Latest from The Spokesman-Review
OLYMPIA — A week ago, a group of state senators asked state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to investigate whether Planned Parenthood organizations in Washington had broken any laws in the wake of national reports the organization sold tissue from aborted fetuses.
The attorney general's office said it would study the request and get back to them.
On Wednesday, a day after a group calling itself Center for Medical Progress released a fifth video, the 10 lawmakers asked again, with Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, reminding the attorney general's office of the group's July 29 letter. Ferguson's spokeswoman said they are still studying the request.
"We won't have further public comment until the review is complete," Alison Dempsey-Hall said.
Planned Parenthood officials say the undercover videos are highly edited and amount to a smear campaign. Abortion opponents have stepped up calls to cut federal funding for the organizaiton, but a vote on that failed in the Senate recently.
Warnick's press release temporized somewhat on its allegation of wrongdoing. Conversations on the videos "could suggest (Planned Parenthood) may be performing partial birth abortions to provide fetal organs to biomedical companies for research." Comments by a Planned Parenthood official "hint" the organization needs increased scrutiny over partial-birth abortions.
OLYMPIA – Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing a California firm for charging Washington customers “exorbitant and illegal” fees to adjust their student loan debt.
Ferguson filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging Student Loan Processing.US and its owner, James Krause, with violating state laws designed to protect student loan borrowers. The lawsuit claims SLP illegally charged state residents $123,000 to help consolidate their federal student loans.
“My office will aggressively crack down on those who prey on student loan borrowers – many of whom are already overburdened – for profit,” Ferguson said in a statement.
SLP did not immediately return a request for comment Monday. On its website, the company offers to help customers fill out and submit paperwork to the U.S. Department of Education, which offers the same services at no charge.
Attorney General's Office spokeswoman Alison Dempsey-Hall said a consumer filed a complaint with the office about SLP. She said she couldn't confirm or deny an investigation, although the lawsuit references claims within SLP's mailing system that the company works directly with the Department of Education. It does not.
Ferguson's office found SLP charged consumers an up-front fee of $250, or 1 percent of their outstanding loan balance, whichever was greater. Some paid up to $2,000, although state law caps initial fees at just $25.
SLP also charged a $39 monthly fee for all customers, although state law caps monthly fees at 15 percent of a borrower's monthly loan payment. The 88 Washington residents owed an average of $58,000 in student loans, the statement says.
Ferguson wants SLP to void all of its contracts with Washington customers, pay back all of their fees, pay the state $2,000 for each legal violation, and cover attorneys' costs and fees.
Dempsey-Hall said SLP has been notified of the lawsuit and has 60 days to respond.
Many student loan adjustment firms have sprung up in recent years as the nation's student debt skyrocketed to $1.2 million. Roughly 40 million Americans now have at least one outstanding student loan.
SLP, an unofficial business name for Irvine Web Works, Inc., is also being sued by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau and the Attorney General's Office urge consumers not to pay up-front for loan adjustment services.
OLYMPIA – The Supreme Court should not go down a “slippery slope” and punish the Legislature because it didn’t come up with a complete plan earlier this year to improve public schools, the state attorney general’s office said.
Although the public education is the state’s “paramount” duty, it is not the only duty, and the Legislature still has to pay for programs for public health, safety and welfare, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and a group of senior assistants said this week in their last written argument before all sides in the case appear before the state’s highest court next Wednesday. . .
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It probably won’t affect two other controversial cases that involve businesses and claims of religious freedom.
A priority for Gov. Jay Inslee and most legislative Democrats for the last two years, the Reproductive Parity Act would require any insurance plan that offers maternity care to also cover abortions. It easily passed the state House of Representatives this year and last, but died in the Senate where the ruling coalition is predominantly Republicans.
“I’m hoping that what this will do is urge the Legislature to pick (the legislation) up and pass it next year,” Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, prime sponsor of the Reproductive Parity Act, said of the court’s Hobby Lobby decision.
Sen. Mike Padden,
The Hobby Lobby involves forms of contraception that some people consider a form of abortion. The Reproductive Parity Act covers actual abortions, Padden said. “The position against the RPA is even stronger than the argument against abortion in the Hobby Lobby case,” he said.
Opponents of abortion will definitely use Monday’s decision to fight the proposal, Hobbs predicted, and supporters should take it as a sign that a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion is not “all worked out” even though that Supreme Court case is 40 years old. “I think this is a fight that will continue on a state-by-state basis.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the Hobby Lobby decision should have no impact on a court case in which some pharmacists don’t want to stock the morning-after birth control pill or a separate case in which a florist refused to serve a same-sex couple’s wedding. Religious freedom is cited in both cases, but they involve state laws, not the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act involved in Monday’s ruling, he said.
The court also said the Hobby Lobby decision doesn’t create a religious exception to anti-discrimination laws,
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OLYMPIA — Businesses that offer health coverage to opposite-sex spouses must also offer it to same-sex spouses, state officials said today. Insurance plans must offer equal coverage to all spouses.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz issued an open letter today to the state's employers, insurance companies and benefit plan administrators that state law requires same-sex and opposite-sex spouses to be offered equal health coverage. Otherwise they run afoul of the state laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The letter follows on the heels of an agreement the attorney general's office reached with O'Reilly Automotive Inc. this spring to extent health benefits to same-sex couples after the state received a consumer protection complaint. It's not possible to send the letter to every employer in the state, Ferguson said, so the three held a joint press conference and sent the information to various e-mail lists.
The state banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2006, and voters approved a law legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012.
Ferguson said his office had only one other complaint of a company not providing health care benefits to same-sex partners and "can't take a guess" on how many others might be violating the law. But if O'Reilly, a large national company with what he termed sophisticated legal advice could be out of compliance, others could, too. He urged anyone facing discrimination on benefits for spouses to contact his office.
Kreidler said letters were going out to the 48 insurance companies operating in the state, although his office has not received any complaints about carriers failing to offer benefits to same-sex couples. While it's possible an employer could drop benefits for opposite-sex spouses to comply with the law, the financial impact of covering the additional spouses is relatively minor, he added.
OLYMPIA — Washington rejected the U.S. Energy Department's latest plan for the cleanup of leaking tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
The federal government, in turn, rejected the state's counter offer, setting up the prospect that they could be headed back to court with their long-running dispute over one of the nation's biggest nuclear cleanups. . .
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OLYMPIA — Washington is rejecting the U.S. Energy Department's latest plan for the cleanup of leaking tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
In a letter today to the Justice Department, Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the proposal DOE made last moth to amend the 2010 plan on cleaning up the waste is too vague. The Energy Department has fallen behind on its timetable to clean up waste left over from years of production for the nation's nuclear weapons, and came up with a revision.
"Energy's proposal lacks sufficient specificity, accountability and enforceability," Inslee said.
The state has its own plan, which it considers more specific. If DOE rejects Washington's plan — which could happen later today — the state could go to "dispute resolution," which involves a 40-day period of negotiations. If there's no agreement there, the state could go to federal court and ask a judge to order the department to use the state's plan.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson held a press conference this morning to announce a lawsuit against a group that has given some $7 million to the campaign against Initiative 522. Here's an updated report from Mike Baker of the Associated Press:
SEATTLE (AP) — Washington’s attorney general accused a food industry group Wednesday of violating state campaign finance laws for how it collected and spent more than $7 million to oppose a food labeling initiative…
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is being asked to explain to a Senate committee his department's policy toward Washington and other states that have legalized some form of marijuana consumption.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wants Holder to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 10 to clarify the federal response for Washington and Colorado, which have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults, and for the 20 states and the District of Columbia which have legalized medical marijuana.
Afther Washington and Colorado voters passed state laws legalizing recreational marijuana use last November, Leahy asked the Obama administration what it planned to do about enforcement policies and "what assurances the administration can give to state officials responsible for the licensing of marijuana retailers to ensure they will not face criminal penalties for carrying out their duties under those state laws," he said Monday in a prepared statement.
State laws should be respected, Leahy said. "At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government."
Gov. Jay Inslee and State Attorney General Rob Ferguson met with Holder in January, asking what the federal government's response would be to Washington's legalization of marijuana. They have yet to get an answer, and Ferguson said last week he had "no additional knowledge" of what the federal response would be. The state is preparing rules for people who want to obtain licenses to grow, process and sell marijuana legally.
The attorney general's office "continues to prepare for the worst case scenario, which would be litigation" if the federal government tries to stop that, Ferguson said.
OLYMPIA – Public hospitals that provide maternity services must also provide access to contraception and abortion, even if they contract with a private company that bars such services, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Wednesday.
In a formal attorney general’s opinion, Ferguson said state law, approved by voters in 1991, requires a public hospital offer “substantially equivalent” abortion and contraceptive services if they provide maternity care.
Private hospitals, including those run by the Catholic Church which has religious objections to contraception and abortion, have no such obligation, he said. . .
The federal government must resume work on the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada that would store the high-level nuclear waste from Hanford and other sites around the country, a federal appeals court said today.
In what amounts to a judicial smackdown of the Obama administration, the court said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Obama administration can't override Congress, which ordered the repository built in 2002.
Washington state, which is the home to an estimated 56 million gallons of highly toxic nuclear waste from the production of nuclear warheads at Hanford, had joined the lawsuit against the commission. Along with South Carolina and some residents of the Tri-Cities, Washington sought a writ of mandamus, or order from the court for the federal government to follow the law. Today they got what they wanted …
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OLYMPIA — State officials appear to be hoping for the best while preparing for the worst as Washington and the federal government try to determine how the state will license and regulate marijuana.
After a meeting in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee said the nation's chief legal officer was open to learning more about the law voters passed and the state's plans to make it work. There were no firm conclusions from their first meeting, Inslee said.
OLYMPIA – The Democratic candidate for state attorney general is being accused of violating TVW broadcast rules by using the government cable channel’s footage in his latest commercial.
The commercial for Bob Ferguson, which only appears on the Internet, features a brief video clip of his opponent, Republican Reagan Dunn, challenging a Ferguson allegation about poor attendance at King County Council meetings.
TVW broadcast the June 12 debate live from the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane, and the full event remains available on the organization's website. But the network doesn’t allow edited versions of any of its broadcasts to be used for campaigns, TVW President Greg Lane said…
For all the attention on this week's debate between the two main gubernatorial hopefuls, it was really the showdown between two of the candidates for attorney general that was more exciting.
And above is the link that highlighted it all, an exchange that started with a question about the death penalty. Democrat Bob Ferguson opposes the death penalty, but pledged to uphold the law. Republican Reagan Dunn supports it. But that really wasn't what made the interaction interesting. What makes it a fun listen is the accusations thrown first from Dunn at Ferguson, then Ferguson at Dunn, and then Dunn's rather successful attempt to diffuse Ferguson's accusation with the line: "That was 25 years ago. I was 17, and I was doing doughnuts in a parking with snow. I'm sorry."
In a move that may shock no one, the Association of Washington Business endorsed Republicans Rob McKenna for governor and Reagan Dunn for state attorney general.
The business group, which functions as the state's Chamber of Commerce, co-hosted debates in Spokane Wednesday for both offices with McKenna facing off against Democrat Jay Inslee for the first time and Dunn against Democrat Bob Ferguson.
The AWB board determined that "McKenna is the best candidate to lead our state to better times" and Dunn is "the best candidate to represent business interests" in the AG's office.
It probably didn't hurt that McKenna discussed his support for charter schools, which Inslee opposes, and the AWB came out in favor of an initiative that is gathering signatures to put a charter school proposal on the November ballot.
The AWB generally endorses Republicans for the state's chief executive. But it didn't just endorse GOP candidates today. It endorsed Democrat Jim McIntire for state treasurer.
McIntire, it should be noted, is running unopposed.
Just a reminder that the two likely finalists for governor and state attorney general will be debating this afternoon in Spokane at the Bing Crosby Theater.
Democrat Bob Ferguson and Republican Reagan Dunn are up first in the debates sponsored by the Association of Washington Business and Greater Spokane Inc. The attorney general candidates debate at 2 p.m.
Democrat Jay Inslee, the former congressman, and Republican Rob McKenna, the current attorney general, are on at 3:30 p.m.
Moderator for both debates is Austin Jenkins of Northwest Public Radio. If you don't have a ticket, both debates will be carried live on TVW, and on NPR stations around Washington. And Spin Control will be live-blogging the governor's race.
The AG's race probably has the less familiar candidates, especially in Eastern Washington…
What may well be the first gubernatorial debate of the Washington election season could happen June 12 in Spokane.
The Association of Washington Business, which has a long history of gubernatorial matchups in front of its membership, wants to have Attorney General Rob McKenna and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee face off the Bing Crosby Theater during the group's annual spring meeting.
But after it announced the debate this week, the Inslee campaign said it was still working on the schedule and hadn't yet committed to that event or any other debate, forum or joint appearance. (Editor's note: an earlier version of this post said the debate was set.)
"It's on our list of things we wanted to schedule," Jaime Smith, campaign spokeswoman said, adding she was aware the group has a long tradition of holding a gubernatorial debate but was baffled that AWB's announcement came before a formal commitment. "We've got lots of invitations."
Jocelyn McCabe, a spokeswoman for AWB, said scheduling a debate is a bit like planning a wedding. You get the place, the date, the time first, then handle some of the other details like format and lining up media partners a bit closer to the event. It has Greater Spokane Inc., as a co-sponsor of the debate. The group needed to schedule its spring meeeting in Spokane and book the hall for the debate now. It told the Inslee campaign it would announce the matchup in early January. And did.
"We're having the debate," McCabe said.
And if Inslee can't make it? They may be having a conversation with McKenna, because it requires at least two people to debate.
Also on the AWB's planned fight card — oops, debate schedule — will be state attorney general candidates Reagan Dunn and Bob Ferguson.
The debates will take place before either race is officially set, because the state primary isn't until early August. But that isn't a concern for the Inslee campaign. In fact, he's called for six debates across the state, divided geographically, and with some focusing on set issues, so to wait until after the primary for a half dozen debates would require cramming the debates pretty closely together.
McCabe, spokeswoman for AWB, said both campaigns would be given a set number of tickets to watch the debate along with the group's members.
Moderating both debates would be Austin Jenkins of Northwest News Network. The Bing has been the site of several memorable political debates for local offices.
Now it might be the back drop for what is a regular feature of most hotly contested races: a debate over debates.