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Legislators jump lawmaking gun

Sun., Jan. 4, 2009

More than 100 bills have been ‘pre-filed’ ahead of session

OLYMPIA – If you just have to have that cigarette lighter shaped like a rubber duck, grenade or a certain part of human anatomy, you’d better buy it soon.

Washington’s legislative session won’t begin until Jan. 12, but lawmakers have already filed a long list of proposed changes in state law.

Among them: Banning novelty lighters, limiting property taxes, making drivers prove they’re not illegal immigrants, and building a fifth state war memorial to honor casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.

With the state facing a nearly $6 billion budget shortfall, leaders have urged restraint in the number of bills lawmakers try to pass this year.

The message in a nutshell: “If it costs money, be very careful,” said Melinda McCrady, a spokeswoman for House Democrats. “There have been warnings that new expenditures are going to be pretty hard to come by this year.”

Still, lawmakers have “pre-filed” more than 100 bills so far, with hundreds more on the way.

Some proposals so far:

•Novelty lighters: Prompted by calls from fire officials across the country, lawmakers in many states want to ban cigarette lighters that don’t look like cigarette lighters. Manufacturers churn out lighters that look like bullets, poker chips, cows, Santa, toilets and, in at least two variations, a fist-shaped lighter with an upraised middle finger. (One of those models speaks every time you spark it up, and you can guess what it says.)

A dozen Washington lawmakers want to ban such lighters, citing cases of children being burned or starting fires playing with lighters that look like toys. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission says that about a billion cigarette lighters are sold each year in the United States. Nearly half are imported from China.

•Afghanistan/Iraq war memorial: Eighteen state representatives are calling for the construction of a new memorial on the Capitol grounds, honoring those killed or missing in action.

•Breathalyzers: Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, wants to give a small tax break to bars that install breath analyzer machines for patrons.

•Sen Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, wants to do away with a 1939 tax break for fuel companies intended to compensate them for the evaporation of gasoline during shipping and tank-filling.

•Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, wants to do away with a state law generally requiring a four-week warning to hospitals about to undergo a state survey or audit.

•Continuing a years-long effort, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and three other lawmakers have submitted a nearly 400-page bill intended to stamp out gender bias in state law. In hundreds of places throughout the state’s law books, the bill would rewrite references such as “he” to “he or she.” “Workman” would become “worker,” “patrolman” would become “patrol officer” and “white men” would become “Europeans.”

•Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, wants to require applicants for a state driver’s license or identification card to prove that they’re U.S. citizens or otherwise living here legally.

•Property taxes: There are several competing proposals for reducing the bite of property taxes. One would require annual assessments so homeowners aren’t stunned by massive increases every few years. Others would gradually eliminate the state’s share of the property tax or limit increases in assessed value.

•Ten state representatives are backing a “homeowner’s bill of rights,” strengthening the warranty rights of buyers. Previous attempts have met strong resistance from home builders.

•Underage gambling: State law has long barred people younger than 18 from gambling, but the law lacks teeth. State Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane, wants to impose fines and community service for youths who break the law, and have any winnings forfeited to problem-gambling programs.

•Lead weights: Rep. Campbell wants to phase out the use of lead tire weights in favor of substitutes that are less hazardous to the environment.

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or by e-mail at

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