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Bill would allow businesses to refuse services based on religious beliefs

By | April 26, 2013 | 0 Comments

Sen. Sharon Brown

Republican Sen. Sharon Brown of Kennewick has introduced a new bill allowing businesses to refuse service to customers due to their religious beliefs, drawing sharp criticism from some Senate Democrats.

Senate Bill 5927 would protect the “right of an individual or entity to deny services” if providing those services is contrary to their “sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience.”

Last month, a florist in Richland refused to provide provide flowers for the same-sex wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. The florist, Barronelle Stutzman, now faces legal action from both the state attorney general’s office and the American Civil Liberties Union for declining to provide flowers.

Stutzman has maintained that her refusal was because of her religious beliefs. Her attorney has said that Stutzman’s actions are protected by constitutional right to freedom of speech, association and religious exercise.

Ten Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation. The proposal drew a strong rebuke this week from Senate Democrats.

Sen. Kevin Ranker (D – Orcas Island) called the bill a “license to hate” in a press release issued Friday. And Senate Democratic leader Ed Murray said, in a press release of his own, that the bill is an attempt to “undo basic civil rights protections.”

“The whole notion that a business should have the right to discriminate against it’s customers is abhorrent,” Murray said.

There are only two days left in regular session, which ends Sunday. But Brown said in a press release that the measure could be considered during a special session or in the 2014 session.

Former Oklahoma congressman and NLF player testifies at Senate committee

By | April 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

Steve Largent

Former Oklahoma congressman and NFL Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent testified in front of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee on Wednesday to talk about the growth potential of the wireless industry in Washington state.

Largent is now the president and CEO of CTIA, an advocacy group for wireless companies.

“A lot of people don’t think about this, but our industry accounts for almost three percent of all U.S. employment in the country,” Largent said.

Committee chair Sen. Doug Ericksen, (R-Ferndale) called the work session to look at the “things we can be doing better to encourage job growth” of the wireless industry.


Categories: Uncategorized

Eyman proposes new initiative to limit tax increases to one year

By | April 22, 2013 | 0 Comments

Voter initiative activist Tim Eyman released plans Monday for another attempt to require a two-thirds majority for the Legislature to raise taxes. This time he wants to change the state’s constitution.

In February the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that initiative 1185, which required the Legislature to have a two-thirds supermajority to implement any new tax hikes, was unconstitutional.

“When we tried to do it with 1185, they said we would need to make an amendment to the constitution to make it happen. So that’s what we’re doing,” Eyman said Monday.

Under the proposal, sent in an email to the governor, legislators and Eyman supporters throughout the state, the new initiative would mandate:

  •  Advisory votes every November asking voters if they support a two-thirds majority to raise taxes as a constitutional amendment.
  • Any new tax increases the Legislature adopts would be limited to one year.
  • Voters’ pamphlets would be required to include information about the governor’s and legislators’ voting records on tax increases under their picture.

The initiative also includes an escape clause to nullify these three policies if state legislators put a two-thirds constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on.

Eyman said he expects the difficulty of getting the more than 300,000 signatures required to get the proposal on a ballot by November will likely depend a great deal on what legislators do at the end of the current session.

“If they go nuts with tax increases over the next couple weeks, that will probably make it easier,” Eyman said. “If you don’t want the beehive to get upset, don’t kick it.”

Categories: Public Policy, tax

Brewers rally against beer tax at Capitol

By | April 19, 2013 | 0 Comments

More than 100 brewers, bartenders and beer lovers amassed on the steps of the Capitol on Friday to protest a proposal to permanently extend a beer tax.

Several local brewers spoke at the rally, along with a few lawmakers, about the importance of the industry to the state.

“I know your margins are small – no one’s going to get rich making beer,” said Joe Korbuszewski, a home brewer and bartender in Tacoma who helped organize the protest. “But you know what?  You can support your kids and pay your mortgage doing it.  And I don’t want them to take that away.”

A temporary beer tax, which is set to expire this June, was levied on breweries in 2010.  Under the current law, smaller brewers are exempt.  But legislation proposed by both Gov. Jay Inslee and House Democrats would remove that exemption for smaller brewers, and extend those taxes permanently.

The proposals from Inslee and the House differ – Inslee’s plan would increase taxes to $.50 per gallon for all breweries, while the House’s proposal would increase tax on large brewers by $.25 and small brewers by $.15 – but either way means more taxes on small brewers.

Republican Senators Doug Ericksen and Michael Baumgartner showed their support for the brewers by carrying beer steins.

“You folks have an industry that is growing, that is employing people. It’s serving a need, and we have to make sure that the actions taken inside these chambers do not put you out of work,” said Ericksen (R – Ferndale) told the crowd.

Supporters of the tax say it would bring in millions of dollars for K-12 education — as much as $128 million under Inslee’s plan and $59 million under the House’s proposal. But opponents say it will take away jobs, and could ruin an industry for which Washington has become known.

“With over 200 breweries, Washington is second only to California in number of breweries,” said Dick Cantwell of Elysian Brewing in Seattle. “That number will decline substantially if taxes are increased to the levels being discussed.”

The Senate’s budget does not include the tax extension. Budget writers from the House and Senate are working to negotiate a final budget.

“Together we’re not going to let this beer tax happen, because it’s about jobs, it’s about helping this economy,” said Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R – Spokane).

Attorney General says florist lawsuit could go to state Supreme Court

By | April 11, 2013 | 0 Comments

Earlier this week Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against a florist in Richland who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding ceremony. On Thursday, Ferguson told “Inside Olympia” host Austin Jenkins that the florist violated the state’s consumer protection laws that protect against discrimination.

“Whether you are running a restaurant, or whether you sell flowers, when you have a public accommodation in that sense, you’re not allowed to discriminate,” said Ferguson. “If you choose to sell flowers to a heterosexual couple for their wedding, you can’t refuse to sell flowers to a same-sex couple.”

According to the Tri-City Herald, Robert Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, went to Arlene’s Flowers to buy arrangements for their wedding. The shop’s owner, Barronelle Stutzman, refused to sell to the couple because of her religious beliefs.

Ferguson said that he had originally hoped to resolve the case informally, and started by sending the florist a letter asking her to simply state that she would no longer refuse service to same-sex couples. He said that if she had agreed with that, there would have been no fees or costs to her. However, she hired a lawyer to contest the claim, and Ferguson said that he had no choice but to continue with the lawsuit.

The attorneys for Stuzman deny that she is in violation of the law, and argue that she is exercising her First Amendment rights.

Ferguson said the case may be one that sets a new precedent.

“The issue around sexual orientation and marriage equality is a contested one around the country and the state,” said Ferguson. “I think it does up the ante that, potentially, it could go to the state Supreme Court.”

For the full interview, click on the video below. Jenkins also interviews Rep. Ross Hunter about the House’s budget proposal and state Capitol reporters, Jerry Cornfield of the Everett Herald and Jordan Schrader of the Tacoma News Tribune.

Dems say Senate’s budget puts special interests ahead of women and children

By | April 5, 2013 | 0 Comments

A group of Democratic female lawmakers held a press conference Friday to respond to the budget proposed by the Senate Majority Coalition earlier in the week.

The legislators, all leaders on health care and human services committees, stood next to a sign that read, “We can do hard things,” as they spoke about the ways in which the proposed budget fails to meet the needs of the state’s women and children, while simultaneously extending tax breaks and loopholes for big businesses.

“We have a problem in the Senate and it is a problem that aims right at women and children,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D – Kent).  “What we are looking at in that Senate budget is not acceptable.  It’s not acceptable in health care, it’s not acceptable in human services and it’s not acceptable in jobs.”

The lawmakers highlighted a number of programs slated for cuts, including Working Connections, which helps the working poor pay for childcare, TANF Services, which provides temporary cash assistance to needy families, and transitional housing programs.

Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D – Tacoma) said that the Senate budget would penalize women who receive benefits through TANF by not providing them with any additional money if they have another child.

“This is the Republican party, the religious party, the pro-life party, writing a budget that says a woman chose to continue a pregnancy and have a child, but we’re going to further discriminate against her for making that decision by saying you get to take care of three children on an award we’ve given you for two,” Darneille said. (more…)

Two gun bills pass out of Senate committee ahead of key deadline

By | April 3, 2013 | 0 Comments

Two firearm bills passed out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee Tuesday, including one to create a central registry for felony firearm offenders.

HB 1612 would require the Washington State Patrol to maintain a database of felony firearm offenders. If a person is convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity of a felony firearm offense, the court can require them to register with their local sheriff’s department.

“Over 50 percent of all offenders who have committed homicide have had a prior gun offense,” said Rep. Mike Hope (R – Lake Stevens), also a Seattle police officer. “This bill puts them on the radar screen for law enforcement.”

Hope said that similar legislation has been adopted in other areas of the country. After implementation in New York, the city saw a 17 percent drop in homicides.

Offenders would be required to provide their name, along with any aliases, their address, and information related to their gun offense. Registration would be required for four years following the offense and would only be used by law enforcement.

“It’s not going to solve all the problems, but it’s another important tool for law enforcement to know when they’re in contact with someone who has a prior firearm offense,” said Don Pierce with the Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Association of Washington State. (more…)

Bertha: The world’s largest tunnel digger arrives in Seattle

By | April 2, 2013 | 0 Comments

The world’s largest tunnel boring machine arrived in Seattle Tuesday.

The arrival marks the end of a two week journey of some 5,000 miles from the manufacturing plant in Japan where the machine was built.

Named after Bertha Knight Landes, Seattle’s first female mayor, Bertha is five-story-tall, $80 million dollar machine commissioned by the Department of Transportation to assist in the construction of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project – a 2-mile tunnel that will carry traffic on State Route 99 under downtown Seattle.

“It’s going to set a lot of firsts around the nation and around the world,” said Linea Laird, program administrator for the project. “Everyone is watching us as we move forward with this.  There’s nothing easy about the city of Seattle and boring something this large underneath it.”

Even though the equipment has arrived, it will still be a while before digging begins. Unloading the monstrosity alone will take several weeks, and it still has to be put together.

“It’s in 41 different pieces,” said Matt Preedy, deputy program administrator for the project. “The largest of those pieces weighs almost 900 tons all by itself. Over the course of the next two weeks, each one of those 41 pieces will be offloaded onto the pier, where it’ll make its way slowly several hundred yards over to the launch pit.”

Bertha will be assembled in the launch pit — a process that could take about two months. Officials said the actual digging should begin during the summer, and that completion of SR 99 is scheduled for late 2015.

Watch Bertha be unloaded on this live web cam. You can also follow Bertha on Twitter here.

Categories: transportation

Lawmakers look to tackle underage binge drinking

By | April 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

In light of the number of alcohol-related deaths over the past year at college campuses in Washington, lawmakers are considering a bill that encourages underage party-goers to call for help if a friend is in need.

House Bill 1404, sponsored by Rep. Marko Liias (D – Edmonds), is designed to encourage underage drinkers, who might otherwise be discouraged by the fear of an alcohol-related charge, to call 911 if a friend shows signs of alcohol poisoning.

“We want young people to know that when they call 911 the only thing that will come is help, not trouble,” Liias said Monday in front of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

The measure is structured after a similar bill that came out of the 2010 legislative session which does the same thing for people who call 911 to help a friend they believe are overdosing on drugs.

Speaking on behalf of the Washington State Council of Firefighters, and as both a firefighter and emergency medical technician himself, Michael White said he believes the bill will help save lives. (more…)

Categories: Public Policy

Self-checkout machines would freeze with alcohol purchases under bill

By | March 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

The Senate Commerce Committee discussed several alcohol related bills Friday morning. One of those bills deals with purchasing liquor at self-checkout machines in grocery stores.

“I walked through, paid for it, put it in my bag and there was nobody around. I walked out of there and nobody batted an eye at somebody buying alcohol through a self-checkout,” said bill sponsor Rep. Sam Hunt (D – Olympia), talking about the experience that prompted him to begin working on the measure.

The bill would require stores with self-checkout machines to halt any transactions that include alcohol until an employee comes to check the purchaser’s ID to make sure they are 21.

“We keep hearing stories that the machines do lock, that they don’t lock. This will end the debate,” said Holly Chisa, of the Northwest Grocery Association. “Self-checkout machines will lock up until an employee comes to check the customer’s ID.”

While there was no opposition to the bill, some say the legislation should do more to prevent theft and to protect workers, who could lose their job if they accidentally sell to a minor. (more…)

Categories: Public Policy