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Spin Control: Washington lawmakers, Inslee get poor report card for 2016 session

OLYMPIA – If lobbyists were grading the recent legislative session, most lawmakers might be worried about taking the report card home to show Mom and Dad.

In a recent Elway Poll, some 280 lobbyists surveyed gave the session an overall grade of C-minus, with slightly better grades for subjects like transportation, higher education and public safety, but only a D-plus for K-12 education.

The overall grade of 1.78 on the 4.0 scale is up slightly from 1.73 last year, pollster Stuart Elway said. Maybe it “reflected relief that the session is not still going on,” he wrote in his analysis. The second biggest accomplishment listed by those surveyed was “getting finished” while the biggest disappointment was “failure to act/duration.”

Lobbyists were more critical of Gov. Jay Inslee than lawmakers in either chamber. About two-thirds gave him either a D or an F, while only 13 percent gave him an A or B. Elway has conducted a similar poll at the end of each session since 2010, and Inslee’s 1.11 GPA for 2016 is his lowest score from lobbyists.

But four of five lobbyists surveyed also said they expect Inslee to win re-election; only 12 percent opined that Republican Bill Bryant is likely to replace him.

One could argue that lobbyists, who encamp in Olympia for the session and watch almost every move, might be in a good position to judge these things. Or one could argue, as one reader did to a blog post on the results, that these are exactly the people you’d want giving you a bad grade. Take your pick.

Trial delayed

A trial over the possible penalties for hiding the source of millions in campaign donations to fight a ballot initiative was delayed last week, but not before the judge criticized a national food organization for withholding information.

Thurston County Superior Court Anne Hirsch already has ruled the Grocery Manufacturers Association broke state law when it contributed some $11 million to a campaign against the 2013 initiative to require labeling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms. Trial was scheduled to start Monday morning on whether the organization intentionally violated the law, which can result in a much larger fine.

The association contends there was no intent to break the law because it was following the advice of attorneys on how to oppose Initiative 522.

The association set up a special account, known as the Defense of Brands, into which some of the largest food and beverage companies in the country like Pepsi, Coke, Nestle and General Mills contributed six- and seven-figure amounts. GMA then contributed $11 million to the No on I-522 campaign, so that the association was listed as the source of the money in state campaign finance reports, not the companies that contributed to the account.

I-522 lost by less than 40,000 votes out of 1.7 million cast.

The Friday before the penalty trial was to start, lawyers from the attorney general’s office asked Hirsch for sanctions against the GMA for only recently releasing a pile of documents, and not making the lawyer who advised the association available for a deposition before the trial started.

Hirsh delayed the trial until Aug. 15 and ordered GMA to make any attorneys present for those discussions available for depositions before June 1, as well as any documents they provided.

Bees coming to the Capitol

Along with being a showcase for state government and the home of monuments to Washington’s veterans, the Capitol grounds are becoming a place for a bit of ecological experimentation.

In March, the Department of Enterprise Services, which maintains the buildings and grounds, announced it will have several sections of “ecolawns” in the wide expanses of grass around the campus. These are areas with slow-growing grasses, clover and low-growing perennials that need less mowing, water and fertilizer. Right now, they look like areas the groundskeepers forgot to mow. The test will be in the summer, when, contrary to popular opinion on the East Side, it doesn’t rain much around here.

The next eco project is bringing bees to the campus. Last week, a joint effort with the Olympia Beekeepers Association set up two hives on the governor’s mansion lawn for some 30,000 honeybees coming Wednesday. They’re supposed to help boost public awareness of the decline in bee populations around the nation, and help pollinate the Food Bank vegetable gardens on the campus. Later this spring, the association will put up “bee condos” for several species of mason bees on the east half of the campus.

According to bee experts, the small black mason bees are better pollinators than honeybees, especially in cool damp weather, and rarely sting, the department reported.

Along with a possible boost to the environment, the bees are likely to provide an endless supply of puns about how everyone is buzzing over what a honey of an idea this is.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at blogs/spincontrol.

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