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WA Lege Day 8: Cracking down on the sex biz that uses minors

OLYMPIA – A bipartisan group of legislators is pushing a dozen bills to combat human trafficking, particularly among teenage runaways they say are lured into prostitution.
Among the targets of the legislation are ads for “escort services” that appear in the back of some newspapers and on the Internet, and foot massagers.

To read more about the bills, or to see a complete list of bill numbers, prime sponsors and topics, go inside the blog

WA Lege Day 8: Take loyalty oaths off the books?

OLYMPIA – State workers and public school employees in Washington are supposed to take an oath that they aren’t a member of the Communist Party or any other subversive organization.
At least, that’s what state law has said since 1951, when the Subversive Activities Act was placed on the books a few years after the Legislature Joint Committee on Un-American Activities held a series of high-profile hearings hunting for communists in state government, university faculties and unions.

The committee was led by Spokane Rep. Al Canwell of Spokane, who served only one term in the Legislature but spent the next 50 years hunting suspected communists and compiling files on people.

A Washington Supreme Court ruling in 1964 said the law was so vague in defining a subversive person or group that the loyalty oath was unconstitutional. But that didn’t wipe the oath, or other sections of the act which use the same definitions, off the books.
Several House members have a bill to do that. At a hearing for HB 2251, prime sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, said it was time to repeal the law nearly a half century after the court ruling.
“I think it devalues our criminal code to  have laws on the books that aren’t being enforced,” Fitzgibbon told members of the House Judiciary Committee.
He got no argument from committee members, and no one spoke in favor of keeping the law. The committee is expected to vote later this week on whether to send the bill to the House floor for a vote.

WA Lege Day 8: Not a holiday around the Capitol

OLYMPIA — Although most of state government is off today, the Legislature has a work day scheduled.

In keeping with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the House has a resolution honoring the late civil rights leader it will pass this morning with some amount of speechifying. Both chambers have a full plate of committee hearings.

Also in keeping with the spirit of MLK, the Washington Community Action Network had planned a day of "civil disobedience" with a 1 p.m. Capitol steps rally and later sit-ins in legislators' offices to express their support for a budget with fewer cuts and more taxes. But it snowed in the Puget Sound Sunday and early Monday, and the roads in some places are a bit treacherous. WA Can canceled its demonstration.

Capitol dome has a dusting of snow and the roads and sidewalks on the Capitol Campus are a bit dicey. Muslim Americans, however, are braving the weather for an outside rally and some inside lobbying for equal rights.

There's another rally scheduled for Tuesday, the annual March for Life, which is held somewhere close to the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. They show up rain, snow or shine.

Contribution limits for school board candidates

After dinging Rep. Andy Billig a bit below on proposed changes to voter registration, it only seems fair to note an excellent idea of his, which also got a hearing last week.

The Spokane Democrat has a bill that would set the same $800 limit on contributions to school board candidates that applies to people seeking legislative, county and city office. After several school board races with big donations, including one in Spokane last fall, it’s an idea whose time has come.

Sunday spin: Do non-voters protest a bit too much?

OLYMPIA – Washington voters have a very good track record of casting ballots – among the best in the country.
Is it perfect? No. Could it be better? Yes. Are there people who should vote but don’t? Probably. Is it worth making major changes to the current system to capture some shoulda-woulda-coulda voters?
Some legislators think so. Some state and local officials who run the elections wish they would knock it off. Judge for yourself who’s right.

To read the rest of this column, go inside the blog.

Brown on MLK march: How far we have to go

OLYMPIA — For the first time in two decades, Sen. Lisa Brown said she won't be in the Capitol Monday on Martin Luther King Day.
Although it's a state holiday, the Legislature is always in session and traditionally works on that day. Next Monday, however, Brown said she'll be in Spokane to march with others in the community one year after the attempted bombing of that annual event.
Last year's parade was rerouted by police after a bomb was found in a suspicious backpack along the route by three temporary workers. Kevin Harpham, who espoused white supremacist views, later pleaded guilty to planting the bomb.
But that march continued last year and will be repeated Monday, Brown said, “sending a strong message that violence has no place in our community or any community.”
In a speech on the Senate floor explaining why she won't be present on Monday, Brown quoted King who once said that people who march “must make the pledge that we always march ahead. We cannot turn back”
 In her office of Senate majority leader, she has a painting by a Spokane artist which features the street layout of Washington, D.C., from the Lincoln Memorial, where King made his “I Have a Dream” speech to the White House.
The title “16,582 Days to a Symphony of Brotherhood,” commemorates the number of days between the speech and the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American president. Brown urged people to stop by her office to see painting to contemplate how far the nation has come. And on the one-year anniversary of the attempted bombing they might want to contemplate something else, she said.
“How far we still have to go… to where our differences our settled through dialogue and debate, and not with violence.”

WA Lege Day 4: Fight ahead over charter schools?

OLYMPIA – A bipartisan group of legislators, backed by business and education reform groups, announced a push Thursday for charter schools and new teacher evaluations.
The Washington Education Association immediately questioned where the money would come from for charter schools and how the evaluation systems would be used.

To read the rest of this post or to comment, go inside the blog.

Lege Day 4: Pre-registering voters at 16

OLYMPIA – One of the most popular ways to register to vote is to sign up when applying for a driver’s license. Unless you’re 16 or 17, the time when most drivers get their first license but are too young to vote.
State Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, thinks the state should help those young drivers and all 16- and 17-year-olds become good voters, by letting them “pre-register” to vote, so they’ll automatically be added to the rolls when they turn 18.

To read the rest of this item, or for links to the bills, click here to go inside the blog.


Senate Democrats coalescing on reforms

OLYMPIA — Senate Democratic leaders think they've narrowed a stack of possible reforms that some member wants to a smaller list they may be able to pass.

The reforms would save at least $50 million in this budget cycle, and as much as $300 million over the next three years as they slowly take hold in government. That's not enough to fill a projected gap of more than $1 billion in the state's General Fund budget over the next 18 months, Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.

But without tangible reforms, voters are going to be "extremely skeptical" support any request for a tax increase, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said.

Some of the ideas are on lists offered by Republicans, such as streamlined permitting for businesses and restructuring state government to make it cheaper and more efficient., although it won't be possible to tell if the details are compatible until the bills are introduced.

Some have come close to passing in previous sessions, such as cracking down on Medicaid fraud and abuse, only to founder on disputes over details.

They expect to introduce reform bills in the next week or so. Budget hearings will also begin in the Ways and Means Committee, with the idea of having a budget "ready or almost ready" when the next state revenue forecast is released in mid February. Plans are to pass a budget by early March and not go into overtime with a special session.

"This does not get any easier by hanging around," Brown said.

WA Lege Day 4: A plethora of press conferences

OLYMPIA — The Legislature as a whole is moving at a standard "let's get back up to speed" pace of the first week of session, but individual members are itching for attention to key issues.

That's the only conclusion one can draw from the fact that various legislators and associated interest groups have four press conferences on the Capitol campus over the noon hour.

There's one on health care reform. One on another proposal for a statewide ban on plastic bags. Another on education reforms. All at noon.

There's a fourth for small businesses and legislators who support a tax increase to help shore up the state's budget at 12:30 p.m.

Senate Democratic leaders also have a press conference at 1:30 p.m. to talk about their goals for the session.

Spin Control would question the wisdom of scheduling so many "pressers" so close together, but we're saving our questions for the press conferences. OSHA only allows us to ask so many questions in a given day without filling out a bunch of forms to prove we haven't over-worked our brains.

Plastic bag ban gets a hearing

OLYMPIA – Banning plastic shopping bags throughout the state would keep them from showing up along roadsides, in landfills and in the bellies of whales in the Puget Sound, the sponsor of a proposed ban said Wednesday.
But it would also force people out of work, say representatives of the plastics industry. And it could mean that people taking out wet garbage in paper bags won’t make it to the trash before the bottom falls out, a legislator complained.
The first of at least two bills for a statewide ban on plastic bags got a hearing in the Senate Environment Committee, where Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline also had bills restricting Styrofoam take-out containers and plastic beverage bottles. High levels of plastic are being found in the oceans, and a gray whale that died in the Puget Sound in 2010 had 20 plastic bags in its stomach.
The level of recycling for plastic bags is low, only about 5 percent, she said.
But recycling is low in part because some bags are reused for other things once a shopper carries things home from a store, said Keith Lee of American Retail Supply. The term “single-use” bag is a misnomer, because more than 90 percent of homes reuse them for something else.
Most people use them to line their trash cans, Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside said. If the bags are banned, “what are we going to use?”
People will be carrying out wet garbage in paper grocery bags that fall apart before they make it to their destination, he said.
Several cities have banned plastic bags, and a ban in Seattle takes effect later this year. But Washington would be the first state to enact a ban, if Chase's bill or a different plan in the House makes it through the short session.



3rd Lege District “town hall” call on Wednesday

Residents of Spokane's 3rd Legislative District might be getting a call around 6 p.m. Wednesday inviting them to participate in a tele-town hall.

A what? you might say.

It's like a town hall meeting, only on the telephone.

Sen. Lisa Brown and Reps. Timm Ormsby and Andy Billig will all be on the other end. Or more accurately, another ends. In a tele-town hall, there are lots of ends because hundreds of people can be on the line.

Participants can ask their questions, and listen to the questions of others and the answers from the three Democratic legislators. If you want to participate but don't get a call, you can dial toll-free at 1-877-229-8493. You'll have to enter an ID code when requested, of 18646.

A spokeswoman said the three legislators decided to do a town hall meeting by phone because scheduling a session in Spokane early the session can be difficult. They may do one in person later.

For 6th District residents, however, can ask their state senator questions the old fashioned, face-to-face way on Saturday. Sen. Mike Baumgartner is holding two standard town hall meetings.

The first will be at 8 a.m. at the Multipurpose Room, PUB 101, on EWU Cheney campus. (It's hosted by the Associated Students of Eastern Washington University, who apparently don't plan to party late into the night Friday to be up bright and early for the town hall meeting…or maybe they just won't go to bed until after the meeting is over.)

Another meeitng is at 10:30 a.m. at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Browne's Addition, 2316 West 1st Ave.

State of State: GOP skeptical on oil fee

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to place a $1.50 per barrel fee on oil produced in Washington state got a cold reception from Republican leaders.

Speaking at a press conference after the State of the State address and Republican response, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis said it could create construction jobs, but it would also hurt consumer and raise the cost of doing business in Washington.

Senate GOP budget leader Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield also questioned whether it is truly a fee, as Gregoire says, or a tax. As proposed, it seems to have no constitutional protection, as the gasoline tax does, that would require it to be spent only on road projects, he said.

The question of tax or fee is an important one, because a fee can be passed with a simple majority, which Democrats have in both chambers. A tax must be passed with a two-thirds majority in both houses, which has proved unattainable in recent years.

Republicans said they would raise that question in the Senate with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who presides over the chamber and rules on that issue.

Start of the speech: Remembering those no longer around

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's state of the state address begins with a moment of silence for people who died over the last year:

State Sens. Bob McCaslin, Alex Deccio and Scott White.

Former Gov. Al Rosellini.

Nine members of the Armed Services from Washington state who died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And U.S. Park Ranger Margaret Anderson, who was killed at Mount Rainier National Park last week.

State of WA at 10:30 a.m.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire will deliver her state of the state address to a joint session of the Legislature at 10:30 a.m.

So let's see, is it technicallly the State of the State address, the State of Washington State addres, the State of the State address for Washington or the State of the State address for Washington State?

I'm never quite sure of that.

In any event, Gregoire can be expected to repeat her admonitions that the Legislature pass a budget quickly, put a temporary half-cent sales tax on the ballot for voters to approve and make some reforms to the education system. She's also expected to flesh out plans for a program to roads and bridges and refurbish ferries.

Spin Control will blog the speech. So stay tuned

Best line of the day

"It seems like we were just here, less than a month ago. Oh wait. We were." - House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, in his floor speech on the opening of the 2012 Regular Session.

Every body was thinking it. Lots of people quoted Yogi Berra's "deja vu all over again," or made a reference to the movie "Groundhog's Day." But DeBolt's line was a bit more original, and had good timing and delivery.

Initiative filed against same-sex marriage

OLYMPIA — The beginning of January doesn't just mark the beginning of the Legislature. It is also the beginning of the initiative filing season.

Earlier today, an Everett attorney filed paperwork for an initiative that would define marriage as strictly between one man and one woman. Well, actually the language says "This act reaffirms the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman," because it's an attempt to shore up the Defense of Marriage Act, which is currently on the books but could be changed if the Legislature passes a bill that would allow same-sex marriage.

One might wonder about the political wisdom of this, or at least the timing. The same-sex marriage bill isn't being proposed as one that comes with a referendum clause, which would send it automatically to the ballot, but such a clause might be needed in any compromise that moves it through the Legislature. Even if it doesn't have such a requirement, however, opponents could send it to the ballot by gathering half as many signatures as an initative needs. Putting an initative and a referendum on the same topic on one ballot is a recipe for confusion…just ask the groups that sponsored two liquor initiatives in 2010.

And should the Legislature fail to pass a same-sex marriage bill, do sponsors really want to place the issue on the November ballot, and risk the prospect of voters rejecting the one-man, one-woman description? Or will they just fold their tents and stop gathering signatures?

Meanwhile, Tim Eyman is on track to retain the title of most prolific initiative filer, with five different ballot initiatives already in the hands of the Secretary of State. He has proposals on preserving $30 car tabs, super majorities for tax increases, restricting traffic ticket cameras, stopping government fraud and "protecting the initiative." That last comes down hard on anyone harassing signers or signature gatherers, and adds six months to the process so initiatives can be filed as early as July of the year before the election, rather than January of election year.

Eyman makes clear that his organization has yet to determine which, if any, of these it will push. "We want to see how the legislative session unfolds," he says in a press release that doubles as an appeal for money from contributors.

WA Lege Day 1: And, they’re off…

House Speaker Frank Chopp listens to floor speeches on the opening day of the 2012 session.

OLYMPIA — The Legislature started it's 60-day session with the usual pomp and circumstance, and a preview of the debates ahead over the next 59 days.

As soon as the honor guard of State Troopers planted the flag, the pledge was said and an invocation offered, House Speaker Frank Chopp set down five goals of creating jobs, funding basic education, saving the safety net, ensuring equality and providing opportunity. Let's work together on those points, he told the full House chamber, like legislators did a few years ago in making changes designed to help Boeing and the machinists expand.

While those broad goals got general agreement and regular applause, minority Republicans were noticeably not clapping on certain points, such as Chopp's call for "marriage equality", which would mean passing a law to allow same-sex marriage. They also refrained at Chopp's mention that government does create jobs, contrary to what conservatives often argue.

Just look at the hydropower projects in Eastern Washington, the Seattle Democrat  said, and argue that government doesn't create jobs.

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt countered that Republicans were glad to hear the calls for more jobs and funding of basic education. But if Chopp and the Democrats are serious, he said, they'd write a budget that pays for education first and spend what's left on other programs.

And since Chopp mentioned hydropower, the Chehalis Republican said, how about a proposal the GOP has been pushing for years, that would declare power from the dams as "green" allowing it to be considered in a mix of options that would lower the cost of electricity.

The Legislature should also avoid filling out its budget with money from federal programs, which leaves the state "holding the bag" when Congress cancels a program.

"We've got to break the addiction to the federal government," DeBolt said. As for that package to help Boeing a few years back: after it passed, the company moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago, he added.

WA Lege Day 1: Kickoff at noon

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis and Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, talk just before the 2012 legislative session begins.

OLYMPIA — The 2012 legislative session starts at noon, with a bit  of pomp and circumstance.

Legislators also have committee hearings in the afternoon, and Gov. Chris Gregoire's state of the state address tomorrow.

It's a short, 60-day session and a big budget problem, so there's not a lot of time for lollygagging.

To read the Legislative preview, click here. Check the box next to the stories for tips on contacting your legislator.

Gregoire: Time to legalize same-sex marriage

OLYMPIA — Washington must end discrimination against same-sex couples, an emotional Gov. Chris Gregoire said this morning. She urged the Legislature to pass a bill that allows gay and lesbian couples to marry in the state without requiring churches to perform the service if they object.

Gregoire received extended applause from some 70 people crowded into the governor's conference room as she called same-sex marriage rights a defining civil rights issue of the current generation. Younger citizens are ahead of her generation, she said, and the public is ahead of the Legislature on it, she insisted.

Legislators who attended the press conference said they believed they have the votes to pass a bill Gregoire will endorse in the House, but are "a few votes" short of a majority in the Senate.

But it is time for legislators to step up and take a tough vote on same-sex marriage, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. He predicted he would get Republican votes for that measure, something he doubted he would get for a tax increase.

"Suddenly, gay marriage becomes easier than passing taxes," Murray said.