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District reps send two bills forward

By Kevin Hanson and Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

The “Washington Rest in Peace Act,” is on track to be one of the first bills to pass out of the Legislature this year.

The bill, introduced by prime sponsor Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, is written to allow families room to grieve at funerals for their loved ones without being harassed by protesters.

House Bill 1168 requires protesters at funerals to stay 500 feet away from the procession or be charged with a disorderly conduct misdemeanor. The bill was expected to be on the House floor for a vote this week.

“I think it is a good bill for the people of Washington,” Roach said. “I'm proud to put my name on it.”

The bill was introduced in the 2006 session after protesters showed up at the funerals of veterans in Yakima, Kirkland and Renton.

Chuck Lawrence, a Vietnam veteran, brought the issue to Roach's attention.

“As the families were mourning, the protesters were holding awful signs and calling out horrible things to the mourners,” Roach said, “The protests were being held not only at the graves of veterans, but AIDS victims, gays, the mining victims of West Virginia and even at the funeral of Coretta Scott King.”

The U.S. Congress passed the “Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act” and President Bush signed it last May. The law bars protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral and carries penalties of up to $100,000 and up to a year in prison.

Roach said the state still needs to pass legislation because the federal law only covers national cemeteries.

In the final hours of the 2006 legislative session, the legislation died on the Senate floor after passing the House. Backers of the bill thought the Democratic leadership broke a promise to bring the measure to the Senate floor.

Roach said House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, promised to make the bill the first vote of the 2007 session.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, told Roach she will fast track the legislation, skipping the committee process and taking it directly to the floor for a vote.

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State Rep. Christ Hurst was pretty sure one of his favored pieces of legislation would be poorly received in Olympia - surely by lobbyists, but also by a handful of fellow legislators.

In the week before the current legislative session convened, Hurst told reporters he would introduce a bill aimed at eliminating the “gift giving” climate that has long been a part of the Olympia scene.

Currently, legislators can receive gifts - typically offered by lobbyists - with a value of less than $50. Gifts generally are in the form of paid meals, but have included items like tickets to sporting events or concerts. At one point, there was a suggestion the lid be raised to $75.

Hurst introduced a bill last week that calls for a ban on gift-giving, with just a couple of minor exceptions. In his view, unsolicited flowers would be OK, for example.

As he predicted, House Bill 1157 didn't generate much initial excitement among fellow legislators. House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler was quoted as being less than enthused by Hurst's bill and Rep. Sam Hunt, who chairs the State Government Committee, wasn't immediately certain he would give the bill a hearing.

But things changed a lot in 24 hours and, as of mid-day Friday, Hurst's bill had picked up steam.

“It's gathering momentum and people are talking about it a lot,” Hurst said during a brief phone interview Friday afternoon. He's hoping there'll be enough pressure on Hunt to get a hearing and, if the bill works its way into the system, Hurst is confident it will pass.

“I can't imagine a lot of people would vote against it,” he said.

The most vocal dissent, Hurst said, has come from lobbyists - and that doesn't appear to phase him. “Maybe that illuminates the problem a little bit, that lobbyists don't like it,” he said.

Friday's impetus came from Washington, D.C., where members of both the U.S. House and Senate had OK'd ethics packages aimed at limiting the influence of lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

Hurst isn't alleging anyone has done anything wrong in Olympia, but sees no reason lawmakers should appear more ethical in D.C. than those at home.

Hurst, a Democrat from Greenwater, previously served two terms in the state House of Representatives, elected in 1998 and 2000. After sitting out for four years, he was elected again in November. His 31st Legislative District includes all the Plateau communities, Sumner and part of Auburn.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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