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WaLeg Day 100: More signs a special session is coming

OLYMPIA — No official word yet on if — or should we say — when a special session will be called, but Gov. Jay Inslee said he agreed with one legislator who said all the work won't be done by Sunday, the last day of the 105-day session.

"I believe his assessment is correct," Inslee said when told Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said legislators won't finish on time. Considering Hunter is the House's head budget writer as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, most people would say he has a pretty good idea. "We'll have to talk with leadership."

But he wants legislators to get "as much as humanly possible" done before they go into a special session.

Whether he would call the session to start at the beginning of next week, or give legislators a "cooling off period" hasn't been decided, Inslee said. 

Republican leaders from both chambers said that if they need a special session (which is almost  like saying "if the sun is going to rise in the East tomorrow" but officially,it's not conceded) they would prefer to start right up on Monday.

"If there's a special session, we should get into it right away," House Assistant Republican Leader Joel Kretz, of Wauconda, said. 

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, wasn't ready to agree one would be needed, and used his favorite metaphor for the session: "I've always said the glass is half full, and I want to be the last one to give up that glimmer of hope." 

Another harbinger of a special session: Former Gov. John Spellman stopped by the office for a visit. Spellman was no stranger to special sessions during his term from 1981 - 85, although he was at the Capitol to honor longtime journalist John Hughes.

 

WALeg Day 25: Work ahead on wolf and wildfire bills

OLYMPIA –Two of the most contentious issues in rural Eastern Washington, wildfires and wolves, are generating demands for change and a stream of legislative proposals.

After a hearing on bills that directed at one or the other today, the chairman of the committee handling both issues said he'll try to work with sponsors to craft compromise legislation on each.

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said he'll support some form of “good Samaritan” legislation that would allow landowners to fight fires without prior approval when they break out on nearby state land without getting prior approval. People trying to keep early fires from spreading shouldn’t face criminal or civil penalties, and the state shouldn’t be held liable if they are injured, he said.

Residents who fought parts of last summer’s Carlton Complex wildfire were critical of delays and poor decisions they believe the Department of Natural Resources made in the early days of those fires and said control should be passed to local officials.

“We’re quite capable of fighting fires. It’s passed on from generation to generation,”  said Vick Stokes, a rancher near Twisp who had 90 percent of the land he works burn. “We fought fire by ourselves for three days.”

Local people can come in more quickly to fight fires, said Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, who is sponsoring or co-sponsoring several bills to change wildfire policy. "We heard time and time again on these fires. 'We're on it. We're on it. We've got it handled.' Obviously that wasn't the case."

State officials said they are reviewing the response to last summer's wildfires and agreed protecting life and property in a fire is more important than worrying about resource protection. But any provision to allow residents to fight emerging fires should not include "backfires" which can get out of hand if the winds shift.

Efforts to improve cooperation and communication between the state Department of Natural Resources and local officials and residents could be part of an eventual package, Blake said

Crafting a single wolf bill from seven pending proposals could be trickier. Residents and officials from Northeast Washington counties said they need better tools to keep the growing number of wolves in their region from killing livestock while the rest of the state waits for the wolves to get re-established there. Wildlife and conservation groups said the current wolf management system should be allowed time to work.

“I believe we are making progress,” Bob Aegeter, a member of the Sierra Club who serves on the Wolf Advisory Group, said. “Now is not the time to try and micromanage” the recovery plan.

But Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart said he's been in constant contact with the state asking for help, and his constituents are getting fed up.

"They're willing to lynch me," McCart said. "Bive us some tools at the local level."

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, has a proposal to capture wolves in Northeast Washington and relocate them in suitable areas in other parts of the state. The most suitable spot would be the Olympic Peninsula, which has less livestock and lowland areas where wolves could survive in the winter.

Blake, whose district covers much of the peninsula, doesn’t like that option and thinks another Kretz proposal to take Northeast Washington wolves of the state’s endangered species list, while leaving them on the list for the other areas until they migrate their naturally. But he doubts he can get much support for that from fellow Democrats on the committee, or in the full House.

State officials said they could work with Kretz on a regional “de-listing” but were concerned the bill excluded the public involvement of a State Environmental Protection Act review. Kretz said the issue has been well studied and discussed, and that process would add years to the decision.

Northeast Washington’s not going to wait until 2021. We’re going to do something,” he said. “When you see people having their lives destroyed, they’re not going to wait on bureaucratic processes.”

Telephone town hall tonight in 7th Lege District

The 7th Legislative District's delegation is the most recent group to schedule a telephone town hall meeting. They'll be phoning in tonight.

The district's three Republicans, Sen. Brian Dansel of Republic, and Reps. Joel Kretz, Wauconda, and Shelly Short, Addy, will be on the line starting at 7 p.m. Constituents can call 1-877-229-8493 and enter  112381 when prompted.

Inslee: Do more hard things. GOP: Be more specific.

OLYMPIAWashington should raise its minimum wage, spend more on schools and highways, raise teacher salaries and do something about climate change, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.

“We have done hard things. And we can do more,” the Democratic governor told a joint legislative session in his annual state of the state address.

Legislative Republicans and a Democrat who joined them to form the Senates ruling coalition were quick to criticize the speech as long on ideas but short on specifics. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog. 

 

Wolf control rules expected Friday

OLYMPIA – New rules for dealing with wolf attacks on livestock and domestic animals, which seemed stalled in the Legislature, may be announced as early as today a result of action by key legislators and a state commission.

Today, the House gave final approval to a bill that adds $10 to the cost of certain specialty license plates to provide money for non-lethal methods to control the growing gray wolf populations in Eastern Washington. After being pulled out of committee by a special parliamentary maneuver, it passed unanimously.

Friday, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider rules that would allow residents to kill a wolf that is attacking livestock or pets. The rules are expected to be similar to the provisions of a separate bill that generated hot debate between rural Republican legislators from Eastern Washington and their urban Democratic counterparts. It narrowly passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

DeBolt steps down as House GOP leader

OLYMPIA — Citing health concerns, Rep. Richard DeBolt said today he is stepping down as House Republican leader.

DeBolt, a Chehalis resident first elected in 1996, suffered an unspecified health emergency on the evening of April 10 at his home, a statement from the House Republican caucus said. He has been excused from the legislative action since then, including a vote on the House operating budget last Friday.

He  said he experienced similar health problems two years ago and was advised at that time by his doctor to step down from his leadership post.

"I didn't take that advice and a should have," he said in the statement.  two years ago, but didn't, the statement said . "Sometimes people take their health for granted and feel invincible, but then they are confronted with reality."

DeBolt will finish out his two-year term, the statement said. Deputy Minority Leader Joel Kretz of Wauconda, is serving as leader until the Republican caucus has a formal reorganization.

WA Lege Day 5: Kretz would share the wolves

OLYMPIA — Rep. Joel Kretz made good today on his promise to help Western Washington enjoy one of the "advantages" Eastern Washington has — wolves.

Kretz, R-Wauconda, introduced a bill that would allow the Department of Fish and Wildlife to "translocate" wolves that are captured in Eastern Washington to the other side of the state. Wolves are a protected species under state law, and seven or eight of the state's nine recognized packs are in his northeastern Washington district.

"If wolves are so wonderful, I don't think we should be hoarding them in my district," Kretz said.

Under his proposal, captured wolves could be sent to anywhere that has at least 50 square miles of territory, the amount needed for an adult wolf to roam. That would include some islands in the Puget Sound, and the Olympic Peninsula.  That would allow the entire state to "enjoy the re-establishment of this majestic species."

The department does not currently relocate captured wolves out of their territory, although it does tag or put radio collars on some before releasing them.

He said he asked for co-sponsors from some Western Washington legislators but didn't get any takers.

The bill may never get a hearing, and is a facetious attempt to make a point for another bill Kretz expects to introduce in the next week. That bill would allow the state to take wolves off its endangered species list in Eastern Washington, a step the federal government has already taken, he said. That would allow ranchers to kill wolves attacking livestock or pets, and possibly lay the groundwork for regulated hunting.  

5 seeking 7th District Senate seat

A county commissioner, a former legislator and a former legislative aide are among five applicants so far for an open state Senate seat in Northeastern Washington’s 7th District.

The seat becomes open Jan. 1 when Sen. Bob Morton, a 22-year veteran legislator, retires halfway through his term. Republican precinct committee officers in the district will nominate as many as three possible replacement to the county commissioners from Spokane, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry and Okanogan counties, who must choose one through a majority vote.

The district’s two state representatives, Republicans Joel Kretz and Shelly Short have said they won’t seek the Senate position.

Applicants can seek the office up to the time precinct officers meet on Dec. 15 in Colville. At this point, GOP officials said they knew of five actively seeking the job

To read about the applicants, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Short won’t seek Senate seat

OLYMPIA — Rep. Shelly Short said this evening she will not seek the state Senate seat that will become open on Jan. 1 with the retirement of Bob Morton.

Morton, a 22-year veteran of the Legislature, announced last week that he would retire halfway through his current term. His position will be filled through a process that takes as many as three nominations from Republican precinct committee officers in northeast Washington's 7th Legislative District, and a majority vote by commissioners of the five counties in the district.

Short, who was just elected to her third House term in November, said she wants to remain in that chamber and continue her work on issues involving energy, the environment and natural resources: "It's important to keep that continuity." 

Conversations she has had over the last several days convinced her there are good candidates in the district interested in the Senate seat.

Rep. Joel Kretz, the district's senior House member, previously said he would not seek the seat. 

Kretz won’t seek Senate seat, Short might

OLYMPIA — State Rep. Joel Kretz of Wauconda will not seek the 7th District Senate seat being vacated by Bob Morton, but seatmate Shelly Short said she is considering it.

Morton announced this week that he will retire at the end of this year, leaving two years on his term. . . 

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

A dam good bill with some teeth in it

OLYMPIA — Beavers making a nuisance of themselves in Western Washington could be relocated to Eastern Washington areas that need their help in damming streams, but the furry critters from Eastern Washington couldn't be shipped west under a bill approved Wednesday by the Senate.

Seems there's already too many of the tree-chomping mammals west of the Cascades.

The proposal, described by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, as a "cute, furry little bill," allows the Department of Fish and Wildlife to set up a system in which a landowner who wants to improve groundwater or downstream flows can request beavers being captured elsewhere and removed from land where they are creating a nuisance. It also provided several legislators some much-needed work on their joke delivery.

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

Conservationist posts thoughts on Washington cougar hunting bill

PREDATORSMitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest has concerns about hunting cougars.

Nevertheless, he was disappointed by the Washington Legislature's failure to pass a bill to extend a pilot program that has allowed the use of hounds for limited cougar hunting in Northeastern Washington.  The bill died on the vine last week despite bipartisan support.

On Friday, Friedman wrote his well thought-out reaction to the situation and where the state and people in northeastern Washington should go from here.

"Cougar hunting can’t not be controversial," Friedman said. "On one hand, they are gorgeous cats that, as apex predators, play critical roles in the balance of ecosystems, assuring that conservationists and animal lovers have strong feelings about them. On the other hand, this silent and powerful stalker gives people who live or raise livestock around them strong feelings of a different sort."

Hound-hunting deal in the works

OLYMPIA – These adolescent males can be trouble. They wander around, get into fights on hostile turf, bother hard-working people just trying to make a living.
The experts don’t always agree on the best way to handle these problem teens. Should we hunt them down with dogs, and shoot more of them or less?
Oh, did you think we were talking about teenage boys? No, this group of adolescent males belong to the species puma concolor, also known as cougars, whose potential for increased confrontation with humans has for years been a point of contention between advocates of hound-hunting and its opponents.
An agreement struck this week between a major environmental group and an Eastern Washington legislator could be a truce in the long-running fight over hunting cougars with dogs, and lead to better state management of the big cats that some see as an icon of the West and others see as a hazard to people and livestock…


Read more about it, or comment, by clicking here.

Growth Management: Should counties be allowed out?

OLYMPIA – The state's environmental community is fighting a plan to allow four lightly populated Eastern Washington counties to opt out of the Growth Management Act.
But in trying to generate opposition to the proposed change, the group Futurewise seriously overstated the impact that law has on Ferry County, one of four that would be allowed to drop the law under HB 1094 .
 GMA is protecting nearly three-quarters of a million acres of farmland in Ferry County, keeping it from being “paved over,” the Seattle-based organization claimed in a recent website posting and a separate appeal for funds.
“In Washington, it’s far too easy to pave over farmland if it’s not designated as such,” the group said on its website. “That’s why we were fighting so hard to get the county to property designate and protect the best of the county’s 749,452 acres of land in farms and ranching.”
Wait a minute, said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, sponsor of the bill. There aren't 750,000 acres of farmland – or any other kind of land – subject to GMA in Ferry County…
  

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

E. Washington gets several GOP leadership spots

OLYMPIA — Members of the Eastern Washington legislative delegation were chosen for several Republican leadership spots today.

Rep. Joel Kretz of Wauconda, whose 7th District stretches from Okanogan County to northwestern Spokane, was reappointed to the No. 2 spot, deputy leader of the House GOP caucus.  (Fact check: Earlier version of this post had Kretz in the 9th.)

Reps. Kevin Parker of Spokane and Matt Shea of Spokane Valley were named assistant floor leaders.

The top House spot, House Republican leader, went to Rep. Richard DeBolt of Chehalis.

On the Senate side, Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla was re-elected Republican leader. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville was re-elected Republican floor leader.

Boundary Dam bill advances

OLYMPIA – One of this session’s David vs. Goliath matches involves Pend Oreille County in the role of the shepherd with the slingshot, and Seattle City Light, starring as the over-sized  Philistine.

The utility may take issue with the characterization, but few other people would have objected Thursday during the Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee hearing, which passed along a bill designed to solve the long-standing dispute between the two over the Boundary Dam.

The city utility owns the dam, built in the 1950s, and uses much of the electricity to keep the lights on, the homes warm, the stores and coffee houses open in Seattle. It also sells the excess power, at a good rate, to other users across the West.

It doesn’t pay local taxes, but instead pays a negotiated impact fee to the county for the dam. When the latest 10-year contract on those fees expired in 2008, negotiations over the next 10-year agreement broke down. Pend Oreille County thought they should be considerably higher; Seattle City Light disagreed.

The Legislature held off jumping into the dispute last year, but it dragged on for 2009, and Pend Oreille County was sorely missing those payments. $1.3 million is not chump change in a place with high unemployment and underemployment. This year, Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, dropped a bill that ordered a utility of a city with more than 500,000 people (read: Seattle) that has a dam in another county (as in Pend Oreille)  to negotiate impact payments, keep making payments set up under an old contract while negotiating a new one, and pay the cost of arbitration if negotiations break down.

Considering that there are considerably more legislators who represent Seattle than Pend Oreille, and Democrats control both houses, one might have thought Republican Kretz’s bill had about as much chance as the Jamaican bobsled team getting the gold. But no…

To read more, go inside the blog

Lawmakers blast child protective officials; DSHS defends itself…

Photo: Colleen Beimer, from Bonney Lake, cries while holding a picture of her grandchildren. Richard Roesler - The Spokesman Review

Lawmakers, parents and a local prosecutor on Thursday blasted state child-protection officials, saying the state is too quick to remove children from their families.

“The system is broken. The children are forgotten,” said Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen. He said he found “a culture of deceit and deception” among Child Protective Services workers in Colville.

The standing-room-only crowd, numbering about 100, was full of parents and grandparents, some holding photographs of children.

Thursday’s meeting was called by state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, who’s been highly critical of state officials for months in a case involving grandparents’ efforts to get custody of their 3-year-old granddaughter.

“Lies are put on desks,” Roach said on the Senate floor later in the day. “Children are being hurt.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Health Services said officials take such allegations very seriously.

“If someone believes that any of our staff have been dishonest, falsified documents or have retaliated against families, we ask that people report this to the Children’s Administration or Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman,” said Sherry Hill.

“The first priority of the Children’s Administration is the safety of children,” she said. “Our goal is to keep children in their home as long as they are safe.”

Of the child abuse and neglect cases investigated, she said, fewer than 20 percent result in the children being placed in foster care. And when that does happen, Hill said, “we then work toward reunification with the family if that is possible.”

Phoning it in

State legislators like to make it back to the district from Olympia during the session to talk to the “real folks” with things like town hall meetings. With the crush of business this year, that’s difficult.

When one’s district is Northeastern Washington’s 7th, there’s another problem. The folks are so far flung — from Metaline to Tonasket to Odessa to Republic to Deer Park — that finding the right town to book the hall is difficult.

Reps. Joel Kretz and Shelly Short are trying to get around this by having a telephonic town hall meeting. Think of it as a big party line (you remember party lines, right? OK, if you’re younger than about 50, probably not).  You dial in and can listen and talk.

They’re going to try this at 7 p.m. on April 16. To participate, one needs to call 1-877-229-8493, then enter the password number of 14789. They hope it will work like a call-in radio show.

Trying to broker a way out of a longstanding fish war…

From this morning’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ Trying to broker a truce in a long-running dispute, state lawmakers are considering stripping the state Fish and Wildlife Commission of its role overseeing commercial fishing.

The move – likely to be voted on in a House committee today – caps a tug-of-war with high emotions on both sides.

The nine-member citizen commission, appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, oversees fishing and hunting policy.

Critics – including some key lawmakers and Indian tribes – say the current members are biased in favor of sport fishing.

But the commission’s defenders say the group is simply doing the best it can to preserve struggling fish populations. And fishing with a rod instead of a net, they say, is far more selective at a time when the state’s trying to preserve wild fish runs.

The commissioners “are acting on behalf of conservation,” said Ed Wickersham, a sport fisherman from Ridgefield. “They’re frightening interests that have lived by exploiting these resources.”

One of the most high-profile critics of the commission is Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle. He has allowed the Senate to confirm just one of the commissioners, Spokane’s George Orr.

Jacobsen is unhappy that agency director Jeff Koenings – perceived as a commercial-fishing ally – resigned under heavy pressure in December. He’s also offended that the commission snubbed commission vice chairman Fred Shiosaki two years ago, deciding against making the Spokane angler chairman. Shiosaki later resigned from the commission.

“He’s a wonderful gentleman, and they blighted his career at the end,” Jacobsen said.

This year, Jacobsen proposed a bill to shrink the commission, shorten the terms, and strip it of authority to choose the head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The governor would do that instead.

“They’ve managed to enrage the tribes, the commercial fishermen, the hunting community. And that’s pretty hard to do,” he said. “They’ve proved it doesn’t work.” The Senate approved the bill and sent it to the House earlier this month.

Jacobsen’s clear about the goal.

“If this bill passes,” he told lawmakers this week, “we neutered ’em.”

Cap and trade bill clears a key committee, but is much stripped down…for now, it’s mainly cap, not much trade…

In tomorrow’s paper:

A controversial “cap and trade” plan that would put Washington at the forefront of efforts to combat global warming has been dramatically watered down under pressure from businesses and rural Republicans.

Nonetheless, proponents say they remain optimistic. The bill, requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire, cleared a key House committee Tuesday.

“It’s still viable. It establishes a real cap” on greenhouse gases, said state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. “That’s a critical first step.”

Among the sharpest critics of the bill: Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. Saying that the plan will destroy rural industries, he’s blasted it as “cap and extort” and says that trading pollution credits would spawn cronyism. He’s publicly suggested that disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich would be a good fit to run it.

“He’s well-suited to run a system like that,” Kretz said in an interview Wednesday. “And he’s looking for work.”

Gregoire pushes ahead with anti-global-warming proposal; rural lawmakers call it “fanatical”

Interesting exchange this morning between rural Republican lawmakers and state Department of Ecology head Jay Manning, who was describing Washington’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative, which targets global warming.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, is one of several rural lawmakers who are extremely leery of the proposal. He doesn’t want Democrats’ big focus on “green jobs,” he said, to come at the cost of blue-collar jobs.

Manning suggested that the risk of global warming to the region’s forests — increased insect damage is widely believed to be due to warmer winters — will hurt Kretz’s constituents more than anyone.

“The fire risk we will be facing is very different and very much greater than anything we’ve faced before,” said Manning.

And he suggested…