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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: Sometimes, but not always, the Legislature is a funny place

Jim Camden

Legislators are a varied group, with a wide range of talents. But based on the session so far, none of them should quit their day jobs to do stand-up comedy.

That goes for lobbyists and most of the people who appear before lawmakers, too.

This fact was made clear last week in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, on a proposal to change the name of the Medical Quality Assurance Commission to the Washington Medical Commission.

This legislation may seem fairly small in the grand scheme of things. But the Legislature works under the principle that every bill is important to someone, and this one is important to doctors. They don’t like the acronym for the commission, which is MQAC.

Pronounced Em-Quack. Doctors are sensitive about being associated with the word quack, the committee was told. While that’s understandable, the folks coming up to explain that sensitivity brought with them a yellow rubber ducky – which was promptly ordered off the witness table because of the no-prop rule – and proceeded to defend their position with a series of duck jokes and puns. Or at least, tried to.

“I won’t duck the question,” said Stephanie McManus, legislative liaison to the commission, before explaining the organization’s website and various surveys of focus groups it has conducted. The name change has “not one quack of dissent.”

Warren Howe, the commission’s past chairman, said they tried to pass out rubber ducks to all members, but were stopped. But if anyone was left out “we could get you a duck.” He then explained the etymological origins of the word professional, which doctors are, to bolster the contention that they need a commission with a name that reflects that dignity.

But Howe also wore a duck call on a lanyard around his neck, which the chairman uses to call meetings to order instead of a gavel. And of course he blew it. It’s hard to maintain one’s dignity when blowing on a duck call.

Voting later on the bill, members of the committee quacked their assent.

Bad puns are apparently contagious, because when one legislator makes one in a committee hearing or floor debate, others join in. The committee also heard a bill on banning the practice of tattooing eyeballs, for which there were puns aplenty when members got over the intrinsic ickiness of the topic because the formal way of voting yes is the homonym for eye.

“I’m looking for a majority of ayes on this,” Rep. Steve Tharinger, the sponsor, said.

“I want to thank the good sponsor for seeing his way clear to pass it,” Rep. Richard DeBolt said.

The Legislature is, by the way, in the midst of some contentious discussions over vaccination exemption. If the Federal Drug Administration were to approve a vaccination against the bad joke virus, we should demand that all lawmakers get the shot, with no exemptions for personal beliefs that they are, in fact, funny.

This is not to say that all legislative hearings and debates should be stupefyingly serious. If that were the case, the TVW cameras might catch the people at the news media table asleep and snoring. But in the Legislature, it’s definitely a case that a little levity goes a long way.

Getting attention

Rather than show up with snappy banter and a few jokes, lobbyists who want to get an easy OK from legislators should consider appearing with a well-behaved dog.

That’s what people did when speaking in favor of a bill to allow “courthouse facility dog assistance” for traumatized crime victims when they have to testify in court. They brought in Daze, a dog that works with victims in King County who spent her time in front of the Senate Law and Justice Committee lying calmly on the carpet and looking cute.

Although there was plenty of testimony, the visual may have been all the proposal needed. The bill sailed through the committee and was sent to the Senate a few days later.

Turn of a phrase

“This bill, and others like it that we’ve seen, is an example of a creeping nanny state approach,” Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, arguing why people should vote against a bill to raise the age to buy tobacco or vaping products to 21.

We cite this not for its efficacy – the bill passed 66-30, after all – but because creeping nanny state was easily the best name for a punk garage band that surfaced all week.