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Bills that barely survive deadline for legislative action: Pocket gophers, cougar-hunting dogs

Wed., March 9, 2011

OLYMPIA – Some animals fared well this week as the Legislature rushed to pass bills before a critical deadline. Folks hoping to sip local liquor at the farmers market, buy pot at a state liquor store or require proof of citizenship before the state gives out a driver’s license didn’t do as well.

As is the case in most legislative sessions, many bills are all but dead after failing to pass at least one chamber before Monday’s cutoff. There are a few parliamentary maneuvers that can shock a bill back to life, but it’s not as easy as grabbing defibrillator paddles and yelling “clear” like a television doctor.

Among those that got a needed floor vote: Mazama pocket gophers, which could get an extended study to see if their numbers are dwindling; sharks, which could get some extra protection for their fins; and dogs, which could get to hunt cougars for another five years.

Bills on all three topics passed the Senate, and even provided a few minutes of levity as legislation churned through the process.

Senators wondered aloud about the possibly endangered gopher – does it have pockets or does it fit into pockets, is it moving into or out of Mazama, and what makes it different from a run-of-the-mill gopher? No answers to the first two sets of questions, and the answer to the last was self-censored by a senator who worried about schoolchildren in the gallery. (Mazama pocket guys, it turns out, have larger guy parts than their gopher cousins.)

Another bill would expand penalties for catching sharks, cutting off their dorsal fins and throwing the rest of the fish back in the water to die. It passed after an appeal for senators to recall the movie “Finding Nemo,” which had nicer sharks than any of the “Jaws” movies.

A bill to allow hunters in northern counties to use dogs to hunt cougars for another five years, despite a previous ban imposed by an initiative, also passed the Senate. It’s not clear if it picked up a few extra no votes when Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, couldn’t resist a University of Washington-Washington State University dig: “The last two games, it’s been the Cougars hunting the Dawgs.”

But dog owners won’t face penalties for keeping their pooches on chains or tethers for long periods of time. A bill to require adequate food, water and shelter for tethered dogs passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but never made it to a floor vote.

The blue heron isn’t going to replace the goldfinch as the state bird. The large water bird didn’t get a hearing in either the Senate or the House government committees, despite having a bill in each chamber. A bill to name Tenino quarry sandstone the state rock made it out of the Senate government committee but got no floor vote.

A proposal to let craft distilleries sell liquor at farmers markets didn’t get a floor vote. But market patrons looking for a little pick-me-up while sorting through the organic veggies and handmade crafts might soon be able to buy local wine or beer. A separate proposal on the sale of the less potent booze options passed the House and was sent to the Senate.

Marijuana likely won’t be legalized, taxed and sold in state liquor stores after a bill to do all three drew passionate testimony but didn’t get out of a House committee. But new rules for licensing and regulating medical marijuana were sent to the House after passing the Senate on a 29-20 bipartisan vote.

The cost to file a ballot initiative or referendum with the state will likely remain $5. One proposal to raise it to $50 never got out of a House committee; another to up the fee to $500 and impose new rules for people paid to gather signatures passed a Senate committee but didn’t get a floor vote.

A bill to impose criminal penalties for lying in voters’ pamphlets and another to require driver’s license applicants to show proof of citizenship or get a license not valid for ID purposes also did not get floor votes.

It may be possible to get a license plate that designates the car owner as a volunteer firefighter or someone to whom “Music Matters.” Both options survived the deadline, although a separate proposal for plates that say “In God We Trust” never got a committee hearing.

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