May 28, 2011 in City

More to session than budget

Lawmakers passed bills on everything from ballots to bullies
By The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – At times, it may have seemed that the only issues the Washington Legislature worked on during the past session were budgets and medical marijuana.

Those things did take considerable amounts of time during the last four months, but lawmakers passed 444 different pieces of legislation on a wide variety of topics, from improving elections and streamlining government to protecting livestock and cracking down on big-game poaching. There were issues big and small, and many weren’t controversial.

One will touch most state residents, but may go relatively unnoticed. A bill that moved easily through both houses allows ballots that are being mailed back to the county elections office to be placed first in secrecy envelopes that are not sealed. In other words, the envelopes no longer have to be licked and glued shut, and can be opened more easily, saving time – and money – in ballot processing.

It was a bipartisan success, passing 96-0 in the House and 41-7 in the Senate before gaining Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature.

The Legislature also dumped the presidential primary that would have been held next year, moved up the date for the state primary to the beginning of August, and made it easier for Washington residents overseas, particularly the troops, to vote.

Some bills will mean a lot to a few people, like Rep. Joe Schmick’s bill to allow some cities to count the number of inmates in a prison to determine whether they qualify for certain grants or decide how many council members they should have. The Colfax Republican’s bill affects Airway Heights and Connell, both homes to state corrections facilities.

Spokane Valley residents may notice fewer cattle trucks on East Trent Avenue thanks to Republican Rep. Matt Shea’s bill that makes them stop at an inspection station when they enter the state, which means they have to use Interstate 90.

Students who are bullied in school may get some relief from a special group being set up to study ways to prevent such harassment and teach students about youth suicide. The House bill had more than 44 co-sponsors, including Spokane Democrats Timm Ormsby and Andy Billig.

Also added to the state’s school system was an office of Native American education in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. School buses will have automated safety cameras.

Businesses trying to sell everything from office supplies to furniture to public universities and community colleges will have an easier time thanks to a new law sponsored by Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane. It says schools don’t have to buy a certain amount of their supplies from the state’s prison industries. Parker said it will save jobs in the private sector, and most other Spokane-area representatives were co-sponsors of the bill that passed 97-0 in the House and 44-5 in the Senate.

Farmers markets will be able to have booths for “tastings” by local microbreweries and wineries. Tasters should be careful about oversampling, however; drunk drivers will have their cars impounded for a minimum of 12 hours.

Illegally hunting bears, cougars or other game can be a felony for first-time offenders, under a bill sponsored by Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. Under the old law, such hunters were charged with a gross misdemeanor and faced smaller fines and shorter sentences.

Another proposed change in hunting laws – to extend cougar hunting with hounds in designated Eastern Washington counties – passed both chambers but didn’t get the differences reconciled before time ran out in the special session.

The definitions of animal cruelty were broadened and a person convicted of the offense can be prohibited from owning a similar animal for five or more years. Another new law outlaws cruelty to someone else’s livestock, which includes horses, cattle, mules and bison.

A major reorganization of some state agencies passed both chambers as the clock was ticking down on the final day. The plan sponsored by Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, rearranges the departments of General Administration, Printing, Information Services and the Office of Financial Management into two new agencies, a Department of Enterprise Services and Consolidated Technical Services.

It was helped by longstanding calls for streamlining areas like government printing and a scandal over the cost of a new state building that is much larger than needed, he said.

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