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December 4, 2013 at 10:48 AM
A new report suggests that Washington state should fight drunken driving by increasing penalties and establishing random sobriety checkpoints.
But another idea floated after a high-profile tragedy last spring, banning repeat DUI offenders from buying alcohol, was nearly universally dismissed.
The 2013 Washington Impaired Driving Work Group delivered the 152-page report Monday. The 33-member group, created by the Legislature this year, was made up of lawmakers, lawyers, police officers, state-agency officials, advocates, victims’ families, treatment providers, ignition-interlock manufacturers and experts.
The group considered 11 specific ideas for reducing DUIs, ranking them according to overall support and where they should fall on the state’s priority list (the most supported ideas were not necessarily seen as top priorities).
The top three priorities, according to the report, all related to penalties: The group wanted to increase penalties for drivers who refuse to take a breath or blood test (top priority; supported by 79 percent of group members), strengthen mandatory minimum prison sentences and fines for repeat offenders (second priority, 72 percent) and make DUI a felony before the fifth offense, as it is now (third priority, 85 percent).
The report noted that Washington is the only state where a DUI becomes a felony on the fifth offense.
It is a felony on the second offense in four states, the third offense in 21 states and the fourth offense in 18 states. Six states don’t have felony DUIs.
Lawmakers this year considered making DUI a felony sooner, but did not take action, in part, because the move was seen as too expensive.
Making the change would “heighten the awareness and communicate the seriousness of DUI,” said group member Kim Sauer, of the state Liquor Control Board, in the report.
The most surprising aspect of the report may have been the high level of support for sobriety checkpoints, which exist in 38 states but are seen as violating the state constitution.
The checkpoints, which would stop drivers even if they have done nothing wrong, were ranked as the fourth priority and supported by 82 percent of members.
“I think the research has shown that this should be a priority,” said member Dan Schulte, a group member whose parents were killed and whose wife and infant son were critically injured when they were struck by a drunken driver in Northeast Seattle in the spring.
Not everyone in the group agreed.
“I like them,” Tom McBride, of the state association of prosecutors, commented in the report, ”but do not see how they survive state constitutional privacy protections.”
The most supported of the 11 ideas, promoting and monitoring the use of alcohol-sensing ignition interlocks, was endorsed by 97 percent of group members. But it was ranked as only the 10th priority.
That put it just ahead of the least-supported policy on the list, the alcohol bans for repeat offenders. That idea got just 18 percent support.
Group member Brad Fralick, of the interlock manufacturer Consumer Safety Technology, was blunt in the report: “This is laughable,” he said. “Even if you could limit purchasing this does nothing to stop the consumption or driving after consuming.”
December 3, 2013 at 10:52 AM
The most prominent group pushing to expand coal exports in Washington state has fired its spokeswoman and may be shifting its strategy in the aftermath of a hot mic incident.
The spokeswoman, Lauri Hennessey, was secretly recorded at a coal conference this fall. Among other lighthearted comments, she called the Puget Sound “so weird” and said an executive once scolded her for telling a Seattle journalist that coal companies are concerned about climate change.
Hennessey’s last day with the group, Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, was Saturday. She is being replaced by Mariana Parks.
The switch may signal a strategy change for the Alliance, which is organizing the push to ship hundreds of millions of tons of Wyoming and Montana coal through Pacific Northwest terminals to Asia. In Washington, terminals have been proposed for Cherry Point in Whatcom County and Longview in Cowlitz County.
The Alliance had been trying to establish a moderate reputation to appeal to the environmentally-conscious Pacific Northwest.
Hennessey has worked with local nonprofits, Democratic politicians and the Environmental Protection Agency. She is one of several “green strategists” coal companies have hired to push their proposals.
Parks has typically worked with business groups and conservatives, and served as a spokeswoman for Republican 2012 gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.
And another communications firm expected to take a larger role, the DCI Group, one of the more prominent voices for climate-change deniers.
Parks dismissed any suggestion of a strategy shift.
“It’s not a partisan issue,” she said. “It’s much more about how do you get the message about the implications of the proposals out to the broader public.”
Hennessey referred questions to Parks.
November 21, 2013 at 4:25 PM
Former Attorney General Rob McKenna has written a letter to Washington state on behalf of Montana and North Dakota that questions the constitutionality of Washington’s Department of Ecology review of a proposed coal-export terminal.
“Some of the issues to be evaluated by Ecology transgress the boundaries of the States, infringing on (Montana and North Dakota’s) sovereignty,” McKenna wrote in a letter sent Monday, adding the review “ranges far beyond the boundaries of legitimate state interest.”
He also wrote that the review of the proposed Gateway Terminal at Cherry Point, in Whatcom County, “is unrealistically broad, includes speculative impacts, requires impossible assessments of foreign environmental impacts, and appears to have been designed to hinder the development of that terminal.”
The nine-page letter marks a surprising entrance by McKenna into the fight over coal exports, which was a major issue in his unsuccessful 2012 bid for governor against Jay Inslee.
During the campaign, McKenna voiced support for coal-export terminals, but said any proposals would have to undergo a thorough environmental review.
Washington state’s review is one of three under way for the proposed Cherry Point facility, which would create the largest coal-export terminal on the West Coast, shipping as much as 48 million tons of Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia. The other reviews are being done by the federal government and Whatcom County.
Washington state has said its review will be much broader than the other two.
All three entities will get a say in whether the terminal is built, and each is to base its decision on its own review.
The letter was sent because Washington state is now deciding the breadth of a review of a second proposed coal terminal, in Longview.
Montana and North Dakota, McKenna wrote, would like Washington state to take a more limited approach to reviewing the proposed Longview terminal.
In a post on his website, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said he is interested in the issue because “access to overseas markets is vital to Montana’s economy.”
McKenna’s letter was topped by letterhead from the international law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. McKenna became a partner there in February, a few months after losing the governor’s race.
On Thursday, environmentalists criticized McKenna for getting involved on behalf of entities supporting coal.
“It’s hard to believe that Rob McKenna is opposing Washington’s efforts to keep dirty coal out of our communities,” said Collin Jergens, spokesman for the liberal group Fuse Washington. “Why is Rob McKenna fighting for North Dakota instead of Washington?”
McKenna did not immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
November 21, 2013 at 11:54 AM
OLYMPIA — Second Amendment activists submitted an estimated 340,000 signatures Thursday, likely enough to qualify their initiative to prevent Washington state from adopting universal background checks for gun sales.
The checks are currently required for sales by licensed dealers, but not for purchases from private sellers.
“This is a monumental effort to protect our gun rights,” said Alan Gottlieb, of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, before turning in the signatures for Initiative 591 at the Secretary of State’s elections office in Olympia.
He added that “background checks do not prevent crimes” because criminals do not subject themselves to them.
Phillip Shave of the Washington Arms Collectors and Bill Burris of the Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructor Association joined Gottlieb.
“I-591 will guarantee that Washington residents will not be subjected to ridiculously complicated, costly and ineffective new government intervention into private transaction,” Shave said, referring to the proposed Initiative 594, which would establish background checks for all sales in Washington state.
Initiatives 591 and 594 are aimed to go before the 2014 Legislature and, if lawmakers don’t approve, to the November 2014 ballot.
Supporters of Initiative 594 submitted about 250,000 signatures last month. On Thursday, Initiative 594 spokesman Christian Sinderman said the measure’s supporters are “closing in” on 325,00 signatures.
Because of the possibility of duplicate or otherwise problematic signatures, the state recommends that initiative sponsors collect 325,000 signatures to be sure they have the required 246,000 valid signatures.
“Background checks are not a complete solution, but everything we can do to keep guns out of the hands of criminals is a step forward,” Sinderman said. “591 is a step backward.”
November 20, 2013 at 1:54 PM
State Sen. Sharon Nelson was selected Wednesday afternoon to replace Seattle Mayor-elect Ed Murray as the leader of the minority Senate Democratic Caucus.
“I am honored to have been elected as leader by the Senate Democrats,” Nelson said in a news release. “We have a diverse caucus, but I believe I was elected by my colleagues because my foremost goal is to do what I was sent here by my constituents to do – work for them. I demonstrated my inclusive leadership style during the budget negotiations last year, and I intend to make that a focal point of my tenure as leader.”
Nelson lives on Maury Island, and represents a district that includes West Seattle, North Highline, Burien and Vashon Island.
A 62-year-old former bank executive, consumer-protection activist and chief of staff to then-King County Councilmember Dow Constantine, she was appointed to the state House in 2007. She was elected to the Senate in 2010, and this year served as the assistant ranking member on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and was the party’s go-to senator for this year’s capital budget.
Murray resigned as Democratic leader shortly after defeating incumbent Mike McGinn. Murray announced this week he will step down from the Senate on Dec. 31.
Nelson and Sen. Karen Keiser, of Kent, the ranking member on the health-care committee, were seen as the top candidates to replace Murray.
Democrats control 26 of 49 seats in the Senate, but two of them have joined with Republicans to form a majority caucus. Following the results of a special election this month, one seat will flip in January from Democrat to Republican.
November 19, 2013 at 1:25 PM
Supporters of an initiative to prevent Washington state from adopting universal background checks for gun sales have collected 340,000 signatures — more than enough to qualify for the ballot in 2014, sponsors say.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue-based national Second Amendment Foundation, said supporters are planning to submit the signatures in Olympia on Thursday.
They’ll continue collecting signatures until the early January deadline to demonstrate support for the proposal, said Gottlieb, who added that nearly 900 volunteers have participated in the effort.
“I’m not surprised at this kind of response,” he said. “Gun owners have been under attack for more than a year now. And in politics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
Initiative 591 would prevent Washington state from adopting background-check laws stricter than the national standard, which requires the checks for sales by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers.
The proposal was crafted in response to Initiative 594, also aimed at the 2014 ballot, which will seek to require background checks for all sales.
Supporters of Initiative 594 submitted about 250,000 signatures last month, and are planning to submit more by January.
About 250,000 valid signatures are needed to qualify an initiative, but the Secretary of State’s Office suggests that campaigns submit 325,000 to assure validation.
If the initiatives are validated, they will first go to the 2014 Legislature and, if not adopted there, to the 2014 ballot.
November 15, 2013 at 4:14 PM
Longtime Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin has conceded his seat to challenger Kshama Sawant.
“It has been a privilege to be your representative and I am proud of what we have done together,” Conlin said this afternoon.
Sawant increased her lead today over Conlin and is ahead by 1,640 votes in updated vote totals. She held 50.3 percent of the vote, while Conlin held 49.4 percent.
On Thursday, she led by 1,148.
“We do not at this point see a realistic path to success,” Conlin said. “Certainly I’m surprised and disappointed … I felt that we ran a strong campaign and she obviously ran a stronger one.”
Sawant, who will be the first socialist on the council in recent memory, was carrying only 46.1 percent of the vote on election night, but has steadily gained ground since.
Today she won 56.3 percent of 3,548 votes counted in the race.
Conlin has been on the council for 16 years.
“I hope [Sawant] will serve the people of Seattle effectively during her time in office,” Conlin said.
Fellow City Councilmember Nick Licata, who just won re-election, said of Conlin: “Probably no person more than him has led the green revolution in Seattle’s consciousness.”
November 15, 2013 at 1:18 PM
Democrats are taking aim at Washington state’s tax advisory votes.
State Sen. David Frockt said at a post-election fundraiser Thursday night he plans to introduce legislation as soon as next week to eliminate the votes, which he called “confusing, out of context and downright stupid.”
The proposal may go nowhere, especially in an election year when Republicans control the state Senate. But it is a symbol of Democrats’ frustration with the votes, which are the remnants of a Tim Eyman-sponsored initiative best known for requiring a two-thirds vote in the Legislature for tax increases (that requirement was thrown out by the state Supreme Court this year).
The votes are on the ballot each November, letting voters offer a retroactive opinion on tax increases passed in Olympia earlier that year.
This year, voters said they agreed with three of five tax increases approved by the Legislature.
Republicans say the results are valuable information for lawmakers. Democrats say the results are misleading because the ballot doesn’t include the context of how the money raised from the tax is spent.
Both sides agree the votes probably don’t cause lawmakers to revisit policy, and that the votes cost money — about $130,000 this year.
Frockt, of Seattle, said he would push the Senate bill while state Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, would sponsor the House version.
November 14, 2013 at 4:42 PM
For the first time since election night, SeaTac’s minimum-wage proposal padded its lead Thursday.
Proposition 1, which would institute a $15-per-hour minimum wage for airport-related workers, led by 53 votes in an afternoon vote update.
That may not sound like much, but it’s more than the 19-vote lead the measure held Wednesday.
There are now 2,837 votes supporting the measure (50.47 percent) and 2,784 against it (49.53 percent).
On Thursday, the proposal won 62 percent of the 142 counted votes.
Both sides say a recount is all but certain, although it would have to be financed by one of the campaigns.
The new wage would affect roughly 6,300 hospitality and transportation workers in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. It also guarantees annual inflation adjustments, paid sick leave and tip protection.
November 14, 2013 at 4:27 PM
Seattle City Council challenger Kshama Sawant increased her lead over four-term incumbent Richard Conlin in updated vote totals Thursday afternoon.
Sawant led Conlin by 1,148 votes, up from 402 yesterday. The 41-year-old, who would be the first socialist on the nonpartisan council in recent memory, was at 50.2 percent compared to Conlin’s 49.5 percent.
That puts her out of the range of an automatic machine recount, which is triggered in races when the vote difference is less than 0.5 percent and less than 2,000 votes.
The updated results continued a remarkable turnaround for Sawant, who on election night was carrying just 46.1 percent of the vote but has steadily gained ground since.
On Thursday, she won 55.4 percent of the 5,646 ballots counted in the race.
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