OLYMPIA -- A heavy hearing day today for legislative committees, with animal issues in the morning for the House Agriculture Committee and domestic partnerships and growth management bills before the Senate Government Operations Committee after lunch.
Two bills in Government Ops deal with a topic that often draws a vocal and passionate crowd, domestic partnerships. One would allow any domestic partnership in another state is specifically recognized as a domestic partnership in Washington. The other would allow for surrogacy contracts between a couple and a surrogate mother, and cover couples in domestic partnerships.
As if those weren't controversial enough topics, the committee also has a hearing on a plan to let several Eastern Washington counties withdraw from the Growth Management Act if they want.
House Ag drew all three animal bills that sailed through the Senate before cut off earlier this month. Tougher restrictions on shark "finning", allowing hunters in northeast Washington to hunt cougars with dogs and a study to get a better count of the Mazama pocket gophers all drew testimony at the 10 a.m. hearing.
Animal rights groups argued there's no good reason to extend hound-hunting of cougars in northern counties, while Fish and Wildlife officials said it's an important tool, which with other things, helps cut down on the complaints of cougars interracting with people. Cattle and farm groups were generally in favor, while supporters of the 1996 initiative that outlawed using dogs to hunt cougars, bears and bobcats and passed with about 63 percent voter support managed to work in a few "will of the people" references.
The bill to ban the practice of catching sharks, cutting off their fins and throwing the rest of the fish back into the water to die brought one bit of interesting testimony: Shark fins, despite their popularity in certain foreign markets, have no taste but can be high in mercury -- it's one of the places the toxic chemical tends to build up.
Mazama pocket gophers were pretty roundly derided as obnoxious critters that seem to be doing just fine and don't need any protections as a threatened or endangered species. References to the movie "Caddyshack" were mercifully few.