March 31, 2012 in City

Charities can give eyeglasses again

Parks pass use eased; initiative ads targeted; other bills become law
By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – Charities like the Union Gospel Mission can soon resume distributing used eyeglasses to people who can’t afford to buy them, under a bill signed into law Friday.

The legislation, which protects charities like the mission and Lions Club International from lawsuits for distributing glasses and hearing aids, was one of more than 60 bills signed Friday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Also signed were bills that allow residents to use the Discover Pass for state parks and other state lands on two vehicles, require more information on some political ads, offer more protection to victims of domestic violence, crack down on Medicaid fraud and renew a tax incentive for making movies in Washington.

Charities in Washington suspended their used eyeglass distribution programs last year after a ruling by the state Board of Optometry said federal law requires a prescription for those glasses. The state’s Good Samaritan Law, which protects people from being sued for rendering emergency aid, didn’t protect the programs, either.

State Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and state Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, each proposed legislation to put the programs back on track. Takko’s bill also covered hearing aids, and became the bill approved by both chambers.

“By protecting these organizations against civil lawsuits, legislators have freed those organizations to continue their support for the state’s most needy citizens,” Padden said in a joint statement he and Takko released after Gregoire signed the bill, which takes effect June 7.

The Discover Pass was established last year by the Legislature to direct money to the state parks and other natural resource agencies after their General Fund appropriations were slashed. It allows vehicles access to parks, state rangelands and other protected areas for a year for $30.

Purchasers soon complained, however, that the pass was limited to a single vehicle, which has its license plate number written on the pass. Legislators considered several ways to expand the program, deciding to alter the pass to allow two license plate numbers.

The change takes effect immediately, and holders of existing passes can write a second plate number on their pass.

Among other bills signed were:

• A requirement that ads for or against ballot initiatives carry the names of the top five donors to the sponsoring campaign organization. State Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, the prime sponsor, said it will force big donors to stand behind their donations.

• Rules that make courts safeguard the confidential information of victims of domestic violence – including a penalty of up to one year in jail for a “malicious release” of information about the location of a domestic violence program, such as a women’s shelter – and increase penalties for violating no-contact orders.

• A new “false claims” act to fight Medicaid fraud, which will allow Washington access to cases of multistate fraud around the country. That could boost the state’s recovery of money lost to Medicaid fraud; Washington currently has one of the lowest recovery rates in the nation.

• A renewed tax incentive for film companies to shoot movies or television productions in Washington. The incentive, originally drafted by state Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, expired in the closing hours of last year’s session, but was revived this year. It was signed Thursday evening.


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