fees.

For poor people with big bills and few options for employment, this can effectively mean a lifetime loss of the right to vote.

State Rep. Jeannie Darneille wants to change that. Getting out of prison and off probation, she said, should be enough to restore a person’s right to vote.

“It’s not real freedom if you’re excluded from any say in decisions that govern your life,” she said recently. “Basing anyone’s voting right on how quickly they can pay a financial debt is unfair and un-American.”

Darneille, a Tacoma Democrat, has pushed similar bills for the past eight years. But her colleagues balked at earlier plans that would have allowed voting by people still on probation. This time, the odds look better. Among House Bill 1517’s supporters: Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican.

In July 2007, the high court upheld the law banning voting until felons have completed all the terms of their sentences, including payments.

“Convicted felons … no longer possess that fundamental right as a direct result of their decisions to commit a felony,” wrote Justice Mary Fairhurst.

In a dissent, Justice Tom Chambers blasted the law, saying it restricts voting “to those rich enough to buy it.” Also dissenting: longtime chief justice Gerry Alexander, who said it’s wrong to require people who’ve served their time to “pay to play.”

The plaintiffs in the case included a Stevens County woman named Beverly DuBois. DuBois has struggled for years to pay off debts stemming from a 2002 conviction for growing marijuana. With little income, DuBois had been making small payments for years, only to watch as state interest rates made the debt ever larger.

Flags at half-staff for fallen local soldier

Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered flags across Washington flown at half-staff Tuesday, in honor of Chief Warrant Officer Benjamin H. Todd, a soldier and Colville resident who died recently in a helicopter crash in Iraq.

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or by e-mail at richr@spokesman.com.

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