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Monday, February 26, 2024
Feb. 26, 2024

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Camden: Lawmakers’ time taken up by ‘First World Problems’


Early February is usually my favorite time of a long legislative session.

No matter how pressing the state’s problems might be on issues like educating kids, keeping the colleges running, and finding space for the mentally ill that doesn’t involve a handcuff, a gurney and an emergency room hallway, there’s always time for less weighty subjects.

Call them First World Problems, which is actually a hashtag-able topic on social media.

For example: How many tasting rooms should Washington wineries have? Current law says two, but a proposal before a Senate committee last week said that should be four, to better extol the goodness of the state’s fruit of the vine. Why four, asked Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma. Well, Oregon wineries get three, he was told.

“Washington wine is better than Oregon wine. They can have three tasting rooms and we can have four,” Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, explained. Take that, Willamette Valley pinots.

Or a bill recognizing the fourth Saturday in July as the National Day of the Cowboy, which another Senate committee took up. The hearing revealed – maybe you knew, I sure didn’t – that cowboy is gender-neutral and refers to both male and female cowpersons. Both deserve recognition because of their legendary integrity, said supporters, who brought honorary headgear for Government Operations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.

The House State Government Committee took up an issue that annoys a sizable chunk of us two days a year, the switch between standard and daylight saving time. There’s a bill to keep the state on standard time year-round, and a resolution aimed at keeping us on saving time.

Rep. Elizabeth Scott, R-Monroe, offered perhaps the quintessential First World Problems defense of her standard time bill, albeit with a smile: “It’s still a hassle to change all the clocks. … It’s a hassle for pet owners whose pets wake them up an hour early. I hear that milk cows are particularly annoyed.”

Sometimes the genesis of these bills is clear. The wine industry in Washington is only getting bigger, and increasing size usually means an increasing wish list. Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, is the prime sponsor of cowboy recognition day, and the gathering is in her district.

The “my constituents urged me to do this” explanation comes up a lot this time of year. The year-round standard time bill, Scott said, was suggested by a few constituents – presumably at least one dairy farmer among them – unless cows in her district have taken to writing their legislator between milkings.

Why are legislators talking about cowboys and tasting rooms and clock changes? One reason is they are waiting for the latest projections on how much money the state expects to collect in taxes and fees before deciding how to spend that money over the next two years.

Right now, that estimate isn’t due until March, but there are proposals to move it up to February, which would add fuel to the budget debate. Now there’s an issue with some serious heft that almost everyone could get behind. Except maybe Scott’s annoyed bovines.

Say what?

“Forest fires in the state are considered a public nuisance,” said Peter Clodfelter, a member of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources staff, introducing bills on changing wildfire policy in the wake of the Carlton Complex fires. Possibly the biggest understatement of the week.

“We are ready and willing to put our faith in the Legislature to set tuition,” Jordan Martin of the Associated Students of Eastern Washington University told a House committee during testimony on a bill to take tuition authority away from the schools. “That might be the only time in this session that anyone said they’re ready and willing to put their faith in the Legislature,” replied Chairman Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island. “So thanks for that.”