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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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EpiPenSEATTLE — From peanuts to soy, kiwi to potato chips, young children can have life-threatening allergic reactions to all kinds of food.

And while a bill sped through the Washington state Senate approving the use of EpiPens by trained staff in elementary and middle schools, some nurses groups in Washington are still hoping the bill stalls before it reaches a vote in the House.

According to the Seattle Times, Senate Bill 5104, legalizing the use of EpiPen allergic reaction shots by any trained school administrator, stalled in the House after a School Nurse Organization objected to the current form of the bill. The bill allowed for any trained staff — nurses or otherwise — to administer the shot to all students, regardless if the students have been diagnosed with a severe allergy or not.

Leaders of the nurses group said they would allow nurses to administer the shots to undiagnosed students, or allow all trained school employees to administer the shots to diagnosed students. But they wouldn’t allow both.

So far, the bill has not been heard in the House Education Committee, and a hearing needs to be rescheduled. Officials said the reschedule was not because of the nurses’ group’s objection, but because of a scheduling conflict.

For parents of children with allergies, the stalling of the the bill is stressful. One parent, Sally Porter, talked about the horrors of her son’s severe food allergies, and how an EpiPen was used to save his life many times.

“He swelled and was drooling, grabbing at his tongue and his eyes were running,” Porter said. “He was very puffy and covered in hives.”

Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, is the sponsor of the bill. He said he hoped doctors would soon be able to prescribe EpiPens en-masse to schools. He said it’s common for students to have their first allergic reactions while away from home, before they are diagnosed. According to the Times, at least one quarter of first-time allergic reactions occur at school.

“If someone has a reaction that hasn’t been diagnosed yet, there’s nothing they can do but wait for 911 to show up,” Mullet said.

Mullet objected to the nurses’  groups’ problems with the bill, saying many schools don’t have full-time nurses, and school administrators must be able to step in and save children from undiagnosed allergies. Medical experts even said giving a shot when it was unneeded wasn’t dangerous, furthering Mullet’s desire to allow school officials to give the shot.

“A lot of patients will feel extra energy and have a higher heart rate, but that’s about it,” said Dr. Kevin Dooms. “The benefits far outweigh any risks of not giving it at all.”

House committee members will try to reschedule the bill sometime in March, officials said.

eymanOLYMPIA — State lawmakers debated a set of bills Monday that would allow cities and counties to raise the car tab tax for local road and transit projects.

This would be a complement to last week’s $10 billion transportation package proposed by Democrats to finance large statewide projects; part of the funding would come from a 10-cents-per-gallon increase in the gas tax.

Anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman, who got his start with Initiative 695 fighting car tabs, was at the state Capitol on Monday railing against the latest tax plan.

“You keep coming back to this one, as if you just want to kind of prove to the voters that we (state government) can do things that even you guys (voters) don’t like, but we can get away with it because what we are doing is just letting local governments do it,” Eyman said.

The bills being considered would allow local governments to add another $20 to the car tab tax for local road projects, and they would allow King County to raise car tabs even more for bus service.

“We’re facing … a $1 billion backlog of transportation projects,” said Ryan Mello of the Tacoma City Council.

The co-sponsor of the car tab bill is state Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds.  “This would give cities and counties the tools they need to pay for what we call the first and last mile,” said Liias. “The local street that’s in front of your house and connects you to a state highway, that’s a local responsibility,” he said.

Under the proposal, cities and counties could add a $20 fee per car without a public vote for local projects.  And King County would be able to charge an additional .7% vehicle fee for bus service – also without a public vote.

“We have to trust that our city council members and mayors, our county council members across the state, they know what’s best in their community,” said Liias. “They know what they can ask the citizens to take on and when they need the citizens to weigh in.”

Eyman objects to any increases that don’t involve a vote of the public.  “The only thing we are debating here is what’s the money you can automatically take without ever involving the citizenry,” Eyman said.

The bills would allow Pierce and Snohomish counties to raise taxes for bus service as well, but unlike King County, they would have to seek voter approval.  And that’s really because of a technicality more than anything. The way Community Transit is constituted in Snohomish County requires a public vote for a car tab increase.

And Piece County is seeking a sales tax increase for its transit agency. That, too, requires a vote of the people.

 

 

olympiaOLYMPIA — The state House of Representatives on Friday approved and sent the Senate a bill that would require that insurance plans in Washington cover abortions if they cover maternity care.

The vote on the Reproductive Parity Act was 53-43.

“Nothing is more personal or private than a woman’s freedom to make her own health care decisions,” said state Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, the measure’s prime sponsor. “The voters have told us that both personal privacy and reproductive freedom are Washington values and today we took the necessary action to protect those values.”

Most insurance carriers in Washington already cover both maternity services and abortion services. However, supporters of the state legislation say the U.S. Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as  ‘Obamacare,’ requires extra administrative burdens that may discourage insurance firms from continuing coverage for abortion services.

“If you’re a rape victim, or have a pregnancy that’s life threatening, the last thing you need is to fight with your health insurance company or your boss because they want to impose their religious beliefs upon you,” said state Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.

The bill’s fate in the Republican-controlled state Senate is uncertain. The GOP leaders of committees in the state Senate have so far refused to bring a similar measure up for a vote.

gastaxOLYMPIA — Drivers across Washington could soon be paying a lot more to get around. Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled a huge $10 billion transportation package that they say is necessary to keep up with the state’s growing backlog of road and bridge repair projects.

The centerpiece of the package is a steep hike in the gas tax, taking it from 37.5 cents a gallon to 47.5 cents. The leaders pushing this plan argue the state’s economy depends on stepping up and investing more in transportation.

“If we do nothing, we will watch the infrastructure crumble,” said state Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. “It will become more difficult. We will not have the jobs or the connectivity.”

Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, is hoping to get lawmakers from both parties to step up to a 10-year, $10 billion package of transportation projects across the state.

The two biggest sources of money in the package are the gas tax increase and a new car tab fee of .7% of a vehicle’s value.

“I don’t feel that with all the (gas price) fluctuations that we get naturally that people are going to feel a 10-cent big push all at once” at the pump, Clibborn said.

The project list in the package includes SR-167, I-405, I-5 and I-90. There will also be money for maintenance and safety improvements.

Gov. Jay Inslee pledged his support for the package Wednesday.

“If we’re going to create jobs in this state,” Inslee said, “this is the place to start — jobs not only for construction workers to build these roads, bridges and trains, but allow us to move freight.”

State Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, ranking member of the Transportation Committee, opposes any new taxes during these tough times.

“The higher the tax gets, the greater the hardship is,” he said. “We need to make our tax dollars go further before we go further into the taxpayer’s pocket.”

Orcutt is troubled by a recent report that compared the cost of  Washington’s road projects with those of other states.

“Every single case they looked at, Washington was higher,” he said.

Inslee on Wednesday pledged more efficiencies going forward.

“We’re going to embrace very, very vigorous and comprehensive lean management systems,” he said. “We expect performance for our taxpayer dollars. That’s going to happen.”

For the first time, under this proposal, the state would be adding a tax for bicycles: $25 for any bike purchased over $500. That would raise about $1 million and would go to help fund bike lanes and bike improvements that are part of the plan.

To pass the package, supporters would need a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature, or a simple majority vote of lawmakers to place the plan on the ballot this November.

tanning1

OLYMPIA — Tanning beds are just as dangerous as smoking and drinking alcohol is to teens, some state legislators in Olympia said Monday.

Now, lawmakers are pushing to ban minors from what they say is a dangerous practice.

State senator Curtis King, R-Yakima, said like smoking, young teens don’t usually recognize the long-term effects of their actions. He backs a Senate Bill banning indoor tanning for those under 18 years old.

“We have children that will go into these tanning booths time after time after time and say it doesn’t affect me,” King said. “But when they get to be 28,30 years old, it does affect them.”

A recent Center for Disease control study shows more than 25 percent of all teenage girls use indoor tanning booths. The FDA said their risk of developing melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer, is 75 percent higher than those who don’t.

Still, only 10 of other states have banned teen tanning. Washington is pushing new ground. King and Senator Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, are just two of several lawmakers pushing the bill.

“Why would we put young woman without the information at risk of forming a deadly melanoma as law exists now in our state?” she asked.

In a hearing in Olympia, young women who spent their teen years tanning spoke in support of the proposed law.

“I’m 22 years old and I was diagnosed with melanoma this past March and that is why this bill is very important to my heart,” Jessica Hewlett said. “I started tanning my freshman year in high school.”

The bill would also impose a fine on salons caught violating the law.

But many tanning salon owners said the bill oversteps reasonable bounds. Debra Haynie, the owner of Copperzone Tanning Salon, said her customers already practice “safe tanning.”

“I think tanning responsibility is a lot better than those at home beds they could go out and get with no regulation,” Haynie said. “Or someone going out and spending two hours in the sun trying to get that perfect glow.”

The senate has until Feb. 22 to push the bill through.

By Kate Burgess 

Q13 FOX News

benton

State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, is the sponsor of the bill that would extend the waiting period for a divorce.

By Kate Burgess

Q13 FOX News reporter

SEATTLE — State senators are talking about a bill that would force divorcing couples to wait a year before the divorce would take effect.

The current wait period is three months. The bill to extend the wait is creating some strong feelings.

The Family Second Chances Act, proposed by state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, is designed to give couples more time to think over their decision and try to make things work.

But some say that could make a toxic situation even worse.

In a hearing in Olympia on Friday, state senators discussed the bill in the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

“I want to give children a better chance at success, I want to try to save people`s marriages, and I also want to save the taxpayers money,” said Benton, the bill’s sponsor.

The proposal would force couples and domestic partners to remain legally together for a year after seeking a divorce. And only after reading a couple’s manual — and ‘working’ on their relationship — would that divorce be granted.

“It`s important to avoid divorce because statistics tell us that divorced families have problems. They have problems financially, the children have problems in school. On most surveys, they`re unhappy,” Benton said.

But University of Washington sociology professor and author Pepper Schwartz said there are no statistics showing that drawing out the process would help couples stay together.

‘There`s no good reason whatsoever that we would lengthen the time between people who have come to that decision, after a very difficult procedure, of what`s going on between them,” Schwartz said. “Do we think that a year more is going to actually make them change that? Or make them (stay) tied to each other in a way that’s actually going to be worse for them?”

Seattle resident Felix Luna said, “I don`t think they should have to stay together for a year after they decide to terminate their marriage. Ninety days is a good cooling-off period; anything longer than that is governmental intrusion.”

Another Seattle resident, Britt Thorson, said, “I’m a child of divorce, my parents separated, and for me, if the process had been any longer, I feel like it would have been more heartbreak.”

“I don`t think it`s an absurd notion that people who get married should try to work it work,” Luna added. “And I think it`s probably true that divorces lead to poverty, especially for women and children. I`m just not sure that forcing people to stay married any longer is going to fix that.”

The bill does make some exceptions in cases of abuse or domestic violence, or if one spouse commits a felony.

Benton has until next Friday to make his case; otherwise the bill will die in committee.

Same Sex Marriage Advocates Rally At San Francisco Court HearingOLYMPIA — A bill introduced by members of the Washington state Legislature would regulate the controversial practice of “gay conversion therapy” for those under 18 years of age.

State rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, introduced a bill that would evaluate current research and identify potential harm to clients who seek therapy pointed at changing one’s sexual orientation. The bill would set up a coalition tasked with identifying harms and developing recommendations whether the therapy should be permitted. Those reccomendations and guidelines would be brought to the governor for review.

Liias said the controversial therapy could be dangerous to children, and should be studied more extensively it is permitted.

“Studies have shown that these practices have no basis in science or medicine and it is vital that we bring together the proper health experts to better understand the impacts as we wait for the courts to rule on this important issue,” Liias said.

Last year, California passed a law banning the practice of “reparative therapy,” which allowed unlicensed counselors to engage in efforts to change the sexual orientation of a client.

divorceOLYMPIA — It’s Valentine’s Day but for those couples who can’t seem to find that warm, fuzzy feeling anymore, they might find that not only is breaking up hard to do, it could also take a lot more time for Washington residents — one year to be exact.

In the state of Washington, couples that file for divorce must wait 90 days before the decree is formally recognized by the court. Senate bill 5614 will be heard Friday — the bill is seeking to amend this waiting period and extend it to one year. The bi-partisan bill is supported by conservative Democrats and Republicans.

Called the “Family Second Chances Act,” the bill cites the negative impact divorce has on family and states “divorce causes poverty, juvenile delinquency, and lower scholastic achievement among children of our state.” Stating that any reduction in the number of divorces in the state would benefit children, the bill seeks to empower couples with “education on nonadversarial approaches to divorce, reconciliation information and resources.”

To ensure that couples seeking a divorce have such materials available to them, the bill calls for the creation of a handbook that would be provided by the county auditor when anyone applies for a marriage license as well as when a person files for divorce. The handbook would provide information on prenuptial agreements, custodial responsibilities, child support and other issues.

The bill applies to any Washington state resident, military personnel stationed in the state and those in domestic partnerships.

The one-year waiting period can be waived by the court if either person is convicted of a violent or sexual felony, threats of violence from one party against the other or against a child.

ballroomSEATTLE — Seattle’s Century Ballroom is one of a handful of King County dance clubs that owe back taxes to the state because they have a cover charge and give customers “the opportunity to dance.”

Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but Century’s owner got hit with a quarter-million dollar tax bill after an audit.

“Charging people for the opportunity to dance as an activity, it’s insane,” said Hallie Kuperman, owner of the Century Ballroom.

The state Department of Revenue points out the cover charge rule has been on the books for decades and there is nothing confusing about it.

“The fact is you need to understand what taxes apply to your business,” department spokesman Mike Gowrylow said. “If you’re not sure, you need to ask us. Just saying ignorance is an excuse doesn’t really fly.”

Kuperman said, “They can say it’s been on the books, but nobody had been informed. None of the nightclubs in the state of Washington got a letter.”

Kuperman, who has owned the ballroom for 15 years, said it’s unfair because similar businesses are exempt.

For example, strip clubs and live concert venues don’t have to collect the 9.5 percent tax on cover charges. The state Department of Revenue said that’s because those places are more about watching than dancing.

“The whole concept of taxing dance, I think, is a bit odd,” said state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who is sponsoring a bill in Olympia that would lift the tax.

“Our nightlife business, which is a vibrant part of our business community, gets unfairly hit by this tax,” Murray said.

But even if Murray’s bill is approved this year, Kuperman is still stuck. The good news is she’s managed to negotiate her $250,000 tax bill down to about $90,000.

Now she’s hosting fundraisers — with no cover charge — to keep Century Ballroom open.

The Department of Revenue said that for years, most dance venues in Washington have been in compliance with the ‘opportunity to dance’ tax. Forty-four businesses were audited a couple of years ago and of the 44, only about eight were in violation of the law.

The state said it willing to work out payment systems with those dance venues.

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