Politics & Government

Under the Dome

Today is Wednesday, Feb. 3, the 24th day of the 60-day legislative session.

BILL CUTOFFS UNDER WAY

Dozens of bills died at Tuesday’s House cutoff for policy proposals, and other cutoffs loom this week. The Senate cutoff for policy bills to pass out of committee is 5 p.m. Friday.

Feb. 9 is the deadline for passing bills from House fiscal committees and from the Senate’s Ways and Means and Transportation committees. The deadline for passing bills from the floor of their house of origin is 5 p.m. Feb. 16.

BUSINESS LOBBY DAY

The Association of Washington Business will hold its yearly legislative day at the Red Lion Hotel Olympia today, including panel discussions with legislators and a noon address from Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna.

The event comes as business groups’ hopes for changes to the worker-compensation system are dying, but AWB lobbyist Kris Tefft said Tuesday that the group will keep working for ways to lower costs to businesses.

McKenna is helping the group distribute 18 of its Better Workplace Awards to employers in the state, according to an AWB news release.

Panels include discussion of the budget and taxes, as well as labor, work force and environmental issues.

TODAY

The Senate and House plan to pass a resolution this morning honoring six law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty late last year.

Relatives of the officers are expected to attend ceremonies that begin about 10 a.m. in the Senate and 11 in the House.

The House also plans to approve a package of bills that deal with public safety, rules for issuing bails to detained suspects, and benefits for family members of slain officers.

Also at the Capitol:

 • North West Career College sponsors a career college education day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Columbia Room.

 • The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture holds a museum day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Rotunda’s third floor.

 • Boy Scouts of America issues its 100th annual report from 11 to 11:30 a.m. in the Rotunda.

PUBLIC FINANCE ELECTIONS BILL

A House committee approved public financing for judicial elections Tuesday, the first time such a plan has cleared that first hurdle in Washington.

Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, is the sponsor of House Bill 1738, which proposes a $3 filing surcharge on court documents to raise money for candidates who qualify for public financing.

Candidates would need to show they had community support by gathering donations of $10 to $1,600 from a certain number of donors, and “rescue” funds would become available for any candidate whose rival spends more than $164,200 in a primary and $205,250 in the general election; other rescue funds would become available if a candidate is targeted by third-party political action committee spending.

The five Democrats on the House State Government Committee, led by Chairman Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia, voted in favor.

Three Republicans, led by Rep. Mike Armstrong of Wenatchee, voted against it.

Mellani McAleenan, representing the Board of Judicial Administration, said the group opposed the funding mechanism because it comes on top of fee surcharges last year and in 2005 and affects access to the courts. But McAleenan said the board, which represents judges at all levels of the system, has not taken a position yet on public financing.

John King, the chairman of Washington Public Campaigns; Katy Sheehan of the League of Women Voters, and Larry Shannon of the Washington Association for Justice all spoke in favor of the measure, which mimics what North Carolina and two other states do.

No direct opposition to the bill arose, except from members of the committee. Armstrong questioned how nonpartisan the bill could be if all 32 co-sponsors were Democrats. He also said it was aimed at one political action committee – the Building Industry Association of Washington, which spent heavily in judicial races in 2006.

Armstrong also said taxpayers do not want their money going to political campaigns.

A companion bill, SB 5912, was heard in the Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee, where sponsor Sen. Eric Oemig, D-Kirkland, hoped to amend it in time to pass it before this week’s cutoff. But Sen. Darlene Fairley, the committee chairwoman, said she doubts that amendments offered to Oemig’s tax on political action committee transactions can be done in time.

“It’s a very good idea,” Fairley said of public financing. “The bottom line: It makes government more fair.” At the same time, Fairley said, the bill’s cost dooms it this year when so many worthy human-services programs are scrapping for funds.

Even so, Craig Salins of Washington Public Campaigns told supporters outside the hearing: “We can do this. We can make history.’’

HEARING ON DSHS SPLIT

State lawmakers considered Tuesday whether to chop up the massive Department of Social and Health Services into four departments. The $20 billion agency has more than 18,000 employees. Supporters of breaking it up say it’s too big to do its job well.

Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, cited news reports of state mishandling of cases involving children and elderly.

“How we take care of them says a lot about us,” he said.

The committee did not vote on Armstrong’s bill, which he said would eliminate layers of management, save money and avoid suffering – not to mention lawsuits against the state.

DSHS employees complain they’re overwhelmed and can’t get help from the top of the agency, Armstrong said. But the breakup goes in the opposite direction from Gov. Chris Gregoire’s plans for consolidating agencies. It would distribute DSHS into four departments – the Department of Economic Services, the Department of Medical Assistance, the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services and the Department of Children’s Services.

Kari Burrell of Gregoire’s office said people served by DSHS have multiple needs that a comprehensive agency can best serve.

Department Secretary Susan Dreyfus told lawmakers she has reformed the agency by centralizing human-resources functions, streamlining administration, reducing management layers and integrating how agencies manage the risk of lawsuits.

BIKER PROFILING BILL OK’D

Rep. Steve Kirby’s latest attempt to curb the alleged profiling of motorcyclists by law enforcement officers gained a little more traction Tuesday after his bill was passed out of committee on a 7-1 vote.

HB 2511 would force local law enforcement agencies to adopt a written policy designed to condemn and prevent the profiling of motorcyclists, who have testified that police target them based on the mistaken assumption that they belong to biker gangs. The language used in HB 2511 is borrowed from a bill passed in 2002 that dealt with racial profiling, and it would institute training on the issue.

“If we have to make it a legislative matter to make it stop, so be it,” said Kirby, a Tacoma Democrat.

Kirby said he hoped his previous two bills regarding motorcyclist profiling would solve the problem by at least bringing attention to it. But motorcyclist advocates say police still target them for stops and enforcement.

Officials from the Washington State Patrol and the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs deny the claims.

Motorcyclists at Tuesday’s hearing mentioned a specific incident involving the Washington State Patrol in January 2009 as an example of them being profiled. At Black Thursday, an annual legislative lobbying day for motorcyclists, riders went inside the Capitol to try to find sponsorship for a bill that would stop motorcycle profiling. Outside, the Washington State Patrol arrived and began taking down their license plate numbers.

Video footage taken of the officers shows some crawling through bushes to get the information.

HEALTH CARE CUTS

The coalition looking for revenue to support health-care programs in the Legislature this year held news events throughout the state Tuesday, warning that nearly 100,000 people will lose insurance if the Basic Health Plan and general assistance programs are eliminated.

The plan serves about 65,000 low-income working people after cuts enacted last year. It would be eliminated as part of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget if new funds are not found for it. The General Assistance program, which House Speaker Frank Chopp wants to rename the Disability Lifeline, provides health care and cash stipends to more than 20,000 others.

Programs that provide insurance to children and community health clinics also face cuts.

In Thurston County, which has an estimated 27,755 uninsured residents, the number of uninsured would grow by 2,422, according to the Rebuilding Our Economic Coalition that represents labor, hospitals and other groups working to protect health care programs from cuts.

Compiled by Brad Shannon with contributions from Jordan Schrader and Maks Goldenshteyn, staff writers

  Comments