Washington's legislators have absorbed a heavy barrage of criticism this year for numerous self-inflicted shortcomings, not the least of which was the failure to finish their job as scheduled and the inability to decide any meaningful plan on long-overdue transportation improvements.
Sunday, though, triggered the implementation of several new laws that positively impact the lives of ordinary Washingtonians. For example, your boss can no longer require you to "friend" him or her, or any company manager, on a social media account. It's easy to see why this tactic would be attempted by a supervisor who has no concern about individual privacy rights: By friending someone on social media, the door is opened for review of private lives. Employers don't belong there without invitation, and certainly not as a condition of employment.
This measure that took effect on Sunday passed 85-10 in the state House and 41-7 in the state Senate. The only Clark County legislator to oppose it was Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas. We would feel even better about the new law if it didn't contain one troubling provision. According to an Associated Press story, companies can request "content" of employee social-media sites during internal investigations, and that content could be opened if an employer suspects a worker may be leaking information. We recognize the definition of "social" in social media, but that door to society ought to be opened by the individual, not kicked open by the state government. We hope lawmakers correct this flaw next year.
Another new law enjoying its first week has a special impact in Clark County. Theaters are allowed to serve alcohol to patrons 21 and older after passing rigorous permitting and training requirements. This means the Kiggins Theatre on Main Street in Vancouver and the Liberty Theatre on Fourth Avenue in Camas have a better chance of staying in business because they can now compete with small pub-theaters in Portland that have been taking customers from this side of the river.
The alcohol-in-theaters bill passed 95-2 in the House and 48-0 in the Senate with support from all local legislators. The bill's prime sponsor, state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, on Sunday used an online comment on columbian.com to express one lingering concern: "The devil is in the details but it appears that the Liquor Control Board is still debating the 'rules' for letting small theaters like the Kiggins to start selling wine and beer," Moeller wrote. "I'll see what I and a few reps can do to light a fire under this agency and get this done ASAP!"
Sunday also marked the first day for another great new bill: People who were wrongfully convicted of a crime may file for damages against the state. Former Clark County resident Alan Northrop — who served 17 years in prison on a 1993 rape conviction but was cleared by DNA evidence — offered compelling testimonial for the bill that passed 95-2 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Among possible settlements available to claimants are $50,000 for each year of imprisonment, plus $50,000 for each year on death row.
These new laws help shine a positive light on the 2013 legislative session.