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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.


Lt. Governor Removes Controversial Senator From Human Trafficking Task Force

By Austin Jenkins

On Monday, Washington state’s Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen removed Republican Senator Pam Roach from the human trafficking task force. He took the action after receiving several complaints about the senator’s conduct at a December meeting of the taskforce.

Her words have gotten her in trouble many times over a long career in the Washington Senate. In a letter to Roach, Lt. Governor Owen describes her comments at the December 14th taskforce meeting as “vile.” Roach quickly launched a counter-offensive against Owen who’s a Democrat.

“He just makes it up and puts in the letter,” says Roach.

One of the allegations is that Roach accused victims of human trafficking of tattooing their faces and getting piercings in a deliberate effort to not fit in.

Roach says, “That had nothing to do with trafficking.” She was talking about homeless youth—not victims.

She says, “I probably said if you have tattoos and nose rings it might be a little difficult to get a job.”

This isn’t the first time Roach has been reprimanded by Lt. Governor Owen. In his letter he says he believes she should be removed from the state Senate based on years of “egregious and offensive behavior.”

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

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.


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Minimum wage hike could draw more legislative support this year

By John Stang

Several supporters of an increase in Washington’s minimum wage made a show of playing “bingo” Monday during a House Labor Committee hearing on the proposal. They marked off a box whenever a business lobbyist uttered a specific phrase or argument — such as Idaho’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage or passing costs to customers — to oppose the concept.

One opponent played along, finishing his testimony by saying, “I want you to note that I haven’t said, ‘Obamacare.'” “Bingo,” shouted a minimum wage proponent at the Olympia hearing, whose attendees overflowed into another room.

The labor committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to recommend that the House pass a bill by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, to increase Washington’s minimum wage over four years from the current $9.47 an hour to $12 an hour in 2019.

The committee will also vote on a bill by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, to require businesses with more than four employees to provide sick leave for their workers. Under her bill, which was also part of Monday’s hearing, the amount of required sick leave would vary by the size of the company.

The bulk of the people at the hearing appeared to support increasing the minimum wage and mandatory sick leave. But the opponents represented organizations with huge memberships.

Supporters talked about workers unable to live on a minimum wage when a single emergency can put someone deeply in debt. “People can’t make ends meet at $9.47,” said Long Beach hotel and restaurant owner Tiffany Turner. “These people are making less than $400 a week,” said small business owner Don Orange of Vancouver.

Sarajane Siegfriedt, representing the King County Democratic Party, said that when the federal government set up a minimum wage in the 1930s, “the concept of the minimum wage was a wage you can live on.”

“Nowadays, that living wage is about double the minimum wage,” she added. Supporters also suggested that increasing the minimum wage will circulate more money through the economy to businesses.

While supporters argued that raising the minimum wage would add only a few percentage points to the costs for a business, opponents contended the proposed increase could raise costs by up to 30 percent. And the corresponding costs could be passed along to consumers.

“When some say increasing the minimum wage will have little impact on businesses, that’s not true,” said Robert Battles of the Association of Washington Business.

“A living wage and minimum wage are not the same thing, and were never intended to be,” said Pullman business owner Joreca Brinkman. She said her restaurant operates with less than a 5 percent profit margin and increasing the minimum wage would erase that.

So far, Republican leaders have opposed both the wage-hike and the mandatory sick leave proposal. However there have been rumblings in the past two weeks that the Republicans and business interests might favor having a new minimum wage hammered out in the Legislature rather than risk facing a less-nuanced minimum-wage initiative in 2016.

Bruce Beckett of the Washington Restaurant Association told the House committee, “We’re not excited about the blunt instrument of a ballot initiative.”

House Labor Committee chair Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, said he believes Farrell’s minimum wage bill has enough votes to pass the House this year, although he was less sure about the House prospects for mandatory sick leave.

Last year, Farrell introduced a similar minimum wage bill that never made it to a full floor vote, because the preliminary head count vote showed the bill falling a few votes short of the needed 50 to pass. Her new bill extended the phase-in period from three years to four years to give small businesses more time to prepare for the increases. In the Senate, the minimum wage increase has already picked up two Republican supporters, potentially a factor in the bill’s favor in the GOP-controlled body.

But there could still be plenty of drama – and political games – ahead for both bills.

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.

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.