The state’s top legal officer is advocating for new legislation to reinforce consumer protection, government accountability and community safety.
Attorney General Rob
McKenna incorporated the work of myriad task forces and work groups to form a legislative agenda for 2008. He said he has state legislators sponsoring more than half of his proposed bills and expects each of them to make it into the fold by the time this year’s session begins on Jan. 14.
"This agenda builds on our past policy initiatives, strengthening and expanding our state’s ability to protect people from identity theft, domestic violence and Internet crimes against children," McKenna said.
Each year the attorney general offers suggestions for new legislation based on consumer complaints and trends the officer discovered in previous years. McKenna has pushed 19 of 21 proposals through the Legislature over the past three years.
"Our office is also working with others to protect homeowners from losing their homes through misuse of eminent domain statutes or mortgage rescue scams," he said. "Finally, we’re helping improve government accountability by focusing on the state’s Open Public Meetings Act."
In order to help protect Washington residents from identity theft, McKenna suggested requiring law enforcement officers to take formal reports from victims of identity theft. The victims will be able to file either in their local jurisdictions or with the agency where the crime occurred.
"We have moved from seventh to ninth in the nation, but Washington is still one of the leading states affected by identity theft per capita,"
McKenna said. "We need to build on what we’ve already done to strengthen our laws and move further down the list."
McKenna also suggested allowing prosecutors to bring separate charges against an accused identity thief for each use of a particular piece of someone’s personal information. Also, he is asking the Legislature to allow records provided by out-of-state businesses or experts to be authenticated by affidavit, rather than in person. He said each of the allowances would create additional incentives for individuals to stay out of the identity theft business.
Another measure to protect consumers would create specific regulatory measures and penalties for so-called mortgage foreclosure rescuers.
"In this time of rising mortgage rates, desperate homeowners have been lured by offers of assistance, only to be cheated out of the equity they’ve built up and tricked into transferring ownership of their home," McKenna said.
Next on his agenda is the increasing number of complaints regarding unauthorized cell-phone text messages and calls. In 2005, the Legislature required cell phone companies to obtain permission from their customers before giving out their wireless numbers. However, non-cellular companies have obtained cell numbers and are selling those numbers without consent.
"The attorney general’s office has proposed a bill to require people who compile, market or sell phone numbers for commercial purposes to also obtain a consumer’s consent before publishing their phone numbers," McKenna said. "Violators could be fined up to $50,000."
He also hopes to get additional regulation against spyware and computer virus violators.
McKenna quoted state auditor records of nearly 400 incidents of concern that governing bodies might have abused executive sessions. Proposed legislation would require the closed-door meetings to be tape-recorded. The recording would be available for disclosure only by court order.
"This is to make sure laws aren’t being broken but it’s for the politicians in these meetings as well," McKenna said. "Leaders will know what was said and will have evidence for their own protection."
In another open government-related bill, McKenna said state inmates are increasingly abusing the law requiring agencies to make public records available. He said there are cases of inmates flooding the Department of Corrections with public records requests, hoping that someone slips up along the way so they can collect penalty awards. McKenna’s proposed bill would channel those awards away from inmates to the crime victims’ compensation program.
McKenna also recommended bills prohibiting the use of eminent domain for private development, creating additional safeguards in child pornography laws and allowing victims of domestic violence to be eligible for shared leave.