Politics & Government

The halfway point: What's left for lawmakers

Here's a look at some of the issues the state Legislature is working on or has abandoned as it heads into the final 35 days of its 105-day session with a favorable budget outlook:

Crime and public safety

Ex-convicts: SB 5070 would give inmates more schooling, drug treatment and other tools in the hope they would be less likely to return to a life of crime after they get out of prison. Passed the Senate.

Child sex crimes: SB 5817 would get rid of the statute of limitations for any sex offense against a child younger than 18 years old, letting prosecutors file charges at any time. Died in committee.

Three Strikes, You're Out: SB 5964 would retroactively drop second-degree robbery and second-degree assault from the list of crimes that count as strikes, allowing as many as 27 felons now sentenced to life in prison to get out sooner. The Senate turned it into a study and sent it to the House.

Drug prison: State prison officials want to convert the Airway Heights prison outside Spokane into a so-called therapeutic community where most of the 2,150 inmates would receive drug treatment or sex offender therapy. Part of state budget talks.

Fair share of ex-cons: HB 1733 seeks to spread work-release centers and juvenile offender homes around the state, sparing Pierce and other counties that have more than their share. The bill requires state officials to take into account how many offenders already live in each county and how many were sent to prison by each county, and place them equitably around the state. Passed the House.

Fleeing police: HB 1030 would impose more than one year in prison for people convicted of eluding police if they endanger the lives of others. Passed the House.

Substance abuse: The Pierce County Alliance wants $1 million so it can conduct a pilot project on a drug, Prometa, which is supposed to remove cravings for meth, crack and booze. Part of budget talks.

Prison work-release: The governor is asking for money to expand work-release capacity to house 120 additional inmates in more parts of the state and to build two new state community justice centers. Part of budget talks.

Stolen metals: HB 1251 would require sellers of copper and other metals to provide photo identification and sign a statement that the materials weren't stolen, and it would prohibit buyers from making cash payments over $30. Passed the House.


Gasoline tax: SB 5414 would allow Pierce and King counties to add a 15 percent surcharge on the state gas tax, equal to 5.6 cents a gallon, to raise money to finish some highway projects. Died in committee.

Narrows Bridge: HB 2146 would eliminate the sales tax for construction of the second bridge, which would subtract about $45 million from the estimated $2 billion in payments that bridge crossers will be paying off from their tolls. Passed the House.

Narrows Bridge fines: SB 5391 would impose a $49 fine for failure to pay the toll, with $9 going to help pay off the bridge. Passed the Senate.

Sound Transit vote: HB 1396 would allow Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties to put a single tax measure on the November ballot for their joint $16.5 billion list of bus, rail and road projects. Passed the House.

More toll projects: The governor is asking for $2 million to evaluate two more projects similar to the Narrows Bridge that would be paid for partly by tolls. The Interstate 5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland, I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass and the Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington are possibilities. Part of budget talks.

Alaskan Way Viaduct: The Legislature needs to come up with at least $450 million more to cover the $2.82 billion cost of replacing the viaduct with another elevated structure. An advisory vote last week, in which Seattle voters rejected both the tunnel and viaduct options, appears to have given life to a third alternative: Just tear it down and widen city streets. Part of budget talks.

Future tolls: HB 1773 would put the Legislature in charge of setting tolls, taking that authority away from the Washington Transportation Commission. Awaiting a House vote.

Highway loans: SJR 8211 is a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to borrow money for as long as 40 years for transportation projects instead of 25- to 30-year loan periods. Part of budget talks.

Highway projects: Due to rising cost estimates, the Legislature is facing a$1.6 billion shortfall for the $12.6 billion worth of highway, bridge and other transportation projects it promised to build with a 14.5-cent hike in the state gas tax. The governor wants to borrow more money, delay projects and hope for more federal funding to close the gap. Part of budget talks.

Shipping container tax: SB 5207 would levy a tax on the contents of containers unloaded at Washington ports, but has now become a study on such a tax with a report to the Legislature due in December. Passed the Senate.

Highway 520 bridge: The Legislature has committed only $522 million toward a project that is now expected to cost more than $4.38 billion. Part of budget talks. Also, the Senate passed SB 6099, which would hire a mediator to help resolve neighborhood differences.

Trooper retirement: SB 5313 would let Washington State Patrol troopers work until they're age 65, in part so they can accrue larger pensions, instead of making them retire at 60. Passed the Senate.

Impound motorcycles: SB 5134 would let police impound a motorcycle if the rider doesn't have the documentation that allows him or her to operate a motorcycle. Passed the Senate.

State Patrol pay: SB 5937 would double the current $5 fee charged to insurance companies and others who want a driver's driving record from the state, raising about $14 million a year to hire more troopers and give them bigger raises. Passed the Senate. Also, the governor's budget would give troopers additional pay of 10 percent in King County, 5 percent in Snohomish County and 3 percent in Pierce County. Part of budget talks.

Vehicle fees: SB 6129 would let vehicle dealers collect $15 from car and truck buyers for processing purchase documents, and increase the fee dealers pay for temporary registrations to $15 from $5. Passed the Senate.

Car theft: HB 1001 would increase penalties for car theft and vehicle prowls and create a crime for making or possessing tools often used to steal vehicles. Passed the House.

Inmate labor: SJR 8212 is a constitutional amendment that would let Washington prisons put inmates to work for private companies inside the prison walls. The prison system used to have that program, but the courts threw it out as unconstitutional. Passed the Senate.


WASL: SB 6023 would allow students to graduate high school by passing end-of-course tests in algebra, geometry and biology instead of the math and science sections of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. The WASL tests would be delayed until 2010 for math and 2011 for science. Passed the Senate. The House passed a version, HB 2327, that delays math until 2013 and science until 2014.

School levies: SJR 8207 is a constitutional amendment that would lower the threshold for passing school levies from the current 60 percent yes vote to a simple majority, and require those elections be held in November. The Senate fell three votes short of the 33 votes needed to pass. It could come up for another vote. The House passed its own version, HJR 4205.

All-day kindergarten: The governor is asking for $50 million to start phasing in all-day kindergarten, starting with schools in low-income neighborhoods. Part of budget talks.

School snow days: SB 5395 would give schools the option of not forcing students to make up for the days they were out of school because of snow or windstorms, flooding or mechanical failures. Died in committee.

Child care warnings: SB 5317 would require the state Department of Early Learning and child care providers to alert parents about allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse by employees within 48 hours, and require the state to post proven complaints against a child care provider online or at another public place. Passed the Senate.

College tuition: The governor's budget would freeze tuition at community and technical colleges for two years, let four-year colleges raise tuition 5 percent each year and allow the University of Washington and Washington State University to raise tuition by 7 percent each year. Part of budget talks.

Private career colleges: SB 5402 would allow the state Work Force Training Board to put for-profit schools on probation and demand changes under threat of closure if schools fail to meet financial standards. The News Tribune highlighted the issue with its investigation last year of a Gig Harbor-based computer training school. Passed the Senate.

School safety: HB 2268 would expand the kinds of weapons that are prohibited in schools to include bats, clubs, certain knives and sharpened screwdrivers if they are used as weapons. Passed the House.


Budget surplus: Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed spending $1.3 billion of what is now projected to be a $2.24 billion surplus on new programs in her two-year, $63.75 billion budget. Many of those programs are for public schools and subsidized health care for the working poor. Part of budget talks.

State worker pay: Most state employees would get a 3.2 percent raise this year and 2 percent in 2008, plus a lump-sum payment of $756 on July 1. Part of state budget.

Teacher pay: Most public school and community college workers would receive 3.7 percent raises this fall and 2.8 percent raises in the 2008-09 school year, based on current estimates for the Consumer Price Index. Part of state budget.

Rainy Day fund: SJR 8206 would put on the November ballot a proposal to put 1 percent of state general fund tax revenues about $128 million a year into a special savings account that could be tapped only in emergencies or by a 60 percent vote of the Legislature. Passed the Senate.

Early retirement: HB 1199 would let many teachers and state workers retire with full benefits if their age and years of work add up to 85 (for instance, 55 years old and 30 years on the job). Workers want that earlier retirement as a trade-off for losing the right to get a share in big stock market gains by their pension plans. Part of budget talks.

Health departments: HB 1825 would boost state funding to local health departments perhaps doubling it by earmarking part of the states $2.025 per-pack cigarette tax. Passed the House.

Sports arenas

Cheney Stadium: Tacoma wants $7.5 million to renovate Cheney Stadium. Part of budget talks.

Seattle SuperSonics: SB 5986 would authorize King County to use state taxes collected in the area to help build an arena in Renton for the Seattle SuperSonics. The bill and its House companion, HB 2264, are in committee awaiting action.

NASCAR: SB 6040 and HB 2062 would set up a public speedway authority to help finance a NASCAR racetrack in Washington state. The bills are in committee awaiting action.

Smaller arenas: HB 2388 would provide public financing for a proposed rodeo/equestrian center near Winlock, Lewis County, and an events center in Kent that would host the Seattle Thunderbirds hockey team, among other things. Passed the House.

Health, social services

Children's health care: SB 5093 adds an estimated 38,000 children from poor and working-poor families to health insurance programs subsidized by the state and federal governments. Children in a family whose annual income is as much as $60,000 will be eligible. Passed both chambers, and the governor signed it into law.

Mental health coverage: HB 1460 would require companies with two to 50 employees to provide mental health coverage if they have an insurance plan that covers physical ailments. Passed the House.

Family and medical leave: SB 5659 would create a program to give most workers $250 a week for five weeks to care for newborns, foster children, ailing parents or domestic partners. It would be paid for by 2-cents-an-hour employee payroll deductions. Passed the Senate.

Cervical cancer vaccine: HB 1802 would require schools to inform the parents of girls in grades six and above that a vaccine for human papilloma virus is available. Passed the House. Additionally, the governor has $13 million in her proposed budget for more vaccines.

Small employers: HB 1569 would help small businesses provide affordable health insurance coverage for their workers and pay a portion of premiums for lower-paid workers. Passed the House.

Young adult coverage: SB 5930 would require insurance companies to let parents add their adult children 19 to 25 years old to their health insurance policies as long as parents pay additional premiums. Passed the Senate.


Car fee for parks: HB 2275 would levy a voluntary, $5-per-year fee on license tab renewals to help pay for the state park system. Drivers could decline to contribute. Passed the House.

Eatonville state park: Sen. Marilyn Rasmussen is trying to get $500,000 in the state budget to continue planning for a large state park on the Nisqually and Mashel rivers. Part of budget talks.

State parks director: HB 1192 would allow the governor to hire the state Parks and Recreation director, taking that power away from a governor-appointed commission. Passed the House.

Open government

Public records: SB 5435 would create a sunshine committee to review the more than 300 exemptions to the state public records law and recommend if the Legislature should repeal any. Passed the Senate.

Reporter shield law: SB 5358 would prevent journalists who refuse to reveal confidential sources from going to jail. Passed the Senate.

Eminent domain: SB 5444 would require public agencies to send a certified letter notifying property owners of any meeting to take action on acquiring their land. Stems from Sound Transit action in Tacoma. Passed the Senate.

School newspapers: HB 1307 would give high school and college journalists the same free-press rights as their professional colleagues, including a ban against keeping news reports from being published. Passed the House.


Driving while talking or text-messaging: SB 5037 would ban driving while talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device. Passed the Senate. HB 1214 would prohibit text messaging while driving. Passed the House.

Domestic partners: SB 5336 would give gays, lesbians and unmarried seniors some rights of married couples, including hospital visitation, emergency health care decisions and property inheritance when there is no will. Passed the Senate.

Military discrimination: SB 5123 would add active-duty and military veterans to the groups of people protected against discrimination in housing, employment and financial services. Passed the Senate.

Military funeral protests: HB 1168 prohibits unruly demonstrations within 500 feet of a military funeral. Passed both chambers, and the governor signed it into law.

Payday loans: HB 1020 would limit the annualized interest rate on payday loans to 36 percent. HB 1817 would allow borrowers to have a 60-day payment plan once a year at no additional cost. HB 2231 would impose a 10-cents-per-loan surcharge to fund education programs for borrowers. HB 2258 would direct the state to study putting together a database to track payday loans. All died in the House.

Sunday liquor sales: SB 5902 would require 29 more state liquor stores, for a total of 49, to start selling booze on Sundays. Passed the Senate.

Testing truckers: HB 1267 would double the fee for commercial driver license tests, to $100. Passed the House. Also, the state Department of Licensing wants to take over most of the testing for commercial driver licenses applicants because of fraud among some private testers. Part of state budget.

Property tax limit: HB 2117 would make the 1 percent limit on the growth of property tax revenues law while the state Supreme Court considers a King County judges ruling that Initiative 747 is unconstitutional. Part of budget talks.

Tacoma Goodwill: The governors budget includes $1.5 million toward a$16 million renovation and expansion of the Goodwill facility in Tacoma. Part of budget talks.

Mouse and mole traps: SB 5722 would let people catch mice and moles with conventional traps by exempting them from the state law that prohibits the use of body-gripping devices to catch or kill animals. Awaiting action in the Senate.


Supreme Court races: HB 1186 would provide a pilot project for public financing of state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals races. Died in the House.

Presidential primary: HB 2379 would cancel the May 2008 primary election in Washington, saving as much as $9.7 million, because the results would be largely ignored by Democrats and Republicans when it comes to selecting their national delegates. Part of budget talks.

Initiative changes: SB 5182 would require signature-gatherers to sign the back of initiative petitions or the signatures would not be counted. SB 5392 would raise the current $5 filing fee for initiatives to $100. Both died in the Senate.

Voter registration: SB 5561 would let people register to vote as late at Election Day instead of cutting off registration about two weeks earlier. Passed the Senate.