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Credit card surcharges better addressed by the feds or by the states?

Today's Olympia-based story on efforts to block credit card surcharges in Washington's Legislature elicited some interesting online comments.

The story demonstrates the unexpected position by a conservative legislator (Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane) who argues a credit card surcharge is best left to federal legislation. States rightrs?  Parker isn't of the opinion that the state should step in.

Here is part of that story:

By Tom Sowa

Washington may join 10 other states that now prohibit merchants from adding credit card surcharges to purchases.

The state House of Representatives expects to vote on HB 1870 today and send it to the state Senate.

But even the bill’s House sponsors say they’re uncertain the state Senate will vote on a bill that some state business groups consider unnecessary.

If made into law, the bill prevents Washington merchants from adding a surcharge to any credit or debit card transaction. The bill does not stop merchants from offering discounts for cash-only purchases.

One sponsor, Rep. Cyrus Habib, a Seattle-area Democrat, introduced the bill in response to a recent federal court ruling that allows merchants to add a surcharge of up to 4 percent of a purchase cost.

That surcharge option took effect on Feb. 1, but national consumer and business groups have said few merchants have opted to use it.

Jan Teague, president and CEO of the Washington Retail Association, said her group opposes the bill because there’s no need to make it a state law.

“None of our retailers in Washington impose a surcharge. In fact, those who use MasterCard and Visa are contractually prevented from doing so already,” Teague said.

“So, it makes no sense to try to turn this into law,” she added. “I know of no retailers here who are doing that.”

The new surcharge option took effect based on a preliminary court ruling in a New York lawsuit filed by retailers against the nation’s largest credit card companies.

The ruling said merchants could add surcharges, but they needed to post them at the point of sale and could not charge more than the actual “swipe fee” – the amount a retailer pays the bank for each transaction.

The National Retail Federation says few retailers are adding the charges; it also notes that the court ruling is preliminary and could be reversed when a judge makes a final ruling later this year.

The bill was approved on an 8-7 vote last week in the Business and Financial Services Committee of the state House. Habib and committee chairman Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, were among the sponsors.

Washington state getting more serious about creating a one-stop business portal

Each week during the legislative session, OfficeHours will focus on a single piece of legislation, seeing how it would affect state businesses and considering the bill's chances of going forward.

This week's bill is HB 1757, introduced by a bunch of legislators including Marcus Ricelli, who represents Spokane's Third District.

The companion Senate bill is SB 5718.

It would create a one stop business portal to simplify business interactions with regulatory bodies (like revenue, L&I and Employment Security).

The language of the bill is revealing, at least about the state's foot-dragging effort in this arena.

In 2006 the state legislature adopted a bill requiring the creation of the business portal. “But it has not been developed,” the bill's analysis notes.

That same summary says: The bill outlines “high-level technology architecture and implementation steps to achieve a single online place for businesses to accomplish their state business in a way that is consistent and efficient for both business and government.”

The bill further requires the office of the chief information officer to provide the economic development committees of the legislature with a plan for establishing  performance  benchmarks  and measuring  the  results of implementing a one-stop integrated system for business interactions with government.

This is a goal that Washington failed to execute so far, but which  Oregon has recently completed.
Here's the Oregon summary of its portal, called Business Xpress.


  

Gun right backers don’t have to slack on safety

SHOOTING — It's interesting if not disturbing that the discussion over guns has prompted some people among their group of circled wagons to excuse poor gun handling.

See the comments to my post regarding the photo (above) snapped at Friday's gun rights rally in Olympia.

In my experience at the Spokane Gun Club or Spokane Rifle Club, somebody would quickly step forward to correct a person for poor muzzle control. What's wrong with doing same in the media?

This woman does not know where that gun is pointing because it's behind her and out of her control. Bolt is closed. End of point.

This obervation caused some commentors to cast aspersions from their narrowly defined and propagandized vision of the media, whatever “the media” are.

But back to the point: 

Being a gun rights advocate doesn't mean you should slack off on offering reminders and enforcing points of safe gun handling with others around you, whether it's at home, in a hunting situation or at a 2nd Amendment rally. 

Should firearms safety be a requirement for gun owners?

SHOOTING — The Spokesman-Review photo above from Friday's gun rights rally in Olympia shows an appalling lack of muzzle control, with a firearm being carried in an unsafe manner.

That lady would be booted out of my elk camp, or forced to eat my cooking as punishment.

It's a reminder that under our current system, the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is not backed up by a requirement for responsibility or safety.

I see signs here of a poorly regulated militia.

$260k to woman strip-searched in jail

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The city of Olympia has agreed to pay $260,000 to a woman strip-searched and zapped with a stun gun in the city jail.

Cynthia Brown's lawyer Edwin Budge calls the agreement “vindication to some degree.”

While settling, the city denies liability. Its outside counsel for the case, Donald Law, says the city accomplished its primary goal, which was to “reach a fair settlement with Cynthia Brown.”

Brown had sued the city in September, alleging her civil rights were violated and that the strip search was illegal.

The Olympian says public documents show Brown was arrested and taken to the jail on Aug. 19, 2008, on a misdemeanor trespassing accusation, which was later dismissed. Records show Brown refused an order to strip to her underwear without a female officer present, then was shot with a Taser. She then removed her clothes.

The newspaper says the city changed jail booking procedures related to strip searches as a result of the case.

GSI launches new site to gather input on key business issues

Greater Spokane Incorporated, the area's main business advocacy group, has launched a satellite website to gather comments and opinions from area constituents.

It's YourPolicyVoice.org, and it launched in concert with the recent visit by GSI and about 90 business people to  Olympia last week to speak to legislators about Eastern Washington issues.

The goal is to have easier ways for users to submit letters to public officials on key issues. Site users can also use GSI's agenda summaries, legislative data and outlines of relevant public policy topics.

“This site allows our membership and the public to have a strong voice in issues related to them and their business,” said Rich Hadley, President and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated. “What goes on in Olympia, and what goes on in D.C. affects every business. Our hope is that this site becomes a valuable resource for everyone.”

Not really a good-bye, just a new address

For many years, the last leg of my commute to work included a walk across the Monroe Street Bridge into downtown, reminding me of some things I like best about Spokane.

The river below, which rushes so fast in spring the mist rises above the bridge, and the banks below that are green in the summer and golden in the fall. Riverfront Park is on the left, and Peaceful Valley the right. The downtown in front has interesting buildings like an art deco City Hall, and a few strange ones, including the one where I work which is topped by a witch’s hat strung with Christmas lights.

I started making that walk more than 28 years ago as a beginning reporter saving money for a baby on the way, because one can park on Ide Street for free. I kept making it, not just because I’m thrifty (or cheap, as my two kids might say) but because it could jump-start a day covering government and politics around Spokane.

The people along that route –

Looks like an all-cuts budget in Wash.

Income tax plan dies. Looks like the sales-tax plan is dead, too. What will be cut? Read on.

All cuts, no new revenue. Thoughts?

 

 

Information clampdown in Olympia

It’s pretty tough to get news out of the Legislature on what’s going to happen with the state budget. Rich Roesler had a column about that. Now, here’s a Seatte Times writer wondering why House Leader Frank Chopp won’t meet the press.

Must be pretty awful news if it’s being guarded so zealously from the pubilc (and lobbyists), but don’t we already know that? Bring it on. The sooner we know, the sooner we can debate.

 

Anti-poverty groups rally at capitol…

About 300 people from anti-poverty groups and other organizations held a rally on the capitol steps Monday afternoon. They called for restrictions on payday lending, more health care, and preservation of the General Assistance to the Unemployable program, which provides health coverage and monthly stipends of $339 to people who cannot hold a job, often due to mental health problems.

Who greets the legislative session each January with glee?

Restaurants, florists, and the city of Olympia’s traffic-fine fund.

Olympia’s handing out sandbags…

The city’s giving up to 10 sandbags apiece to city residents facing flooding problems.

Details here.

(Hat tip to Olyblog.)

What’s really being discussed when public officials are hunched over their laptops?

Great story from the Olympian’s Matt Batcheldor recently, in which he details what council members seem to be doing on their computers during meetings: secretly working out how to vote and mocking a member of the public who showed up to testify.

The paper got the council’s email records for half a dozen meetings over several months. Among the exchanges:

During the Oct. 14 meeting, in an e-mail to (councilman Craig) Ottavelli, (councilman Jeff) Kingsbury made a derisive comment about Gerald Reilly, a member of a citizen’s group that wants to turn much of the area between Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet into a park.

“Jerry Reilly can’t even look anyone in the eye. Coward,” Kingsbury wrote.

Asked about that, Kingsbury told the paper that Reilly was a friend and he wouldn’t comment on the e-mail.

The Olympia council also felt the love from the Tacoma News-Tribune, which editorialized:

We may be interlopers from outside Olympia, but the idea that a council could have what amounts to a secret meeting under the cover of an ostensibly legal and public one should be troubling to anyone concerned with ensuring that public business is done in public.



Several state offices closed due to yesterday’s snow, ice…

Several state offices have shut down today, as the Olympia area is blanketed with dense wet snow from yesterday and several previous days. Of the four capitol reporters who made it in to my office this morning, three got their cars stuck in the parking lot. (The fourth is a sturdy native Idahoan at the wheel of an old four-wheel-drive Nissan.) The weather has hampered staffing at state offices since the middle of last week. On Thursday, the Employment Security Department temporarily closed its two call centers that field requests for unemployment insurance claims, saying that snow and ice made it too hazardous for employees to get there to man the phones. (Most workers can also file a claim online at www.esd.wa.gov.)

Who’s watching the store? Olympia press corps has shrunk by two-thirds since early 1990s…

As newspapers shrink staff, the number of reporters covering state government has shrunk dramatically, both across the nation and here in Olympia. We joke that soon the only one watching government will be the robotic cameras of TVW, the state’s public affairs network. And no one laughs very hard.

The Seattle Times’ Andrew Garber chronicled the growing emptiness at the press desks on the House and Senate floor.

In 1993, there were 34 journalists covering the Washington state Legislature. By 2007, there were 17. This year, there may be as few as 10 full-time journalists, mostly newspaper reporters.

and this:

The Associated Press office at the state Capitol keeps a printout with mugshots of reporters who recently covered the Legislature pinned to a wall. They mark off each reporter who leaves. Seven faces are now covered with smiley-face stickers.

The public-relations staff employed by state lawmakers and government agencies, many of whom are former journalists, vastly outnumber the reporters in Olympia who call them for information.

Some political bloggers are trying to fill that gap. Horse’s Ass blogger David Goldstein is thinking of dispatching one of his political writers, Josh Feit, to cover Olympia’s legislative session. Writes Goldstein:

The problem, of course, is the money.  It’ll cost HA about $15,000 in salary and expenses to pay Josh to cover this four month session… and that’s on top of the money I ultimately need to raise to support myself.  And I’d like to hear from you, my readers, whether you think it is worth it?

Snow paralyzes capitol…

I know this is hard to believe in places with things like snow plows and sanders, but 2 1/2 inches of snow overnight has left the capital city at a near-standstill, with a small number of cars and trucks creeping over snow that’s been compacted to make for some nice sledding indeed.