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Opinion

Fri., May 5, 2017

Wells, internet privacy are unfinished business

One benefit of an extra legislative session (or two?) is the opportunity to address unfinished business.

Today we spotlight two bills that have been revived in Olympia – one that requires action from the House and one that needs the Senate’s attention.

The House has yet to act on a Senate bill that would give rural landowners relief from a state Supreme Court decision on domestic water wells. The October ruling said counties must conduct their own analyses of water availability before signing off on building permits.

Typically, counties would rely on assessments by the Department of Ecology, which studies water availability in devising rules to protect rivers and streams. Most counties, especially small ones, don’t have the resources to conduct this costly, complex work. So after the high court’s ruling, some counties placed moratoriums on permits, and the burden to establish water availability shifted to landowners.

The Spokane County Commission adopted a water ordinance that says a new well cannot be drilled within 500 feet of an existing one, but that may not hold up in court. If landowners don’t get legislative relief, their property values will plummet and property tax collections will decline.

Under the Senate bill, counties could rely on the DOE’s analyses in allowing small permit-exempt wells, which constitute about 1 percent of all groundwater use. The DOE must consider fish and their habitat, so environmental concerns would not be ignored.

But the regular session ended before the House acted on its own measures. It should take up the Senate bill and either pass it or find other reasonable solutions.

Meanwhile, the Senate has yet to act on an internet privacy bill that passed the House.

This issue was forced on the Legislature when Congress voted to repeal a pending Federal Communication Commission rule that would have prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from sharing or selling their customers’ private information. President Donald Trump signed the repeal.

Critics of the FCC rule say privacy is already compromised when people use Google or Facebook, but those are optional services with free alternatives. Internet service has become a practical necessity. In some areas, there is only one ISP to choose from. Consumers can’t jump to another provider if they object to a particular policy.

The Washington state Constitution includes a right to privacy, so a bill requiring customers to consent to having their private internet data sold or shared is in line with that. The House bill, which passed with a strong bipartisan majority, requires ISP to get their customers’ consent.

Internet service providers told legislators they would rather have one law across the land, but they’ll have to lobby Congress and persuade the president to get it. If they can secure a national standard by Dec. 21, 2018, the state law would be automatically rescinded.

After the House bill passed, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, the prime sponsor of the Senate’s internet privacy bill, said his chamber must act. Then time ran out on the regular session.

There’s plenty of time now.



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