Author: Jason Mercier (Page 1 of 15)

Sunshine Week Legislative Update

This Sunshine Week forecast is brought to you by the 2014 Legislative Session: Your right to know is partly cloudy. When the just concluded session began there was the opportunity for brilliant sunshine but at least we avoided any severe secret storm warnings.

Below is a look back on some of the open government actions (or lack thereof) during the 2014 Legislative Session.

Public notice

Are you a night owl that can show up at a moment’s notice? If yes, then this 10:45 p.m. public hearing was for you.

Are your speed reading skills as good as lawmakers? If not, then this update from the last day of session by the Spokesman Review may be alarming:

“The budget is scheduled to be put to a vote in the House late this afternoon and be sent to the Senate for a vote later in the evening. That means the Legislature will suspend several rules that allow time for the public to see legislation, and for members to read and consider it.”

Do you live hours away from Olympia but still have the desire to participate in the legislative debate? If yes, better luck next year (Note: Interest remains strong though for remote testimony options).

  • HB 2369/SB 6560 (Increasing legislative transparency by providing mandatory notice and waiting periods before legislative action, banning title-only bills, and opening all legislative committees to the public) – No public hearings

Do you receive most of your information online? If yes, you’ll be happy about this development.

  • HB 2105 (Promoting transparency in government by requiring public agencies with governing bodies to post their agendas online in advance of meetings) – Approved by Legislature

Executive Privilege

Are you a Governor that can’t find an exemption to deny a public record? Rest easy, the Legislature didn’t act to keep you from claiming Executive Privilege (Note: Governor Inslee has promised not to claim during his term).

  • HJR 4217 (Amending the Constitution regarding the people’s right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business) – No public hearing
  • SJR 8214 (Amending the state Constitution to state that the Governor is subject to public records requests) – Failed committee executive action

Open government training

Good news if you believe:

“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. (RCW 42.30.010)”

Although lawmakers were exempted, the Legislature did pass the Attorney General’s request bill requiring public officials receive training on the state’s open government and public records laws.

  • SB 5964 (Concerning training public officials and employees regarding public records, records management, and open public meetings requirements) – Approved by Legislature

Open data

Do you think public information should be made proactively available in a format that allows you to create your own reports? If yes, keep an eye on this debate next year.

  • HB 2202 (Concerning the establishment of an open data policy to facilitate sharing and publication of government data) – Didn’t clear Rules Committee


Is one of your favorite internet bookmarks TVW? If yes, you may need to get use to seeing a black screen when you click on it. Official statement from TVW on failure to receive funding for needed equipment upgrades:

“We remain committed to providing citizens with as much access to the legislative process and state government as we can given the circumstances.  We have a triage plan in place so that, as we experience further equipment failures, TVW will try to keep fully functional those hearing rooms on the Capitol Campus that are utilized most. And we will also continue working with OFM and lawmakers to get the project funded.”

Depending on what develops with TVW, this Sunshine Week’s partly cloudy forecast could be downgraded to a severe weather warning. For now though we can hope that lawmakers and candidates will brush up on ways to improve the people’s right to know and the forecast for next year’s Sunshine Week.


[Republished with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog]
[Featured image used under standard license,]

Time for Legislature to Live by Open Government Rules

With policy cutoff behind us the list of living and walking dead bills (nothing is really dead till sine die) is being compiled. Among the proposals that didn’t even receive a hearing, however, is a bill based on WPC’s recommendation for the Legislature to truly provide Washingtonians the opportunity to participate in the legislative debate while also ensuring lawmakers live by the same open government rules the rest of the state’s public officials operate under.

As noted by Peter Callaghan of The Tacoma News Tribune:

“Lots of stuff gets introduced in the Washington Legislature that is never heard from again.

Most of the time, that’s OK. But one bill that should have at least gotten some discussion was House Bill 2369. The measure would have imposed on the Legislature the same transparency requirements that local governments and state administrative bodies already face.

The House and Senate would have to follow basic notice and waiting periods before acting on legislation, for example, under HB 2369 and a Senate version filed Friday. The bills also would require that all legislative committees be open to the public.

The Legislature regularly ignores or suspends its notice rules. It also often denies public access to significant committee action by recessing for ‘committee caucuses.’ The members divide by party and meet privately to discuss bills and count heads.

Local government councils and state agency boards can meet in secret under the state open public meetings law but only for specific reasons expressed in that law. Secret ballots — even straw polls — are illegal, and governing bodies must conduct all ‘deliberations, discussions, considerations, reviews, evaluations and final actions’ in public.”

A Senate companion to HB 2369 was introduced in response to the light speed vote on the “DREAM/Real Hope Act.” In her press release announcing SB 6560, Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry said:

“’To pass a bill on the Friday before the Super Bowl, with less than twenty-four hours’ notice, goes against everything I stand for when it comes to giving citizens a voice and encouraging their participation in the legislative process,’ said Holmquist Newbry. ‘The public was kept in the dark. That is not acceptable and shouldn’t be what accountable, transparent government is all about.’”

HB 2369 wasn’t the only bill that would have required more legislative transparency to receive no public hearing. Lawmakers also couldn’t find time to hear from the public on HJR 4217: Amending the Constitution regarding the people’s right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business.

Writing about HJR 4217 prior to cutoff The Olympian said:

“A similar proposed constitutional amendment in the House (HJR 4217) would also make clear there is no legislative privilege to secrecy. HJR 4217, however, has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing.

The Legislature should send one of these historical and national precedent-setting joint resolutions to voters. We expect either would easily win voters’ approval.

They are vitally important measures for two reasons.

First, the constitutional amendments would establish the principle that a truly open and transparent government starts at the top. Second, either would erase any justification from lawmakers not to apply the Public Records Act to the Legislature itself.

In a thorough review of the state’s Public Records Act by the non-partisan William D. Ruckelshaus Center at Washington State University it questioned the legislative exemption. Why is the state Legislature excused from disclosure requirements that apply to city councils, school boards, fire commissioners and state agencies?

During a media forum at the beginning of the current session legislative leaders expressed willingness to discuss whether it was time for lawmakers to subject themselves to the state’s open government laws. The time for action is now.”

Along with giving these open government reforms more serious consideration next session, hopefully lawmakers will also continue to explore opportunities for remote testimony options for citizens.

One silver lining this session is the new Open Government Caucus. The goal of the members is to discuss opportunities to improve open government and transparency. Of particular note at the first meeting of the caucus on February 3 was this statement from Rep. Mark Hargrove on the need for the Legislature to open all of its meetings up to the public.

[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog; featured image used under standard license,]

The Most Important Vote of 2014 – Boeing 777X Contract

Although 2014 is a general election year with control of the Legislature up for grabs and still unknown ballot measures yet to qualify, perhaps the most important vote of the year will be tomorrow on Boeing’s 777X contract offer. Not only does this union vote have the potential to impact tens of thousands of jobs, but it could dramatically change the state’s fiscal outlook, not to mention its economic psyche.

While a “Yes” vote would ensure the 777X is produced in Washington, what could a “No” vote mean for the state, besides the potential loss of future Boeing jobs and ripple effect on the economy? According to Bloomberg:

“Washington faces a credit downgrade, higher borrowing costs and the loss of jobs and tax revenue should Boeing Co. (BA) decide to move production of its new 777X jetliner to another state . . .

The company’s production line for the 777, the earlier version of the twin-engine model, is in Everett, a city of 105,000. With more than 30,000 workers at the plant, ‘a drawdown or transfer of those workers would have a ripple effect,’ said Pat McClain, Everett’s executive director for governmental affairs.

If Boeing selects a new location, it would be a ‘credit negative’ for Washington state and the Puget Sound region, according to a Nov. 21 report by Moody’s Investors Service. ‘The regional economy would lose a potential engine of growth and the local and state government would forgo potential tax revenues.’ . . .

Losing 777X production ‘will raise the cost of capital — could be several hundred million dollars,’ James McIntire, Washington state treasurer, said in an Economic and Revenue Forecast Council meeting in Olympia on Nov. 20 . . .

‘It’s not just losing one airplane’s production, it could be the start of a Boeing exodus,’ said JC Hall, chairman of the Redmond, Washington-based Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance, an industry group.”

With so much at stake it’s no surprise to see a union rally planned for 4 p.m. today on the Boeing 777X contract offer. What is a surprise, however, is what the union rally is encouraging – a “No” vote.

While Governor Inslee won’t encourage a “Yes” vote other elected officials are as reported by the Everett Herald:

“Western Washington political and business leaders had a sobering message for the Machinists union on Monday: Rejecting the Boeing Co.’s latest contract offer will mean losing thousands of jobs and risk the future of the state’s aerospace industry . . . Elected officials from Everett, Renton, Kent and Snohomish County on Monday urged IAM members to approve the contract.”

A “No” vote tomorrow may also have the potential to shake up what was otherwise shaping up to be a sleepy 2014 Legislative Session.


[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog; featured image courtesy of the Boeing Corporation]

House Finance Committee Discusses Business and Operating Tax Reform

The House Finance Committee continued its important interim work discussing the state’s tax structure by holding a work session yesterday on ways to reform the B&O tax. Earlier this year the Committee discussed what the principles of the state’s tax system should be.

I had the opportunity yesterday’s to give a presentation on WPC’s proposal to modify the state’s current B&O tax to a Single Business Tax, or gross-receipts margins tax.

Here is video of my presentation (click here).

WPC’s Single Business Tax would be:

  • Revenue neutral
  • Treat all business owners equally by using one flat rate
  • Eliminate and prohibit tax preferences
  • Simplify administration of the tax to reduce compliance costs for business

The Single Business Tax would be computed by subtracting from an employer’s total gross annual receipts the cost of either production or total compensation to determine the amount of money against which the tax rate is applied. The taxable base could not be more than 60% of total gross receipts.

A uniform tax discount would be provided to reduce the impact of the Single Business Tax on small businesses and startups with low profitability.

Credits and exemptions that give special tax breaks to some industries would be eliminated. The exact legal definitions of production costs and of compensation cost would be defined by the Legislature.

Among other comments it provided, the Tax Foundation submitted this statement for the work session:

“While the Tax Foundation encourages state and local governments to avoid gross-receipts taxes, the WPC Single Business Tax is preferable to the existing B&O tax or replacing it with a corporate/personal income tax. The ultimate goal, however, should be full repeal of the B&O. Short of that the WPC Single Business Tax is worth exploring.”

As for full repeal of the B&O, since it accounts for a significant portion of the state’s tax base (23% or $6.8 billion in 2011-13), a replacement strategy is needed. If not WPC’s Single Business Tax another option to consider would be full repeal of the B&O while expanding the state’s sales tax base on a revenue neutral basis while exempting business inputs to avoid pyramiding.

The downside to this is that even if extending the sales tax base to services the state rate (before adding the local rates) would likely be around 10%. This would be problematic for border communities. One potential way to buy down that 10% rate would be if Congress approved some variation of the Marketplace Fairness Act. Rather than earmark the revenue realized from collecting sales tax on online purchases for new spending, the revenue could instead be used to keep a revised sales tax rate low while repealing the B&O.

Back to WPC’s Single Business Tax proposal, how would things be different? One tangible example is that if the Legislature ever held a Special Session to provide tax relief it wouldn’t be done for just one industry but instead for all businesses in the state since the rates and discounts would apply uniformly to everyone.

[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog]

Look for Election Results Tonight, Tomorrow, and In the Weeks to Come

For most election races we will probably know the outcome sometime tonight. For those close races, however, it will take a few more days and perhaps weeks to know the victors. That is because that although Washington is all vote by mail, ballots aren’t due on Election Day but simply need to be postmarked.

For our neighbors in Oregon, however, their ballots are actually due on Election Day. How is that process working for Oregon? Here is what I was told last year by Brenda Bayes, Elections Deputy Director for Oregon:

“Oregon has been a complete vote by mail state since voters cast their ballot to expand vote by mail to all elections by a vote of 757,204 to 334,021 at the 1998 general election. Voters have now had experience in Oregon’s vote by mail system for fourteen years. A voter has many different ways to ensure that their voted ballot is received by the county elections officials no later than 8:00 pm on Election Day. County dropsites are placed throughout the state starting the 18th day prior to an election up through 8:00 pm on Election Day. Voters have the option of dropping their ballots off at official dropsites, mailing their ballot by mail or dropping their ballot off at any county elections office . . .

Our office typically do not receive complaints regarding a voter feeling like they are ‘disenfranchised’ solely based upon the 8:00 pm restriction. An individual may contact their legislature if they wish to ask them to draft a bill during session to allow for postmarks on ballot. To my knowledge, there has not been any such legislation to extend this deadline. Oregon voters appear to appreciate that they are able to have ‘unofficial results’ quickly after the 8:00 pm deadline regarding candidates and measures. If Oregon were to go to a ‘postmark’ deadline it would delay these unofficial results.”

Former Secretary of State Sam Reed tried for several years to have Washington follow Oregon’s lead but was not successful. Before leaving office he told me:

“I have long supported a requirement that ballots be returned to the county elections offices, by mail or drop box, by Election Day.  Neighboring Oregon, which pioneered vote-by-mail via a citizen initiative more than a decade ago, has found that good voter education and steady reminders of the return deadline have produce excellent results.  In Washington, even with the postmark-only requirement, we get a sizable number of ballots returned too late to be counted, and that is always sad.

Every election cycle, we get numerous complaints from candidates, the parties, voters, the media and others about how long it takes to get substantially complete results, particularly in tight races. It is human nature to want to know the results once Election Night is here and the deadlines are past. People want to know who won. But in Washington, only about 60 percent of the ballots have been received and processed for tallying by Election Night. The rest are still in transit or yet to be processed and we have to wait until the end of the election week or early the following week to get substantially complete returns.

I concede that it is a difficult sell in the Legislature and it is understandable that no one wants any voter disenfranchised because of the return deadline. But it is a good change to consider in the future.  Meanwhile, I encourage our excellent county auditors and their election departments to ramp up efforts to expedite the handling and tallying of ballots. We need to improve on our technology for processing ballots – including automated signature-checking to expedite the process. Certainly, accuracy comes first, but speed and efficiency are also very important to the voters of Washington.”

According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, the vast majority of states require mail-in ballots to actually be received by Election Day. NASS reports:

  • In three states, absentee ballots must be returned prior to Election Day.
  • In 36 states, absentee ballots must be returned by Election Day.
  • In 11 states and the District of Columbia, additional time for the arrival of absentee ballots is provided after Election Day, as long as the absentee ballot is postmarked by Election Day.

Here is a summary of when mail-in ballots are due in each state.

Additional Information
Comparing late ballots in OR and WA
Newspapers call for election reform


[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog; featured image used under standard license:]

Washington’s Newspaper Editorial Boards Pan I-517 and I-522 [UPDATED]

Are the state’s editorial boards reflective of the general voting public? We’ll know after the votes are counted on Initiative 517 and Initiative 522. Based on the near consensus of the editorials to date, supporters of the proposals may be feeling a bit nervous. Here’s a roundup:

Seattle Times

Tacoma News Tribune

Vancouver Columbian


Everett Herald

Tri-City Herald

Wenatchee World

Yakima Herald Republic

Spokesman Review

Here are additional details on Initiative 517 and Initiative 522:


[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog]

What’s It Like to Be a Farmer for a Day?

What do you get when you add more than a dozen lawmakers, beautiful weather, an irrigated desert, policy wonks and the efforts of the Franklin County Farm Bureau, Washington State Potato Commission and Washington State Farm Bureau?

A successful “Farmer for a Day” program in Pasco.

As reported by the Tri-City Herald:

“Dairy farms, onion and potato fields, Claar Cellars and Syngenta’s seed processing facility in Pasco were among Wednesday’s stops for 10 Washington state legislators. The Farmer for a Day event was meant to give legislators a chance to learn about Mid-Columbia agriculture outside of policy debates.”

Scott Dilley, Associate Director of Government Relations for the Washington State Farm Bureau, noted:

“Our annual Farmer for a Day event demonstrates to legislators first-hand what farming is about. It highlights the diversity of crops grown in Washington state and what makes us a national leader in the production of so many commodities. The goal is to heighten awareness of agriculture and its substantial contributions to the state economy.”

Among those elected officials or staff participating:

Sen. Sharon Brown, Rep. Larry Haler, Rep. Cindy Ryu, Rep. Brad Klippert, Rep. Chad Magendanz, Rep. Maureen Walsh and LA Marge Plumage, Rep. Dean Takko, Rep. Larry Springer, Rep. Susan Fagan, Rep. Dick Muri, Rep. Vincent Buys, Kyle Burleigh (LA to Sen. Steve Litzow), David Reeploeg (staff for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell), Peter Godlewski (staff for U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings) and Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck.

Here is a group photo of mostly everyone (too many attended for the camera lens to capture all):


Colin Hastings, Executive Director of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce, commented on the importance of providing lawmakers the opportunity to be a farmer for a day:

“This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the significance of the agriculture industry not only to our area, but to the whole state. The legislators from Western Washington that participated showed a genuine interest learning more about agriculture and asking great questions. This will provide a great baseline of information on food production for our representatives in future sessions in Olympia.”

As a new member of the Tri-City community I appreciated the opportunity to see first-hand how the local agriculture industry worked and learn more about its policy concerns.

Washington Policy Center’s long-term research plans include focusing more on some of the pressing issues facing the state’s agriculture industry.

First and foremost will be Todd Myers’ (WPC Environment Center Director) review of I-522 (labeling of GMOs), a topic of some concern at the event.

Here are some of our thoughts to date on GMOs:

Many thanks again to Dave Manterola and his family for hosting the “Farmer for a Day” event at his home and farm. Here is a picture of our gracious host addressing the prospective legislative farmers:



[Article reposted from the Washington Policy Center blog]; photo credit: Noam Armonn,]

Did Liquor Privatization Increase DUIs and Alcohol Related Arrests?

No. Based on the latest numbers, the alcohol infused Armageddon that we were warned about if voters approved I-1183 ending the state’s nearly 80 year old-liquor monopoly was more of a scare tactic than based on the actual experience of the 33 states across the country with private liquor sales.

Here is data provided by the Washington State Patrol:


Does that mean we should rejoice at the still high number of alcohol related arrests and accidents? No, but maybe, just maybe, Washingtonians are a little more responsible than opponents of I-1183 gave them credit for.

Here are the most recent compliance check numbers provided by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

While the potential public safety problems of liquor sales privatization appear to have been oversold, the amount of revenue generated from private liquor sales was undersold.

Here are the updated state liquor tax collections according to the Department of Revenue.

Give then fact liquor tax revenues are exceeding expectations and remembering the state’s notorious ranking for the highest liquor taxes in the country, lawmakers should revisit what the appropriate level of liquor taxes and fees should be.


[Reposted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog; featured image used under license from, credit: Ron Harvey]

I-517: Should All Initiatives with Adequate Signatures Go Before Voters?

Our prior blog posts on I-517 have addressed the provision adding a new anti-harassment protection for signature gatherers to law as well as a quick glance at some of the former statewide elected officials that have gone on the record in opposition of I-517.

In this post we’ll take a look at I-517’s requirement that all initiatives that receive an adequate number of signatures to qualify actually go before voters for consideration. Currently some proposals at the local level have been blocked from the ballot for various legal reasons.

For full appreciation of this issue it is important to remember the people, with few exceptions, are considered co-equals with lawmakers when it comes to the power of proposing or rejecting laws.

In fact, under Article 2, Section 1 of Washington’s Constitution, before the Legislature is granted any powers:

“The first power reserved by the people is the initiative.”

This fundamental constitutional power complements Article 1, Section 1 which proclaims:

“All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”

Despite this, state courts have found that in certain circumstances local initiative proposals, even with the required number of signatures, are not allowed to go the ballot. Section 4 of I-517 would change this:

“Any state or local initiative for which sufficient valid voter signatures are submitted within the time period required must be submitted to a vote of the people at the next election date. The people are guaranteed the right to vote on any initiative that obtains the required number of valid voter signatures in the required time frame. Government officials, both elected and unelected, must facilitate and cannot obstruct the processing of any initiative petition and must facilitate and cannot obstruct the public vote of any initiative. For local initiatives, government officials must, in all circumstances, strictly comply with the requirements of this act for any initiative regardless of its subject matter. The term ‘local legislative authority’ must be construed to include the people via local initiative regardless of the subject matter of the ballot measure. Citizens have just as much right to decide issues with local initiatives as governments do. This section may not be construed in any way to impede the right to legal review of the sufficiency of valid voter signatures or post-election legal review; however, under no circumstances may an initiative be prohibited from submission to the people for a vote if sufficient valid voter signatures are submitted.”

This language is identical to the text of SB 5347: Assuring the people’s right to vote on initiatives that submit sufficient valid voter signatures. SB 5347 was considered by the Senate this year but not approved.

Here is Tim Eyman, sponsor of I-517, discussing the need for this reform at the public hearing on SB 5347: (click here for video)

Here is Sen. Ann Rivers, prime sponsor of SB 5347, noting that if the people go through the trouble of signing an initiative proposal that otherwise would qualify for the ballot they should be heard: (click here for video)

It is important to note that the bills drafted by lawmakers generally don’t go through a pre-approval legal review before they can be acted on. The same should be true for laws proposed by the people.

At least for statewide initiatives, the state Supreme Court has made it clear:

“Preelection review of initiative measures is highly disfavored. The fundamental reason is that ‘the right of initiative is nearly as old as our constitution itself, deeply ingrained in our state’s history, and widely revered as a powerful check and balance on the other branches of government.’ Given the preeminence of the initiative right, preelection challenges to the substantive validity of initiatives are particularly disallowed. Such review, if engaged in, would involve the court in rendering advisory opinions, would violate ripeness requirements, would undermine the policy of avoiding unnecessary constitutional questions, and would constitute and unwarranted judicial meddling with the legislative process. Thus, preelection substantive challenges are not justiciable. Further, substantive preelection review could unduly infringe on the citizens’ right to freely express their views to their elected representatives.”

However, the state Supreme Court has also found that for local initiatives, some measures can be prohibited from reaching the ballot, even with the adequate number of signatures:

“’An initiative is beyond the scope of the initiative power if the initiative involves powers granted by the legislature to the governing body of a city, rather than the city itself. [A] grant of power to the city’s’ legislative authority or legislative body ‘means exclusively the mayor and city council and not the electorate.’ When the legislature enacts a general law granting authority to the legislative body (or legislative authority) of a city, that legislative body’s authority is not subject to ‘repeal, amendment, or modification by the people through the initiative or referendum process.’”

Both I-517 and SB 5347 would change this to ensure that all ballot measures that receive the adequate number of signatures go before voters for consideration. Post election legal challenges, as is the case with laws passed by lawmakers, would still be permitted.

Since citizens are not second class in nature to elected officials concerning the power to propose or reject laws, should I-517 be turned down by voters, lawmakers may want to re-consider SB 5347.

Next up for our review of I-517 is its potential impact on property rights and whether its proposed changes to state law would adversely impact the constitutional rights of businesses.

Additional Information
Heavy hitters line up against I-517
I-517: Are new harassment protections needed for signature gatherers?

[Reposted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog]

You Know What’s in the Pending 2013-15 Budget, Right?

With a 2013-15 budget deal “imminent” one of the remaining questions left to be answered is whether lawmakers and the public will be provided adequate time to review the details before a vote on final passage occurs. We believe at a minimum the time provided for budget transparency should be at least 24 hrs.

Based on his comments during yesterday’s press conference, however, Governor Inslee seems to believe the public already knows what’s going to be in the final $33 billion plus budget running hundreds of pages long: (Click here for video)

Hopefully the Governor is right and there won’t be any “mysteries” to discover after the budget is approved. It’s not like provisos not previously part of prior budget proposals have shown up before in a conference committee report, right?


[Reposted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog; featured image by, credit: Wahaooo]

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