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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Pacific NW

Spin Control: In less than a month, Legislature approaches 1,500 bills

The license plate on Del Divers’ 1948 GMC pickup in this 2003 photo taken at the River City Rod Run in Post Falls, like most Washington license plates, says “Evergreen State.” A bill in the Washington Legislature would make “Evergreen State” the officials state nickname.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)
The license plate on Del Divers’ 1948 GMC pickup in this 2003 photo taken at the River City Rod Run in Post Falls, like most Washington license plates, says “Evergreen State.” A bill in the Washington Legislature would make “Evergreen State” the officials state nickname. (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo
By Jim Camden For The Spokesman-Review

Washington legislators have been busy trying to solve the state’s problems, both large and small.

Just 28 days into the 105-day session, they’ve introduced 1,457 bills, or roughly 10 bills for each member.

That makes it hard for even the most conscientious capital news bureau to fill readers in on even the vast majority of them. While most of the attention is on the bills that involve taxes or spending, public safety or public schools, there are plenty of other things worth a mention, even if only a brief one.

Case in point would be a proposal, introduced by Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, to name pediocactus nigrispinus as the official state cactus. It’s more commonly known as the basalt cactus, the snowball cactus, the hedgehog cactus or the Columbia Plateau cactus – although with so many names one could argue it doesn’t need another one.

While some official state designations sail through the Legislature like a haboob through the Sahara, other proposals wander for years in the desert when more than one possible claimant wants the honor. Years ago, an effort to name an official state candy turned sour in a battle of Almond Roca versus Aplets and Cotlets. Only time will tell if the supporters of this East Side cactus faces a challenge from opunti fragilis, a prickly pear variety found in the San Juans.

If either get the nod, Washington would join just seven other states with an official cactus.

Speaking of official state designations, there is another effort to have “The Evergreen State” recognized as Washington’s official nickname. Even though the state has a college with that moniker – which has for years appeared on Washington license plates – the Legislature never got around to adopting the nickname formally. A bill to do so passed the Senate unanimously last year but never got a vote in the full House, despite a lack of opposition. (After all, the only other nickname in contention would be George.)

It’s unclear whether the Legislature will have to adopt the nickname to approve a request to add a “keep Washington evergreen” plate to its long list of special license plates. There’s a problem with the bill, which describes Evergreen State as the state motto, which is actually “Alki.” Some money from the plate would be used to help pay for electric vehicle charging stations.

After naming pickleball as the state’s official sport last year, fans are pushing for a special license plate honoring that ball-smacking court action. But pickleball aficionados and Evergreeners aren’t the only ones requesting a special license plate. There are also requests for a special Mount St. Helens plate, a plate celebrating the Seattle women’s soccer team, OL Reign, and a nautical Northwest plate.

Legislators also are seeking the legal right to send official congratulations for noteworthy events that don’t rise to a certain high level. The state Ethics Act limits what state officials can send as official kudos, and the list is pretty short. If you get a Nobel or a Pulitzer, get named a Washington Scholar, receive the Medal of Honor or make Eagle Scout, you can get an official pat on the back. Almost everything else is a no-no in a lawmaker’s official capacity.

The bill would allow an official attaboy for noteworthy “infrequent awards or honors.” But it would depend on the calendar, because the bill keeps the current prohibition against sending out official communications during election season, which starts in mid-May when candidates file for an office and ends in early December when the general election is certified.

Speaking of elections, in an effort to “increase trust and transparency in the election process,” Rep. Mike Volz, R-Spokane, has proposed a change to ballots. His bill would require ballots to come with a detachable 16-digit serial number that would allow a voter to go to an online portal operated by the Secretary of State to see a digital image of their ballot and how it was marked.

“This is a way to address the concerns of voters who feel their ballot may have been tampered with or not counted,” he said in news release after the bill was introduced with 19 co-sponsors last week.

Whether it is possible to address the concerns of some voters who have been told for several years not to trust their elections systems may be part of the debate if the bill gets a hearing. But it could face several other hurdles.

One is the state Constitution’s requirement that provides for the secrecy of ballots. If a voter shares the number with someone else, the ballot would no longer be secret.

There would also be some administrative concerns, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said. The county has about 360,000 registered voters, so each voter’s ballot would have to be printed individually (expensive) and on paper with a perforated line near the bottom to detach the serial number (also expensive). For voters who send back their ballot without tearing off their serial number, staff would have to be assigned to do that because the ballots have to be the same size when fed into the counters.

A better way to increase voters’ trust in their election process might be for the Legislature to do more to encourage them to observe it firsthand. Those who watch the sorting, scanning and auditing, as well as occasional recounts, often come away with more confidence in the system.

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