In Our View: New Laws in 2012

Legislators last year found three ways to improve state regulations

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The first four days of 2012 brought no monumental changes in the way Washingtonians collectively go about our daily lives. The Seahawks didn’t win the Super Bowl, and the Mariners didn’t win the World Series … although we understand that many of our feathered friends in this region are toasting some kind of conquest in Pasadena, Calif., that had not occurred in 95 years.

On a lesser but still significant scale, life in our state changed on Sunday in ways determined by the Legislature. And even with no roses clenched in our teeth, we can toast three relatively minor changes: The August primary this year will be two weeks earlier than has been the case, voters will have more information about campaign contributions, and the state’s workers’ compensation system has been made more efficient. Here’s why these three changes matter:

This year’s primary will occur on Aug. 7 after lawmakers moved it from the third to the first Tuesday of the month. Previously, the state was on the brink of violating federal law that requires ballots be sent to military and overseas voters 45 days before elections. In our state, the mailings were made 30 days before elections, but the state obtained a waiver from the feds because our votes are counted for three weeks after elections.

That waiver was temporary, and now Washington will be in compliance with the requirement. We also like the fact that voters will have two more weeks to assess candidates who advance from the primary to the general election (Nov. 6 this year). Here’s a related change: Legislators also moved candidate filing periods to earlier in the year. This year, candidates can file for office from May 14 through May 18. (Previously, filings had been in early June).

As we’ve editorialized before, Washington’s top two primary has evolved into one of the best-run systems in the country, with control shifting from political parties to the people. This year’s change makes it even better.

Thanks largely to the leadership of state Sen. Craig Pridemore, transparency has been increased in political campaigns. Pridemore sponsored a bill (strengthening contribution reporting requirements) that not only won near-unanimous approval in the Legislature but drew support from conservative groups such as the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Association of Washington Business, as well as liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington State Labor Council.

The bill requires that names of political action committees include their sponsors, and the dollar thresholds for reporting contributions have been lowered. Tougher penalties also are in effect.

These changes are largely the result of the infamous Moxie Media scandal of 2010 in which the firm obscured operations behind multiple layers of political committees. Last month, the firm and its partners agreed to pay a $250,000 fine and $40,000 in legal fees, subject to suspension of $140,000 of the penalty if they comply with campaign laws through 2015.

Last year, lawmakers ventured into the complicated arena of workers’ compensation and settled on several modifications, one of which could lead to significant savings by the state, perhaps more than $1 billion over four years. The state or employers are now allowed to offer limited settlements to workers.

We often criticize legislators for foot-dragging or gridlocking, but in each of these three cases, their work was commendable.