Archive for January, 2013

Should helmets be optional for motorcycle riders over the age of 18?

By | January 31, 2013 | 0 Comments

Bikers packed a hearing room Thursday to testify on four bills that might mean changes for the two-wheeled motorists.

The biggest debate was over a new version of an old argument – to make helmets a requirement only for riders under 18. Twenty-six other states require all riders to wear helmets, 28 have moderated versions of the helmet law, and only 3 states have no law requiring helmets.

Donnie Lasman said that while helmet laws are supposed to actually reduce the number of deaths in accidents, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

“When we had the helmet law in Washington State repealed in 1977, for those years that we were helmet-free, our death-to-accident ratio, which means, how many accidents were there to how many deaths there were, was at 2.66 percent. Since the helmet law has been enacted, our death-to-accident ratio is up to 3.33 percent.”

One military veteran speaking in favor of the bill began his argument by quoting one of the founding fathers.

“Thomas Jefferson said ‘Laws provide against injury from others, but not from ourselves’,” said Richard Bright, a 26-year military veteran. “The crux of this issue is that the legislature is trying to protect us from our own behavior.”

But while the proponents had more numbers in attendance, the opposition had more statistics.

“Helmets decrease the severity of head injuries, the likelihood of death, and the overall cost of medical care.” said Dave Overstreet, representing AAA Washington. “Specifically, NTSA estimates that motorcycle helmets reduce the likelihood of a crash fatality by 37 percent among riders, and 41 percent for passengers.”

Steve Lind of the Traffic Safety Commission also opposed the bill. He said that in 2012, the Center for Disease Control reported that when states repeal all or portions of helmet laws, helmet use decreases, and injuries, fatalities and costs increase.


Senate Republicans say delay on workers’ comp vote shows bipartisan spirit

By | January 31, 2013 | 0 Comments

Members of the Senate’s new Republican-controlled majority coalition say the delay of a floor vote on a package of controversial workers’ compensation bills is proof they are willing to listen to all sides of the debate.

On Wednesday, the coalition held off on the bills they say are aimed at controlling costs. One bill would give injured workers an incentive to take a lump sum settlement in lieu of traditional state pensions. Anther bill would alter the way an injured worker’s benefits are calculated, including the compensation a surviving spouse would receive.

Senate Democrats say the legislation would restructure the workers’ comp system and should not have been rushed through Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee without proper consideration.

“We listened to the minority. They said they needed a little more time. We are trying to work with them in a bipartisan effort,” Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom (D-Medina) said Wednesday.

Rep. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma) argued against the proposals in the Senate committee. The measures passed on a 4-3 vote along party lines.

“The worker comp system is designed to help injured workers get back on the job. But the Republicans’ changes only make it harder for middle class workers to regain their health and get back to work,” he said in a statement on the Senate Democrats website.

The five bills (SB5112, SB5124, SB5126, SB5127 and SB5128) are intended to give workers choices and employers more protection, Republican leaders say.

“We are looking to help contain worker compensation costs,” Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville) said. “We are open to compromise to get the end result. This isn’t a political statement. We listened.”

Leaders of the Majority Coalition, which holds a 25-24 seat advantage in the Senate,  are hoping the additional time will be enough to convince some Democrats to support the legislation, improving its chances when it heads to the House.

Lawmakers are scheduled to re-convene on the Senate floor at 10 a.m. Friday, but it is unclear when the bills will get a vote.

Categories: Business, WA Senate

House GOP leaders ready for rules fight on Friday

By | January 31, 2013 | 0 Comments

House Republicans are expected to offer up a package of rule changes on Friday they say are needed to protect their right to affect legislation during the 2013 session.

It is unclear if the Democratic-controlled House will rally insupport of any of the amendments when lawmakers meet on the House floor at 10 a.m., but GOP leaders say they are ready to make their case.

The four rule change proposals include:

  • Prioritizing education funding through a stand-alone K-12 education budget.
  • Requiring two-thirds majority vote for tax increases, placing the provisions of Initiative 1185 into House rules.
  • Giving priority for people who travel to Olympia to testify in committee hearings before lobbyists and agency personnel.
  • Ensuring every House member who does not get a bill heard during session has the chance to pick one and receive a hearing.

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis) said voters who passed Tim Eyman‘s initiative requiring a two-thirds vote to increase taxes should have protection.

“We do believe there is a chance the courts might throw out the two-thirds, so we thought it would be good to honor the will of the people by putting this in the House rules,” he said.

Democrats hold a 55-43 seat advantage in the House and have control over key committees, which is a source of frustration for the minority.

“It’s difficult to get a vote on the House floor for things we think are important,” said Rep. J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm). “They represent about 137,000 people and those people deserve a vote”

TVW will have live web streaming of the House floor debate at 10 a.m.

Categories: WA House

Committee hears both sides of abortion insurance debate

By | January 31, 2013 | 0 Comments

A crowd on both sides of the abortion debate packed a hearing this morning on the proposed Reproductive Parity Act, a law that would require health insurance plans providing maternity care also provide abortion services.

Members of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee are considering House Bill 1044, which would maintain insurance coverage for women seeking to terminate pregnancies after the federal Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014.

Currently health insurance policies in the state typically cover abortions, although they are not required by law. The proposal would make Washington the only state in the country to require insurance companies to cover abortion.

Judy Kimelman, a doctor representing the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told the committee that women should be able to make their own health choices.

“It would ensure a woman can make health decision that are best for her, rather than based on the insurance coverage she has,” Kimelman said.

Peggy O’Ban, a spokeswoman for Human Life of Washington, told lawmakers the act limits an employer’s freedom of choice.

“To force a human being to take a human life is a violation of our First Amendment right to conscience,” she said. “Washington state would be the only state in the country that would force employers to pay for abortion.”

Gov. Jay Inslee voiced support for the law during his inaugural speech earlier this month.

“Washington women need the freedom and privacy to make the health care decisions that are best for themselves and their families. That’s why I look forward to the Legislature sending the Reproductive Parity Act to my desk, which I will sign,” Inslee said.

On Wednesday, new Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom (D-Medina) said the coalition will not let social issues to disrupt the focus on jobs and education.

The committee did not take action on the bill Thursday.


Categories: Healthcare

Hunters would have to be at least 8 years old under proposed legislation

By | January 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

The House Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee discussed possible age restrictions for hunters on Wednesday morning.

Requested by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the bill would put minimum age limits on two groups of hunters: those interested in signing up for hunter education courses would have to be at least 8 years old and unaccompanied minors would have to be at least 14 to hunt on their own.

Bruce Bjork, chief of enforcement for the department, said that students as young as five are regularly enrolled in the safety courses.

“When they’re that young, they often have difficulty comprehending the course material, taking the hunter education exam, handling a firearm,” Bjork said.

The education courses are required to obtain a state hunting license. Students are required to pass a written test and demonstrate firearm handling skills during the course, which is at least 10 hours long and involves multiple sessions. Classes are limited to about a dozen students.

“This year, I think we had our youngest student register for the class at six months of age,” said Sgt. Carl Klein, who manages the department’s education division.  “We do see incidences of that, where they take up seats from students who are willing to participate in the class and successfully complete the class.”

Tom Echols represents the Hunters Heritage Council, a coalition of hunting chapters from around the state. He said his organization is opposed to any kind of age restriction for hunters.

“We feel that it’s a barrier to the activity,” Echols said. “And we believe that it should be the policy of the state to encourage hunting and not discourage it.”

The bill would also reinstate a 1994 law that requires hunters to be at least 14 years old to hunt alone. The proposed bill would not bar minors from hunting on private or controlled property.

The bill would also allow the department to issue fees associated with the hunter education courses to mitigate the cost of instruction. It would cost $20 for the hunting course, and $10 to reissue a hunting permit if it is lost.

The committee took no action on the bill.

Categories: Environment

New license plates: Seahawks, Sounders and wolves, oh my!

By | January 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

Drivers in Washington may soon be able to proudly show off their allegiance to the Seahawks, Sounders and the gray wolf.

Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to create specialty license plates for the two Seattle sports teams and wolves.

All three plates would cost $40 initially and $30 for a renewal. Additional funds collected from the Seahawks and Sounders plates would go to three organizations – Washington State Mentors, InvestED and the Association of Washington Generals.

The extra revenue collected from the sale of the wolf plates would go to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s preventative wolf management efforts.

The state currently issues dozens of specialty plates for hobbies, universities and other interests.

The only specialty plate the state has retired is one honoring square dancers.

Categories: Uncategorized

Debate over wolves, safety at mental health hospitals and ballot drop boxes

By | January 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

On Tuesday’s “Legislative Review,” we recap a handful of bills related to wolves. The bills would give ranchers and county officials more power to kill wolves that attack livestock.

We also cover testimony about a bill that aims to make state mental health hospitals safer for workers. Several employees testified that they are assaulted by patients at the state hospitals on a daily basis. Plus, should there be more ballot drop boxes on college campuses?

Senate committee hears testimony on wolf bills

By | January 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

Photo courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The debate over gray wolf management in Washington landed in the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee on Tuesday as lawmakers heard testimony on a pair of bills that would give ranchers and county officials more power to kill wolves that attack livestock.

The bills come just months after the state Department of Fish and Wildlife killed off a pack in the northeastern part of the state because of livestock attacks.

Senate Bill 5187 would allow livestock owners, their family and employees to kill “mammalian predators” without permission if their livestock is attacked.

Under Senate Bill 5188, county law enforcement officials would be permitted to kill wolves that pose an imminent threat to livestock if certain conditions are met – two attacks on livestock by a wolf pack or if a pattern of attacks threatens a livestock operation.

The sponsor of both bills, Sen. John Smith (R-Colville), told the committee livestock owners should have the right to protect their animals.

“We are looking to defend our God-given right to defend our property,” Smith said. “The intention is not to declare open season on wolves.”


Categories: Environment

Bill would create sub-minimum ‘training wage’

By | January 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

Lawmakers are considering legislation that would create a new “training wage” lower than the state minimum wage for employers with less than 50 workers.

House Bill 1150 would allow some employers to pay 10 percent of their employees a wage set at 75 percent of the state minimum wage or the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater. It would apply to the employee’s first 680 hours. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Cary Condotta (R-East Wenatchee), told the House Committee on Labor and Workforce the program would help get teens back into the workforce and off the street.

“I believe it is reasonable. I want a solution to this problem because it has gotten very serious,” Condotta said.

Grant County Prosecuting Attorney Angus Lee agreed, telling committee members the program would help solve the gang problems he sees everyday in his community.

“It benefits people who need a chance,” he said. “I look at it as somebody who cares about my community. This is a bill about saving lives.”

Opponents of the bill say the law would hurt working families who depend on the state’s minimum wage to get by.

“These working families are barely hanging on. I’ve heard of training wheels and training pants but I’ve never heard of a training wage,” said Pamela Crone, a lobbyist with Legal Voice.

Teresa Mosqueda with the Washington State Labor Council called the proposal a “poverty creation bill.”

“This is about all workers and this is taking money off the kitchen table,” she said.

Erin Shannon with the Washington Policy Center told lawmakers the state has one of the highest teen unemployment rates in the country at 28 percent. Shannon said employers need an economic incentive to take a gamble on young workers.

Those feelings were echoed by Pam Pellegrino, owner of Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen in Olympia.

“When we go to hire to fill a position, at this point we don’t look for teenagers. We can’t invest the time at the minimum wage to train them,” she said.

The committee took no action on the bill Tuesday.

Categories: economy

Inslee names three more to Cabinet

By | January 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

Three more members of Governor Jay Inslee’s new cabinet team were introduced on Tuesday.

Inslee selected his former chief of staff Brian Bonlender to head up the Department of Commerce. Bonlender ran Inslee’s office and acted as his primary advisor on economic issues during his time in Congress. He recently served as the director of Inslee’s transition team.

Dorothy Frost Teeter was tabbed to run the state’s Health Care Authority, which oversees health care services for state employees and low-income residents.

She will be expected to oversee the state’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Frost Teeter is currently a senior advisor at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in Maryland and was Chief of Health Operations of Seattle & King County Public Health.

“Dorothy brings an outstanding record of innovation and quality improvement that is exactly what we need. I’m looking forward to working with her to reform our system so success is measured by quality instead of quantity,” Inslee said in a news release.

Brigadier General Bret D. Daugherty is will continue as Adjutant General of the Washington Military Department. He serves as commander of Washington’s Army and National Guard forces and oversees the state’s Emergency Management and Enhanced 911 programs.

Prior to his inauguration, Inslee named five other new members of his cabinet.


Categories: Governors Office