First week fairly slow for lawmakers

The 2009 Legislature's first week was relatively calm for the three 24th District legislators compared to what lies ahead in the 105-day session that began Jan. 12 and is scheduled to end April 26.

Following the opening ceremonies, a few new bills were introduced along with those either filed before the session or left over from the 2008 session.

Rep. Kevin Van De Wege,

D-Sequim, worked with another legislator on a bill aimed at the Jan. 13 decision by a three-judge panel of the Washington State Court of Appeals.

Van De Wege, along with Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, represents the 24th Legislative District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and one third of Grays Harbor County.

The three judges unanimously ruled state law does not prohibit consensual sexual contact between school employees and students who are at least 18 years old.

The case involved Matthew Hirschfelder, a former Hoquiam High School choir teacher. He was charged with first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor in 2006 after an 18-year-old member of the choir told police she had been involved in a monthslong sexual relationship with him.

"This bill is a result of that Hoquiam case and a previous incident in the Tri-Cities," Van De Wege said.

Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, will sponsor the bill that hasn't received a number yet, he said.

Haler's original bill included an age limit of 21 instead of 18 and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years.

So he agreed to let Haler run his bill, House Bill 1320, as his own and he will be one of the co-sponsors along with Kessler, Van De Wege said.

"We're keeping it as narrow as we can. All we're saying is if you are enrolled at a public school and you're 18-19 years old, then school employees are off limits," Van De Wege said.

Van De Wege and Kessler also have co-sponsored House Joint Memorial 4004 to name state Route 110 from U.S. Highway

101 through La Push as the "Operations Desert Shield and

Desert Storm Memorial Highway."

Eight Washington state residents were killed in action during those military operations that lasted from Aug. 2, 1990, to Feb. 28, 1991.

"Gerry Rettela brought it forward. There's so many big issues this session, hopefully we'll be able to get it through," Van De Wege said.

Rettela, president of the Korean War Veterans Association Olympic Peninsula Chapter, worked last session to get portions of state Routes 112 and 113 dedicated as the Korean War Veterans Blue Star Memorial Highway.

Rep. Lynn Kessler

Kessler said more legislation can be expected this week as lawmakers get down to work.

"It was a lot of pomp and circumstance last week. We had three joint sessions plus our own opening day session. We'll definitely have a lot more bills this week," she said.

Because of her duties as House majority leader, Kessler usually doesn't sponsor as many bills as other legislators.

One area she will focus on this session is the state's Open Public Meetings and Public Records laws.

Kessler will submit a revised version of her defeated bill from last session allowing audio recording of governments' executive sessions under certain conditions.

The revised bill will include mandatory education for local officials, who have said they will support that, she said.

The bill probably will allow voluntary taping at first before it would become mandatory, she said.

Some local governments, such as the Port of Seattle, already are taping their executive sessions so the revised bill would ensure they have all the protections contained in the defeated bill, Kessler said.

Kessler also sponsored House Bill 1017, which sets up a process to adjudicate complaints on violations of the Open Public Meetings and Open Public Records acts.

HB 1017 had a public hearing Friday before the state government and tribal affairs committee.

One problem with the bill is it probably will cost money for staff time and mileage and possibly per diem (for people to go to meetings to talk about it) so it might be dead on arrival, Kessler said.

"But it did have a hearing," she said.

Kessler also sponsored House Bill 1316 and House Bill 1317.

HB1316 would prohibit public records requests judged by a court to be used for harassment.

HB1317 would prohibit disclosure of public records used to locate or identify employees of criminal justice agencies.

"We want to get to that because as much as we want open government and open access to records, we want to make sure people can't abuse the system. It costs local governments, especially local governments, a lot of money," Kessler said.

"I'm also going to have a bill addressing Department of Corrections inmates," she said.

Kessler said one prison inmate requested 4,700 public records including one to find out how much toilet paper the Department of Corrections bought.

Sen. Jim Hargrove

Over in the Senate, Hargrove said this session's focus will be on new ways of doing things that could save money.

The state's projected budget deficit of as much as $6 billion provides opportunities to make changes that might not get done otherwise, Hargrove said.

One example is removing the 2010 expiration date from a law granting 50-percent "good time" toward reducing the prison sentences of some nonviolent inmates.

Another is eliminating post-release supervision of some prisoners with lesser offenses.

"We're also looking at ways for child welfare to work better and cost less although there's no specifics yet," Hargrove said.

"The premium will be on things that will save us money. If anyone proposes anything new, they must document how it will save us money," he said.

Hargrove also is working to have a "forestry carbon-offset program" included in Gov. Chris Gregoire's carbon emissions control proposal.

The program would grant credits to forest landowners for reducing the production of carbon that could be traded with other landowners.

Hargrove tried to pass a bill last session to establish the program but Senate Bill 6679 died in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Brian Gawley can be reached at bgawley@sequim

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