Open Government

WPC's Center for Government Reform's mission is to partner with stakeholders and citizens to work toward a government focused on its core functions while improving its transparency, accountability, performance, and effectiveness for taxpayers.

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Transparency Games Continue...

March 17, 2010 in Blog

WashingtonVotes.org provides plain-English descriptions of every bill and amendment offered in the state Legislature.  The goal of providing this resource to citizens, however, has been made difficult this year due to the lack of legislative transparency.

Here is an op-ed we wrote highlighting these difficulties:  Ghost Bills and Mystery Hearings Mark 2010 Session, Creating Lack of Public Process

Despite public outcry over the lack of transparency in the legislative process, the games continue.

Today the Senate Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing with less than 24 hours of notice.  During the public hearing lawmakers considered a draft to SB 6889 (It was noted on the agenda as S-5541.1).

So what's the big deal?  SB 6889 was not even officially introduced by the Senate at the time of the public hearing, though I suspect that it will be on tomorrow's introduction sheet.

It will be interesting to see how the bill history will read for SB 6889.  Will they acknowledge that the public hearing was held before the bill was introduced?

Car insurance increase proposal back on House agenda

March 17, 2010 in Blog

The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold an executive session tomorrow on HB 2365. This bill first showed up on the House agenda on March 10 as a title only bill. Once the hearing started a striker amendment was introduced which would insert the text from SB 6871 which the Senate rejected on March 8.

If the striker is adopted the bill would add a surcharge to car insurance policies to fight auto theft.

Since a bill report from the March 10 House hearing is not available, here are details from the testimony on the Senate version. State insurers testified against the bill. According to the bill report:

"Progressive
Insurance recently implemented something similar to this bill in
Arizona and found it to be complicated and costly to administer. They
had to wait until they had a significant rate revision to incorporate
into the fee and they didn't see a lot of results from the program. The
current auto theft program has only been in place a few years and there
hasn't made a measurable decrease in auto theft. If the committee does
move forward with the bill, a sunset clause should be incorporated with
reports back to the Legislature on the effectiveness of the auto theft
program. Also, the bill should allow for any fee to be specifically
called out in the insurance premium statements and the Insurance
Commissioner should not receive any portion of the funds. The insurance
industry already pays into the general fund and assessments to the
Insurance Commissioner. This bill could make insurance companies
subject to retaliatory taxes, where they will have to pay higher taxes
in other states because of this fee. This fee was looked at before to
fund auto theft prevention and it was decided at the time that law
abiding citizens shouldn't have to pay for the actions of law breakers.
Policy holders and insurance companies already pay taxes. Insurers have
to pay a premium tax that is three times higher than the B&O tax
rate. The bill is not clear regarding what policies are charged and
some carriers have annual policies and the bill needs to be clarified."

Last
year the Legislature raided millions from the state's "dedicated" auto theft account and changed the
authorized use of the funds. Here are the details from the 2009-11 budget:

Section
128 (27) - $300,000 of the Washington auto theft prevention authority
account--state appropriation is provided solely for a contract with a
community group to build local community capacity and economic
development within the state by strengthening political relationships
between economically distressed communities and governmental
institutions. The community group shall identify opportunities for
collaboration and initiate activities and events that bring community
organizations, local governments, and state agencies together to
address the impacts of poverty, political disenfranchisement, and
economic inequality on communities of color. These funds must be
matched by other nonstate sources on an equal basis.

Section
203 (8) - $3,700,000 of the Washington auto theft prevention authority
account--state appropriation is provided solely for competitive grants
to community-based organizations to provide at-risk youth intervention
services, including but not limited to, case management, employment
services, educational services, and street outreach intervention
programs. Projects funded should focus on preventing, intervening, and
suppressing behavioral problems and violence while linking at-risk
youth to pro-social activities. The department may not expend more than
$1,850,000 per fiscal year. The costs of administration must not exceed
four percent of appropriated funding for each grant recipient. Each
entity receiving funds must report to the juvenile rehabilitation
administration on the number and types of youth served, the services
provided, and the impact of those services upon the youth and the
community.

Section
945 - RCW 46.66.080 and 2007 c 199 s 27 are each amended to read as
follows: (1) The Washington auto theft prevention authority account is
created in the state treasury, subject to appropriation. All revenues
from the traffic infraction surcharge in RCW 46.63.110(7)(b) and all
receipts from gifts, grants, bequests, devises, or other funds from
public and private sources to support the activities of the auto theft
prevention authority must be deposited into the account. Expenditures
from the account may be used only for activities relating to motor
vehicle theft, including education, prevention, law enforcement,
investigation, prosecution, and confinement. During the 2009-2011
fiscal biennium, the legislature may appropriate moneys from the
Washington auto theft prevention authority account for criminal justice
purposes and community building.

Perhaps if the Legislature hadn't raided the account the funds would be available for the use intended - preventing auto theft.

Ghost Bills and Mystery Hearings Mark 2010 Session, Creating Lack of Public Process

March 17, 2010 in Publications

Since 2003 WashingtonVotes.org has provided concise, plain-English, descriptions of every bill, amendment and vote in the Washington legislature. Through our service, thousands of Washingtonians follow the day-to-day activities of their elected officials in Olympia and are being empowered to participate in the legislative process.

Read the bill

March 17, 2010 in In the News
Washington Times
Source: 
Washington Times
Date: 
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Session's most notorious "ghost bill" on Wednesday's agenda

March 16, 2010 in Blog

At 11:42 this morning (Tuesday) the Senate Ways and Means Committee announced it would hold a public hearing tomorrow (Wednesday) at 12:30 p.m. The agenda for the hearing was blank until 7:28 this evening.

Along with planning a public hearing on 7 bills and an executive session on at least 5 bills, the committee will also hold a work session on SB 6853. This bill was introduced on February 9 as title only and has the distinction of being introduced, heard in public hearing, and adopted by the committee all on the same day despite no details being available. /p>

The significance of a work session being held for SB 6853 instead of a public hearing is that only those individuals invited by the committee to be on the agenda for the work session will be allowed to participate. The general public may sit in the audience but is not usually allowed to comment during a work session.

Unlike the first time the committee took action on the bill, at least a striker amendment is now available.

Here is the updated Senate Ways and Means Committee agenda for Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.:

Work Session:  SB 6853 - Relating to creating the legislative review of tax preferences act of 2010. (If measure is referred to committe!
e.)

Public Hearing:   /div>

  1. S-5541.1 Convention & trade center. (McDermott).
  2. E2SHB 2630 - Creating the opportunity express program. (If measure is referred to committee.)
  3. HB 2694 - Regarding a bachelor of science in nursing program at the University Center. (If measure is referred to committee.)
  4. 2SHB 2854 - Making changes to the state higher education loan program. (If measure is referred to committee.)
  5. ESHB 3048 - Concerning administration of the medicaid program. (If measure is referred to committee.)
  6. ESHB 3186
    - Imposing a tax on home and community based services to fund services
    for seniors and people with disabilities. (If measure is referred to
    committee.)
  7. ESHB 3182
    - Making certain unfunded mandates optional for school districts and
    other political subdivisions. (If measure is referred to committee.)
Executive Session:  
  1. ESHB 2875 - Concerning health savings accounts. (If measure is referred to committee.)
  2. E2SHB 2617 - Eliminating certain boards and commissions. (If measure is referred to committee.)
  3. ESHB 2954 - Concerning license fees for nursing homes, boarding homes, and adult family homes. (If measure is referred to committee.)
  4. E2SHB 2956 - Concerning the hospital safety net. (If measure is referred to committee.)
  5. SSB 6766 - Concerning forest fire prevention and suppression.
Possible executive session on bills heard in committee. Other business.

Senate hearing scheduled - Agenda TBD

March 16, 2010 in Blog

With Senate rules already amended to speed up the legislative process, you may have to move fast if you want to participate at a "public" hearing scheduled tomorrow for 12:30 p.m.

The topic of the hearing?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Hearing "notice" below:

*Meeting added.

Ways
& Means - 3/17/2010 12:30 p.m.

Senate Full Committee
Senate Hearing Rm 4
J.A. Cherberg Building
Olympia, WA

Hearing content to be announced.:

Possible executive session on bills heard in committee. Other business.

U.S. House to adopt health care bill without voting on it?

March 16, 2010 in Blog

Throughout the year we've highlighted the challenges state lawmakers have had with embracing a transparent legislative process. Not to be out done, the U.S. House may be poised to show it can play even bigger games than state lawmakers.

Struggling to secure the votes needed to pass health care legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has identified a new strategy: adopting the bill without having members vote for it.

The Washington Post has the details:

After laying the groundwork for a decisive vote this week on the Senate's health-care bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Monday that she might attempt to pass th!
e measure without having members vote on it.

Instead, Pelosi (D-Calif.) would rely on a procedural sleight of hand: The House would vote on a more popular package of fixes to the Senate bill; under the House rule for that vote, passage would signify that lawmakers "deem" the health-care bill to be passed.

The tactic -- known as a "self-executing rule" or a "deem and pass" -- has been commonly used, although never to pass legislation as momentous as the $875 billion health-care bill. It is one of three options that Pelosi said she is considering for a late-week House vote, but she added that she prefers it because it would politically protect lawmakers who are reluctant to publicly support the measure.

"It's more insider and process-oriented than most people want to know," the speaker said in a roundtable discussion with bloggers Monday. "But I like it," she said, "because people don&!
#39;t have to vote on the Senate bill."

Republ!
icans quickly condemned the strategy, framing it as an effort to avoid responsibility for passing the legislation, and some suggested that Pelosi's plan would be unconstitutional.

"It's very painful and troubling to see the gymnastics through which they are going to avoid accountability," Rep. David Dreier (Calif.), the senior Republican on the House Rules Committee, told reporters. "And I hope very much that, at the end of the day, that if we are going to have a vote, we will have a clean up-or-down vote that will allow the American people to see who is supporting this Senate bill and who is not supporting this Senate bill."

One can only imagine how attractive this ploy would be with state lawmakers in adopting a budget without actually having to vote for the tax increases being relied on.

Voters will see right through 'deem and pass'

March 16, 2010 in In the News
Olympia Business Watch
Source: 
Olympia Business Watch
Date: 
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Babystepping to a State Budget

March 16, 2010 in In the News
Washington Alliance for a Competitive Economy
Source: 
Washington Alliance for a Competitive Economy
Date: 
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

State’s higher education funding plan gets failing grade

March 16, 2010 in In the News
Port Orchard Independent
Source: 
Port Orchard Independent
Date: 
Tuesday, March 16, 2010