January 16, 2012

Washington: Varied bills introduced in session’s first week

In their first week of the legislative session, Southwest Washington lawmakers worked on bills that would amend the constitution to limit state spending growth, change liquor licenses for theater pubs, create a sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping, and impose fines for harming a police dog, to name a few.

• State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, is pushing a bill to create a constitutional amendment solidifying the 1993 Initiative 601, which set spending limits based on the state’s population and the rate of inflation. Benton said the initiative no longer has teeth after being slowly dismantled by Democrats and Republicans alike.
“We shouldn’t spend it all when there are good times,” Benton said. “What goes up must come down. … If Initiative 601 had been in place, it wouldn’t have prevented this fiscal crisis, but it would have made it manageable without severe cuts across the board.”

• State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, has a bill he says would help downtown Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre by creating a new liquor license for theater pubs. Oregon has a license that allows families to attend these types of theaters, and for adults to have a drink while watching a movie. The bill would allow Kiggins to get the same type of license.

Moeller also is working on a bill to create a sales tax holiday before school starts in the fall in the hopes of encouraging more people to shop. Without a sales tax on school supplies during the tax holiday, more people would go back-to-school shopping, end up buying items besides school supplies, and increase revenue for the state, Moeller said.

Moeller, an openly gay lawmaker, said another of his top priorities is the fight to legalize same-sex marriage, too.

• State Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, has a proposal that would penalize perpetrators who hurt police dogs or who try to sue after being bitten by a police dog.

Rivers said Clark County recently had two police dogs die on the job, and that police dogs are “expensive and an important part of the law enforcement team.”

If passed, HB 2191 would fine someone $5,000 for wounding a police dog and $10,000 for killing one.

Rivers also has a bill in the works that would require lawmakers to review audits of government programs before appropriating funds to each program. That way, they could check for a history of spending problems within each program.

• State Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said she is working to support legislation that proposes alternatives to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s plan to increase state revenue by temporarily raising the sales tax. The state faces a $1.5 billion shortfall, prompting many legislators to look for creative ways to cut spending and bring in more money.

“The sales tax is volatile and regressive,” Wylie said. “It has a bigger impact on low-income people than (on) high-income people.”

Wylie also proposes to make it easier for small businesses to purchase supplies in bulk.

• State Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, is putting together a bill to reform pension plans for public employees so they are more like those in the private sector.

“This would allow employees to have more portability and control, while taxpayers would see more certainty and stability when it comes to costs,” Zarelli said Tuesday while giving the Republican’s response to Gregoire’s state of the state address.

• State Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said he is focused on passing two pieces of legislation he proposed last session. One, HB 1156, would prevent the addition of more state rule-making jobs. The other, HB 1162, would streamline natural resource management by finding tasks that are done by more than one agency, and assigning them to just one agency, Orcutt said. During week two of the legislative session, Orcutt said he wants to examine the state budget to find similar duplications of effort.

• State Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, introduced a package of six economic recovery bills in the first week of the session. They focus on improving career guidance for students, expanding the middle class, and providing more support for small businesses.

“I’ve created a jobs package that emphasizes education, the work ethic, streamlined government, and an outstanding business environment,” Probst said in an email. “These are the economic fundamentals that we simply must have to succeed.”

• State Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said he will support legislation to make education a funding priority. He also is involved in a bill to modify Initiative 937, which passed in 2006 and created requirements for renewable energy sources. Harris said those requirements should be postponed until more power is needed by the state because renewable power is more expensive.

Harris is working on another bill that would allow hydroelectric power to count as a renewable power source for purposes of the state’s green energy requirements.


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