Local lawmakers' bills set for final public hearings

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Many bills by Southwest Washington lawmakers are on schedule for their final public hearings this week, and other measures have moved even further as the state Legislature embarks on week seven of the 2012 session.

A Senate bill allowing state transportation officials to establish tolls to pay for a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday in the House Committee on Transportation.

Senators approved the proposal, Senate Bill 6445, ahead of the Feb. 14 deadline for bills to leave their house of origin; now it gets its turn in the state House of Representatives. The 60-day legislative session is expected to end early next month.

Legislation to allow single-screen theaters such as Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver to serve alcohol in the auditorium received a public hearing Thursday in the Senate Labor, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee. The proposal, House Bill 2558, seemed well-received by the committee.

“I’m really pleased that you brought the bill forward,” Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, told the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. “I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

Under the bill, a liquor license would cost a theater $400 and allow the business to serve beer

and wine. If a theater plans to serve alcohol in an auditorium and also admit minors, it must submit a minor control plan to the state’s liquor control board.

Committee members asked how theaters would make sure minors aren’t passed alcohol in a dimly lit theater. Some theater owners testifying said they would beef up security or only serve alcohol at certain times, not allowing minors inside when alcohol is there.

An economic reform proposal by state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, received a public hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education. The legislation, House Bill 2170, would require schools to place a greater emphasis on student career paths that don’t necessarily require four-year degrees, such as technical degrees or trade apprenticeships. The premise: some students’ career aspirations won’t require a bachelor’s degree.

“We have to respect the dignity of all careers in our society,” Probst said while speaking during the Senate hearing on the bill. “The need is for many sets of skills across many different training and education pathways. So it also just makes economic sense.”

Several people showed up to testify in favor of the legislation; nobody testified against it.

Discipline of athletes

A Senate bill to require the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to lighten up on penalties to student athletes received a hearing on Friday in the House Committee on Education. The proposal, Senate Bill 6383, was sponsored by state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver. It would make pulling students from championship games the WIAA’s last option for penalizing students when the team’s violation was made by a coach, administrator or other adult.

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.

Those on the House Committee on Education will decide in the coming days whether to advance the bill to a vote by the entire House.

A bill prompted by the September 2010 shooting death of former Clark County Sheriff’s deputy Ed Owen’s son is scheduled to receive a public hearing on Monday. The proposal, Senate Bill 5697, would require more testing of locks on gun safes given to law enforcement officers for home use.

A proposal to allow the Department of Social and Health Services to forgive benefit overpayments to low-income clients when the mistake is caused by the department is scheduled to get a public hearing on Monday before the House Committee on Early Learning and Human Services. Senate Bill 6508 is sponsored by state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancovuer, and it was prompted by the case of a Vancouver single mother who was overpaid $3,000 by the department.

A bill by state Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center to create a $5,000 fine for harming a police dog and a $10,000 fine for killing a police dog is scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Judiciary. The legislation, House Bill 2191, also would remove police dogs from vicious animal statutes.

A bill by Moeller to create a so-called “Yellow Dot” program for disabled drivers will receive a hearing on Monday in the Senate Committee on Transportation. The proposal, House Bill 2280, would allow drivers with disabilities to put a yellow sticker on their car window alerting emergency responders to check the glove box for helpful information, such as a list of the driver’s medications.

Several bills did not make it out of their house of origin by the Feb. 14 cutoff deadline. Those include:

• Senate Bill 6061 to make Oregonians pay some retail sales tax in Washington by creating a limited tax refund program for out-of-state shoppers;

• Senate Bill 6378 to enroll only incoming teachers, classified school staff, some law enforcement staff, and local and state government employees in a retirement plan that partially resembles a 401(k) plan;

• Senate Bill 6294 to help homeowners’ associations facing attendance problems because of home foreclosures; and

• Senate Bill 6089 to make automated campaign robocalls disclose their sponsors.

If a bill doesn’t make a cutoff deadline, it doesn’t necessarily mean the bill is dead. Bills that lawmakers deem necessary to figure out the budget are exempt from cutoff dates, and language from a dead bill can be amended onto a surviving piece of legislation.

State lawmakers also will be busy this week discussing budget plans. Republicans unveiled their proposal on Friday, and Democrats are expected to reveal their plan early this week.

Stevie Mathieu:360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics.