Archive for Uncategorized

Idea to raise speed limits to 75 mph gets over bump in House

By | February 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

A new proposal to allow for highway speed limits of up to 75 mph was heard and passed in a House Transportation committee meeting Thursday morning.

HB 2181 would allow the Washington State Department of Transportation to raise speed limits in areas throughout the state where safe. It passed out of the Transportation committee 22-3.

Washington State Department of Transportation traffic engineer John Nisbet told the panel that the state would work with other groups to determine which areas in the state would be safe to get a boost in the maximum speed limit.

Right now, in most areas of the state, the maximum speed limit allowed on a state highway is 60 mph, though local authorities may raise it to 70 mph. The bill’s language does not alter the 60 mph speed limit for vehicles heavier than 10,000 pounds, such as semi-trucks and other large vehicles.

I-90 near Ellensburg. (Photo by WSDOT via Flickr.)

The bill differs from another bill that would set a 75 mph speed limit on Interstate 90 through Kittitas, Grant, Lincoln, and Adams counties.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said he supported giving WSDOT a chance to explore raising the speed limit.

“At first, I really wanted to have a stick that said, ‘DOT, thou shalt raise it except in certain situations,’ ” he said. “This is a reasonable approach for right now.”

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said that he had concerns about the earlier bill, but that he would support 2181.

“It’s prudent to check it out if we can raise [speed limits] if it is safe,” said Riccelli, who also mentioned that he is a frequent motorist on rural I-90.

“A lot of people alongside me are going a little quicker anyway, and I think they’d like to be doing that within the realm of the law.”

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House considers extension of electric vehicle sales tax exemption

By | February 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

An electric vehicle sales tax exemption would continue until 2025, under a bill heard Monday in the House Finance Committee.

The tax incentive, due to end this year, would apply to the first $60,000 of the vehicle’s price. Currently the tax exemption has no restriction on the vehicle price.

A Smart car plugged in at the North American International Auto Show. Photo by smart via Facebook.

The sales tax exemption could save a car buyer up to $3,900 in state sales and use tax on the first $60,000 of an electric car purchase. The state estimated the changes would reduce state revenues by $5.5 million in the 2016 fiscal year, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

JJ McCoy, a member of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, says the HB 1925 would encourage the average consumer to choose an electric vehicle, which would save them money on fuel in the long run. He said that spending money on gasoline is not the best economic driver.

“If they can save money on fuel, that’s money that people will spend on almost anything else, whether it’s food or entertainment or personal services. Those are far better generators of jobs in the local economy,” he said.

Cliff Webster of GM also testified in support, but asked lawmakers to work on the language so additional plug-in electric hybrids, like the Chevrolet Volt, can qualify. The Volt currently does not qualify for the same sales tax exemption, according to the state Department of Revenue.

The House Finance committee heard testimony from 13 bills on Monday morning, and took executive action on several bills. You can watch the hearing in TVW’s archives.

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Senate bill to end Daylight Saving Time in Washington dies

By | February 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, hadn’t been the only lawmaker who proposed ending Daylight Saving Time in Washington, but the idea’s time is not now.

McCoy’s proposal died in the Senate Governmental Operations and Security Committee on Thursday, after a lack of support.

Committee member McCoy told the other members some of his constituents have complained of health issues from “springing forward” every March.

“They say it interrupts their sleep and gets them out of cycle and everything else,” he said. “Because we’re a northern tier state, in the summer months, our days are long naturally. So fooling around with the clock, I don’t see any advantage in it.”

Daylight Saving Time is when clocks are set ahead by an hour in the springtime. It was established to take advantage of daylight hours during the summer time, according to an information page on the NASA website. Most states abide by this standard. Arizona and Hawaii are exceptions.

 Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, said he thought it was a worthy topic of discussion because of the health concerns — and says he feels them whenever the clocks are changed —  but wondered how it would affect jobs.

“My question was for people who do work with particularly the Eastern seaboard, adding an additional hour means they’re now instead of three hours off they are four hours off from work colleagues,” he said.

McCoy said that his friends in Arizona and Hawaii, two states that do not observe Daylight Saving Time, told him that residents adapt.

The bill was considered in executive session, but after determining there was little support, the committee skipped the vote. Friday would have been the deadline for bills to pass out of committee in order to continue this session.

McCoy’s was not the only bill this session to reconsider the clock. Rep. Elizabeth Scott, R-Monroe, introduced a similar bill in the House that would establish Pacific Standard Time year-round in Washington. Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, introduced a House Joint Memorial that would ask Congress to establish Daylight Saving Time all year.

Daylight Saving Time starts on March 8 this year.

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Inslee signs supplemental budget for wildfires, mental health

By | February 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the first bill of the session on Thursday, supplementing the current budget with more than $217 million for disaster relief and additional funds to the state’s mental health and child welfare systems.

“Leaders worked very quickly and very diligently to respond to the extraordinary, unanticipated costs of the past 12 months,” Inslee said. “I do think it portends well that the Legislature has been able to act with great efficiency and speed to reach an agreement on how to get this done.”

House Bill 1105 allocates more than $77 million to fire and disaster management. Some of the funds will go towards repaying costs accrued from the Carlton Complex fire, the largest in state history.

The supplemental budget also funds 45 beds at Western State Hospital. Thirty beds would be for the civil ward, and 15 would be for the forensic ward. The funding is partly a response to a lawsuit that the state lost last year, which ruled the state could not continue to board mental health patients in emergency rooms.

Other mental health funds will pay for an increased number of competency evaluation services, which determine whether a person is fit to stand trial. Patients allege they were forced to wait an unconstitutional amount of time before receiving such evaluations. Earlier this year, a Department of Social and Health Services official told lawmakers the department needed more funding to provide such services faster.

The bill also includes a partial payout in Rekhter v. Washington Department of Social and Health Services. The state Supreme Court ruled 5-4, ordering the department to reimburse 22,000 in-home care providers $79 million for unpaid services.

The budget also puts additional funds in the state’s child welfare system.  Lawmakers moved up the state’s annual budget forecast, which historically had been delivered on March 20 in budget years. It will be presented on Friday, one month earlier.

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Legislature holds memorial service for lawmakers who have died

By | February 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

The Legislature held a joint session Wednesday for its biennial ceremony honoring lawmakers who have died in the past two years.

Among the 27 people honored were former Gov. Booth Gardner; former representatives Kip Tokuda and Tom Huff, Sen. Michael J. Carrell, who died during the 2013 legislative session; and Rep. Roger Freeman, who was re-elected posthumously last year to his seat in the House.

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The lawmakers honored were: (more…)

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Anti-vaping bill targets youth use, raises taxes

By | February 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

Citing a rise in student use of tobacco products, Gov. Jay Inslee called for new laws to raise the taxes on e-cigarettes and limit youth accessibility.

He called e-cigarettes “a clear and present danger to the health of our children.”

“It rolls back decades of work we’ve been doing on a bipartisan basis to reduce the threat to our children,” Inslee said at a press conference on Thursday.

Inslee cited the preliminary data from the biennial Healthy Youth Survey, a Washington State Department of Health survey that polls students on drug and alcohol use, bullying and other health topics.

The 2014 results show 8.5 percent of 8th graders, 18 percent of high school sophomores and 23 percent of high school seniors in Washington state reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, according to the governor’s office.

House Bill 1645 would require licenses to sell vaping products, prohibit sales over the Internet, ensure child-safe packaging and restrict marketing and sales targeted at youth, according to a press release from Inslee’s office.

The bill also calls for a 95 percent tax on vaping and e-cigarette products, which is the same rate proposed in Inslee’s budget.

But Inslee said that price increases are deterrent to youth use.

“This is as much for a health reason, which is to reduce exposure to our children of these dangerous products, as it is for a revenue basis,” he said.

However, Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said in a prepared statement released later Thursday, questioned the inclusion of taxes in the bill.

“Our top priority ought to be protection, not taxation,” Dammeier said in the prepared statement. “These teen-usage statistics certainly are a matter of concern. Taxation is something we ought to consider separately, as a matter of fiscal policy. Our most important goal ought to be making sure our children are safe.”

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State considers update to distracted driving law

By | February 10, 2015 | 0 Comments

When Washington became the first state to ban texting and driving, Twitter was barely a year old and the first generation iPhone was still months away.

Eight years later, smartphones can send emails, plan routes, play videos, and Washington’s outdated law means all of it can be done – legally – behind the wheel. That’s what a new push to update the law aims to change.

Senate Bill 5656 would make it illegal to hold a phone while driving altogether. Sen. Ann Rivers is prime sponsor. “The reality is, for us, our legislation has not kept pace with technology,” the La Center Republican said. “A lot more people have had near misses or serious accidents because of distracted driving.”

The bill, requested by the state Traffic Safety Commission, would make exceptions for emergency responders and drivers making calls to 911. Everything else would have to be hands-free. Drivers caught violating the law would face a $124 fine. Two violations in five years and the amount would double.

Washington State Patrol spokesperson Bob Calkins says, right now, distracted driving tickets are thrown out because the law isn’t specific enough. “Courts around the state have interpreted the law, as it stands now, to mean only texting” he said. “So, if someone is checking Facebook or stock quotes, troopers can’t write a ticket.”

Supporters say requiring drivers to be hands-free would make the state’s distracted driving law easier to enforce. Troopers gave tickets to fewer than half of the 2,500 drivers pulled over for texting and driving in 2013.

While troopers don’t cite every drive they stop, Calkins says the loophole in state law is partly responsible. “You can’t get a search warrant, you don’t have the authority to grab someone’s phone and look at what they’re doing,” he said. “We have to take their word for it.”

Some say the bill is too broad and there are better ways to keep drivers hands off their phones and on the wheel. That’s partly why the law hasn’t been updated so far. Former Sen. Tracey Eide sponsored a similar measure last year, but it stalled in a Senate committee.

The National Highway Traffic Safety last year made more than $20 million available in federal grants as part of a distracted driving program. Washington did not qualify because of its outdated law.

The Senate Transportation Committee heard the bill on Monday, but so far, it has not been scheduled for a vote. Last year’s measure died in the Senate Rules Committee.

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Lawmakers propose reforms to state’s marijuana system

By | February 3, 2015 | 0 Comments

Medical patients want safe, affordable medicine. Recreational stores want competitive prices and to ensure only people with medical needs are shopping at dispensaries. Everyone wants to eliminate the black market.

State House lawmakers introduced nearly 20 bills to reform the state's marijuana system.

So many people had something to say about nearly 20 bills to reform Washington’s medical marijuana that a House committee combined all into one and carved out two days for testimony.

Rep. Christopher Hurst, who chairs the House Commerce and Gaming Committee,  is sponsoring the combined bill. “This doesn’t mean I support all of or any of the ideas,” the Enumclaw Democrat said Monday. “The concept was to talk to a lot of people.”

Nine state House lawmakers introduced 18 bills to change the way Washington regulates marijuana. There’s a proposal to combine recreational and medical marijuana. Another to regulate each system separately. One would repeal legal marijuana altogether.

Each proposes some means to fix the state’s medical marijuana system, which wasn’t addressed when recreational use was legalized. Washington legalized medical marijuana 17 years ago, but it’s been a grey area since voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012.

Right now, the medical market exists through collective gardens that grow marijuana on behalf of patients, who must receive authorization from healthcare providers. In the more than two years since Washington created a highly-taxed and regulated recreational market, dispensaries have existed without licenses or taxes.

Recreational business owners say they can’t compete.

Mike Redman is co-owner of Green Lady, Olympia’s only recreational stores. “Olympia has the highest number of dispensaries per capita, so for us, it definitely has an effect,” he said. “If you’re looking at a disparity of a 75 percent price difference, there’s no way any business can compete at that level.”

But medical patients worry they’ll lose affordable access to medical-grade products. Marijuana at recreational and medical stores can have different effects. Some medicinal cannabis has lower levels of THC, which causes impairment.

Patrick Seifert runs Rainier Express, a medical dispensary near the Capitol. He worries what would happen to patients if the state merges the two marijuana systems. “It’s scary to think they’re going to consider sending patients and veteran patients to a 502 store,” he said. “I’ve got nothing against 502, it’s just like a liquor store. Why would you send the sick and dying to a liquor store to get medicine?”

Other bills to reform to Washington’s marijuana laws include a proposals to allow police to auction off seized marijuana, to establish a statewide database of medical patients and changing where stores can open.

Licensed marijuana businesses can’t operate within 1,000 feet of recreation and child care center, public parks, transit centers, libraries and more. One proposal would shrink the perimeter to 100 feet. Another would require local governments to let voters decides whether to ban marijuana.

The two-day hearing on the combined bill ended Tuesday. Watch day one and day two on TVW and tune into The Impact with Anita Kissee at 7 and 10 p.m. Wednesday for more about marijuana.

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Bill would eliminate payday loans, create new lending system

By | January 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

Washington is already one of the most restrictive states for payday loan lenders, now a bipartisan bill in the state House would get rid of the system altogether.

House Bill 1922 would eliminate payday lending in the state and create an “installment loan” system that allows borrowers to repay a loan within six months. It also offers rebates on the loan fee if the loan is paid off early.

Currently, borrowers can take out a payday loan equaling $700 or 30 percent of their gross monthly income, whichever is less, and are limited eight payday loans each year. The payday loans must be repaid within two weeks.

Payday loans are heavily regulated in Washington state. Lenders charge high interest rates and the people who use them most are often low-income.

“Our current payday lending system is broken,” prime sponsor Rep. Larry Springer said in a statement.

The bill, modeled after a 2010 law passed in Colorado, was introduced Friday with more than 30 co-sponsors.

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Joel’s Law passes unanimously in the House

By | January 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

For Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, the issue of dealing with a mentally ill loved one is personal. Last month, his son, who has dealt with mental illness for years, took a family car and gun and ended up surrounded by police.

Joel Reuter

He told his story in support of Joel’s Law, which enables families to petition courts to review a designated mental health professional’s decision not to detain a person with mental illness.

Dent’s son was hospitalized for several weeks after the incident, but the hospital released him over the family’s objections. Dent’s son then stole the family’s car again, and was arrested.

“He is still in the Grant County jail. We are still struggling to find him psychiatric help. He still needs help. By the grace of God these people didn’t kill my son. I’m grateful for that,” Dent said, urging members to pass the bill. “This is a great thing; it will do good things. I know it will save lives. It will save families.”

The bill was named after Joel Reuter, a Seattle man killed in a shootout with police in 2013.

Bill sponsor Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, D-Seattle, said Reuter’s friends and family lobbied for the changes in the past two sessions, after their efforts failed to get Reuter the help he needed.

“Friends and family tried 48 times to admit Joel to seek mental health treatment and evaluation. And every time they tried they couldn’t get coverage for their son, who in the course of the last seven months of his life tried many times, threatening to kill others and cause personal injury to himself,” he said.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snohomish, said the current law needs to be changed.

“No just society, no humane society disregards its most vulnerable citizens under a perverted sense of civil liberties to the point where they devolve and lose their lives. No just society, no humane society views this issue purely through a prism of an Excel spreadsheet and cost-benefit analysis without a full accounting for the human cost and the human tragedy that this policy inflicts on families,” Rodne said.

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, said there is strong bipartisan support this year for Joel’s Law and other bills to change mental health policy, because of the lobbying from all over the state by people and families affected by mental illness — as well as recent lawsuits that have forced the state’s hand.

“We are 48th in the nation in access to mental health vs. need. We are number one in teen suicides,” she said. “These are not numbers we are proud of.”

House Bill 1258 passed 98-0 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Food banks to win in governors’ Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl bet

By | January 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

Ivar's Clam Chowder. (Photo by Jeffrey Chiang via Flickr)

Whether the Seattle Seahawks or the New England Patriots reign supreme on Super Bowl XLIX, food banks in three states will win after a bet between Gov. Jay Inslee and the governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Food pantries in Massachusetts and New Hampshire will get 1,000 cups of clam chowder donated by Inslee and Seattle-based Ivar’s. Food pantries in Washington will get Boston cream pie cupcakes from the Koffee Kup Bakery in Springfield, Massachusetts, donated by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, and New Hampshire bacon donated by the North Country Smokehouse in Claremont, donated by New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The food banks will get the donations, no matter who prevails.

“If there’s one thing we know it’s that the Hawks will fight to the end for this win,” Inslee said in a prepared statement. “Washington’s 7 million 12s will be with them in full force to cheer our team to victory and are looking forward to celebrating another Super Bowl win.”

At a press availability on Thursday, Inslee predicted the Seahawks would win 27-20.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito also announced a wager, with fine state products on the line.

From Washington, Owen will wager a magnum bottle of wine from Snohomish-based Quilceda Creek Vintners; an assortment of packaged smoked salmon,  albacore tuna, herbal tea, a “Paddle to Quinault” plush throw and wooden decorative carvings, donated by the coastal Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah; and a box of superior Washington apples, courtesy of Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Kershaw Fruit.

Polito has wagered products an assortment of craft beer from Wormtown Brewery and a box of cannoli from Wholly Cannoli, both products of Worcester, MA.

Both lieutenant governors also agreed to donate to food banks in the state of the winning team.

Gov. Inslee also proclaimed a “Moment of Loudness” for the Seahawks Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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Sheena’s Law, other mental health bills get hearing in House committee

By | January 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

Kristen Otoupalik of Spokane said if her friend Christopher Henderson‘s suicide threat history could have been recorded by mental health professionals and police, courts might have been able to force him into getting help before he fatally shot his wife, Sheena Henderson, and himself last year.

“How much would you pay, how many papers would you write and how much time would you invest to save the life of your loved one,” Otoupalik said. “Better yet, how many of you would like to trade places with me, and lose your loved ones because there wasn’t a strong enough paper trail, or we were not able to make changes, no matter how minimal, in our state?”

Kristen Otoupalik (left), Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, and Gary Kennison drop Sheena's Law, named after Kennison's daughter. Photo courtesy Rep. Riccelli's office.

Otoupalik spoke at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, which reviewed four mental health bills which would add new standards to commit someone into mental health treatment and give the court alternatives to long-term hospitalization.

Otoupalik and Sheena Henderson’s father, Gary Kennison, both spoke in favor of House Bill 1448, Sheena’a Law, which Kennison requested to be renamed Sheena and Chris Henderson’s Law. The bill would allow officers responding to a threat of suicide to refer the person to a designated mental health professional. That mental health professional can determine whether the person needs more intensive intervention, including involuntary commitment.

Christopher Henderson had been taken to a hospital after a suicide threat, but the family was left with few options when he was released to them after three hours, Kennison said.

“There was no follow up to see if any care was given,” Kennison said. “Not one person called to see if they could help him get mental health (treatment).”

However, James McMahan, policy director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said the bill would force people into the mental health system in cases where police determine that the person is not a danger.

“We don’t think that the right solution is to put the lowest risk people in an already bogged down system,” McMahan said.

However, the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs testified in favor of the bill.

Other bills reviewed were:

  • HB 1287 – Allows the courts to order year-long outpatient mental health treatment as an alternative to inpatient commitment.
  • HB 1450 – Allows a person who meets the definition of ”in need of assisted outpatient treatment” to be ordered into involuntary mental health treatment.
  • HB 1451 - Adds “persistent or acute disability” as one of the standards that would allow for court-ordered involuntary mental health treatment.

Len McComb, lobbyist of the Washington State Hospital Association, warned that the state needs to back up any changes with funding to keep services and beds available.

“We don’t have a mental health system in this state. We have pieces of a mental health system that is broken,” he said, testifying on HB 1451. “Be careful what you wish for.”

“Simply changing the standards and changing the law and not changing the system will not change things a bit,” he said.

(more…)

Seattle Police begin testing evidence backlog as lawmakers consider rape-kit bill

By | January 22, 2015 | 0 Comments

Seattle Police Department on Thursday announced plans to test a backlog of more than 1,200 so-called rape kits, one week after lawmakers heard a bill that require law enforcement agencies to submit evidence for testing within 30 days.

When a sexual assault is reported, the victim undergoes a forensic examination to collect evidence, including blood, saliva and semen. Evidence is preserved in a so-called rape-kit, sent to Washington State Patrol crime lab, examined and entered into a DNA database.

Seattle Police have tested only 365 of the 1,641 kits collected in the past decade. Testing can cost as much as $1,500 per kit. “We will test all sexual assault kits moving forward and begin addressing untested kits,” Deanna Nollette, supervisor of SPD’s Special Victims Unit, wrote in a statement.

House Bill 1068 would require law enforcement to send DNA evidence for analysis within 30 days and create a work group to study a backlog of more than 5,000 untested rape kits. Senate Bill 5225 is a companion measure.

Rep. Tina Orwall is the prime sponsor. On average, the Des Moines Democrat told a House committee Jan. 14, a rapist commits 11 sexual assaults before he or she is charged. About 40 percent of rapes are reported, she said, and 12 percent of those lead to an arrest.

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network says even more rapes are kept quiet — only 32 percent are reported, according to the group, and 2 percent of rapists are arrested.

The bill will move to executive session in the House Public Safety Committee at 10 a.m. Friday.

 

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Washington smoking age would rise to 21 under Attorney General’s bill

By | January 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

The legal age to buy tobacco products and vaping products would rise from 18 to 21 under a bill requested by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“As you know you have to be 21 to purchase alcohol in this state. You have to be 21 to purchase marijuana in this state. It’s time to make the age of the purchase and use of tobacco in this state that same age,” he said at a press conference announcing the bill. The bill numbers are  Senate Bill 5494 and House Bill 1458.

Ferguson said the intent of the bill is to eradicate smoking, citing reports by RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris that stated that most people who have not smoked by age 21 will not start the habit.

State Department of Health Secretary John Weisman added that 90 percent of cigarettes purchased for teenagers are purchased by people between the ages of 18 and 21.

The bills would not affect military bases in Washington and the laws on reservations would vary by tribe, according to Ferguson’s office.

Ferguson and bill supporters say that the change is a matter of public health, which will save money in the long run as people don’t suffer tobacco-related disease.

Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, a sponsor of the bill in the House, said she watched both her parents struggle with quitting smoking, which they started in their teens.

“It’s a life of addiction,” she said.

Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, said that the effects of smoking are widespread and devastating.

“All of us have a personal story of how smoking has affected us,” he said. His wife’s parents both died 20 years ago of smoking-related complications.

Miloscia said that he aimed to get the legislation passed within three years.

Ferguson’s office said that as of Wednesday, there were 10 sponsors in the House, and three in the Senate.

Several cities and counties have set legal smoking ages at 21, including New York City and Hawaii’s Big Island, but no state yet has a smoking age that high.

The legal smoking age is 19 in four states, including Alaska, Utah and New Jersey, which last year considered a bill to raise the age from 19 to 21. Colorado and Utah have also considered raising the age to 21.

TVW taped the press conference. It will be added to this post when it’s available in our archives.

 

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Proposal would make most elephant ivory sales a felony

By | January 20, 2015 | 0 Comments

An African elephant bull. Photo by Arno Meintjes via Flickr.

African elephants are being threatened by illegal poaching. To combat this, a bill proposes making most sales of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns illegal in Washington.

House Bill 1131 was heard Tuesday in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Bill sponsor Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, says the purpose of the bill is to shrink the market for poached ivory.

“In 2013, there were 41 tons of ivory confiscated, illegal ivory of course. There was actually 35,000 elephants destroyed in 2012,” he said.

African elephants are an endangered species. Since 1988, it’s been illegal to import new elephant ivory to the United States. However, you can still sell ivory that was here before then. Washington is one of seven states considering expanding the ban to most elephant ivory sales.

The bill would require licenses for exceptions to the rule, which including selling elephant ivory for educational or scientific purposes, inheriting an ivory piece, ivory that is part of a musical instrument made before 1976, or selling antiques that are less than five percent ivory.

Under the bill, selling ivory would be a felony punishable by jail time or fines.

John Garner of Point Defiance Zoo says action is important, as the problem of illegal poaching gets worse.

He cited news articles from Africa that linked the illegal poaching trade, which can make millions of dollars, with terrorism, such as the abductions of girls last year by Boko Haram.

“On the surface, all these crimes have in common have is that they happen on the same continent but there is an intimate connection. Like many terrorists organizations in Africa, Boko Haram is funded by sales of illegal ivory, he read.

However, artists and crafts people objected to the language, saying the law was too broad in its inclusion of woolly mammoth ivory and ivory that is already in the United States.

Pete Lange, an artist who lives in Seattle, said that the law will hurt his and other businesses that depend on existing U.S. ivory stocks while not doing much to stop the illegal trade of ivory. Markets outside of the United States where ivory items have a greater demand, such as Asia, drive the poaching, Lange said.

“The proposed law is unfair to people who have been following the law,” Lange said.

However, Jennifer Reichert of District Auctions asked lawmakers for a complete ban on ivory with no exceptions. She says a ban would clarify rules for sellers and save elephants.

“The only way to really make a difference is to have a zero tolerance policy on this, and say it’s just unacceptable, and the state of Washington is behind this,” she said. “New ivory, old ivory — it’s all part of a slaughter business.”

You can watch the testimony in TVW’s archives:

Bill could change levels of cadmium allowed in children’s jewlery

By | January 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Children’s jewelry sold in Washington would be allowed to contain 7.5 times more cadmium – a carcinogen that causes kidney failure — if lawmakers pass a new bill.

Right now, children’s jewelry cannot contain more than 40 parts per million. Senate Bill 5021 would increase the allowable amount to match the American Society for Testing and Materials standard – 300 parts per million for metal components and 75 parts per million for paint components. It applies to jewelry expressly marketed to children ages 12 and younger.

Brent Cleaveland, executive director of the Fashion, Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association, told the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications committee products would still be safe and would provide a “harmonized” standard for the industry.

Cadmium levels are already lower than the current limit, he said. Cleaveland doesn’t expect raising the limit to increase cadmium levels in jewelry. “The industry has been very effective in eliminating cadmium from the market,” he said.  The bill will save businesses the cost and confusion of separate testing standards and still maintain safety, he says.

Still, some state health officials worry about increasing levels of a toxic metal known to cause kidney and liver damage.

“We have a difficult time eliminating it from our bodies,” Barbara Morrissey, a toxicologist with the state Department of Health, said. “Once it’s absorbed, (cadmium) has an estimated half-life in the kidney of one to four decades.”

Morrissey says kids’ exposure to cadmium in Washington state is already about three times higher than the national average, according to a department study. She worries about ingestion and says cadmium levels may rise after jewelry wears down.

“Cadmium does come out of the jewelry,” she said. “Its toxicity, its persistence in the body and limited evidence we have that it might be higher in kids already, we think these are good reasons to minimize cadmium.”

Sen. John McCoy, Tulalip Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, said it’s a work-in-progress. “As we often do in the Legislature, we’ll bring bills forward knowing they probably need some work,” he told the committee. “This bill is probably going to need some work.

Cleaveland says he will meet with the Department of Ecology on Thursday afternoon to continue discussing the bill.

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Bills would help homeless, others find housing

By | January 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

State House and Senate Democrats today introduced bills they say will help remove barriers for the state’s homeless population and others to find housing.

Liz Mills of YWCA Seattle, Sen. David Frockt, Rep. Brady Walkinshaw and Sen. Cyrus Habib discuss housing bills.

Screening costs, evictions, rent hikes and discrimination can make it difficult for many to find a place to live, low-income housing advocates said Tuesday during a press conference to introduce the bills.

Thomas Green, a Seattle man who says he became homeless after returning from military service, told lawmakers high costs of tenant screenings kept him from finding housing. Sometimes, he said, he was turned away because the address he listed on applications was a homeless shelter.

YWCA Seattle’s advocacy and policy director Liz Mills says many people who come to the center for help struggle to afford application costs.

“Housing options are significantly limited by screening costs,” she said.

Senators David Frockt and Jeannie Kohl-Welles, both Seattle Democrats, are prime sponsors of Senate Bill 5123. The Fair Tenant Screening Act creates a standardized screening report for tenants.

Three other bills aimed at offering protections to tenants were filed today and will have short titles this evening, a spokesperson for the Senate Democratic caucus said.

  • So-called Source of Income Discrimination Protections would prevent landlords from discriminating against tenants based on the type of payment they use. Mills said homeless people are often turned away when they present government-issued Section 8 voucher as payment.
  • The Truth in Evictions Reporting Act would restrict consumer reporting agencies from disclosing eviction information in some cases. Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, says sometimes people are unfairly listed on eviction reports and prevented from housing because of it, even it’s cleared up in court. Right now, she says, “if a tenant is served an eviction notice, that is an eviction on their record and it’s there forever.”
  • Another effort requires a 90-day notice for “major” rent increases.
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Inslee makes case for capital gains tax, carbon charges in 2015 State of State

By | January 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee addresses the 2015 Washington State Legislature during the State of the State address.

Gov. Jay Inslee pledged to work on a transportation package, increased funding for pre-kindergarten and a minimum wage increase in his 2015 State of the State address, framing his policy decisions as an investment in Washington’s residents.

“One path leads to an economy that works for all Washingtonians, supports thriving communities and preserves a healthy environment. The other path leads to a slow erosion of our shared prosperity, a widening gap of inequality and a deterioration of our clean air and water,” he said.

“[T]here are no better people to invest in than Washingtonians, there is no better place to invest in than Washington and there is no better time to invest than 2015,” he said.

He also spoke on his plans for education, the environment and raising taxes through his proposed capital gains tax. His remarks on the latter two issues drew a more enthusiastic response from Legislative Democrats than from Republicans, many of whom withheld applause during those sections of the speech.

Republicans also issued a perspective on this year’s session  with a statement from Rep. Norma Smith (R-Clinton) and a press availability from several Republicans from the House and Senate sides of the Legislature.

Members of the 2015 Washington State Legislature, and members of the State Supreme Court, listen to Gov. Jay Inslee deliver the annual State of the State address.

Transportation

On transportation, Inslee said that his plan would be multimodal and include reforms and funding for “a transportation system that truly works as a system,” he said.

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Washington Senate imposes two-thirds approval rule for tax increases

By | January 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

The Washington State Patrol Color Guard presents the colors at the start of the 2015 Washington State Legislature Opening Day.

The 2015 Washington State Legislature kicked off Monday with a new rule that makes it harder for the Senate to pass tax increases — a new requirement for a two-thirds majority approval to pass tax increases in that chamber.

The new rules would apply to bills in the Senate, which is controlled by the Majority Coalition Caucus. The House of Representatives, which has a Democratic majority, did not consider a similar rule. Tax increases in this Legislative session, however, would have to pass both chambers before becoming law.

The rules included a clause that would require bills proposing new tax increases to get a two-thirds supermajority approval of the Senate before advancing to third reading. The exception would be to bills that send the tax increases to the voters in a referendum.

The Senate approved the rules with 26 yes votes.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville), told TVW before the opening day ceremonies he believed the voters of the state would support the change.

In 2012, 64 percent of Washington voters approved Initiative 1185, which created a requirement of two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate — or voter approval — to pass tax increases. 1185 passed in every county. It was similar to previous initiatives, including Initiative 1053 which also passed by 64 percent in 2010.*

“The two-thirds majority requirement was approved by nearly every county we represent,” Schoesler told Anita Kissee of The Impact.

However, the State Supreme Court struck down 1185 initiative as being unconstitutional in 2013. The state Constitution requires a simple majority in the Senate to pass.

The change could make it more difficult for legislators to pass key parts of Gov. Jay Inslee‘s budget proposal, which includes a new capital gains tax and a tax on polluters for carbon emissions.

Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) cited the court decision and the state Constitution as a reason to vote against the rule change. He proposed his own amendment that would have required a two-thirds majority to approve the rule change.

“We are proposing a Senate rule that goes around the Constitution,” he said. “This is no different of any rule that needs to be enforced. We can’t have one set of rules for us, that aren’t in the Constitution.”

Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn) argued that the rule does not include closing tax loopholes and acting on existing taxes, which means that there are still ways for the Senate to propose revenue increases without the two-thirds majority approval.

“It only would impact things like a capital gains tax or an income tax or a radical change in the tax structure of our state,” he said.

But Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) said that the bill hurts moderates, because 17 members of the Senate can block an increase.

“In my view this set of rules is about preventing members of the majority from moving to the center to work on compromise,” he said. “The solutions come usually from the political middle…. This set of rules is a recipe for gridlock.”

Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) said the rules change will force the Legislature to think of ways to address budget issues other than raising taxes.

“While I wish we could have applied this rule to all taxes that might come before the Legislature this session, applying it to new taxes is still very significant,” he said in a prepared statement released following the rule change. “This will make it much more difficult for Gov. Jay Inslee to pass his misguided proposals for cap and trade and a new capital gains tax.”

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the most recent supermajority tax approval initiative.

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Gov. Jay Inslee raises ’12th Man’ flag

By | January 8, 2015 | 0 Comments

As the Seattle Seahawks prepare for the second round of the playoffs, the 12th Man gathered at the state Capitol Thursday to show support.

Fans cheered as Gov. Jay Inslee and special-teamer Heath Farwell raised the 12th Man flag, which they say will remain outside the state Capitol building until the Seahawks win the Super Bowl.

People came from around the state to wish the team luck against the Carolina Panthers this weekend. The game starts at 5:15 p.m. at Century Link Field.

2.1.12

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