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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.”

WALeg Day 9: March for Life brings thousands to Capitol

OLYMPIA — The March for Life is usually among the largest, if not the largest, demonstrations during any legislative session.

Tuesday, a crowd estimated at around 3,000 by the State Patrol, gathered on the steps of the Capitol and overflowed onto the Temple of Justice steps and the mall in between to hear legislators urge them to keep up the fight against abortion. 

RPA passes House, not likely to get Senate vote

OLYMPIA — The Democratic House passed its latest version of a bill that would require insurance companies to cover abortion if they cover maternity care, but the Reproductive Parity Act seems unlikely to come to a vote in the Senate.

On a mostly partisan 54-44 vote, the bill passed despite objections from Republicans that it infringed on some people's religious rights because it forced them to pay premiums to a company for a procedure they found morally wrong.

Both sides used the term choice — a key word for supporters of abortion rights — in arguing their case. Opponents like Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said the Legislature was taking away the choice of people who want a policy that doesn't cover abortion."There's no choice in a mandate," Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said.

 Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said he supported the bill because it left the choice on whether to have an abortion to the woman, not to her employer who decides what policy to offer, or the insurance company. "There is no choice that is more significant to a woman," Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said.

As is typical for abortion legislation, the debate sometimes got emotional. Rep. Leonard Christian, R-Spokane Valley, compared the bill to Nazi Germany, saying that some churches covered up the fact that Jews were being shipped concentration camps by playing their music louder as the trains passed. Some churches are objecting to the bill, but some legislators were playing their music louder and not listening, he said.

The Senate, which is controlled by a predominantly Republican coalition, is not likely to have an emotional debate over the RPA, or any vote at all. Majority Caucus Chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee said she didn't believe the bill was necessary because abortion is covered by most insurance. (Editor's note: Sen. Evans Parlette's caucus position was incorrect in earlier versions of this post.)

"I think it's not going to come up for a vote," Evans Parlette said.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said he personally supports the legislation but doesn't think it's as important as some other issues the Legislature faces this session.

"We leave full discretion up to our committee chairs," Tom said. The bill died in committee last year.

Legislature wrestles with oil train proposals

OLYMPIA – The Legislature took some tentative steps Tuesday to demand more information and develop stricter controls on crude oil moving through the state by rail and barge.

But unlike the Spokane City Council, which Monday night voted unanimously to request more controls on the growing number of oil shipments, the Legislature is clearly split on how much information to request and how quickly to develop new regulations. . .

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

 

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.

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. 

WA Lege Day 50: The green grass of home

OLYMPIA – Washington homeowners would be restricted from putting fertilizer with phosphorus on healthy lawns under a bill that passed the House Monday.

Despite complaints from Republicans that homeowners are able to decide what fertilizer to put on their grass or that restrictions will send grass-growers across the border into Idaho for bootleg lawn spreads, Democrats passed a bill sought by Spokane and other cities seeking to cut down phosphorus in nearby lakes and streams.

Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, the bill’s sponsor, said similar restrictions in other states have been successful in lowering phosphorus levels that boost algae growth. The bill allows phosphorus fertilizers for new lawns, restoring dead lawns, for golf courses and for agricultural uses; it requires stores to sell non-phosphorus fertilizer for healthy lawns.

“Phosphorus is necessary in some uses but it is not necessary for a healthy lawn,” Billig said.
Representatives from Eastern Washington dominated much of the debate…

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

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.

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…

Large anti-abortion rally at capitol…

Forgot to post this before going home last night:

More than 4,000 people crowded the Washington state Capitol steps Tuesday to decry abortion.

“Let’s make sure the Supreme Court can hear all of us today,” newly elected state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Mead, said. He dismissed the dozen counter-demonstrators on the state Supreme Court steps as “static” and led the crowd in a chant: “Life, life, life, life!”

Organizers have long held annual anti-abortion rallies at the Capitol, but Tuesday’s gathering was the largest in recent years. Buses crowded the Capitol lawn, and the crowd spilled over the Capitol steps. Many people came with church groups.

“If your neighbor is thinking about abortion, talk her out of it,” said state Rep. Al O’Brien, D-Mountlake Terrace. “… Because the economy’s in the tank, the abortion problem is going to get worse unless we work to prevent that.”

At Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest, public policy director Jet Tilley said she’s not anticipating any major efforts to restrict abortion in the statehouse this year.

“We have a pretty solidly pro-choice House and Senate,” she said. The main issue, she said, will be trying to protect funding for family planning. It’s particularly critical in rural parts of the state far from other health care, she said.

“We’re really looking to protect patients and protect the family planning safety net,” she said.

Also speaking at Tuesday’s rally was new state Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy. She recounted the story of a woman who kept a child even though the doctor said the baby probably wouldn’t live.

“That young mother is now my mother-in-law,” Short said, and the baby is her husband, Mitch.

Across a small lawn, the dozen abortion rights demonstrators shouted back at the crowd.

“I love my rights!” they chanted.

“If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one,” one woman said.