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Lawmakers offer Olympia update, hear concerns
By Dennis Box, The Courier-Herald
What about better roads, accountable schools and more jobs with good pay?
Those were some of the questions fielded by 31st District state representatives, Jan Shabro (R-Lake Tapps) and Dan Roach (R-Bonney Lake), at the four town hall meetings they organized Saturday. A deep core of concern about the economy and jobs topped the list of issues and worries voiced by those who attended.
The town hall gatherings were at the Auburn, Enumclaw and Sumner libraries. Attendance was up, according to both representatives, especially considering the sun was out and temperatures hovered around the mid-50s.
"It went wonderfully," Shabro said. "We had a very good turnout and people had a lot to say. They were very thoughtful. Some people had problems and I always get some new ideas from these meeting."
The second half
The meetings were scheduled as the Legislature passed the midpoint of its 60-day session with bills due out of committee Feb. 17, which brings the reality of what will and will not pass muster on the floor.
For Shabro and Roach, who are in the minority party in the House, it can mean tough sledding to get their bills even heard, much less out of committee, by the deadline.
"Being in the minority brings a different outlook," Roach said. "But we feel we've been effective. Balancing the budget last year was a big victory, particularly being in the minority party."
Roach, who sits on the finance committee, described the Washington economy as lagging behind the rest of the country.
"The nation is crawling out of a recession," Roach said. "And our state is farther behind. We brought in about $60 million more than we thought, but in this budget that is basically no growth at all. The bad news is there is no huge recovery, and that means tough decisions in Olympia."
According to Roach there are two options.
"Either build the economic engine or raise taxes," Roach said. "Are you going to tax those who have jobs or lower restrictions and let jobs thrive?"
The other solution both representatives called for was Republican control both in the Legislature and governor's mansion.
Two new bills
Shabro outlined two of her bills that made it out of committee and have a good chance of being signed into law.
House Bill 1677 exempts farmers in urban counties from paying property tax on farm equipment.
"It's a big deal for farmers in counties like King and Pierce," Shabro said. "Last year it flew through the house and stopped in the Senate. Some of the eastern Washington counties were nervous about the loss of revenue. But we amended it to just the urban counties and it looks like it will go through."
Shabro stated the tax revenue loss to Pierce County if the bill passed would be approximately $35,000, while in an eastern Washington county it would have meant a $100,000 loss.
The amended bill reads:
"... in a county that does not satisfy the definition of a 'rural county' under RCW 82.14.370, all machinery and equipment owned by a farmer that is personal property is exempt from property taxes levied for any county purpose, if it is used exclusively in growing and producing agricultural products during the calendar year in which the claim for exemption is made."
The second bill authored by Shabro with a good chance of becoming law is House Bill 2984.
The bill would require a fatality review of unexpected or accidental deaths of children in the Department of Social and Health Services' child welfare system. The age of children reviewed would be 17 years old and younger.
"This bill requires DSHS to review each child's death," Shabro said. "And there will be a review by the (Child and Family Services) committee and the report will be available to the public."
According to Laverne Lamoureux, DSHS director of the Division of Program and Policy Development for the Children's Administration, there were 101 deaths in 2002 of children in the child welfare system with 32 due to accidents, a ratio of about three to one.
Across the state, 789 children died with 161 due to accidents, a ratio of almost five to one.
"What jumps out are the 101 deaths and the number of accidental deaths in the child welfare system," Shabro said. "My bill will shed some light on this area and require a public report."
The blanket primary debated will be one of the top issues during the second half of the legislative session according to Shabro.
In September of 2003 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Washington's blanket primary was unconstitutional. The case is on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"If the Supreme Court doesn't hear the case our primary system is dead in the water," Shabro said. "The Legislature will not vote until the end the session, but we'll have to because otherwise we will be in trouble like California."
Three systems are under consideration to replace the blanket primary, where a voter can cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice, regardless of party affiliation.
The Louisiana primary, where all candidates appear on the ballot and the two who receive the most votes, regardless of party affiliations, move forward to the general election.
The Montana primary, where a citizen declares a party affiliation for that day and votes on a party ballot.
The third choice under discussion is the Arizona primary, which is similar to the Montana system, but the voters must declare party allegiance earlier, possibly two weeks to a month.
All three systems allow people to vote for their choice in the general election regardless of party affiliation.
Shabro stated she has received e-mails and talked with many people in her district regarding the primary systems.
"Whatever system the people in my district want I will vote for," Shabro said.