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ID take note: WA child custody law signed

OLYMPIA – Obeying federal requirements to make state law conform to an international treaty on child support rulings is forcing a special session in Idaho. But on Friday, a bill that allows Washington to meet those requirements was signed into law with little fanfare.

Senate Bill 5498 passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously after Spokane Valley Republicans proposed amendments to ease concerns that Washington residents could somehow be subjected to Sharia law – the Islamic legal system based partly on the Koran – in conflict with the state and federal constitutions.

“We sure don't want to have somebody bound by Sharia law or some other foreign law that would conflict with our constitution,” said state Sen. Mike Padden, who proposed one of the amendments.

Similar concerns among Idaho legislators led to a bill dying on the final day of that state’s legislative session. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has called a special session for May 18 in hopes of passing a revised bill and avoiding the loss of some $16 million in federal payments contingent on the state agreeing conform to the treaty.

Padden said he knew of no case in Washington involving an international custody dispute and Sharia law that came up during hearings on the bill. But people were concerned about that possibility, he said, and “I don’t think it hurts to have those protections.”

A lawyer and a former district court judge, Padden proposed an amendment to the bill that says any order from a foreign court that violates a Washington resident’s constitutional rights would require the state Department of Social and Health Services to request a waiver of those provisions from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But the federal agency can deny the waiver. Rep. Matt Shea, his seatmate who is also a lawyer, added an amendment that a Washington court can refuse to enforce an order from a foreign court that “would result in a violation of any right guaranteed by the state or federal constitutions.”

With those amendments, the bill passed the House and Senate.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said the issue is complicated because it involves an international treaty, which the Legislature can’t change. There is also a congressional order that a state must update its child support laws to conform to that treaty by this July or risk losing some federal funding for Temporary Aid to Needy Families.

That threat to cut federal TANF money was a significant problem for Senate Republicans, Padden said: “I think the federal government’s approach in this area was the greatest overreach I’ve ever seen.”

One key to the compromise, Pedersen said, is the amendments in the bill aren’t put into state statutes that involve the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, so that section of the law contains the unaltered language of the international agreement. Instead, the amendments are put into a separate section of state law that lays out special rights and immunities for court actions.

Whether those provisions will ever be used is hard to predict, Pedersen said. The law mostly deals with cases involving child support or custody orders from another state and “there’s not a huge number of international orders.”

Padden, who is chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said he’s instructed staff to watch how the federal government handles any requests for waivers. “We’ve got rights as individual states.”

After signing the bill Friday, Inslee was asked if he had any concerns about Washington residents being subjected to Sharia law as a result of it becoming law. His answer was simple: “No.” 

Court ruling expands rights for WA same-sex couples

OLYMPIA – Supporters of Washington’s same-sex marriage law called Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions a major step forward for gay and lesbian couples, but warned it’s not the end of the road. There are more than 1,000 federal rules and regulations that will have to be studied, and likely more court battles ahead.

“We’re on a long road and today was a Mach 1 step forward,” Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said. “It doesn’t mean we’re at the endpoint.”

When the Legislature approved a same-sex marriage law last spring and voters affirmed it in the November elections,  that invalided the state’s version of the Defense of Marriage Act. But same-sex couples weren’t eligible for some federal benefits, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the bill’s prime sponsor, said. . . 

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Vote on background checks may be delayed

OLYMPIA — A vote on a bill that would require a background check for private gun sales might be delayed because it doesn't have enough support to pass, a co-sponsor said.

The vote on HB 1588 will probably not take place today, Rep. Mike Hope of Lake Stevens,who may be  the lone Republican supporter of the bill. Democrats, who have a comfortable majority in the House, may not have the votes needed to pass it, he said.

With Gov. Jay Inslee spending time in the House wings trying to drum up support for background checks around lunchtime, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, had predicted the bill would be among a package of gun-control proposals to be put to a vote starting around 3 p.m. But after easy votes on four the chamber went into recess and Democrats began talking about holding debates on health care legislatrion instead.

billson the package that involvine changes to the mental health system,   Pedersen said through a spokeswoman the background check bill could still come up for a vote later in the day, or in the evening.

All legislation must pass the chamber where it was introduced by 5 p.m. Wednesday, or be dead for the session.

Background check bill passes House panel


OLYMPIA – A bill requiring almost all gun buyers in Washington to undergo a background check passed a key House panel Tuesday and will likely be part of a package of gun laws up for a floor vote in March.

Despite heavy criticism last week from gun-rights activists, the House Judiciary Committee passed the so-called Universal Background Check bill on a 7-6 vote.

It would require buyers in most private firearms sales either to submit to the same background check they would undergo if buying the gun at a licensed dealer or to produce a valid state concealed pistol license. . .

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WA Lege Day 22: House panel OKs gay marriage bill

OLYMPIA — By a single vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill to allow same-sex marriage in Washington, turning down a pair of amendments by a Spokane Valley legislator.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argued that all business owners with a religious objection to same-sex marriage should be given protection from any civil suit for refusing to participate. That would be in keeping with the state constitution's guarantee of "absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment," he said.

Without it, "private businesses will be subjected to massive new lawsuits," Shea said.

But Judiciary Committee Chairman Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said such concerns were raised years ago when the state first began considering anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and didn't materialize: "We don't have any evidence of any abuse."

Shea also proposed changing the bill to require couples getting married be residents of the state for at least six months. He said he was open to a lower time limit, but one should be placed in the law because "we don't want people abusing our marriage laws here in the state." The provision would cover all marriages, not just those involving same-sex couples.

But Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, D-Lynnwood, said residency requirements "don't work in ther real world." It would put restrictions on all couples in which one is from out of state, and members of the military "would have a very difficult time meeting that requirement," she said.

The committee also rejected an effort to place the law on the November ballot through a referendum.

After all three amendments were rejected on voice votes, the bill itself passed 7-6 on a party-line vote.

The road to same-sex marriage: Both sides weigh in….

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced bills to broaden the rights of couples who register with the state as domestic partners. So far, nearly 5,000 couples have signed up for the registry. Many are same-sex partners; others are heterosexual senior citizens. (The latter group could marry, but doing so would mean that some widows and widowers would lose pension benefits or other rights linked to a deceased spouse.)

Two years ago, lawmakers approved the registry and granted the partners rudimentary rights, such as being able to visit each other in the hospital and make health care decisions for each other.

Last year, those rights and responsibilities were expanded to cover property rights and set up a formal process for dissolving the partnerships.

This year’s legislation — a first draft was nearly 2,000 pages long — is an attempt to give those couples virtually all the rights and responsibilities of married couples in Washington. It covers about 300 things, including pension benefits, estate taxes and things as mundane as automatically transferring a business license to the surviving family member.

For the purposes of this chapter, the terms spouse, marriage, marital, husband, wife, widow, widower, next of kin, and family shall be interpreted as applying equally to state registered domestic partnerships…

the bill says repeatedly. The couples would not, however, be married. Two other bills would allow same sex marriage, but neither of those is expected to pass this year.

“It is not marriage, but it is everything that heterosexual families have currently,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.

Marriage, he and other proponents say, remains the goal.

“What we know