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All the President’s Men

Earlier this month brought together leaders and journalists from across the nation to the first ever Crosscut Festival. Executive Editor of Crosscut and KCTS 9 Greg Hanscom, hosted the keynote panel called “All the Presidents Men”. The panel featured former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, former Barrack Obama speechwriter David Litt and former George W. Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan. This five-part series highlights segments from the panel.


Crosscut Festival

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, the Crosscut Festival is Friday and Saturday (February 2nd and 3rd, 2018). The event brings together speakers from all over the region and country.  The purpose is to encourage people to talk about some of the major issues facing our communities today. KBCS’s Yuko Kodama spoke with Greg Hanscom, the Executive Editor of Crosscut and KCTS 9 Public Television. He shares his take on the shifting role of media in our communities, and gives us some highlights of the festival.


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…)

Oil train safety bill prompts debate about public notifications

By John Stang

Should the public know when oil trains come through and what type of oil they are carrying?

That question was debated Tuesday at a Washington House Environment  Committee hearing on an oil train safety bill introduced by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D- Seattle.

The Western States Petroleum Association, two railroads and at least one committee member believe the answer on whether to put out public information about the shipments is “no.”  Farrell, King County, the city of Vancouver and some environmental groups say “yes.”

Farrell’s bill covers a long list of oil transportation safety matters – including spill-related emergency training and responses, tugboat regulations regarding oil shipping in Washington’s waters, information to be provided to emergency agencies, and an oil tax hike from four cents to 10 cents per 42-gallon barrel.

But the public notification issue sparked the most debate Tuesday in a packed Olympia hearing room.

Representatives from the petroleum association plus the BNSF and Union Pacific railroad supported boosting emergency agencies’ capabilities to deal with oil train spills and fires. But they deferred questions to local agencies on whether those departments know whether an oil train is moving through their area that specific day. Having the correct equipment and training is more important than knowing when the oil trains pass through, said Johan Hellman, representing BNSF.

Also, emergency responders can know the petro-chemical makeup of the oil in the upcoming trains, if they sign confidentiality agreements not to disclose that information to the public. Different types of oil have different levels of volatility with different response measures required. Already, a manifest of the oil’s volumes and contents is on each train, and responders can also get that information during an emergency via a toll-free phone number, said Frank Holmes of the Western States Petroleum Association.

Holmes said oil companies are concerned about giving information to competitors and potentially creating terror threats if the oil train timetables and exact contents are made public. Environment Committee member Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, agreed. “If some of the information is made public, I think it could jeopardize national security,” he said.

However, Candace Mumm, a resident of Spokane, said: “Disclosure is very important to us. … It’s important for responders to know what’s there.” Darcy Nonemacher of the Washington Environment Council suggested that a government web site could be set up that contains needed information, but works around the proprietary issues.

“We need to know what’s moving by rail through our city,” said Vancouver City Council member Bart Hansen. Vancouver has a new oil terminal in the works. Currently, Vancouver averages 18 oil trains a week, but expects that to increase to eight to 12 oil trains a day when the new oil terminal opens, he said. King County emergency official Barnaby Dow said eight to 12 oil trains are currently going through the county each week.

Geoff Simpson, representing the Washington State Council of Firefighters, also argued for advance notification of oil trains, suggesting that the state military emergency services headquarters could be the clearing house.

In 2013 and 2014, the United States had four oil train accidents that produced fires — one in North Dakota, one in West Virginia and two in New England. Closer to home, three 29,200-gallon oil cars on a slow-moving train derailed without any spills or fire beneath Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge in July. Looming over this entire issue is a July 2013 oil train explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people.

Lawmakers in both houses of the Legislature are trying to figure out the best ways to respond to a booming increase in the shipping of crude oil by rail in Washington from almost none in 2011 to 714 million gallons in 2013. A state report speculated that volume could reach 2.87 billion gallons for 2015.

The Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee has recommended passage of a bill sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R- Ferndale. His bill, which passed on a 5-to-4 party line vote, is now awaiting action by the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

Ericksen’s bill has no public disclosure requirements, and, unlike Farrell’s, it addresses only oil transportation by rail. Both bills increase per-barrel oil taxes to cover emergency response and planning expenses. Farrell’s bill would impose charges on both crude and refined oil, while Ericksen’s addresses only crude oil. But a split over the public notification provisions was at the heart of a House-Senate stalemate last year, and that could be a key issue again as lawmakers attempt to respond to the growing oil train traffic.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.


$12 minimum wage bill passes its first hurdle

By John Stang

A bill to increase Washington’s minimum wage cleared the House Labor Committee Thursday by a 4-3 party-line vote.

The Democrats’ committee victory means that Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D- Seattle, now has to nail down 50 votes to for her bill to pass the full House. It would increase Washington’s minimum wage from $9.47 to $12 an hour by 2019.

She introduced a similar bill last year, but it could scrape up only 46 or 47 votes behind the scenes. Farrell hopes expanding the phase-in period from three years to four years will pick up the remaining votes.

On another 4-3 vote, the committee recommended approval of a bill by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, to require companies with more than four employees to provide sick leave.

Committee chair Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, said: “This boils down to something simple to me. I don’t want to be served by someone who is sick.” Rep. Graham Hunt, R-Orting, replied that a sick leave bill “fosters employer-employee conflict” with tensions on the use of the sick leave.

If the two bills pass the Democratic-controlled House, they appear to have one or two supporters among the Republicans who hold the Senate majority. The measures would likely need at least one or two more GOP members to pass the upper chamber. Most GOP senators appear strongly opposed to each concept.

At Thursday’s labor committee vote on the wage bill, ranking Republican Rep. Matt Manweller of Ellensburg characterized minimum wages as primarily being for workers just starting out. “If you want more money, get more education. If you want more money, get better skills,” he said.

Sells replied: “When you’re at the bottom rung of the ladder, people have a difficult time to do the things that they have to do to climb up.”

The committee’s Democrats defeated an amendment Manweller proposed to create a lesser minimum wage for teenage workers. Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, has also offered a bill that more or less resurrects 2013 and 2014 Republican efforts to create a minimum wage for teen workers at 85 percent of the adult minimum wage. The teenage wage would only be allowed for a limited period of work.

In the past, Baumgartner’s teen wage bill has stalled in the Senate amid efforts to tweak it. The House committee vote against Manweller’s amendment is a sign that if Baumgartner’s measure eventually passes the Senate, it will face a tough time in the House.

However, the Manweller teen wage amendment could also be a sign that Republicans may be willing to offer Farrell and other Democrats opportunities to make compromises that would attract enough votes to enact a hike in the minimum wage.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.

Bill seeks to limit drones’ information gathering

By John Stang

A bill to regulate the gathering of information by private drone aircraft is poised for a takeoff in the Washington House.

The legislation introduced by Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, faced no opposition at a hearing on Wednesday. It could receive a vote in the House Technology & Economic Development Committee sometime this week. That would set the stage for action by the full House.

Morris, who is chair of the committee, said a similar bill to regulate governments’ use of drones is being hashed out behind the scenes. It is expected to be introduced in the upcoming week.

Last year, a government-drones bill overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee. He said the measure would have restricted the public’s access to information gathered by local and state government agencies. Inslee put a moratorium on state agencies’ purchasing of drones until mid-2015 to give legislators another crack at drafting bills to address the issue.

Morris’ current private drone bill would prohibit anyone from flying a private, unmanned drone if the aircraft is equipped with a camera or other sensing equipment that could gather information without individuals’ consent. Information gathering would be allowed when consent had been obtained.

The bill would allow private unmanned drones to be flown if they have the owner and contact information on each one, plus the operators comply with the appropriate federal regulations. Someone caught gathering information with a drone from private property – or otherwise using a drone to invade a person’s privacy – could face misdemeanor criminal charges, plus be open to a civil lawsuit.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.

Attorney General: Make legal smoking age 21

By John Stang.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants to make Washington the first state with a legal smoking age of 21.

To back him up, Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, and Rep Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, on Wednesday introduced bills to do so in the Senate and in the House. Both Miloscia and Orwall predicted the legislation would take two or three years to pass – fairly normal for bills involving any significant controversy.

“Is it gonna be tough? You bet,” Ferguson said.

Four states — Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah — have minimum smoking ages of 19. The rest, including Washington have minimum ages of 18 for purchasing and possessing tobacco products. A handful of cities and counties across the nation have bumped the minimum age up to 21.

Ferguson, Orwall, Miloscia and Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman said discouraging 18- to 21-year-olds from smoking would have ripple effects on younger kids’ access to tobacco and would reduce the long-term health effects of smoking.

“Plain and simple, this bill is about saving our kids from a lifetime of addiction,” Wiesman said. The bills’ language contends that a quarter of teens who experiment with cigarettes become regular smokers between the ages of 18 and 21.

Highlights from Attorney General Ferguson by Seattle Top Story

The bills would also forbid vaping with nicotine products for people younger than 21. Seventeen percent of Washington’s high school seniors have used vapor delivery systems at least once, according to state statistics.

Soldiers, sailors and airmen under 21 would still be allowed to buy and smoke tobacco products on their bases, but would be legally banned from doing so off their posts, Ferguson said. Eighteen- to 21-year-olds buying and smoking on tribal lands is a trickier legal topic that would likely have to be resolved tribe by tribe, he said.

Ferguson and others at a Wednesday press conference cited U.S Department of Health and Human Services figures that say 90 percent of adult smokers started in their teens.

They also pointed to the example of Needham, Mass., a Boston suburb of roughly 29,000, which installed the nation’s first 21-year-old smoking age in 2005. In 2006, 12.9 percent of Needham’s high school students said they smoked at least one cigarette in the previous month, and 5.5 percent smoked at least 20 a month. In 2012, the once-a-month figure dropped to 5.5 percent and the 20-or-more figure dropped to 1.4 percent.

Ferguson said 21 years was picked — rather than 19 years as in the four other states — partly because it is the same legal age to smoke marijuana or to drink alcohol in Washington. He and Wiesman said the enforcement practices would be the same as for alcohol and marijuana use by younger people — training store clerks, conducting undercover stings to find out who sells to underage people and relying on routine police work.

About making 21 the legal age for smoking, Ferguson said, “Because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.

2 key senators are optimistic about new pot legislation

By John Stang.

Two influential state senators expressed optimism Tuesday about achieving a merger of the state’s medical marijuana and recreational pot systems.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, spelled out details of what she plans to put into her soon-to-be-filed marijuana bill, describing it as complementary to an existing bill by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

Kohl-Welles and Rivers were optimistic about successfully combining their efforts. Last year, Rivers won Senate approval of a bipartisan pot bill, which included heavy input from Kohl-Welles. But the measure then died in the Democratic-controlled House over disputes on how revenue from recreational marijuana taxes would be distributed.

While federal authorities have tolerated the state’s legalization of marijuana, they are believed to be watching to see how carefully the overall distribution of pot is regulated. Both bills are prompted by Washington’s having few regulations governing medical marijuana, while a much stricter system is in place for recreational marijuana. Concerns have been cited about many medical marijuana shops being deliberately lax in filtering questionable medical patients from legitimate medical-pot patients. Plus, the quality of medical pot is not as regulated as the quality of recreational marijuana.

Rivers’ new bill is scheduled for a public hearing before the Senate Health Care Committee at 10 a.m. Thursday in Olympia. It would forbid medical marijuana dispensaries from selling dried marijuana because of smoking’s effect on sick people, but it would allow edibles and concentrates for patients. And it would require state testing and regulation of the potency of medical marijuana.

Rivers’ bill would keep medical marijuana shops open with patients having three options. They could go to the medical shops; they could shop at a recreational-marijuana outlet that had earned a state endorsement to sell and provide counseling for medical marijuana; or they could go to any licensed recreational-pot store and essentially take pot luck in picking a strain of marijuana without counseling.

Rivers and Kohl-Welles propose combining the medical and recreational pot systems under the Washington Liquor Control Board, which would be renamed the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Kohl-Welles said her bill and Rivers’ have much in common, but that her proposal tackles some matters not mentioned in Rivers’ legislation. Rivers was familiar with what Kohl-Welles has been contemplating, but had not read details of the proposal.

Unlike Rivers’ plan, Kohl-Welles’ proposed bill would include creating a single license aimed at recreational shops, which then could get state designations to handle medical marijuana as well. While Rivers proposes retaining purely medical marijuana shops, Kohl-Welles’ plan calls for gradually phasing them out. Both propose phasing out collective gardens.

Kohl-Welles’ proposed bill would call for the state to dramatically increase the number of recreational shop licenses — currently several dozen — to a yet-to-be-determined figure, with a new eligibility to get state endorsements to handle medical marijuana. The combined recreational-medical shops would sell pot with the potencies of the active ingredients THC and CBD earmarked for medical patients. The state would train store employees on dealing with both recreational and medical marijuana.

Both bills would have some type of registry-style list of medical-marijuana patients and providers. Rivers said that of the 22 states that have legalized medical marijuana, Washington is the only one without a registry. Kohl-Welles proposes limiting a registry to solely a patient’s name and a provider’s name. Both proposals call for a patient to receive a state card designating the person as eligible for medical marijuana. Under Kohl-Welles’ plan, card-carrying medical marijuana patients would become exempt from the 25 percent state sales tax on the pot.

With Kohl-Welle’s proposal, any adult 21 or older can grow up to six pot plants in his or her own home. Patients with appropriate medical waivers would be allowed to grow more than six plants if needed. Both bills would have the state set standards for medical marijuana that is sold in stores.

Kohl-Welles’ bill would allow local governments to ban or delay marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions — as long as such a ban or any moratorium is approved by a public referendum. Her proposed legislation would allow counties and cities to shrink– via their zoning regulations — the 1,000-foot buffer between a marijuana shop and recreational centers, public park, transit stations, child care centers, libraries and game arcades. Local governments would be allowed to zoning buffers around churches. The 1,000-foot buffer around schools remains intact.

By laying out her goals now, Kohl-Welles is helping to set the stage for Thursday’s hearing, where a large turnout is expected. If the Senate can approve a bipartisan bill relatively early in the year, it might increase the chances for winning final agreement from the House and Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature on a new law.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.

Governor Jay Inslee’s State of the State

By John Stang.

Olympia’s Republicans slammed Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed carbon emissions controls several ways — including opposing Inslee’s proposal to funnel some money from polluters into an unfunded working family tax rebate program.

They were responding to the governor’s annual State Of The State speech given on Tuesday, January 13, where Inslee covered themes and proposals that he had already extensively talked about during the past several weeks, with no additional proposals emerging. The governor’s plan to reduce the state’s carbon emissions was a major plank in his speech to the full Legislature.

Inslee said his plan “institutes a carbon pollution charge that would have our largest polluters pay rather than raising the gas tax on everyone.

“Under my plan, it’s the polluters who pay for the pollution,” he continued. “We face many challenges, but it is the growing threat of carbon pollution that can permanently change the nature of Washington as we know it. It’s already increasing the acidity of our waters, increasing wildfires and increasing asthma rates in our children, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color.”

Inslee’s plan 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.

That approach would be expected to raise $1 billion a year, with the governor wanting the money to be divided into several chunks, including $400 million a year going to transportation projects to replace potential gas tax hikes. The governor wants another $380 million annually to go to education with the state’s court-ordered improvements on student-teacher ratios to be the most likely recipient. Another $108 million would go to pay for a currently unfunded working families tax credit program with checks going to roughly 500,000 lower-class families. The remaining money, around $100 million, would go to businesses here competing against out-of-state and foreign firms that don’t face the same carbon-pollution restrictions.

Highlights from Gov. Inslee’s speech and Senate and House Republicans by Seattle Top Story

Inslee hopes to reach statewide carbon emissions limits that the Legislature set in a 2008 law. That measure set a goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions to 25 percent below Washington’s 1990 level by 2035 and to 50 percent below by 2050.

In December, Inslee said the carbon emissions proposal would eliminate the need for gas tax hikes of up 10 to 12 cents per gallon that various legislators from both parties have proposed in talks deadlocked for 21 months to put together a roughly $12 billion package for transportation construction, operations and maintenance.

After Inslee’s speech, Republican House and Senate leaders ripped into his carbon-emissions plan, arguing that industries are already making internal changes for business reasons to cut their carbon emissions with the state well on its way to meet the 2008 law’s goals without carbon-emissions charges.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville and chair of the 25-Republican-one-Democrat Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, said the University of Washington and Washington State University will inevitably end up on the list of the state’s 130 biggest polluters, and would face charges for their carbon emissions under Inslee’s proposal. He contended such charges would discourage new industries from moving to Washington and would increase expenses for other businesses — specifically citing Washington’s many food processing plants — which might opt to move elsewhere. The loss of these plants would affect the facilities subcontractors, such as trucking firms, plus neighboring small businesses dependent on the main plants’ employees’ dollars, he said.

“It does impact everyone eventually,” Schoesler said. Sen. Ann Rivers, R- La Center, added: “Is [a carbon emissions charge] a carrot or is it a stick?”

On Monday, January 12, the Senate majority coalition won a party-line vote 26-23 to install a procedural rule to keep any bill with a new tax from receiving a final vote on the Senate floor if it does not already have the support of two-thirds of the senators. The only exception is if a referendum on the new tax is included. That procedural move prevents the possibility of two or three Republicans from crossing the aisle to join the 23 minority Democrats to approve a carbon emission charges bill in the Senate — at least under the assumption that a new program of carbon charges reached through a bidding process is the same as a new tax.

Consequently, the only politically and procedurally feasible way for Inslee’s carbon emissions proposal to pass the Senate will be through horse-trading in negotiations toward the end of the 2015 session. Also, the majority coalition’s two-thirds rule applies only to new taxes and not to raising existing taxes — leaving a gasoline tax hike requiring only a simple Senate majority with an easier path through the Legislature.

Inslee also addressed tax fairness during his speech, saying, “Here’s something else we can do to bring a modicum of fairness to our tax system — a system that relies so heavily on sales tax revenue and affects our working families so disproportionally. I am proposing we fund the Working Families Tax Rebate, which was passed by the Legislature in 2008 but never funded. This could help more than 500,000 working families in Washington, mostly in rural and economically struggling counties.” This rebate is the program that would be funded by Inslee’s carbon emissions proposal.

After the Republicans’ formal speech-response session with reporters, Schoesler indicated that the GOP is not friendly toward funding the working families tax rebate program with carbon emissions money. “It’s $6 million (in administrative costs) to give money away,” he said.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media.

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.