Legislative session kicks off Monday

By Dennis Box and Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

Just because it's a short session that kicks off next week, that doesn't mean a lack of meaty issues will be brought to the legislative table.

The second Monday of each January signals the kickoff to another session of the Washington State Legislature, which alternates annually between short and long sessions. In a long-session year, the 49 members of the Senate and 98 members of the House of Representatives work to build a two-year spending plan for the state. In off years, like this one, supplemental budgets are addressed, along with a host of specific issues.

Again this year, the 31st Legislative District will be represented by Reps. Dan Roach (R-Bonney Lake) and Christopher Hurst (D-Greenwater) and Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn). The district takes in Enumclaw, Buckley, Wilkeson, Bonney Lake and part of Auburn.

Pam Roach

“It's just as important as any session when it comes to the issues,” Sen. Roach said, dispelling the notion that a short, 60-day session lacks the same punch as its 105-day cousin.

Roach has a host of bills to be considered, both new offerings and a couple of holdovers from the 2007 session.

“I want honest hospital district elections,” she said, noting a small handful of bills she'll introduce in response to the 2006 effort by the Renton-based Valley Medical Center to expand its boundaries nearly to Enumclaw. Among other things, those bills will mandate that ballot titles mention tax implications, require public hearings and must be explained in a voters' pamphlet. Another bill would make it easier for areas to opt out of a taxing district.

Roach has two bills aimed at military personnel. One would allow active duty personnel to purchase a state fishing license for the same fee charged to state residents. The second has a greater economic benefit: her bill would provide a one-time $3,500 bonus to each combat veteran who lived for at least one year in Washington before being deployed to an area where there's armed conflict.

Roach has long been concerned about noncitizens finding ways to vote and will introduce a bill aimed at requiring a proof of citizenship before being accorded voting rights.

“There's a huge loophole that needs to be filled,” she said, bemoaning the fact that it's too easy to land on the voter list.

Another Roach bill will require a person to show photo identification at all institutions before making a cash withdrawal; another will make mail theft a state crime as well as a federal offense.

When it comes to transportation issues, Roach is looking at a bigger picture and hoping to form a coalition with lawmakers from the nearby 25th and 2nd district; she figures greater numbers equate to more strength when it comes to local issues like the widening of state Route 410.

“We need to try and get a little more clout when it comes to transportation issues,” she said.

Roach is an avid proponent of teaching schoolchildren a second language and will float a bill that would provide funds for a pilot program in two school districts. The money would allow for the teaching of Spanish in one district, Chinese in the other.

She envisions a day when all Washington children will be fluent in at least two languages.

And, finally, Roach promises to keeping working on tax reform, specifically looking to close a loophole she sees in the recent legislative action to limit property tax increases to 1 percent per year.

She voted for the measure proposed during the special, one-day session, but remains adamant that districts should not be allowed to hang onto the “banked” taxing authority that had built up.

“It was disingenuous to say the problem was fixed,” she said, noting that there's approximately $110,000 million still available to a variety of taxing districts.

Chris Hurst

Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, said the session already started on a positive note for him due to the passage of the 1 percent property taxes cap during the Nov. 29 special session called by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The bill was a measure introduced in the 2007 session by Hurst.

The one-day special session was called after the state Supreme Court ruled Initiative 747 was unconstitutional. I-747 was a Tim Eyman initiative capping property taxes for taxing district.

Since the passing of the property tax cap, the Democratic majority in the House and Senate has been criticized by Republicans, including both Rep. Dan Roach and Sen. Pam Roach, for leaving banked capacity in place.

Banked capacity refers to the ability of taxing districts to “save” unused property tax and collect it at a later date.

“There are still people running around waving the flag over banking capacity,” Hurst said. “I'm going to tell you there are things in our district far more important. The most important thing is what is happening in our district. There is some old banked capacity that existed under I-747 that we will look at - but we need to keep our priorities straight.”

According to Hurst, most cities in the district - including Enumclaw, Buckley and Auburn - do not have any banked capacity left. He said Pierce County had no banked capacity and King County “has $12,000, which is nearly zero.”

Hurst said some of the issues he will advocate in the session include a legislative package directed at combating the surging gang problems in the state.

The representative said he will join with Adam Kline, D-Seattle, in a three-part bill directed at suppression of gang activity, intervention before young people get involved in gangs and community involvement to fight the problem.

Hurst is also a working on a package of bills dealing with sex offenders, including more money for law enforcement and creating a DNA database of all sex offenders.

“We're not trying to create knee-jerk legislation for political reasons,” Hurst said. “We want laws that work in the court room.”

Hurst said he intends to support veterans' legislation and pointed to a National Guard pay issue he hopes to address this session.

“When the National Guard is called out those folks have to go weeks sometimes without income,” Hurst said. “They lose the pay from their jobs and the government doesn't pay for weeks. These people are giving too much.”

Hurst also wants legislation to assist soldiers returning from combat.

“We have a shocking number of soldiers living under bridges and coming back from Iraq and going to jail,” Hurst said. “Also, the suicide and divorce rates among veterans are extraordinarily high. If the federal government wants to ignore these soldiers we have to step up and do the job.”

Hurst intends to introduce his legislation from the previous session banning gifts to state elected officials.

“This one is important,” Hurst said. “The lobbyists and some of the members weren't happy about this (in the last session), but the citizens loved it. I'm not giving up on this one. For the legislature to have credibility we need to have this bill.”

Dan Roach

Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, begins the second year of his third term and is once again a minority member in the state House. Despite the numbers, Roach has a full plate of bills and issues he hopes will reach the floor.

High on Roach's list is a package of bills directed at helping the developmentally disabled community. Many of the measures were in committee during the last session.

One of the bills he will re-introduce involves an “autism awareness” license plate. Proceeds from the plate would go toward creating a “manual of information for parents with autistic children.”

Roach said when a child is diagnosed with autism the parents have little information and few resources available to them.

The representative and his wife, Melanie, have a 5-year-old son, Drew, who is autistic.

Another issue Roach has been involved with for several years is identity theft. One of the bills he plans to work on is a measure “allowing banks to work with police,” he said. “The banks have their own security and they have information on people they know are guilty.”

Roach is a member of the Education Committee and he would like to see algebra and biology become required subjects.

“The WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) tests students on algebra and biology,” Roach said. “This is just one of those common sense things.”

Roach said he believes the banked capacity left after the 1 percent property tax cap measure was passed needs to be corrected.

“This is not something people are dreaming up,” Roach said. “It is there.”

He also plans to introduce a companion bill that will go along with his mother's bill in the senate, giving state veterans $3,500 for those serving in combat.

Roach said one of the most important issues is “to protect the taxpayers while I'm there. My goal is to get in and get out quickly with minimal damage.”

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