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House Democrats ready to offer a state budget plan

By John Stang

The Washington House Democrats plan to unveil their 2015-2017 operating budget proposal on Friday, which will start to point to how this legislative session will really go. (more…)

Praise for Selma march, but no action on election bill

By John Stang

Amid universal praise for the Selma civil rights march, Washington’s Republican and Democratic senators passed a resolution commending the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for leading the historic walk 50 years ago this week.

Then the Senate’s minority Democrats took the occasion to try to bring a stalled election bill — tailored to provide greater representation for people of color — to the full Senate floor. The Majority Coalition Caucus of 25 Republicans and one Democrat immediately defeated the attempt.

The Washington House Democrats plan to unveil their 2015-2017 operating budget proposal on Friday, which will start to point to how this legislative session will really go.

The bill by Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, addresses situations in which minority communities might be underrepresented in their local governments. The best example consists of a city or county with a huge minority population conducting at-large elections for a city council, school board or county commission that results in overwhelming white representation on that body. The classic remedy is to switch from at-large to district elections. Habib’s bill outlines how such situations would be defined and tackled.

This is the third year that a Democrat has introduced this bill, and the Democratic-controlled House appears ready to pass a similar measure as early as late Wednesday evening. This year, the Senate bill barely passed out of the Senate Government Operations & Security Committee, largely because of the support of the committee’s Republican chair, Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn. Since then, the bill has stalled in the Senate Rules Committee.

On Wednesday after the Senate passed the Martin Luther King resolution, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, called for a “Ninth Order” move to bring the bill to a full Senate vote. The “Ninth Order” is a parliamentary procedure in which some legislators move to get a majority vote of the full chamber to bring a stalled bill to a final vote by the entire Senate or House. This is generally used by the minority party and usually fails — although the losing party may still regard the vote itself as something of a victory for – arguably — embarrassing the majority or providing future ammunition to be used in election campaigns against some members of the majority.

The failure is largely foreordained because an unwritten rule of the Legislature is that regardless of individual feelings about a bill, everyone is supposed to vote with his or her caucus on “procedural” matters, such as whether to consider bills that the majority leadership has not approved for consideration. Prior to Wednesday’s vote on Liias’ motion, Senate Floor Leader Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, reminded his side that this was a procedural vote. Liias’ motion died 26-23 along caucus lines. Despite her support for the measure in the Government Operations Committee, Roach voted with her caucus Wednesday to stop the Democrats’ motion.

After the vote, Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island issued a written statement that said: “Today we heard many speeches about the importance of equality, of justice and of fairness, but when it came time to act, when it came time to actually deliver on these fundamental American rights, words, not actions, won the day.”

She added, “It’s one thing to speak about the importance of these values, it’s apparently quite another to act on them.”

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

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Minimum wage passes House, heads to Senate

By John Stang

Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, unleashed the forces of science on a Washington House minimum-wage bill Tuesday, arguing that it made no economic sense.

“All these arguments are the result of economic illiteracy,” he said. Referring to criticisms of his party on climate change, Manweller added, “We get accused all the time of being anti-science. If you vote for this bill, you don’t have the right to call anyone ‘anti-science.’ This is the most anti-science vote of all time.”

Manweller’s remarks came as the House debated Rep. Jessyn Farrell’s bill to raise Washington’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2019.

Shortly after Manweller’s argument, 51 Democrats voted for the bill and 46 Republicans voted against it, passing the bill and sending it to the Senate. By the same margin, the House also passed a bill Tuesday by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, to require businesses with more than four employees to provide sick leave for their workers. The amount of required sick leave would vary by the size of the company.

What reception will Farrell’s minimum wage bill likely receive in the Senate? “Probably chilly in our caucus,” said Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee and GOP caucus chairwoman. The Majority Coalition Caucus of 25 Republicans and one Democrat controls the 49-member Senate.

However, one GOP senator, Mark Miloscia of Federal Way, supports Farrell’s concept. So, it’s possible that Democrats would need only one more Republican vote in the Senate to pass the House bill, or some version of it.

Farrell’s bill would increase the state minimum wage in steps. The proposal is to move the wage to $10 an hour in 2016, $10.50 in 2017, $11 in 2018 and $12 in 2019. A companion Democratic bill in the Senate died immediately. Washington’s minimum wage is now $9.47 an hour — the highest in the nation.

Farrell contended that if someone works all day, five days a week for minimum wage, they should earn enough to make a living. She noted many people are trying to support families with minimum-wage jobs.

On Tuesday, Republicans tried to introduce 12 amendments to the bill to slow down future minimum-wage increases after the $12 target is reached; to add so-called “teen” wages for teenagers that are less than the minimum wage; and, among other things, to set performance reviews to see if the new minimum wage law –if enacted — actually improves the economy.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, took the unusual step of presiding over the House floor debates, quickly ruling that nine of the GOP amendments did not fit the description, title or scope of Farrell’s bill. That killed the proposals before the Republicans could debate the Democrats on them. The Democrats easily defeated the other three proposed amendments after short debates.

Chopp and House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said amendments cannot address subjects beyond what is listed in a bill’s title or language. Farrell’s bill is short — replacing three paragraphs of state law with four new paragraphs.

House Republicans cried foul over Chopp’s blocking of debate on their proposed amendments.

“How can we have a respectful conversation when half of the House is shut out of it?” asked Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton. “I have learned that power trumps business,” Manweller added.

In their arguments for Farrell’s bill, the Democrats argued that 85 percent of minimum-wage earners are adults, with the vast majority of them supporting families. They also said higher minimum wages circulate more money through the economy to help businesses and that the wage will reduce the number of people needing to use state services, saving money for the state.

“We’ll put $1 billion in the pockets of people who won’t be spending those dollars on Wall Street or on overseas vacations, but spending the money in local businesses,” Sullivan said.

The GOP arguments against the bill included the greater burden that would be placed on small businesses and startups. Republicans said the increase would discourage employers from hiring teenagers for their first jobs and put Washington businesses at a disadvantage to Idaho and Oregon businesses with lower minimum wages.

Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, pointed to a Green Giant plant that existed several years ago in Dayton. It hit a financial rough patch and asked the state for an exemption from the minimum wage law, and could not get it. Consequently, Green Giant moved the Dayton plant’s work to another state, removing 500 seasonal jobs from that area, Nealey said.

“The minimum wage has been in the back of my mind ever since,” he said. “It gutted our economy.”

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

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State Senate approves gas tax hike for transportation

By John Stang

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen ruled Monday that the Washington Senate’s new internal procedural rule to require a two-thirds majority to pass any new taxes is unconstitutional.

So … the Senate went ahead and did what it was about to do on Friday before Democrats requested his ruling.

The Senate voted 27-22 to send a transportation revenue bill to the House Monday with an 11.7-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase and with a so-called “poison pill” to shift transit money to roads if Gov. Jay Inslee installs a low-carbon-fuels standard.

But Owen’s ruling also means that if the House sends new carbon emissions and capital gains taxes to the Senate this spring, the Democrats would have to pick up only three GOP votes instead of an extra 10 to pass those bills in the upper chamber.

For 22 months, the GOP-controlled Senate had been unable to get a transportation package to a negotiating table with the Democratic-controlled House, which passed a proposal in 2013. However, the revenue portion of the House proposal will likely change before those talks will begin, because a new carbon emissions tax proposal is being explored in the lower chamber.

Until February, the Majority Coalition Caucus — currently 25 Republicans and one Democrat — could not get more than 13 members of its own caucus to vote for a proposal. Last month, Senate Democratic and Republican negotiators finally reached a compromise designed to get a majority of the Senate votes — with both sides having qualms about aspects of the compromise.

The Senate passed most of the package Friday, but stalled when Democrats — unhappy with the poison pill provision — requested that Owen, presiding officer of the Senate, rule on whether a two-thirds majority would be needed to pass the revenue bill. Besides increases to the existing gas tax, the transportation measure included two new fees, which are technically new taxes.

On Jan.13, the majority coalition — over Democratic objections — installed an internal procedural rule to require a two-thirds majority on a preliminary vote before any new tax would be allowed to a final floor vote. The GOP wanted to install an almost insurmountable barrier to any carbon emissions or capital gains tax bills that might emerge from the House.

Republicans wanted to circumvent a Washington Supreme Court ruling that requiring a two-thirds majority for any tax hike was unconstitutional. The GOP argument for the Jan.13 rule was that the new two-thirds requirement was an internal procedure and not a law.

On Monday, Owen ruled that since the revenue bill contained the two new fees, the two-thirds rule would apply. A few minutes later, though, Owen ruled that the two-thirds-majority requirement is unconstitutional.

Owen called the rule “an end run around the Supreme Court.” Owen said the two-thirds majority rule was “not an act to slow down legislation, but an act to stop legislation. … The Senate cannot pass a rule that violates the state constitution.”

After the ruling, 20 majority coalition members and seven mostly moderate Democrats voted for the gas tax bill, and 16 Democrats and six strongly conservative Republicans voted against it.

The poison pill portion of the bill drew objections from all the Democrats, and led to the 16 “no” votes. The six Republicans did not like the gas tax increase.

The seven Democrats voting for the bill said that, despite their objections to the poison pill, they wanted to set the stage for negotiations with the House. “Even though there are issues we all have, remember, this is a process,” said Sen. Steve Hobbs, D- Lake Stevens and the lead Democratic negotiator in the Senate’s negotiations on the bill. Hobbs voiced hope that the poison pill could be removed later.

Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic and a GOP “no” vote, said: “Twelve cents a gallon affects people in my district who drive rigs and go long distances. … This is going to be awful for people in rural districts.”
The Democratic-controlled House probably won’t address the Senate proposal until April at the earliest. The House Democrats want to hold off on dealing with several matters until they unveil their proposed 2015-2017 operating budget in late March.

It’s unclear whether the House Democrats want to enact Inslee’s capital gains tax proposal and all or part of his proposed carbon emissions tax into their budget. Inslee wants to spend part of his proposed carbon emissions tax on transportation to trim the probable gas tax increase. And any capital gains and the remaining money from a carbon emissions tax proposal — if they are in the House budget — would likely go to implementing a 2012 Supreme Court ruling on teacher-student ratios in Grades K-3.

Complicating the House Democrats’ picture is that their leaders have not decided yet whether to implement a 2014 voter initiative to improve teacher-student ratios in Grades 4-12, or to try to send that initiative back to voters in November. Plus, the House Democratic leaders say they want to nail down the education funding picture prior to tackling the transportation revenue situation — meaning the end-of-session negotiations will likely have education and transportation issues intertwined.

In addition to the poison pill, the Senate Democrats hope, negotiations with the House could also revisit some other parts of the transportation measures that Republicans insisted on. One of those issues is the maximum funding option for Sound Transit to put before voters. The Senate measure puts the maximum request at $11 billion, but Democrats hope to raise that to $15 billion.

The Senate also voted along party lines Friday to transfer sales tax revenue on the state’s transportation-related construction projects from the state’s general fund to a transportation-related fund. That’s roughly $1 billion over the 16-year lifespan of the entire transportation package. The general fund provides money to education, social services and numerous other functions. Democrats argued this money is needed to meet the state education requirements needs from a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling and a 2014 initiative to drastically improve teacher-student ratios in Grades K-12.

Republicans have countered that the sales tax change actually corrects an improper but long-running use of transportation money for non-transportation purposes.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

By  Top Story Network

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Would a new pipeline ease state’s oil train worries?

By John Stang

As the debates increase over transporting oil by rail, Sen. Mike Baumgartner wants the state to study a potential east-west oil pipeline.

Baumgartner, R-Spokane, introduced a bill Wednesday to spend $250,000 on a study by the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council on whether a crude oil pipeline should be installed, and what would be the best route for such a pipeline. The study’s deadline would be Dec. 31.

The study would look at the volumes of crude oil entering Washington — which has five refineries — during the past five years. It would outline the federal, state and local permitting and legal processes needed to build such a pipeline. It would look at potential pipeline routes, and recommend the best one. And the study would list the technical and environmental issues that would need to be addressed.

Baumgartner’s proposal caught both Cliff Traisman, representing the Washington Environmental Council, and Frank Holmes, representing the Western States Petroleum Association, by surprise Wednesday. Neither had seen the bill and both declined to comment on its details. However, Traisman contended: “It doesn’t sound like a realistic or serious idea.” He declined to elaborate.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an east-west Washington oil pipeline was seriously considered. The Northern Tier Pipeline Co. wanted to build a 1,500-mile pipeline from Port Angeles, where Alaska crude would have been shipped, to be transported to Minnesota. Washington Gov. John Spellman killed that project in 1983, following the advice of the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. The deal breaker for Spellman was that the pipeline would include a 28-mile underwater section going through Puget Sound.

Baumgartner’s concept would not cross Puget Sound, with Washington’s five refineries receiving crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields.

Concern about oil trains has risen nationally and statewide after a series of accidents, some involving fires and explosions. Oil pipelines have their own records of leaks, including one along the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana in January.

A map of the nation’s oil pipelines shows one Canadian crude oil pipeline stopping at the Washington border north of Bellingham, and the nation’s northernmost east-west crude oil pipeline running from North Dakota to the Montana-Idaho Panhandle border. Some refined oil pipelines pass through Eastern Washington, and some also goes south from the Puget Sound refineries to Oregon.

Reflecting the public squeamishness about the rise in oil train traffic, the Washington Legislature has been working on – and sometimes clashing over — two oil transportation safety bills, one of which is more sweeping than the other.

A draft state report says, “There has been an unprecedented increase in the transportation of crude oil by rail from virtually none in 2011 to 714 million gallons in 2013. The amount may reach 2.87 billion gallons by the end 2014 or during 2015.”

Even that amount could increase with construction of proposed new rail facilities and the potential lifting of a federal ban on exporting U.S. crude oil, the report says.

Nationally, the number of rail cars transporting crude oil grew from 9,500 in 2008 to 415,000 carloads in 2013. A typical tanker car holds 29,200 gallons. Washington’s five refineries process roughly 24.3 million gallons of crude oil a day, and have the capacity of processing 26.5 million gallons daily.

“We need to move oil across our state and there is a lot of concern about oil-by-rail,” Baumgartner said in a press release. “It’s time to look at a trans-Washington oil pipeline.”

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Top Story Network interview with Senator Michael Baumgartner

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Bill seeks to let majority approve passage of school bond measures

By John Stang

A needed boost to fix old schools? Or sore losers wanting to change the rules?

Those were some of the ways that speakers at a legislative hearing Monday described a bill by Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, and Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, to ease the passage of school bond measures. Their bill calls for a November public ballot asking voters to amend the state constitution and change the current 60 percent majority requirement for passing a school construction bond to a simple majority.

Supporters cited Washington’s booming student populations, many outgrowing their schools. “We do need to properly house these students,” Muri said. Muri was the only Republican among the 45 co-signers on the bill.

Bill supporters also cited the time and effort going into each of the school construction bond packages, which frequently capture the majorities of the ballots but still fail – sometimes resulting in bond packages going to voters many times before passage.

Bernie Dorsey, president of south King County’s Highline School Board, noted that the district had a recent bond issue fail despite getting support from 59 percent of the voters. “We want to allow the majority of the voters to choose,” he said. Another superintendent noted his district had construction bond packages fail 14 straight times before getting one to pass last week.

Ryan Brault, president of the Pasco School Board, said that his district’s pupils doubled in 15 years to 17,000 students, resulting in nine new school buildings being constructed. “With the many challenges we have, securing a 60 percent majority shouldn’t be one of them,” Brault said.

Sixteen people signed up to testify in favor of the bill, although time permitted only eight to do so. Meanwhile, six people signed up to testify against the bill, with four getting time to do so.

“The (60 percent) majority threshold is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority,” said Jerry Gibbs of Gig Harbor. Betsy Tainer of University Place added; “Voters are shooting down bonds and levies all over the state. … It’s because we realize the tax burdens are too great.”

Dan Shotthafer said: “Let’s not move the goal posts because you don’t like the way the game is currently played.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

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State could conduct major study of homeless children

By John Stang

The state would undertake a sweeping count of the number of homeless kids from birth through 10 years old, under a bill working its way through the House.

The bill by Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, would order the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to tackle such a census, including determining the average length of a child’s homelessness. The institute would also have to make recommendations to the Legislature on the best ways to address the problems of homelessness for the children. If passed, the bill would set a Dec. 31 deadline for a preliminary report to go to the Legislature.

“We do not know much about these families and children prior to them entering school,” Fey told the House Early Learning & Human Services Committee at a hearing on Tuesday. Melanie Smith, representing Wellspring Family Services, added, “We don’t know how many children who are homeless.”

Smith noted, “This is a population with intense needs.”

The House passed the same bill last year, with a Senate committee also giving it a green light. However, the 2014 session ended prior to a Senate floor vote on the bill.

The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction annually collects information from each school district about the number of homeless students. Estimates of Washington’s homeless student population range from roughly 30,000 to roughly 42,000. The OSPI figure from the 2012-2013 school year was 30,609. That included 1,254 students who had no shelter at all, 8,202 who reported some kind of temporary housing and 21,153 who were living with friends or non-parent family members on a temporary basis. One statewide spot count found 1,872 homeless students in Seattle’s schools, 1,220 in the Spokane public school system, 508 in Wenatchee and 557 in Vancouver.

A staff analysis of Fey’s bill says that there has been no “robust” study of younger homeless children statewide by the institute since 2002.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.

 

Senate negotiators come up with bipartisan plan for transportation

By John Stang

It took 22 months to gestate. But a bipartisan $15.1 billion Washington Senate transportation package with an 11.7-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike was unveiled Thursday.

Now the question is whether enough senators in both the Republican and Democratic caucuses will actually vote for the package, designed to run 16 years.

“From my perspective, this is a first step. Certain pieces cause me heartburn and parts cause heartburn across the aisle,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood and one of the Democratic negotiators on the package. The negotiators — and the only locked-in votes for the proposal — are Sen. Curtis King, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Joe Fain, R- Auburn, Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and Liias.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle could not say how many Democrats and how many Republicans they can expect to vote for the package. Much of the 22-month deadlock came from uncertainty about the number of Senate votes and a refusal by House Democrats to negotiate until the Senate could get 25 votes for its own position.

Now, the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus and minority Democrats will have to chew over the package internally and then continue talks with each other.

In the House, however, Transportation Committee chair Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-MercerIsland, voiced cautious optimism about a bipartisan Senate plan. “It is only one step however,” she said. “The legislation must still pass the Senate before bicameral negotiations can resume in earnest. I look forward to a robust discussion between our two chambers once that occurs.”

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D- Maury Island, said, “Our caucus is not united on it. … It all depends on how it goes forward.”

The new bipartisan draft calls for an increase in the gas tax of 5 cents per gallon in 2016, a 4.2 cents increase in 2017, and a 2.5 cents increase in 2018.

It offers enough money to finish the State Route 520 improvements west of the Lake Washington floating bridge, extensions of state routes 167 and 509, work on a new Interstate 395 north-south corridor in Spokane and tackling congestion problems on Interstate 405 and on Interstate 5 passing Joint Base Lewis -McChord. It would also complete widening Interstate 90 in the SnoqualmiePass. It does not include money for potential cost overruns on Bertha, the trouble-plagued tunnel-boring machine stalled beneath Seattle’s waterfront for 14 months. The package also includes several administrative and technical reforms.

“Every resident of the state will benefit greatly,” said Sen. King. “Projects were selected on their economic benefit and the return on the taxpayer’s investment will be huge. The reforms alone will not only provide more accountability, but additional cost-savings as well.”

Two still-unresolved issues between the Senate’s Republicans and Democrats are dealing with prevailing wages on state projects, and whether sales tax revenue on transportation construction materials should be shifted from the general fund to a transportation-related fund. The general fund supplies money for Supreme Court-mandated education improvements and social services spending.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, questioned why Republicans support raising taxes for transportation, while the GOP is fighting any tax increase for top-priority education improvements.

A wild card is Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s bill to tax the states’ top 130 polluters for their carbon emissions to raise $1 billion annually with $400 million of that going each year to transportation projects. Inslee views that as a way to eliminate the need for any gas tax increase. Right now, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Des Moines, is working behind the scenes to get the needed 50 votes to get that package through the House. At this point, he remains a few votes short.

In a written statement, Inslee said: “Overall, I believe the Senate has put forward a strong start. I appreciate that it funds safety and maintenance, completes projects, authorizes light rail, and invests in multimodal like transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects.”

Inslee added that he has some questions. “We need to look carefully at the total amount of sales tax proposed to be moved from the operating budget, changes to worker wages, and the connection to a clean fuel standard. Under the Senate plan, if Washington adopts a low carbon fuel standard to reduce emissions, we lose transit funding.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray also voiced cautious optimism. “Today’s proposal is a good first step, but it can be better,” he said in a press release. “While it’s encouraging that the Senate proposal includes regional taxing authority to expand Sound Transit’s light rail system, I will continue to fight for the full local taxing authority requested by the region. I also believe that the package can go farther to support local freight projects such as the Lander Street overcrossing in Seattle’s SODO industrial area.”

The generally positive tone of the reaction stands in marked contrast with some of the more partisan scape-goating that the Senate has faced on the issue over the past two years. Murray’s support might be especially significant, since, before becoming mayor, he had long experience as a Democrat in the Legislature, including as chair of the House Transportation Committee, and knows both the complexities of transportation policy and how much is involved in achieving bipartisan agreement.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

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Legislature looks at changing ethics investigations

By John Stang

Sen. Pam Roach feels Lt. Gov. Brad Owen’s pain. So does Sen. Don Benton.

Owen’s pain is a $15,000 fine that the Washington Executive Ethics Board levied against him last September for running his nonprofit anti-drug program out of his public office. The fine has $5,000 suspended with the assumption of no future ethics infractions, with the remaining $10,000 to be paid in monthly installments over two years. The board’s investigation lasted from 2012 to 2014.

That fine prompted two state senators to introduce bipartisan bills on the subject this session.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, wants to expand the definition of a state official’s duties to include those that are “intended to protect, promote, educate, and serve the citizens of the state of Washington.” The practical result would be that Owen’s work with children could be considered as part of his duties as lieutenant governor.

Meanwhile, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, introduced a bill that would forbid an ethics board from using the state attorney general’s office in its investigations. The bill spells out that the attorney general’s office would represent an accused elected official in any legal actions resulting from such an investigation. Liias described the current relationship between the executive and legislative ethics boards and the attorney general’s office as equivalent to having a judge oversee a prosecutor.

Neither bill helps Owen in his $15,000 fine because that matter is now closed, he told the Senate Government Operations Committee on Monday. However, the bills were “solely generated by the frustration and unbelievable experience I have had,” Owen said. He contended he did not have a chance to testify before the executive ethics board prior to receiving his fine.

Roach, R-Auburn and chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, and committee member Benton, R-Vancouver, sympathized with Owen, saying that the procedures of ethics probes have been too slanted against the accused. Roach has been on the receiving end of such probes. The Republican-controlled Majority Coalition Caucus investigated Benton regarding a nasty feud in 2013. Meanwhile, Roach and Benton have filed their own unsuccessful ethics complaints against others last year.

“I was put through hell in my campaign,” Roach said. Last year, she and fellow conservative Republican Rep. Cathy Dahlquist of Enumclaw clashed in a very bitter Senate race that Roach won. Conservative Democrat Rep. Chris Hurst, D- Enumclaw, helped Dahlquist.

During the campaign, Hurst and Dahlquist filed three ethics complaints against Roach, all pertaining to a 2013 trip to Turkey and Azerbaijan while the 2013 legislative session was underway. The Washington Legislative Ethics Board cleared her of all three charges. At the same time, Roach filed four ethics complaints against Dahlquist and Hurst pertaining to the timing of a fundraising event; remarks that Dahlquist and Hurst made about her trip to Turkey and Azerbaijan; and Hurst’s conversations with an attorney who was planning to run for a judicial position. The legislative ethics board also dismissed those four complaints.

Roach quizzed David Horn, a chief deputy at the attorney general office, on why Owen did not get a chance to testify before the executive ethics board. Horn replied that Owen settled his case before the actual hearing could take place.

Roach interrupted Horn and told him that Owen and other elected officials don’t have the thousands of dollars needed to get legal representation before the executive and legislative ethics boards. Owen “didn’t have access because he didn’t have the extra money. … I know the person on the hot seat doesn’t get fairness,” Roach told Horn.

Benton agreed with Roach and Owen, saying that he had bad experiences being investigated by the Senate Facilities & Operations Committee — a normally obscure housekeeping and personnel matters panel. “I was shocked on how you could be treated. … I found the ways that I and others were treated by the F&O board appalling,” Benton said at Monday’s hearing.

Benton was chairman of the Facilities & Operations Committee in 2013 and 2014.

In 2013 as chairman of the Facilities & Operations Committee, Benton presided over the dismissal of two investigations involving Roach — her alleged verbal abuse of a Republican staffer and a question about who leaked a report related to this matter to the Associated Press.

In another matter, Benton was involved in a public feud with Rivers in 2013 that Majority Coalition Caucus leaders investigated and eventually resolved internally. During that fracas, Benton wrote a letter accusing majority coalition leaders of being “retaliatory” against him as well as “cowardly” and “amoral” — eventually getting an investigation into Rivers’ conduct, which quickly and quietly died out.

Last year, Benton filed a complaint with the executive ethics board against Gov. Jay Inslee alleging that Inslee unlawfully involved himself in a labor dispute by removing Washington State Patrol officers as escorts for state grain inspectors at Port of Vancouver’s United Grain Corp.’s export facility in early July. The board dismissed the complaint.

On Monday, Kate Reynolds, executive director of the executive ethics board, attended the hearing, but did not testify and declined to comment afterward.

Despite settling his case, Owen, who has traveled for the state on repeated trade missions, remains disturbed by the findings that his work with children wasn’t considered a proper function. “I am baffled that my international travel can be official,” he said, “but my work with kids is not.”

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

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Senators offer carbon and energy alternatives

By John Stang

Some state senators want to tweak Initiative 937 to encourage new efforts at reducing carbon emissions in Washington.

The proposed change to the 2006 voter-approved measure on the use of alternative energy sources by electric utilities is one part of GOP-originated proposals on energy and carbon-reduction unveiled at a Wednesday press conference in Olympia.

Gov. Jay Inslee — through a bill introduced by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Des Moines — has a massive carbon-reduction bill in play in the Washington House. The Democratic measure would set a goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions later. Inslee and Fitzgibbon’s bill calls for roughly 130 of Washington’s biggest polluters to pay for permission to produce specific amounts of carbon emissions, which scientists have linked to global warming.

On Wednesday, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale and chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment & Technology Committee, headlined the energy-related press conference, where he was joined by a handful of other senators to talk about their package of bills. Ericksen said the group of bills is not intended as a counter-proposal to Inslee and Fitzgibbon’s bill.

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, wants to encourage the construction of small modular reactors in the state as carbon-free power sources. Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, has introduced a bill to encourage companies with huge fleets to buy vehicles that use alternative fuel sources.

In addition to his alternative-energy measure, Ericksen has a bill to require the state to seek bids on converting its ferries from diesel fuel to operating on liquefied natural gas. The ferry system has been studying such a conversion for at least two years, and is currently awaiting U.S. Coast Guard approval of the concept.

Ericksen’s alternative energy bill seeks to tweak I-937, which requires that 15 percent of state utilities’ electricity must come from alternative sources — wind, solar, biomass and others — by 2020. The interim targets have been an easily achieved 3 percent by Jan. 1, 2012, with still-to-be-reached goals that include a 9 percent share of alternatives by 2016.

Overall, 17 power utilities in Washington are covered by Initiative 937. Under the law, any utility with more than 25,000 customers must comply. The law’s purpose is to cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases by generating more electricity from renewable resources.

Ericksen’s bill would give those 17 utilities a choice between continuing to seeking alternative power sources or reducing carbon emissions by investing in electric vehicle charging stations, converting their own vehicles to using liquefied natural gas or tackling other carbon-reduction measures.

“In the Senate, we’re about carrots, not sticks,” Ericksen said about giving utilities new options on carbon reduction measures.

Inslee’s staff needs to study the proposals before commenting on them, said governor’s spokesman David Postman.

On the surface, at least, it appears that the Inslee-Fitzgibbon bill and the group of Senate bills could coexist, because they tackle different areas of energy-production and carbon-emissions matters. For instance, Ericksen said the GOP group of bills does not address Washington’s five oil refineries, which are targeted in the Inslee-Fitzgibbon bill.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

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