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I-960 hearing: Pretty short notice

OLYMPIA — A critic of a proposal to suspend some aspects of Initiative 960 complained at the speed at which the bill got a hearing.

Jim Copeland of Spanaway, who said he lost his business, noted the bill was announced at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and in a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

“Pretty short notice, huh?” Copeland said.

Williams: Exhaust all options first

OLYMPIA — Bob Williams of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, urged legislators not to “gut” Initative 960.

The Legislature couldn’t balance its budget when it was taking in record amounts of revenue, he said. “Your total spending is up $13 billion.”

Every budget that Gov. Gregoire has submitted spent more than the revenue forecast. Then the Legislature used “accounting gimmicks” to spend more, Willams, the head of the conservative fiscal think tank said.

Moody’s Rating agency is already warning about the state’s tendency to use one-time spending sources, he said.

“If you raise taxes in the recession….you will find that you get less revenue and more unemployment,” Willams said. “Use the (priorities of government) process to cut spending.”

I-960 hearing: Eyman argues against changes

OLYMPIA — Tim Eyman, the prime sponsor of Initiative 960, warned “citizens are watching arrogant Democrats who think the law doesn’t apply to them.”

This bill means you are above the Constitution. Voters have made clear that if state government is going to raise taxes, it must be a two-thirds vote or a vote of the people. You’re violating the law, you’re sidestepping the constitution … and believe the voters don’t have a right to know what you’re doing.”

The system is working, he said: “If you can’t get two-thirds of your colleagues to sign on to the bill, put it before the voters. You haven’t even done that.”

“Drop this stuff about the transparency provisions. The two-thirds is bad enough.”

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, told Eyman the Legislature has to balance many things, including the need for revenue as well as the need.for spending.

“You’ve talked about one side, as you usually do. I’d like you to speak about the other side.”

Voters passed an initiative requiring performance audits, Eyman said.

“You’re not answering my question,” Kline said.

I-960 hearing: Roach “look at the vote” in 2007

OLYMPIA — Sen. Pam Roach warns that repealing I-960 will result in a higher percentage of voters supporting a new initiative to reinstate the two-thirds majority needed to raise taxes.

I-960 failed in the city of Seattle, Roach said, but it passed with big margins in other parts of the state.

I-960 hearing: Benton “strongly opposed

OLYMPIA — “What does the phrase will of the people mean to you,” Sen. Don Benton asked the Ways and Means Committee.

Of course Initiative 960 makes raising taxes more difficult, Benton said. But that’s what the people wanted. It also makes government more transparent.

“Too many of our citizens find the legislative process a mystery,” Benton said. “Too often legislators hear more from lobbyists than their constituents.”

THe voters did support the initiative, he said. “Why does public knowledge frighten so many here?”

Don’t throw out the rules for giving more information on the cost of legislation to the public.

WA Lege Day 25: Blogging Sen. Ways & Means hearing on I-960

OLYMPIA — The Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing on proposed changes to Initiative 960, the law that requires a two-thirds majority to pass a tax increase, is just starting.

Spin Control will attempt to blog the highlights. Thus far, it has mainly been milling about, with committee staffer Diane Criswell giving the standard report of bill highlights on SB 6843.

In the audience is initiative maestro Tim Eyman, Evergreen Freedom Foundation head Bob Williams.

Sen. Don Benton and Sen Pam Roach have been called for testimony.

WA Lege Day 25: A way around I-960?

OLYMPIA — The first step in Senate Democrats’ efforts to put together a budget that could include tax increases may take place this afternoon, when a bill to suspend Initiative 960 through June 2011 is scheduled for a committee hearing.

The bill, SB 6834, is described as “Preserving essential public services by temporarily suspending the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases and permanently modifying provisions of Initiative Measure No. 960 for improved efficiency and consistency with state budgeting.” For more information on the bill, read this morning’s story by clicking here.

The official hearings schedule still includes the caveat that it will be among bills up for a hearing if it is referred to committee, but that schedule hasn’t been updated since Wednesday afternoon, before Democrats announced they had introduced the bill.

Elsewhere around the Capitol, it is Energy Independence Lobby Day, Asian Pacific American Legislative Day. Miss Tri-Cities is making the rounds, and there’s a sing-along concert in the Rotunda at 3:30 p.m. (Where’s Mitch Miller when you need him?)

For a full list of the days committee hearings, click here and go inside the blog.

Senate Democrats want to suspend 2/3rds votes on taxes

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats formally proposed this afternoon a plan to suspend the super majority required to raise taxes through the middle of 2011 and make other permanent changes to the tax-limiting initiative voters approved two years ago

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, called Initiative 960 a “straightjacket on our state in a time of economic crisis” and a requirement that gives a minority the ability to obstruct the Legislature.

Senate Bill 6843 would suspend through June 2011 the requirement that all tax increases must pass with a two-thirds majority, and make a simple majority the permanent rule for any tax increase needed to carry out a policy approved by voters in an initiative that didn’t come with its own source of taxes.

The most obvious examples of the latter would be money needed for smaller classroom sizes and for pay raises for teachers, which were both passed in voter initiatives in 2000 but have been suspended in tight state budgets.

It also would allow the Legislature to “clarify legislative intent” on tax policy if the state Supreme Court were to interpret the law as not allowing a particular tax or tax exemption. That’s significant in light of a court decision last fall that ruled against a tax for Dot Foods, an out of state supplier. That ruling is estimated to drop state tax revenues by  $137 million per year.

Sen. Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said the proposal was a prelude to raising taxes to bail out poor state budget decisions of the past. “It creates a climate of fear and apprehension that will only quash job creation and put more people out of work.”

Democrats have talked of their intentions to suspend the super majority since before the session began and Republicans have talked just as long that such a move would flaunt the will of the people.

Republicans have introduced a bill to “reaffirm” the two-thirds majority and initiative sponsor Tim Eyman has already begun gathering signatures on a ballot measure asking voters to reinstate the super majority in November. He and other co-sponsors filed the initiative on the first day of the legislative session.

The bill is one of two proposals being discussed by Democrats looking for a way around the two-thirds majority requirement imposed in I-960. The other would be to repeal it entirely, Brown said.

The bill has a title that some might regard as “high-faluting.” It is official called “Preserving essential public services by temporarily suspending the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases and permanently modifying provisions of Initiative Measure No. 960 for improved efficiency and consistency with state budgeting.”

The bill will get a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee Thursday afternoon, and likely  come to the Senate floor sometime next week, Brown said.

WA Lege Day 24 update2: Law enforcement bills sail through House

OLYMPIA — Both houses of the Legislature passed resolutions honoring law enforcement officers killed in West Side incidents late last year. The House of Representatives then gave overwhelming support to bills that were spawned by those slayings.

By a vote of 96-0, the House approved changes in the state’s bail laws that require bail be set after an individual reports on a suspect rather than a simple schedule used by a judge that sets bail.

By the same margin the House approved tougher penalties for relatives who help a fugitive, making the lighter sentences currently available to relatives only apply to those under 18.

They also approved a bill directed at the Phillip Paul escape during an Eastern State Hospital field trip to the county fair last fall. In the future, when a mental health facility patient escapes who is either criminally insane or being treated after found incompetent to stand trial for a crime, state and local law enforcement officials must be notified, as well as other government agencies, relatives, the victim of the crime or the victim’s next of kin, and any witnesses who testified against the patient in court. That bill also passed 96-0.

The House put off a vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to hold some suspects without bail even if they weren’t facing a capital crime. The bill was requested by the governor and supported by a bipartisan coalition. House Republicans contend the bill was delayed to let Democrats who plan to vote no to do so when relatives of the slain officers were not in the gallery.

Kastama responds to Sunday column: The road to recovery will be long

OLYMPIA — Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, took exception to a portion of Sunday’s column regarding the pace of legislative action on addressing the state’s budget crisis. He offered an op-ed column, which didn’t fit the editorial page’s guidelines, and will be trimmed down to a letter.

But since this started in Spin Control, we’re  happy to run the op-ed column in full, without comment. It starts here, and jumps inside the blog:

Economic recovery needs more than a quick fix

 By Sen. Jim Kastama

 A recent column by Jim Camden in the Spokesman-Review questioned the speed and scope of the Legislature’s efforts to create jobs. In particular, the piece quoted me as saying, “The recovery’s going to come one job at a time,” and characterized that viewpoint as inadequate because we lost so many jobs so quickly.

I’d like your readers to know why that perception misses the mark.

  We’re not going to bounce back from this recession by putting people back to work in the same jobs and fields from which they were laid off. Many of those jobs are gone forever, in industries that are or will soon be gone as well. Any hopes of a quick turnaround, however well-intended, are naïve.

  The media’s penchant for quick answers and fast results only exacerbates matters by pressuring lawmakers to rush to short-term solutions that sound good but accomplish little — and obscure the actual nature of the challenge before us.

  Our economic landscape is changing on a magnitude comparable to our country’s transformation from an agrarian economy to an industrial society at the turn of the 19th Century…

WA Lege Day 24: Honoring law enforcement officers

OLYMPIA — The Senate is voting this morning on a resolution to honor the law enforcement officers killed last year in the Puget Sound area. Look for it to pass unanimously as soon as speeches are done.

Later in the morning they’ll be voting on other bills.

Meanwhile, it is Career College Education Day and Burke Museum Day. Boy Scouts are in the Capitol Rotunda this morning to give their annual report

And the afternoon hearing schedule is full. It can be found inside the blog by clicking here.

Should Legislature step into Spokane hospital fight?

OLYMPIA – The dispute between Spokane’s two biggest hospitals spilled over into the legislative session Tuesday as a Senate panel considered changing a law that would determine how a judge could settle any impasse.

The dispute involves Inland Northwest Health Services, a non-profit jointly operated by the companies that own Sacred Heart and Deaconess medical centers. INHS operates an electronic medical records system, an air ambulance service and other systems shared by the two hospitals as well as other hospitals, clinics and doctors in Spokane and around the region.

Each has a vote on the INHS board, but can’t agree, which presents the region with a dilemma, State Rep. John Driscoll, D-Spokane. said. Under state law, if a non-profit board is deadlocked and takes the dispute to Superior Court, a judge has few options other than dissolving the corporation.

To read the rest of the story, go inside the blog

Maybe they should try Wack-A-Mole?

OLYMPIA – A state agency has used illegal traps to kill moles around the Capitol and the governor’s mansion for about a decade, ever since voters banned them with an initiative.

That surprised another state agency, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which enforces the law against “body-gripping” traps. On Tuesday, it issued a warning to the General Administration Department, the same thing it would do to a homeowner found using the traps.

General Administration has used the spring-loaded steel traps for years in the late winter to kill moles, which do significant damage on the Capitol grounds, Steve Valandra, a department spokesman said: “We want to get to the moles before they start breeding.”

The department thought the traps had been exempted from the law, Valandra said. It has seven of the traps, and typically kills a couple dozen moles as the traps are moved around the grounds, based on some sign of the critters.

That stopped Tuesday, after Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, got a call from a constituent who spotted a trap near a walking trail by the old state Conservatory. He checked out the traps on Monday, and was convinced they were banned by the 2000 initiative, which isn’t popular in his northeastern Washington district.
“A private citizen would be in trouble for using these traps,” Kretz said, adding there was a safety concern. “I was worried about a kid coming along and putting their hand in there.”

To read the rest of the story, Click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 23: Cutoff

OLYMPIA — Today is the day that policy bills in the House have to get out of their committees, or else.

Or else what? Well, in most cases, if they involve policy rather than money, they’re dead. Thanks to amendments, complicated rules, and some members’s abilities to work them, there is a saying that nothing is, in the words of the Coroner of the Munchkins “really most sincerely dead” until the legislators go home. But in for most House policy bills, they bite the dust, take a dirt nap, end up on the ash heap of history…at least until next session.

In the mean time, it is Arts Day in the Capitol, as well as a day when members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the Refugee Women’s Alliance will be lobbying legislators.

Hearing schedule is inside the blog. Click here to read it. 

Gregoire on Medicaid money: Book it

An update on story posted earlier

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire said she’s confident the federal government will come up with some $435 million in money for Medicaid reimbursements over the next 18 months, easing somewhat the cuts the state would have to make on health care spending to fill a projected hole in its budget
At a morning press conference to announce the number of jobs generated by federal stimulus money, Gregoire said she now expects both houses of Congress will extend the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages – commonly called FMAP – in a way that sends higher reimbursement for Medicaid patients to Washington. The state has traditionally has lower reimbursement rates than many other places.
Higher FMAP funding would reduce the amount of revenue the state would have to produce — through taxes or fees or federal grants — to “buy back” some state programs she proposed cutting in her December budget.
The FMAP proposal was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, and has yet to pass the Senate, but is in President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget proposal.
“I’m going to book it,” Gregoire said, noting that other states including California have already factored into their budgets.
To read more, Click Here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 22: Gregoire confident Medicaid money coming

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire said she’s confident the federal government will come up with some $435 million in money for Medicaid reimbursements over the next 18 months, easing somewhat the cuts the state would have to make on health care spending.

At a morning press conference to announce the number of jobs generated by federal stimulus money, Gregoire said she now expects both houses of Congress will extend a Medicaid matching program known as FMAP in the 2011 fiscal year. That would reduce the amount of revenue the state would have to produce — through taxes or fees or federal grants — to “buy back” some programs from proposed cuts in her December budget.

The proposal has yet to pass the Senate, but is in President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget proposal. “I’m going to book it,” Gregoire said.

But it would still leave about $345 million out of the amount she said the state needed to save essential programs. Some of those funds might also be in a federal jobs bill, but that is stalled in the Senate. She declined to discuss tax options for the remainder, saying the totals could change later this month when the revenue forecast is released.

More on the press conference later.

In the Legislature, the clock is ticking and tomorrow is the first cutoff when “policy” bills — ones that change something the state does or doesn’t do, not legislation that spends money — must get out of their House committees.

The state Public Ports Association will be celebrating port districts, the State Elks will be in the Rotunda and Planned Parenthood of Washington will be lobbying for reproductive rights.

And there’s a full schedule of hearings, which can be seen by clicking here and going inside the blog.

Taking the temperature

“They’re working at a fever pitch,” — Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, describing legislative activity last Monday.
OLYMPIA – When one is the new guy in town, it often behooves one to withhold judgment on things that seem different than the place where one used to be.
Thus, when the governor made the above observation about the Legislature early last week, it seemed appropriate to stifle a quizzical look, despite having just come from the House chamber where the honorables were hard at work extolling the virtues of Civics for a resolution on the values of teaching it.
The governor was explaining why she wouldn’t release a tax proposal she’s preparing if federal money for things like health care and schools doesn’t materialize. To do so would break an agreement with Democratic legislative leaders to wait until state revenue forecasts come out in mid February. Since she did not appear to be attempting sarcasm or irony, this must be the kind of fever that forces one to follow a regimen of lots of rest.

Honoring Japanese internees, Vietnam veterans

OLYMPIA — Japanese-American students pulled out of college and sent to internment camps during World War II would be eligible for honorary degrees under a bill approved by a legislative committee.

Members of the South Vietnamese army who came to the United States after the Vietnam War would be honored for their service in a separate resolution.

The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee approved a bill that allows the state’s public universities to award honorary degrees to any student who was forced to leave college after the internment orders were signed in 1942. The University of Washington, which  had about 450 Japanese-American students at the time, granted honorary degrees to as many of those students as it could locate in 2008.

The committee passed the bill unanimously while supporters were there, which is outside the standard operating procedure that separates hearings from votes, sometimes by as much as a week.

The House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee did a similar thing with a bill that honors South Vietnamese veterans as well as American service members who served in the Vietnam War. An estimated 60,000 Vietnamese Americans currently live in Washington, many of them soldiers of the Republic of South Vietnam and their families who fled or immigrated after the war.

The memorial suggests the state and each county do things to to honor and bring together Vietnam veterans and South Vietnamese veterans.

WA Lege Day 19: Of homes and homeless

OLYMPIA — It is Housing and Homeless Advocacy Day today, with the state’s Low Income Housing Alliance will be meeting in and around the Capitol.

The House is set to vote on a bill that allows churches to host temporary homeless camps on their property and keeps cities from passing ordinance against that. That bill HB 1956, is among several dozen scheduled for floor action in the House, although the timing is somewhat uncertain.

The Senate, too, has a wide range of bills that could come up for a vote, on topics ranging from flood control to Bisphenol A in baby bottles to allowing thel WSP to participate in the “chief for a day” program.

And they have a range of hearings through mid afternoon.

Hearing schedule is inside the blog,

Pine Lodge could remain open

OLYMPIA – Washington state will delay plans to close the Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women to see whether it can stay open as a facility shared by Spokane County and City.

State Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail announced Thursday the Medical Lake center is getting a temporary reprieve from a list of institutions the state wants to close because of its budget problems. Gov. Chris Gregoire put Pine Lodge on a list of 10 institutions earlier this month in her most recent budget proposal.

In a prepared statement, Vail said he’d received a letter from Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Spokane Mayor Mary Verner about a “joint use” of Pine Lodge. “We need adequate time to seriously consider what might be developed,” he said.

Knezovich said he and Verner suggested using the facility as part of joint county and city community corrections operation which would include programs for electronic home monitoring of certain inmates. Folding Pine Lodge into the county’s jail system could shave as much as $20 million off current expansion plans, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she’d had discussions with Gregoire and the corrections department about keeping Pine Lodge open.

“This is a good move if there’s a potential to use part of the facility for city and county needs,” she said.

WA Lege Day 18: Physical therapy, lakes and an array of hearings

OLYMPIA — There’s not much action expected on the floor of the House, and the Senate has no floor action at all, so almost everything interesting will happen elsewhere today.

The governor has a 10:30 a.m. press conference to talk about federal transportation projects. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray announced this morning the state is getting $590 million in federal money for high speed rail upgrades in what’s know as the Pacific Northwest Cascades corridor, (aka Vancouver, B.C., to Seattle to Portland).

It is Lakes Day, when the state’s Lakes Protection Association comes to town to lobby legislators, and Physical Therapy Day, when Physical Therapists do the same. The latter have a big tent set up near the fountain east of the capitol and plan a noon demonstration on the North steps.

Committee hearings cover a wide range of topics, including money for public schools, higher fees for field burning, restrictions on outings for dangerous patients at mental institutions and changes to initiative rules.

For a complete list of the hearings, Click here to go inside the blog.


Traffic cams under fire

OLYMPIA—Spokane and any other city in Washington that uses cameras to catch red-light runners could have their ticket fines limited to $25 under a proposal before the Legislature.
State Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Pierce County, the prime sponsor of House Bill 2780, said the cameras create an “unholy alliance” between cities and the companies that maintain them and share the revenue the tickets generate. He likened them to speed traps cities once set up to help pad their budgets.
“This is not Tijuana, this is Washington state,” Hurst told the House Transportation Committee.
Greg Parks of American Traffic Solutions, the company that has the contract for the cameras in Spokane, Seattle and Bellevue, argued that the cameras are set up to reduce accidents at dangerous intersections: “It is a safety program. It’s not about revenue.”
To remove any profit motive, Hurst’s bill sets the maximum fine at $25. He said he’s willing to negotiate, but it should be similar to a parking fine. A ticket in Spokane now costs  $124.
It also requires the yellow light to be on for at least four seconds, which is the time Spokane already uses, Spokane Police Officer Theresa Fuller said.
The Spokane program is about safety not revenue, Fuller said, although she questioned the comparison to a parking fine: “You’re not going to kill somebody not paying your parking meter. You can kill somebody running a red light.”

WA Lege Day 17: A freeze on bonuses, unionized child care?

OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives voted unanimously this morning to freeze any bonuses for state managers.

In a 97-0 vote, they passed Substitute House Bill 2998, which leaves only a few exceptions for bonuses to executives in state government. The state paid out about $1.9 million in bonuses in 2009, legislators said.

One exception: employees can still get a bonus for coming up with ways to save money.

Not so popular, however, was a proposal to allow child care center employees to form collective bargaining units. Substitute House Bill 1329 passed 62-35 on a party line vote, after Democrats said it represented an investment in early childhood education.

Republicans balked, calling the bill well-intentioned by poorly thought out, fiscally.

“This bill is a bellwether on how the House will address the enormous challenges facing it. This is business as usual,” Rep. Glenn Anderson said.

Both bills now head for the Senate. A similar bill on child care workers passed the House last year, experienced significant changes in the Senate which couldn’t pass when it returned to the House.

Around the Capitol today, things should be looking better, and folks might know the importance of a good rub. The Opticians Association is lobbying legislators and Massage Awareness Day. The state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Strategic Partnership Council is also in the building this evening.

Hearing schedule for this afternoon can be found inside the blog.

WA Lege: How to handle cops who lie?

OLYMPIA — Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick was among law enforcement brass who told said they should be allowed to fire an officer who lies without fear of being overruled by  an arbitrator.

Kirkpatrick joined sheriffs from King and Chelan counties who supported SB 6590, which was drafted to clarify a problem with state law raised in by a recent state Supreme Court ruling. The ruling overturned the firing of an officer for lying, saying the there was no explicit state policy that requires an officer to be truthful, so firing him was arbitrary.

An officer would have to be lying about a “material fact” in a case, Kirkpatrick said. An arbitrator should be able to rule on whether the department meets all the standards set down in the disciplinary process, she added; but if that’s done, the decision to fire or not fire shouldn’t be overturned by the arbitrator.

“I am the one who makes policy in my department on truthfulness,” Kirkpatrick said. When she first arrived in Spokane, Kirkpatrick said one of her rules was “you lie, you die.”

Representatives of police, deputies and state troopers said they don’t disagree with the position that officers must tell the truth. But they said rules for arbitration are covered by union contracts and should be negotiated at the bargaining table, not unilaterally changed by legislation.

Sheriffs are held to the same standards by voters, and appointed department heads like Kirkpatrick are answerable to their mayors or councils and could be investigated for lying by an outside agency.

As the panel of law enforcement officials left the witness table, Senate Judiciary Chairman Adam Kline, D-Seattle, stopped Kirpatrick to ask: “What part of the South are you from?”

Memphis, she replied.

WA Lege: Assault weapon ban in bull’s eye

OLYMPIA — A proposal to ban certain semi-automatic firearms was praised by the mother of a shooting victim and a city police chief, but roundly panned by gun-rights activists.

The proposal, SB 6396, which would ban weapons commonly called “military style assault weapons” once covered by federal law, generated references to a Halloween slaying of a Seattle police officer and the 1994 shooting spree at Fairchild Air Force Base. It also prompted a debate between a state senator and a police chief over the definition of lethal.

The Puget Sound region saw six officers killed in the last two months of 2009, including Officer Tim Brenton, who was killed with a weapon that would be covered by the bill. Banning assault weapons with clips that fire more than 10 rounds is a way to protect police officers, Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo said.

“Which guns are lethal and which are not?” asked Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.

Guns that fire multiple rounds quickly are more lethal, Pillo said.About a fifth of all officers killed in the line of duty between 1998 and 2001 were killed by assault weapons, she said, and 10 officers in Los Angeles were wounded in a single bank robbery by the weapons.

“How many rounds does it take to kill a person or a deer?” asked Roach.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Judiciary Committee that was hearing it, said the bill includes descriptions of features on firearms such as pistol grips on rifles and barrel shrouds that make a gun “more lethal than your average deer rifle.” That prompted laughter in the hearing room which,

To read the rest of this story, Click here to go inside the Blog

WA Lege Day 16: Jobs, guns, environmentalists and contractors

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats announce their “jobs” program this afternoon, which will lay out how they plan to help the state out of the recession.

Landscape professionals, who may  have some concerns about bans on phosphorus in lawn fertilizer, are lobbying legislators; so are state troopers. An enviornmental group, People for Puget Sound, has a demonstration on the Capitol steps at noon, anld the Construction Industry Council is here in the evening.

It’s also Indian Welfare Awareness Day.

There’s a range of hearings all day, including one at 10 a.m. on a Senate proposal to ban assault weapons, a 3:30 p.m. hearing on plans to make state employees take unpaid days off or for a wage freeze for some workers.

For a complete list of hearings, click here to go inside the blog.

Bills would limit furloughs of criminally insane, add ‘guilty but mentally ill verdict’

Dangerous mental health patients could not leave state hospitals for field trips or most other excursions without specific court orders, under a bill the Legislature is considering.
The bill, prompted by Phillip Paul’s escape from last fall’s “field trip” to the Spokane County Fair by Eastern State Hospital patients, got strong support Monday from legislators and a representative of the mental health community during a hearing in the House Human Services Committee.
“This was a very traumatic event for Spokane County,” said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Greenacres, sponsor of HB 2717.

Gov to Congress: Health Care? Get ‘er done.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire and a phalanx of state officials who deal with health care tried to send a message to a Congress that may be wavering on the issue in the wake of last week’s U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts:

“Regardless of one election, national health care reform is essential,” Gregoire said at a mid-morning press conference. “Get it done.”

If Congress can’t pass a comprehensive reform package quickly, it should pass the funding changes that would send more federal money to Washington to cover Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, and give the state a waiver that would help cover the costs of state health care programs for poor children.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said that under the current systems, Washington expects to have 1 million people without health insurance by the end of 2011, and currently has a fourth of its population that is “under insured.”

Asked how worried she is that Congress will not pass a health care funding package by the time the Legislature has to make decisions on the state’s budget problems, she replied: “Quite.”

She suggested they vote on fiscal health care issues first which take a simple majority to pass, then take up policy issues that might be more difficult with the Democrats’ loss of a filibuster proof majority in the U.S. Senate. 

Some policy issues, such as banning insurance companies from refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions, have broad support, she said. They should determine the issues on which they have strong agreement, and work out the disagreements on the rest.

 To read more of this story, Click Here to go inside the blog.


WA Lege Day 15: First quarter almost over

If this were a football game, we’d be down to the last minute or so of the first quarter. This is day 15 of a 60 day session.

The Service Employees union is at the Capitol lobbying today, as are dental hygenists, and the state Medical Association. The Legislature is also holding “Civic Education Day.”

The governor has a morning press conference to discuss the importance of national health care reform, which may seem more questionable after last week’s Massachusetts election for the U.S. Senate seat. Washington Democrats were counting on some changes in federal rules that would increase payments for Medicaid, and ease the state’s budget problems, and had some  hopes the state’s Basic Health program would become a national model.

The afternoon will be busy with committee hearings. Of possible interest to the Spokane area is HB 2717, which would restrict outings from state facilities, drafted in the wake of the Philip Paul’s walkaway from the County Fair last fall.

A full schedule of hearings can be found inside the blog.

States trying to block the feds, but the effort may be null and void

OLYMPIA – Conservative activists in Washington and Idaho are trying to force the federal government to “keep out” on issues ranging from guns to health care to the environment.
Through legislation and initiatives, people aligned with what’s variously known as the 10th Amendment or State Sovereignty movement are trying to pass state laws that limit what the federal government can do within its borders.
“Government closest to the people is best able to solve the problems,” said State Rep. Matt Shea, R-Greenacres, who introduced a series of “sovereignty” bills the first week of the session.
The 10th Amendment, which reserves to states any right not spelled out in the Constitution, is the basis for the bills, he said. Language for much of the legislation came from the 10th Amendment Center, which supports and tracks efforts to strengthen states’ rights.
But legal scholars question such efforts to have the Legislature set limits on Congress or to interpret what the U.S. Constitution means within their borders. That’s really the job of the courts, in precedents that stretch back to 1803, Amy Kelley, who teaches constitutional law at Gonzaga Law School, said.
“What the U.S. Constitution means is not a state option,” Kelley said.