Latest from The Spokesman-Review
It is Hispanic/Latino Legislative Day.
It’s also the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, so abortion rights advocates will be demonstrating on the Capitol steps. Expectation is this demonstation will be smaller than the anti-abortion rally earlier this week, which drew more than 4,000.
The House of Representatives will debate a bill to start cutting some money from the state budget, which is generally known as the “Early Savings Bill.” They’ll also debate a proposal involving military leave for public employees, renaming a state highway the “Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm Memorial Highway.
And, as usual, a full lineup of committee hearings.
To see the hearings schedule, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — The Senate could vote as early as Friday on a bill to require most state workers to take a day off a month without pay, Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.
Plans to cut costs or raise taxes will come out in phases, Brown said. Right now, Senate Democrats appear to have support for a plan to require most state employees to take one-day furloughs for 13 months. The days are generally on Fridays or Mondays, which would create a series of three-day weekends in which most state offices are closed.
The exceptions would be state agencies that deal with public safety and health, she said.
The support from the unions that represent the state’s workers is uncertain, but the alternatives will be cuts in services and layoffs, Brown said.
That plan also has salary freezes,and limits on bonuses. It could save the state as much as $120 million, but considering the state’s budget gap is an estimated $2.6 million “we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Democrats will release the next phase of their plans for budget revisions, which they are calling the Jobs and Economic Development Agenda, next Tuesday, Brown said. The final budget bill won’t be released until after the next revenue projection comes out in mid February.
In a discussion with reporters, Brown said it doesn’t appear a proposed ban on guns that are often referred to as assault weapons has enough votes to pass the Senate. Some Democrats also think bill that would restrict bail for some suspects who are facing life sentences — a concept Gov. Chris Gregoire said she supports — goes too far, but “it’s too early for me to know” if it has support to pass the Senate.
She also suggested a plan to privatize state liquor stores may be on the rocks. Some people support it because they believe the state shouldn’t be in the business, but it doesn’t really provide any money to help with the state’s budget problems, she said. And the budget is the main focus.
“I doubt if a proposal like that moves forward this session,” Brown said.
OLYMPIA — House Speaker Frank Chopp said Democrats continue examining a wide range of tax changes or “revenue enhancements” to help close the state’s budget gap, but when asked for specifics came up with two.
One is eliminating a tax exemption for private airplanes, which he said goes back to the 1930s. It doesn’t cover commercial planes, and probably wouldn’t be lifted for aircraft like crop dusters, he said. Private planes should be “taxed at the same rate we do for boats above a certain size.”
But there aren’t really that many planes, and it doesn’t go very far to filling the $2.6 billion hole.
Another is rewriting a law struck down last fall by the state Supreme Court regarding the state’s ability to tax companies based in other states with distribution centers in Washington. That “tweak” would bring in $150 million this biennium, he said.
Beyond those two, Chopp said there are “a number” of changes to current tax exemptions that are logical but have to be studied: “We don’t want to cause job loss.”
They are also still looking at extending sales tax to bottled water, soda and candy. No sales tax on bottled water “is sort of a quirk of the law”, he said, adding most people don’t realize they don’t pay sales tax on bottled water.
Big taxes are less likely, he said. The public doesn’t support a state income tax, and a hike to the sales tax is “on the edge of the table” but is considered too regressive.
Yesterday, legislative Republicans called for an exemption from the state Business and Occupation tax for all new businesses, and a three-year phase in after that for small businesses, which they say are hit hard by the tax on gross receipts rather than net. They’d cover the revenue loss by taking that amount out of the Life Sciences Fund, money set aside to spur development of technology.
“It’s certainly fair to look at it,” Chopp said,
Spin Control has been incorrectly labelling the legislative session days this week, under the mistaken impression that one counts the days when they are actually in session. Turns out one counts all the days from opening gavel, even when they aren’t around.
Who knew? (OK, anyone who’s been around more than a few weeks, apparently.)
In any event, the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader both have press “availabilities” today, and both houses expect short pro forma sessions and the committees have a hearings that fill up the day’s schedule.
The Capitol has lots of guys with pony tails and leather pants, because it is “Black Thursday” for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments…yes, it sounds like a state’s rights group, but in reality it’s for motorcyclists who don’t like their freedoms limited by such strictures as helmet laws.
One can expect to see them clearly because is also Optometric Physicians Day. The state Commission on Hispanic Affairs is meeting, and the Cub Scouts are holding their Arrow of Light ceremony this evening in the rotunda.
For a compete schedule of the days legislative hearings, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA – A credit score should not be used to help determine how much a person pays for home or auto insurance premiums, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler told a legislative panel Wednesday evening.
Factors that affect credit scores can discriminate against low income and minorities, Kreidler said as he lobbied for one of his top priorities, the banning of the practice in Washington state.
“Responsible people get laid off. They consolidate their debt. They shouldn’t have to pay more for insurance because of that,” Kreidler said.
But representatives of the insurance industry told the House Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee that a credit score does help predict good and bad insurance risks and should remain one of many factors the companies can use to set a customer’s rates.
“It’s not magic or voodoo, it’s science,” said Kenton Brine, a representative of the Property Casualty Insurers Association. “It’s actuarially sound.”
OLYMPIA—Washington Republicans wasted little time trying to draw connections between a Democratic Senate loss in Massachusetts and election prospects in the Evergreen State.
Washington Democrats conceded that the loss of a supermajority in the U.S. Senate complicates plans in the Legislature. They can’t expect Congress to adopt health care reform or a stimulus package before they have to patch a $2.6 billion budget hole and leave town.
To read the rest of this post, Click here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA—A bill that would turn possession of small amounts of marijuana into a civil infraction failed in a state House committee this afternoon.
HB 1177, which would decriminalize the possession of about two ounces or less of marijuana, failed on a vote of 3 yeas and 5 nays.
Along with a bill to legalize marijuana and have it taxed and controlled by the state, the decriminalization bill drew support from some doctors and lawyers last week, but opposition from some law enforcement officials.
The House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee rejected both bills in an executive session.
OLYMPIA — A bill to legalize personal use of marijuana died in committee today.
The House Public Safety and Preparedness Committee rejected HB 2401 which would have put marijuana under state regulation and taxation. An estimate from the state Office of Financial Management released Tuesday said the state might raise nearly $1.7 billion over the next 10 years, through taxes and sales receipts, if the bill passed.
Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, said the rejection of the legalization bill could result in voters taking that step this fall in an initiative that has been proposed.
Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, wasted little time in trying to work the Massachusetts Senate race into Washington political discourse.
In the debate over a bill to sell some $860 million in bonds to refurbish schools around the state, Erickson questioned the cost of the bill and the projections for how many jobs it would actually create. If spending money on capital projects is good for jobs, he added, why did the Legislature take money out of the capital budget last year to spend on general fund programs, he added.
“The people spoke out in Massachusetts yesterday,” Ericksen said.”They’re saying ‘Show you’re work.’”
HB 2561 passed, however, 57-41, with several Democrats including Alex Wood and John Driscoll of Spokane, voting with Republicans who largely voted no.
OLYMPIA — Washington Republicans wasted no time in drawing political lines from Massachusetts to the Evergreen State, hoping Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate victory is a harbinger for this fall.
State GOP Chairman Luke Esser said he couldn’t speculate on possible gains yet because so many candidates “have not been locked down yet.” But he believes Brown’s victory might convince Republicans who have so far been reluctant to enter a race to jump in.
He promised a strong challenge to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a three-term Democrat up for re-election this year. The race has thus far drawn a field of relatively unknown Republican challengers, but Esser said it shouldn’t be written off as unwinnable. A few months ago, similar things had been said about the prospects of a Republican “winning Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts,” he added.
But, he added “We’re still looking for that Scott Brown candidate.”
In several recent statewide elections, the state GOP has coalesced behind a favored candidate early, including Dino Rossi in the 2004 and 2008 governor’s race and Mike McGavick in the 2006 Senate race. That’s “the old paradigm,” Esser said; this year the party will let the rank and file pick a candidate through the primaries.
“In the current atmosphere, it’s important to let the grassroots know it’s not going to be a top-down, heirarchical decision,” he said.
OLYMPIA — Today’s agenda around the Capitol will be as diverse as fire and water.
State Fire Commissioners have their day of lobbying legislators, and the state Ground Water Association will have equipment on display. It is also Autism Awareness Day and Dairy Day.
Hearings start at 8 a.m., and stretch into the evening, with Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler talking up a consumer protection bill before the House Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee at 6 p.m.
For a full list of committee hearings, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — There are still many questions for the legislative session, but at least one certainty: passage of improvements in pensions and other benefits for law enforcement and firefighters.
Spurred by a series of murders of law enforcement officers in Western Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire and members of both parties in both houses are ready to extend full pension benefits to police, sheriffs deputies, state troopers and firefignters killed in the line of duty even if they haven’t been on the job the currently required 10 years.
A bill to do just that, HB 2519, as well as lift the penalty for a surviving spouse and to waive tuition and fees at any state college for that spouse or the children of the slain officer or fire fighter, sailed out of the House Ways and Means Committee this afternoon with no debate and no questions for the witnesses calling for its passage.
After emotional testimony from widows of slain officers, the chief of police of Lakewood, Wash., where four officers were murdered Nov. 29, other law enforcement officials and the state pension board, the committee voted 22-0 to send the bill to the floor with a “Do Pass” recommendation from both parties.
OLYMPIA — Opponents of abortion filled the Capitol steps Tuesday as legislators urged them to fight against federal health care mandates and proposals that would set new rules for their crisis pregnancy clinics.
A crowd estimated at more than 4,000 by the Washington State Patrol marched from the nearby gardens under banners representing the Orthodox Church, Catholic parishes, the Knights of Columbus or the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Demonstrators carried crosses draped with rosaries or adorned with roses, professionally printed octagonal red signs that said “Stop Abortion Now” or hand-lettered messages such as “Which are more protected, Babies or Whales?”
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Greenacres, asked for their help to pass HB 1688, which would require every minor considering an abortion to have an ultrasound and another, HB 2669, that would nullify the effects of any national health care legislation in Washington.
“If we get life issues wrong, we get every other issue wrong,” Shea said.
Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, urged them to lobby against a bill that she said would require so-called Crisis Pregnancy Clinics to include abortion as an option when talking to patients. That’s a violation of both freedome of speech and freedom of religion, Stevens said.
SB 6452 requires what it calls “limited service pregnancy centers” to tell patients that they do not offer abortion or comprehensive birth control services, to give only “medically and scientifically accurate” information and to tell a patient if a pregnancy test is an over-the-counter test which she can administer herself.
Lt. Mark Arras of the WSP estimated the crowd at more than 4,000, and said it was the largest protest at the Capitol since last spring, when the Tea Party had about 5,000 attend a tax protest.
About a dozen abortion-rights protesters stood across the parking area on the steps to the state Supreme Court building, sometimes banging a drum, other times chanting “My Body, My Choice” or “Keep it Safe and Legal.” But they were easily drowned out by the anti-abortion crowd spelling out “L-I-F-E, Life!” or “We are, we are Pro-Life” to the cadence of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” About the only time they could be heard for a prolonged period was when the abortion protesters were hushed for the opening prayer.
Washington Realtors released results of a poll today that suggests voters are split on cutting the state budget or raising taxes.
Of the 600 voters polled:
55 percent said the state is on the wrong track, which is up from 44 percent in a July poll
50 percent said the governor and Legislature have to protect essential services, even if it means raising some taxes, while
45 percent said the last thing the gov and Lege should do is raise taxes, even if it means cutting important services and programs
Asked “what taxes?”
62 percent said don’t extend the sales tax to business and personal services
71 percent said don’t raise the business and occupation tax
84 percent said don’t raise real estate excise or property taxes.
No word on how many people mentionedsome other tax, or had an idea of what it might raise if it were instituted or raised.
And 92 percent said they believe the real estate industry and housing market are vital to the state’s overall economic recovery. (Good thing, too, considering the sponsor.)
OLYMPIA — It is League of Women Voters Lobby Day and March for Life Day.
Members of the league will be meeting in a room in the Capitol starting at 8:30 a.m., and abortion opponents will hold a rally on the north steps of the building starting at noon.
The Cattle Producers of Washington have a legislative reception at 5:30 p.m. No word on the menu, but it’s a good bet beef will be served.
The House and Senate have “pro forma” sessions, which is Latin for “boring and nothing of any consequence is expected to happen.” But there’s a long list of committee hearings.
For a complete list of today’s hearings, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — Texting or talking on a cell phone is so distracting that someone doing either likely won’t notice a unicycling clown passing in front of them, a university professor said.
Ira Hyman, a professor of psychology at Western Washington University, was one of a series of people urging the Legislature to make sending a text message or talking on a cell phone while driving a primary offense which can get a driver a ticket all by itself. Right now in Washington, it’s a secondary offense, meaning driver only gets a ticket if he or she has broken some other traffic law.
Hyman said a study at WWU tested how distracted a person texting or talking on a cell phone can be. A significant number of students failed to notice a clown on a unicycle passing in front of them on campus while texting or talking.
“If you can miss a clown on a unicycle, what else can you miss?” Hyman asked the Senate Transportation Committee.
To read the rest of this story, Click Here.
OLYMPIA — Washington state should help low-income residents get their children into the preschool of their choice, but establish standards for facilities that help prepare 3- and 4-year-olds for kindergarten, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.
It also must have a stronger system for K-12 schools to force improvements on failing facilities, in part to have a chance to qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in the federal Race to the Top program, she said.
Gregoire, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and Bette Hyde, director of the state’s Early Learning Department, were among a group calling for changes in state education policies and programs in preschool and K-12 education.
For pre-schoolers, Gregoire proposes the “All Start” program, which she said would open up preschool to low-income families by providing subsidies for those with incomes below twice the poverty level. The youngsters would have to be enrolled in certified preschools, which means the state would have to establish standards and develop a certification process.
“We have no standards for preschools. Preschool teachers are not required to undergo background checks,” Gregoire said.
The Legislature does not have the day off for Martin Luther King’s Birthday. It’s in session today, and has a full complement of hearings.
But people who have the day off use this day to lobby the Legislature, either by visiting their favorite senator or representatives in their offices or demonstrating around the Capitol.
This it is not just MLK Day here, but also Washington State PTA Legislative Focus Day and SEIU Local 925 Lobby Day. Their are demonstrations by state Muslims as well as substance and violence prevention advocates.
There’s a march by the Statewide Poverty Action group in honor of King, called the People’s March and Summit. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation is also having an Education Rally.
Gov. Chris Gregoire is announcing her education package this morning, also.
For a copy of the meeting schedule, Click Here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA – With only a week down in the legislative session it’s too soon to make solid predictions about anything meaningful. It’s not too soon, however, to predict that the quality of rhetoric can only get better.
That’s because it probably can’t get worse.
There have been quite enough references, thank you, to the Founding Fathers. No disrespect to the Dutiful Dads, but they were mentioned last week on everything from legalizing pot to checking names on initiative petitions to rejecting federal health care plans. A legislator at the Tea Party rally on Thursday talked about getting back to the country the founders intended, and since the speaker was a woman, it seems that would mean she’d be out of a job because the founders didn’t allow women to vote, let alone run for office.
What would have happened, mused Rep. Christopher Hurst as he made a pitch to keep signatures on initiatives public, had the Declaration of Independence been sent off to London with the names blacked out.
To read more of this post, Click Here to go inside the blog
OLYMPIA — The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the names of Washington voters who sign a petition to put a law on the ballot can be made public, and subject to release.
The high court could hear the case of Doe vs. Reed as early as April, taking up the fight over the names and addresses of people who signed petitions to put Referendum 71 on last year’s November ballot.
A few hours after the court announced it was adding the case to its schedule, a legislative committee considered dueling bills spawned by the dispute. One would provide an exemption to the state’s Public Records Law for the names and addresses on initiative or referendum petitions; the other would state categorically that they are public records
Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia, chairman of the State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, said he couldn’t reschedule the bills for later hearings just because the court agreed to take up the R-71 case. He plans to talk with House leadership on whether to schedule a committee vote that could send one or both bills to the House floor.
For more on this story, Click Here to go inside the blog.
A relatively quiet day at the Capitol, with short sessions expected in the House and Senate in the morning and a full afternoon of hearings.
The Veterans Coalition has meetings, and will be dropping by legislative offices.
Gov. Chris Gregoire will be in Spokane for the Figure Skating championships.
For a look at the day’s schedule of meetings Click here to go inside the blog
OLYMPIA — A Spokane-area group making its annual peregrination to the Legislature capped off the trip Thursday night with a meet-and-greet reception at the Governor’s Mansion. And since it’s her house, the governor did show up upon her return from Seattle where she layed out a new jobs program.
But what she really wanted to know was, what were the Spokanites doing in Olympia when people from all over the country were flocking to Spokane for the ice skating championships.
Gregoire is due in Spokane herself on Friday for ceremonies, and most of the delegation of 50 or so will be back, too. She was there for the 2007 championships, and said she asked at that time about bringing the event back in 2010, pre Vancouver Olympics. Too soon, she was told then. But things have a way of working out, particularly when the 2007 event set attendance records.
“We wowwed them then, and we’re going to wow them again,” she said.
Word is that a member of Gregoire’s staff bought her a skating outfit for the last event, which she didn’t wear. She intends to not wear it again, she said.
The reception was a final chance for business and education leaders to schmooz with legislators and agency staff over salmon, tortellini, wine and beer.
One of the travelling delegation wondered if there was a message in the choice of beers being poured: Redhook MudSlinger and Slim Chance.
Probably just a coincidence…or a chance to serve up Washington brewskis.
But in Olympia, you can never be sure about such things.
OLYMPIA – A Spokane-area delegation on its annual pilgrimage to the state capital got a consistently downbeat message this week: Don’t expect money for new programs or projects.
“The message is being reinforced: There is no money,” Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said. It’s a message that comes as no surprise, but may good for some people to hear it repeated, she said..
With Washington state’s well-publicized budget woes, the message was expected, said Rich Hadley, president of the Greater Spokane Inc. which organized the trip.
“We’re trying to protect (what we have), to prevent damage from being done,” Hadley said during a break between presentations from leaders of both parties and both legislative houses.
OLYMPIA — The time has come for people who believe in states’ rights to move from protest to political action, a Spokane Valley legislator told a crowd on the steps of the Capitol Building this afternoon.
Rep. Matt Shea, a first-term Republican, told a crowd estimated between 200 and 300 they need to rein in the federal government that’s becoming too powerful and too intrusive.
“We will not suffer government any more telling us how to live our daily lives…buy our health insurance…buy our energy,” Shea said.
He and other House Republicans have introduced a series of bills they say will allow Washington to reassert rights it has under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which essentially reserves to the states anything not mentioned in the Constitution.
Among his bills are proposals to nullify any national health care plan in Washington state, nullify any cap and trade system set up on energy, keep the federal government from regulating any firearm manufactured in the state and require federal agents to check with a sheriff before conducting an investigation in a Washington county.
To read more, Click Here to go inside the blog.
The Legislature is in full hearing mode.
Which is not the same as saying that everyone is in listening mode. But hearings are scheduled throughout the day.
Meanwhile, about 50 folks from the Spokane area continue their peregrination to Olympia to lobby for locally important programs and projects. They got a briefing on the budget and on transportation this morning, a meeting with legislative leaders and the state Treasurer this afternoon, and have a reception at the Governor’s Mansion this evening.
So far, they’re hearing the same thing that everyone else is: The budget is bad, don’t expect anything new. Although Sen. Rodney Tom, a top Democrat on the budget, noted that with Spokane Sen. Lisa Brown as Majority Leader, there’s always some surprises possible.
“I’ll go through a budget and say ‘What’s this thing over in Spokane?’” Tom said.
For a schedule of the Day 4 hearings, Click here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA – While the Legislature wrestles with a huge budget shortfall that generates hearings on everything from closing state institutions to raising college tuition, the most heavily attended hearing Wednesday involved a non-budget item.
Marijuana. Should the state legalize it, or turn it into a civil infraction? Or just wait a few months to see if voters pass an initiative to legalize it?
Technically, it’s not quite true this has NOTHING to do with the budget because HB 2401 would both legalize marijuana, regulate its growth and sale and generate as much as $300 million a biennium in revenue in taxes and fees, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, the bill’s sponsor said.
Dickerson, D-Seattle, is a co-sponsor of HB 1177, which would turn possession of small amounts of marijuana into an infraction similar to a speeding ticket. That bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, is a co-sponsor of the legalization proposal. The decriminalization bill has two Spokane Democrats as sponsors, Timm cq Ormsby and Alex Wood, while the legalization bill has none at this point.
To read the rest of the story, Click here and go inside the blog
Gov. Chris Gregoire will back legislation to allow defendants in Washington to be found guilty but mentally ill, and to be sent to prison instead of a mental hospital.
Persons who have already been found not guilty by reason of insanity would face a new Safety Review Panel before they are released.
Gregoire appeared today with a coalition of law enforcement officials and reiterated support fora a constitutional amendment that allows judges to deny bail to any suspect which they feel is a risk to the community, and enhanced benefits for the families of officers killed in the line of duty.
The Lege has floor sessions at 10 a.m., and hearings off an on all day.
Nothing as dramatic as the “State of the State”, but more talk about, what else, the budget. There will also be some discussion about bills that would legalize marijuana. And no, that’s not prompted by the references to the song in the video below.
For a look at the full schedule, Click to go inside the blog.
Also today, a delegation from the Spokane, organized by the Greater Spokane Inc., arrives around noon for the first of two days of meetings with state officials. They have sessions on health care and economic development this afternoon before treating area legislators to dinner at the nearby Red Lion Hotel this evening.
A reference in last night’s post on the Republicans throwing around nautical metaphors may have had many readers going “Huh? Sinking of the What?”
The song is actually “The Legend of the USS Titanic”, and while it was a staple of late night pirate radio in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, it’s probably not well known or long-remembered.
So here, for the curious or the nostalgic, is a YouTube video version. It’s long, and takes two videos…
Legislative Republicans searched for the right metaphor to describe their situation regarding the state budget Tuesday.
They say they’ve got lots of good ideas, if the governor and majority Democrats would only listen. Gov. Chris Gregoire said she’d listen to any ideas from anyone, called for nonpartisanship, and so on, but they were skeptical that any of their ideas would get much of a hearing.
“At the end of the day,” Sen. Joe Zarelli, the ranking R on Ways and Means, said, “we’re passengers on the Titanic, we’re not captaining it…They can ignore us, as they’ve chosen to do, in which case we’ve done our job.”
No, said Rep. Richard DeBolt of Chehalils, the House minority leader: “It’s more like the Lusitania.”
The what? asked Zarelli.
“The Lusitania. It’s the torpedoes that are going to get us,” DeBolt said.
This is not the first nautical reference Zarelli has made, by the way. Last week, during the legislative preview, he said Republicans have been on “the U.S.S. Titanic.”
Which, it should be noted, is not a correct reference because the Titanic was a British ship, not an American ship. Although he might have been making a reference to the very long ballad from the 1960s by Jaimie Brockett…
No, probably not.