February 19, 2013 Print

What's hot at the legislature - February 19, 2013

Should the Department of Natural Resources have full law enforcement authority? Should state employees be required to tell the truth? And is it time to dump the time limit on welfare? State legislative committees today will debate all these and more questions, likely with little public input and perhaps even little notice.

I was unpleasantly surprised last week when the media stayed away from the tax increase hearing. Few issues impact more Washingtonians than taxes, and the hearing was a prelude to a budget debate that will not be avoided much longer. At least talk of transportation tax increases is drawing some notice this week.

Streamlining and sunsetting. First thing this morning, the House Government Operations Committee has a public hearing on HB 1591. The bill would require the departments of Ecology, Labor & Industries, and Health to develop and deploy an annual review process for all the rules they impose on people and businesses. The bill is an attempt to implement the findings of a 2012 performance audit. Up at the same hearing are HB 1714, which would allow a court to require an agency that has violated the Open Public Meetings Act to record its proceedings for the next two years, and HB 1746, which would create an ethics law exemption to allow city officials to "have a beneficial interest" in renewable energy companies.

Jay Inslee B&O Bingo. The Governor last week sketched out his agenda, which includes special tax rates for industries Gov. Inslee thinks are neat. This agenda comes before the House Technology & Economic Development Committee as HB 1693, which would allow a deduction of up to $2 million for new businesses in selected fields. Restaurants? No. Landscapers? Nope. Residential builders? No again. But all those businesses will get to pay a little more of the share so that software publishers, data hosts, computer makers, and a few others can get a special deduction.

Un-reforming welfare? This afternoon, the House Early Learning & Human Services Committee will hear public testimony on HB 1734. When Congress reformed federal welfare programs in 1996, they converted the largest cash payment program into a block grant program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The new program was designed to push those who can work ... to work. And it did, even according to Bill Clinton. One provision in welfare reform was a 5-year time limit on benefits for most recipients. HB 1734 would have the effect of eliminating the 5-year limit in Washington State, allowing most or all recipients to become life-long welfare program dependants. (The Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee will hear testimony on the Senate's version, SB 5643, this morning.)

In other House Committees ... Logal Government will hear testimony--including a requested statement by the Freedom Foundation's Glen Morgan (who is a school board member)--on HB 1848, which would allow buildilng new schools outside of "urban growth areas" designated in the Growth Management Act planning process. Education has HB 1680, which would solve the "opportunity gap" (formerly and more precisely known as the "achievement gap") by, among other things, mandating multicultural sensitivity training for school staff ... Appropriations has HB 1152, the House version of the bill to let certain health care workers set their own break schedules ... Public Safety considers "giving general law enforcement authority to natural resource investigators" in HB 1399.

In the Senate, the Government Operations Committee will hear SB 5504, which would make it an ethics violation for a state employee to lie about his or her job. The Human Services & Corrections Committee will hear testimony on SB 5643, the Senate's version of HB 1734 (removing the time limit for welfare), as well as SB 5600, which would double the time limit for vocational training for welfare reciepients.


Trent England

Executive Vice President

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