This article is by PubliCola's Olympia reporter, Josh Cohen
The start of the 2010 state legislative session is just a week away. Given the $2.6 billion budget deficit we’re facing this year, it’s not surprising that legislators are focusing on revenue-raising legislation (e.g., West Seattle Rep. Eileen Cody (D-34) proposed raising the cigarette tax today by $1), but there is some non-budget legislation being introduced as well.
Here are a few of the bills we’ve heard about from some members of the Seattle delegation.
Rep. Scott White (D-46)
While the Seattle city council is considering a crackdown on panhandling, North Seattle Representative Scott White (D-46) is moving in the opposite direction: He wants to address violence against homeless people with a bill that would add homeless people to the state's hate crimes statute. House Bill 2497 would increase the punishment for people convicted of crimes against the homeless. Already on the list of victims that trigger hate crimes laws: race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, mental, physical or sensory handicap.
White is also introducing a ballot reform bill in response to the all-but-hidden I-1033 box (Tim Eyman's state revenue cap) on the King County ballot. HB 2496 would require ballots to place a simple demarcation such as “Start Voting Here” to help prevent voters from overlooking items on the ballot.
(However, liberals' fears last November that Tim Eyman's initiative would benefit from being inconspicuous turned out to be misplaced. The measure lost 58 to 42. Maybe Democratic Rep. White's proposal is actually good for conservatives—or just initiatives in general.)
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36)
In addition to working on marijuana decriminalization this session, Seattle Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36) plans to introduce two tax bills. The first, SB 6147, was actually introduced at the very end of the 2008 session but didn’t make it past committee. It would impose an income tax on individuals earning more than $500,000 and on couples earning over $1 million annually. The tax would only affect income above the $500,000 and $1 million marks and would help fund public schools and higher education. (Proponents of the measure believe the tax wouldn't have to go to a vote of the people—even though creating an income tax would require a change to the state constitution—because it's a flat one-percent, not a graduated one.)
Kohl-Welles is also going after candy and gum, which are currently classified as food and therefore do not have a sales tax. SB 6189 would extend the sales tax to candy and gum and, according to Kohl-Welles, would raise $40 million every biennium to help fund medical and dental programs at community health clinics.
Sen. Adam Kline (D-37)
In response to the fatal shootings of Aaron Sullivan and Officer Timothy Brenton, who were both allegedly killed by assault weapons last year, Sen. Adam Kline (D-37) is working to ban the big guns this session. Kline is sponsoring a bill to prohibit the sale of semi-automatic military-style assault weapons (like AR-15s, a rapid-fire gun that holds more than 10 rounds) to civilians. Kline was careful to point out that the ban would only extend to new weapons. “Nobody’s going to take away anybody’s guns,” said Kline.
Kline is also working on prison sentencing reform. His legislation would reduce mandatory minimums for drug and property offenses. According to Kline, incarceration costs an average of $37,000 per inmate per year. Fewer inmates, fewer taxpayer dollars spent, he says.
Although, rejoinder: Keeping potential drug offenders and potential property crime offenders on the street also raises costs to society. So, it could be a wash.
As for raising revenue, Kline wants to create a state version of the federal False Claims Act. The act allows citizens to bring evidence of fraud against the government to the U.S. Attorney’s office or to file fraud claims on behalf of the government. Kline says the act has raised billions in revenue for the federal government and hopes it would do the same for the state.
Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43)
Representative Jamie Pedersen (D-43) wants to make some tweaks to the language of the domestic partnership law. His proposed changes would make it easier for same-sex couples to gain equal rights to married couples in Washington. The first would recognize same-sex marriages from out of state. Currently, the language just recognizes domestic partners. In a similar vein, Pedersen wants to make a change to the Uniform Parentage Act to include same-sex couples. The act establishes parents’ legal and financial responsibility for their children and is primarily based on genetics. Pedersen wants to alter the language to reflect the fact that the child of a same-sex couple might only be genetically linked to one parent or neither.
Pedersen is also working to repeal the ban on paid surrogacy in Washington. He wants to establish rights for the surrogate mother, such as guaranteed health care and mental health checkups for all parties involved. Pedersen clarified that the bill is mostly intended to help infertile straight couples.