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11th Annual Farmworkers Tribunal

Community to Community Development and Familias Unidas por la Justicia organized 120 farmworkers to speak at the 11th annual Farmworkers Tribunal in Olympia on January 23rd. In this event, farmworkers shared their personal work experiences with legislators and their staff. Listen in on an excerpt from the Farmworker Tribunal and about some of the bills many farmworkers in these organizations supported.

For more from the Farmworkers Tribunal and to listen to other topics concerning farmworkers in Washington state, you can check out the podcast and radio show, Community Voz on KMRE.

Producer: Yuko Kodama (Special thanks to Sofia Garcia, Elias Lopez and Liz Darrow for permission to broadcast excerpts of the Farmworkers Tribunal) 

Photo: Community to Community Development


Transgender Access To Restrooms, Locker Rooms Spurs Impassioned Debate

Allowing transgender people access to the restroom or locker room of their choice stirs strong feelings. Advocates on both sides of that debate packed a hearing room in Olympia Wednesday. They testified on a Republican proposal to repeal a new state rule. That rule leaves the choice with the user and not the owner of the facility. Paul MacLurg owns a fitness center and supports the repeal.

MacLurg says,  “As a business owner part of my job is to make sure I maintain an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable. Before this rule was in place the law allowed me to use my best judgment. Now I have no good choices, no protection from the law.”

Ryan Trainer argued to keep the rule allowing transgender access. He’s the parent of a young transgender daughter.

Trainer says, “This is our child, like everyone here we are doing our best to love her, support here and to keep her safe. She is deserving of respect and protection just like all of the children in Washington state. Please don’t take this way from her.”

The rule was enacted last month by Washington’s Human Rights Commission.


Democrats keep pushing for new voting measure

By John Stang

Senate Democrats and supporters made a symbolic push Thursday to get a state voting rights act to the Washington Senate floor.

The legislation appears doomed for 2015.

Technically, though, two similar bills are in play, one sponsored by Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland and the other by Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace. The bills address 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 that consistently results in overwhelming white representation on that body. The classic remedy would be to switch from at-large to district elections, with the districts reflecting the racial makeup of an area. The bills outline how such situations would be defined and tackled.

Moscoso’s bill passed the House, with voting mostly along party lines. The Senate Government Operations & Security Committee recommended approval of both bills. The committee’s chair Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, and assistant chair Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, both recommended approval of Moscoso’s bill. That would give it a 25-vote majority in the Senate if the entire minority Democratic caucus supports it as well.
However, the Senate Rules Committee — controlled by Republicans — won’t allow either bill to go to a full floor vote. And Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R- Ritzville, contended Thursday that Roach and Benton’s support of Moscoso’s bill in committee does not mean that they would vote for it in a full floor vote.

The only way for the Democrats to get either bill to a full floor vote seems to be on a procedural vote by the full Senate. But a powerful, unwritten rule is that each legislator votes with his or her caucus on all procedural matters despite his or her personal stance on the bill in question. Caucus leaders on both sides use this tradition to keep bills they don’t like — but appear likely to pass — from going to a full floor vote. That is how the GOP senators earlier killed such an attempt to bring Habib’s bill to a full floor vote.

On Thursday, Democrats held a rally outside the Capitol Dome, and the Senate’s Law & Justice and Government Operations & Security committees held a joint work session to discuss the pros and cons of the voting rights bills with attorneys for and against the concept.

At the work session and at a press session, Seattle attorney John Safarli, who represented Yakima in a federal Voting Rights Act case, and Schoesler both described the state bills as encouraging expensive litigation. “I think there are people who don’t have the purest of motives in litigating,” Schoesler said.

Meanwhile, Habib and Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, contended that the bills stalled in the Senate Rules Committee would decrease the likelihood of litigation occurring, because those bills offer ways to set up ethnic-majority districts without going to court before a lawsuit shows up.

“This, in many ways, is a litigation prevention tool,” Jayapal said.

Under the current federal Voting Rights Act, the only way to tackle ethnic underrepresentation in local government is by a lawsuit.

However, an initiative by a jurisdiction’s residents can convert an at-large election system to district elections. This happened in Seattle. But, Habib and Jayapal argued, that route does not guarantee that the carved-out districts don’t all end up gerrymandered to have white majorities. Such an arrangement still handicaps people of color from being appropriately represented at their local government and school board levels, they said.

Cities potentially affected by a state voting rights act might include Pasco and Sunnyside, which, despite being heavily Hispanic, have overwhelmingly white city councils. Some towns in Snohomish County could also be affected, Jayapal and Habib speculated.

Washington’s most famous example is the heavily Hispanic city of Yakima, which lost a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on this issue. A federal judge has ordered the city to set up district elections this year to include two majority-Hispanic districts. The judge said there was a clear pattern of white voters suppressing Latino interests in previous elections, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported. The city is appealing that ruling.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.

Lawmakers debate 30-plus budget amendments

By John Stang

The Washington Senate Democrats charged their Republican colleagues purposely stacked the deck in passing the GOP’s 2015-2017 operating budget proposal. Why? To protect Sen. Andy Hill, R- Redmond, from having to cast embarrassing votes.

While he has not publicly talked of running, Hill’s name has been circulated in political circles as a possible GOP candidate to face Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in 2016.

Hill’s potential career plans influenced over Thursday’s proceedings, a bitter and esoteric parliamentary battle between the 26 members of the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus and the 23 Democratic senators.

Prior to debates on the amendments, the Majority Coalition’s 25 Republicans, with their one Democratic ally, installed a new rule, over the protests of Senate Democrats. That new rule, actually a revival of one killed in 2011, requires any amendment to the state’s operating, transportation and capital budgets to pass by a 60 percent vote rather than a simple majority. That means the senate needs 30 votes instead of 25 to make any change in its budget proposal.

The rule was approved along a strict, 26-23, caucus-line vote, with Hill joining the majority.

Meanwhile, the minority Democrats tried to add 51 amendments to the GOP-oriented budget proposal. (They withdrew several additional amendments prior to floor votes.) Only two of the 51 Democratic amendments broke the 30-vote mark. As a group, the Democrats had the parliamentary clout to force a roll call vote on each amendment – and they did on most.

Fifty-one is an excessively high number of amendments. It is possible that some of them were designed to paint Andy Hill into a few no-win corners.  

 Thirteen of the failed amendments were supported by simple majorities of the Senate, but fell short of the 30-vote threshold. That means some Republicans voted for them, and the amendments would have passed without the rule change.

Hill voted for four of the 13 failed amendments. One  “yes” vote was for a measure that would have required state contractors to pay men and women equally for the same job. Another amendment would have funded research into how race and ethnicity affects criminal, social services and education caseloads. The final two would have allocated $1 million for the University of Washington to conduct climate impact studies and set up statewide anti-bullying programs.

 Five other Republicans voted at least five times for amendments that received more than 25 “yes” votes, but fewer than the 30 required for passage: Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, voted for 10 amendments; Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, for 7; Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Conner, 6; Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, 6; and Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, 5.

Hill, Fain and Litzow are considered moderates in the Majority Coalition. Rivers, Roach and Benton are viewed as staunch conservatives. Roach and Benton have a complicated relationship with their caucuses, and sometimes break away. Also, Roach is considered pro-labor.

 Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, called the breakaway Republicans evidence of the independence and diversity of the Majority Coalition. “I have a big tent,” he said, “and not everyone has the same heartburn.”

 Hill, the chief budget writer for the Senate Republicans, declined to comment Thursday, saying, “I’m too busy trying to get the budget off the floor to talk.”

On the other side of the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, charged the GOP caucus with installing the 60-percent-to-pass-an-amendment rule as a way to protect Hill and other GOP moderates, who could safely vote for some Democratic amendments without fear that those amendments would actually pass. That lets Hill and company cast themselves as moderate in any future elections without hurting the Majority Coalition’s overall agenda.

Nelson alleged that, behind the scenes, GOP caucus leaders offered withdraw that 60-percent rule prior to the floor vote if Democrats would back off their threat to force roll call votes on gender equality and climate study amendment bills.

Veteran House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, has been known to employ a similar strategy, to great effect, in the House. If, for example, Chopp has more than 50 votes (a majority) lined up for a particular bill, he has been known to let Democrats from swing districts vote against the bill so they can look good for their constituents.

Senate Majority Leader Schoesler scoffed at Nelson’s read of the GOP’s 60-percent-to-pass gambit. “That’s tin-foil-hat and black-helicopter thinking,” he said. But a remark overheard in the Senate chamber by Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, and others seems to support Nelson’s view.

Several hours into the debates, Conway says he overheard Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane and one of the GOP’s staunchest conservatives, say loudly, “We’re doing this because you guys don’t want to do a tough vote.” Conway couldn’t say whom Baumgartner was talking to, but the Spokane senator was surrounded by Republicans at the time. “About two dozen of us heard it,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island.

When asked about the alleged remark, Baumgartner was dismissive. “Conway’s pretty old,” he said. “He doesn’t hear very well.”

Thursday’s debates over the amendments dragged on for nine-and-a-half tense hours with both sides unleashing arsenals of parliamentary maneuvers that angered their opponents and maybe even their colleagues. The debates finally ended at 2:15 a.m. on Friday.

The parliamentary brinksmanship elicited complaints from the minority caucus, marking the third time in 2015 that a minority caucus has charged the majority with stepping far over the line with procedural power moves.

The first instance occurred back on Jan. 12, the first day of the 2015 legislative session. In a 26-23 partisan tally, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus passed a new rule that required a two-thirds vote to pass any new taxes. That rule would have effectively scuttled a capital gains tax that the House budget writers have proposed. Lt. Gov. Bruce Owen, who presides over the Senate, declared the rule unconstitutional and void on March 1. On Thursday, Owen declared the 60-percent-amendment rule valid.

The roles were reversed on March 2 in the Democrat-controlled House. Democrats had the votes to pass a bill that would have raised Washington’s minimum wage (over four years to $12 an hour by 2019). Minority House Republicans proposed 12 amendments to that bill. Normally, House Speaker Chopp does not preside over the House’s floor action. But on that day, he did.

The House Democrats deliberately called their bill “Increasing The Minimum Hourly Wage To Twelve Dollars Over Four Years.” The narrow, carefully-worded title allowed Chopp to quickly rule nine Republican amendments invalid because they did not conform to the bill’s title, killing the amendments before any debate could begin. The DOA amendments included so-called “teen” wages, which would let businesses pay teenage workers less than the required minimum wage. House Democrats easily defeated the other Republican amendments after floor debates.

In other news from Thursday, the House passed its $38.8 billion operating budget proposal in a 51-47 party-line vote. The proposal features $1.5 billion in new taxes and some tax break closures. Following the drawn-out amendments debates, the Senate argued angrily for 45 more minutes about whether to debate and act on its own $38 billion budget bill with $40 million in tax breaks closures.

After work on a few related budget bills, senators knocked off at 4:10 a.m. Friday. They’ll be back to work on the main budget bill at 1 p.m. Monday.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

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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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State House passes ‘revenge porn’ measure

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

The Washington House unanimously passed a “revenge-porn” bill Monday that would allow a victim to seek damages in civil court for posting intimate images without a person’s consent.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, would allow a maximum of $10,000 or actual damages proven by the victim, whichever is greater. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.

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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