Benton’s bill on student athletics passes in Senate

Penalties for high schoolers would be eased in some cases

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor



A bill to reform punishments for high school athletes if the team breaks eligibility rules passed the state Senate on Saturday with nearly full support.

The proposal, introduced by state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, would ease penalties the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association imposes on students when a rule violation is made by an adult, such as a coach or administrator. The bill was prompted by events at King’s Way Christian School in Vancouver, where a scheduling error made by an administrator disqualified the undefeated girls’ volleyball team from playing in the state tournament last year.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 45-1. Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, voted against the bill, and Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, was excused from voting.

When the bill was in committee last month, Pridemore said he had concerns about the government getting involved in the issue.

Initially the legislation, Senate Bill 6383, was designed to ban the WIAA from imposing a punishment on students unless the students knowingly violated a WIAA rule. But on Saturday, Benton added an amendment to the proposal that would still allow the WIAA to penalize student athletes if they gained a significant competitive advantage from the rule violation. Pridemore helped draft the amendment.

The amendment also states that pulling students from championship games should be the WIAA’s last option for punishing student athletes.

Benton said what happened at King’s Way was not an isolated incident.

“We’ve all heard horror stories over our careers of kids who have gotten a bad break,” Benton said, adding that the bill has been amended to “preserve the ability to penalize coaches and schools if they break the rules.”

Also under the bill, if a rule violation is reported to the WIAA within 10 days of any championship games, schools would only need to go through an appeals process with the WIAA’s highest board rather than having to also appeal at the league and district levels. The legislation would be named the Knight Act after the King’s Way mascot.

The WIAA is a nonprofit organization that began in 1905 to create equal playing rules between the state’s high school sports teams. About 800 state high school and middle schools adhere to WIAA standards, and the organization oversees 83 WIAA state championships.

The WIAA receives no money from the state and is financed mostly through ticket sales.

Tax breaks expiration

Also on Saturday, a bill to put expiration dates on some tax breaks, as well as make lawmakers document the purpose of new tax breaks, passed out of the Senate on a vote of 45-3.

The proposal, Senate Bill 6088, was introduced by Pridemore and co-sponsored by Zarelli. It is essential for lawmakers to state the purpose of a tax break so the groups who later evaluate tax breaks can adequately judge whether they’re working, Pridemore said from the Senate floor on Saturday.

Tax breaks can encourage economic development and make the tax code fairer, but “sometimes these tax preferences become outdated, inappropriate, or no longer achieving their functions,” Pridemore said.

In addition to making it easier to review tax breaks in the future, the bill would put an automatic five-year expiration date on each new tax break unless the Legislature decides otherwise.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523;;;