Story Summary

Bills in the 63rd Legislature

Here are stories about some of the bills in the 63rd Washington Legislature, which opened its session on Jan. 14, 2013. The regular session adjourned April 28. A special session was called to complete work on the state budget; the special session began May 13, 2013.

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SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday celebrated what he calls his first big achievement since taking office, a bill that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Washington.

Even though the topic of climate change is fraught with politics, the bill the governor signed into law Tuesday made it through the Legislature with bipartisan support. It’s an attempt to make good on a promise state lawmakers made a few years ago to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the level they were at in 1990.

“We’re going to do good things for clean energy and the economy of the state of Washington,” Inslee said as he signed the state’s newest law.

The new law establishes a commission charged with finding ways for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “There is no other option but action,” said Inslee.

While the state has set ambitious emissions targets, until now there was no clear strategy for how to meet them.

“We are the people who are destined to defeat carbon pollution, and this bill is dedicated to that central tenant,” Inslee said.

To meet 1990 emission levels by the year 2020, the state will have to make some significant changes.  The single biggest source of greenhouse gases in Washington is transportation. Energy is right behind.

The location of Tuesday’s bill-signing was significant.

“This building is Exhibit A in why we are bold and why we are confident,” Inslee said, referring to the new Bullitt Center atop Seattle’s Capitol Hill.

“This is the greenest commercial building in the world,” said Brad Kahn, who was part of the building’s development team. Among other things, the Bullitt Center captures its own water and creates its own power.

“The solar panels on the roof will produce as much energy as the building uses over the whole year,” said Kahn.

Though Inslee said there was “no debate about the wisdom of the bill,” others expressed doubts, even those who voted for it.

State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, questions the focus of getting back to 1990 levels for emissions.

“If CO2 is the only thing you are talking about, that is not always synonymous with improving our environment,” Ericksen said. “There are lots of things we could be doing to help out citizens directly, without having a massive negative impact upon job creation.”

The commission that the new law creates is set to report back to the Legislature by the end of year.

OLYMPIA — State Senate committee members on Monday considered a bill that would require insurance companies in Washington to cover abortion. The measure brought out everyone from Planned Parenthood to the Roman Catholic Church.

Right now, virtually all insurance plans in Washington state cover abortion. However, with the full implementation next year of the federal health insurance law, sometimes called “Obamacare,” some are worried that the new insurance plans that will be coming on line won’t offer than benefit.

“I don’t know every other woman’s story, but I know my story,” Lonnie Johns Brown, who years ago had an abortion, said during a hearing of the state Senate Health Care Committee. “I was 26. Failed marriage.  Minimum wage job. I was fortunate; my employer had abortion coverage.”

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State Senate Health Care Committee Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, says the abortion insurance coverage bill will not get out of her committee this year.

Brown supports the bill’s mandate that any insurance company that offers maternity care also offer abortion services as well.

“I only ask that we continue the practice in our state of making sure that woman have the access to the health care services that they need,” Brown told committee members.

But others told lawmakers that mandating abortion coverage would be unfair to those who oppose the procedure.

Colleen Walker testified that the measure “will force those who want to pay for maternity coverage and bring life into the world to also pay coverage for a procedure that brings death to a child.”

Some business owners told lawmakers that they want insurance options that don’t require them to violate their personal morality.

“Why would some members of this committee want to take away my rights as a business owner to run my company according to my conscience?” asked Jim Mischel, who own Electric Mirror in Everett.

Supporters of the the bill, titled the Reproductive Parity Act, want to protect the coverage that is being eliminated in some other states.

“There are dozens of states that are moving to restrict insurance coverage and to restrict rights to reproductive health care services,” said state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent. “This simply enshrines the status quo so that women are not having to jump through hoops. It’s common sense.”

The bill would provide an exemption for churches and faith-based nonprofits that want to offer insurance plans that don’t provide abortion services.

A letter was circulated with the signatures of 25 state senators – a majority – who support the bill and say they would vote for it if it came to the Senate floor. That appears unlikely to happen, however.

Senate Health Care Committee Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, adjourned Monday’s hearing without taking a vote, which means the legislation won’t advance by Wednesday’s legislative cutoff date.

“The bill will not move forward from here this year,” Becker said.

OLYMPIA — A few weeks ago, Gov. Jay Inslee testified before lawmakers in strong support of a bill that he said will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state.

While that plan did pass both houses of the Legislature, there has been fallout from it. Some conservative lawmakers believe the governor got too much time and attention and that a contrary point of view on climate change was in order.

On Tuesday, in front of the Senate Energy & Environment Committee, a global warming “skeptic” was invited to present a perspective very different from that of the governor’s.

“There has been no global warming in 15 years,” said Don Easterbrook, a retired Western Washington University geology professor.

climateEasterbrook raised eyebrows with unorthodox views about climate change.

“The 1930s were warmer than they are right now,” Easterbrook said. “We had more heat records broken, we had higher temperatures. It was a hotter decade.”

Easterbrook argued that the planet’s temperature has fluctuated up and down over several hundred years and that for the last decade the Earth has actually been cooling.

“There’s no correlation between CO2 going up and global warming,” he said.

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Island County, who helped sponsor the recent climate bill, was clearly frustrated by Easterbrook’s testimony.

“Ninety-five percent of the peer-reviewed data very clearly states climate change is real, it’s happening, it’s human caused,” Ranker said. “To have a bold discussion about the facts is ridiculous.”

State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, chairman of the committee who had invited Easterbrook to appear, said the testimony was needed.

“It’s important for the people of Washington state and for the committee to hear some of the other viewpoints that are out there with regards to climate change,” he said.

Ericksen said he believes that the state’s current goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 is misguided.

“If CO2 is the only thing you are talking about, that is not always synonymous with improving our environment,” he said. “There are lots of things we could be doing to help out citizens directly without having a massive negative impact upon job creation, manufacturing and the cost of power.”

Ranker, however, is fully supportive of the state’s current goals.  Indeed, he would go ever further.

“We should be in the lead in taking on this issue,” he said. “We should be out in front saying what needs to happen and being an example, frankly, for the county.”

He argued that Easterbrook’s appearance was counterproductive.

“We should not be in this skeptical ‘the world is flat’ mentality,” he said.  “It’s unacceptable for us as Washingtonians.”

While Easterbrook’s testimony certainly generated a lot of chatter in Olympia, it was probably too late to affect much legislation. Inslee’s climate change bill has already passed and will soon be signed into law.

OLYMPIA — While her scar is fading, the memory of Jan. 15, 2010, is still very clear for Courtney Weaver.

“I was shot by my partner after an argument which started with him throwing my cat against the wall.  This was the result of that bullet and that type of gun,” said Weaver, as she pointed to a large scar on her cheek and lip.

State Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said the law does not currently protect victims of domestic violence from ex-spouses or ex-lovers who have restraining orders or protective orders against them and who own guns.

“Under federal law, you can’t have your guns if you’re subject to one of these protection orders; but under state law you can, and that to me is unacceptable,” said Goodman.

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Courtney Weaver testifying in support of the gun bill in the Legislature Monday.

Under his bill, HB 1840, a judge who finds a person to be a credible threat to their spouse or partner could then require them to surrender their weapons. The local sheriff’s office would hold the weapons until the protection order is lifted. It’s legislation that the King County Prosecutor’s Office supports.

“The toxic and lethal mix of domestic violence and firearms is clear and unmistakable. Anyone who works in this field can give you anecdotes of seeing firearms and protection orders intersect,” said King County senior deputy prosecutor David Martin.

Victims say if the law is passed they could rest easier knowing their abusers aren’t armed.

“I know all too well what can occur when firearms and domestic violence are coinciding in a household and I just wonder how many martyrs are going to have to die before action will be taken to enforce this protocol where firearms are seized,” said Weaver.

A representative from the National Rifle Association initially signed up to testify against the bill but changed his stance once he learned more about the court process that must take place before a weapons seizure occurred.

The bill was approved by the state House of Representatives on a 61-37 vote March 12 and is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

OLYMPIA — In the wake of mass killings in Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere, many have been advocating for stricter gun control laws. But there has also been a push to better identify and address the needs of those with serious mental illnesses.

A bill debated Thursday in the Legislature would allow more people who present a potential danger to themselves or others to be committed against their will.

“I have to literally be a dangerous person right now to be detained,” said state Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, who supports strengthening the state’s involuntary commitment law to include potentially dangerous as well.

“The expansion allows the decision-maker to say, wait a minute, we see this pattern happening again and that family has told us this is happening again, and we have history this has happened,” Green said.

ianGreen, a mental health nurse, added,  “Every day when I work, I see someone who didn’t get the help they need until it was too late. If we catch it early, then we don’t have, you know, the naked guy running down the street with a gun.”

After last year’s deadly rampage at Seattle’s Café Racer, which left five people dead in the area, the gunman’s father talked about seeing dangerous signs in his son.  “We heard things, like the Army is out to get my memory,” Walter Stawicki said of his son, Ian.  “He foamed at the mouth; he had these rants.”

Green said those stories are often the case after shootings.

“So many times you hear families saying: ‘We tried to get help, we couldn’t get help, we knew this was coming,’ but they didn’t meet the law; they didn’t meet the law for being held against their will,’” Green said.

Critics of the law argued that adding even more people to already crowded mental hospitals won’t solve the problem.

“We aren’t creating health,” said Ruth Martin of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. “We are taking them and we’re warehousing them and we’re not getting them healthy so that they can get back into their lives.”

This new reform, if adopted, won’t come cheap. The estimates are that over the next two years it will cost $23 million to add beds to the mental health wards and administer the expanded involuntary commitment program.

OLYMPIA — Washington state has the highest minimum wage in the country at over $9 an hour.  Some argue that is holding the state back from chipping away at its nearly 8% unemployment level.  Some state lawmakers argue it’s time to lower the hourly rate for new workers to generate jobs.

One proposal that raised a lot of controversy this session in Olympia is the concept of a “training wage.” It would equal 75% of the state’s current minimum. So, instead of $9.19 an hour, an employer would only have to pay a new worker, a worker in training, only $6.89.

“We have a real crisis in our young workers,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Chehalis.  “We need to start working on solutions.”

capitol1Braun argues that a training wage will help reduce the state’s high unemployment rate, especially for those under 25.  “We’re trying to offer opportunities for employers to hire more folks,” he said.

Braun wants a “training wage” for companies with fewer than 50 employees. The reduced pay for new workers would be limited to just over four months while that person learns the job.

“It gives me more incentive to hire someone who doesn’t come with the jobs skills, or the life skills, that I would otherwise look for,” Braun said.

Opponents argue that any move to lower the state’s minimum wage would hurt existing, higher-paid employees.

“This bill attacks our state’s minimum wage,” said Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma. “It’s very possible that workers who are currently fully employed could be dislocated by this type of training wage.”

The training wage idea and other measures to carve exceptions into the current $9.19 rate always raise passionate arguments on just what effect it will have on overall employment.

“The problem with a high minimum wage is it puts people out of work,” said Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center. “It sets that bar so high that young people, in particular, cannot get their first job.”

But labor leaders strongly disagree.

“When wages fall, we don’t see massive employment,” said Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council.  “I mean, wages have been falling in this country for the last four years. We don’t have full employment, right?”

The training wage effort was killed on the floor in the state Senate on Thursday.

However, there is a companion House bill — HB115 — and, as they say in Olympia, anything could happen between now and when the session ends in April.  Clearly there’s a lot of energy and passion down in Olympia about finding a way to get more people back to work in Washington.

OLYMPIA – A bill requiring universal background checks for gun sales died Tuesday in Olympia after hours of deliberation in the Washington state legislature.

The bill, that would have mandated that all private gun sales would be subject to extensive background checks, failed to get the necessary support. Like many times before, the idea of background checks for gun owners proved controversial; for both sides of the aisle.

House Bill 1588, once considered the one gun-control measure with a chance of passing, lost support in the waning hours Tuesday, as at least one supporter backed out and the bill fell short of the 50 votes needed to pass.

The bill’s sponsor, Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said earlier in the day he had the 50 votes necessary to get the measure out of his chamber.

“I feel very good that we have a bill that works and that will achieve its purpose of making sure that every sale of a firearm in our state involves a background check,” Pedersen said. “Over time, I think that is likely to reduce a lot of gun violence in our state, and it’s going to save lives.”

gunTo secure the votes of some wavering democrats, Pedersen agreed to add what’s called a “referendum clause” that will automatically send the issue to the November ballot. However, the Seattle Times reported that the clause ultimately turned off many of the bill’s original supporters.

“I think there’s a disconnect between what people think their constituents want and what the public polling indicates their constituents want,” Pedersen said.

In a crucial move, Maureen Walsh, R- Walla Wall, changed her mind after much deliberation. She said guns were a “way of life” in Eastern Washington.

“The more I researched it, it really became abundantly clear that sometimes the more laws we add it’s just kind of an exercise in futility.”

Walsh even received a call from Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona Congresswoman who was shot in the head in 2011.

Even if it passed, the bill faced an uphill battle in the Senate, where the conservative majority was unlikely to brink it up for a vote.

Politics
03/06/13

Some state lawmakers look to abolish death penalty

OLYMPIA — For a variety of lawmakers, for a variety of different reasons, the death penalty is wrong.

Now, some state lawmakers are looking to abolish the death penalty in Washington state, saying it is both morally wrong and costs the state more money than life imprisonment. Lawmakers and citizens spoke out against the death penalty during a public hearing on a House Bill in the House Judiciary Committee that would put an end to capital punishment.

Five states have abolished the death penalty in the past five years, including Maryland, which voted to get rid of capital punishment Wednesday.

State Rep. Maureen Walsh, R- Walla Walla, said the death penalty is almost too easy for those who have committed a horrible crime.

“To me, it’s almost too easy to just kill them,” Walsh said. “I’d rather they sit in jail the rest of their lives, think about what they’ve done and live the rest of their lives.

Shirley Mathis’ son was murdered in 1983. She said her son’s murderer was not deterred by the death penalty.

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“I was horrified but I told my children that I’d forgiven the killer as I did not want my soul murdered by anger and hatred towards that person,” Mathis said.

Both sides agree the death penalty is expensive for taxpayers. King County’s Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said defense attorneys in death penalty cases can deliberately delay the cases and drag them on for years, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

“When you consider the millions that are spent to bring them all the way to the penitentiary and place them on death row, that is an extraordinary waste of money even if your goal is to execute people,” former Walla Walla Prison Director Dick Morgan said.

But supporters of the death penalty spoke of justice. Representative Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, said families of murdered men and women seek justice.

“What we are speaking about here is the innate desire for men and women to seek justice,” O’Ban said.

State lawmakers admitted the bill was not likely to pass, but continued to push for greater understanding of the death penalty and its cost.

gunOLYMPIA – Talks of requiring universal background checks for all new gun owners in Washington state have stalled over an activist’s request for lawmakers to end a de-facto database of handgun owners, the Seattle Times reported Wednesday.

According to the Times, House Bill 1588, a bill requiring background checks for all gun purchases, is still a few votes shy of passing the House ahead of an expected floor vote next week. And if the bill did pass, the Times reported, the bill would face an even  tougher challenge in a Republican-controlled senate.

Talks on the House Bill stalled when gun-control advocates failed to move on a compromise offered by Alan Gottlieb, a gun rights-activist. Gottlieb, a crucial player to the bill’s approval, said he would support universal background checks if lawmakers ended the statewide handgun database that currently exists.

Gun-control advocates originally agreed to the deal, but changed their minds after learning law enforcement use the database often to track down the owners of guns found at crime scenes, the Times reported.

Don Pierce, a lobbyist for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said any bill that killed the handgun registry would not receive support from law enforcement officials.

A recent poll found support for universal background checks for all gun buyers, the Times reported, with 79 percent of poll participants supporting the idea.

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