State Attorney General Bob Ferguson will ask lawmakers to consider four policy bills in the upcoming legislative session, including one that failed to pass two years ago when introduced by his predecessor Rob McKenna.
Ferguson announced his 2014 legislative agenda at a press conference Tuesday, along with sponsoring legislators from the House and Senate.
One bill would bring Washington state in line with 49 other states that do not have to pay attorney’s fees if it loses a case brought under the Consumer Protection Act.
Currently, the state is on the hook for attorneys’ fees if it loses a case in trial. That happened in 2006 when the state sued a doctor who was practicing medicine without a license and lost on a technicality, then was forced to pay $420,000 in attorneys’ fees.
“Washington is only state in country where that’s the reality we face,” Ferguson said.
McKenna requested the same bill in 2011, but business groups fought it and the bill never made it out of committee. Ferguson said he’s been reaching out to the business community to try to prevent that from happening again.
Another bill would require all public officials to undergo training on open government laws, including the Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act. Many state agencies already provide some training, but the bill would make it mandatory.
Last year, the state auditor found more than 250 violations of open government laws that could expose the state to expensive lawsuits, Ferguson said.
“When local officials don’t have a clear understanding of their obligations, it makes it difficult for the average citizen to get access,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn.
The third bill would grant certain legal protections to military members who are called to active duty by the governor in the case of a disaster like a fire or flood.
Soldiers on federal active duty are are covered by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and the bill would incorporate those same protections into state law. For example, military members would be protected from legal action if they have to break a rental lease early, get evicted or are facing foreclosure.
Lastly, Ferguson called for changes to a law that affects the nearly 300 sexually violent predators at McNeil Island.The bill would require sexually violent predators to participate in a yearly review with the state’s forensic psychologist if they want the state to pay for their own expert at trial. It would also define treatment programs.
Ferguson said the bill will protect the public’s safety by reducing the risk of a sexually violent predator being released into the community and reoffending.
TVW taped the press conference. We’ll post the link once it’s available.