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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County lawmakers see mixed success with policy bills so far

By Jake Thomas, Columbian political reporter
Published: February 26, 2019, 6:02am

The way the current legislative session is shaping up, it may soon be legal to go hunting wearing fluorescent pink, but Sasquatch is unlikely to become the official cryptid of Washington.

As the Legislature steadily moves closer to its April 28 adjournment date, the more than 2,500 bills introduced this session faced their first test. Friday was the last day of the session for policy bills to pass out of their committee of origin, with exceptions for some financial and transportation-oriented legislation.

Clark County lawmakers saw some of their bills stall, while others have passed the first cutoff and are on their way to becoming law. Last week, the House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, to raise the state’s smoking and vaping age to 21. A bill sponsored by Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, that would allow hunters to don fluorescent pink instead fluorescent orange passed the Senate. Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, saw her bill delinking test requirements from graduation also make the cutoff. Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, has used her position as chair of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee to advance numerous bills.

Other bills haven’t fared as well. Another bill sponsored by Stonier that would allow school districts to issue bonds with a simple majority of voters rather than 60 percent remains in committee. As has a bill sponsored again by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, to designate Sasquatch as the state’s official cryptid.

Here’s a look at how some other bills have fared.

Two bridge bills

For a second time, Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, sponsored a bill to lay the groundwork for a third bridge connecting Southwest Washington to Oregon. Since being introduced earlier this month, her current bill hasn’t even had a hearing.

Kraft remains the only member of Clark County’s legislative delegation pursuing a third bridge. The remainder of the delegation supports working with Oregon to replace the antiquated Interstate 5 Bridge, an approach that has support beyond Clark County.

Gov. Jay Inslee has included $17.5 million in his proposed budget for an office for the I-5 Bridge replacement project. Last week, Sen. Steve Hobbs, a Lake Stevens Democrat who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, released Forward Washington, a 10-year plan to invest in infrastructure and environmentally friendly technology projects. At the top of the plan is $3.17 billion for the replacement of the I-5 Bridge.

Clark County lawmakers have sponsored House and Senate bills that would allow the Washington State Department of Transportation to designate qualified projects as being of “statewide significance.” Projects with this designation would be assigned a coordinator to expedite their planning, permitting and development.

Sponsors of these bills, which include Sen. Annette Cleveland and Rep. Sharon Wylie (both Vancouver Democrats), have said that the designation could hasten the I-5 Bridge replacement. While neither bill has passed out of committee, they’re both still viable because the cutoff is extended for transportation committees.

The House version of the bill is scheduled for a vote in the House Transportation Committee on Thursday, the last day it can pass out of committee.

Vaccine bills

Amid an outbreak of measles in Clark County, area lawmakers have sponsored legislation that would make it harder for parents to opt out of the state’s vaccination requirements.

Washington is among 17 states that allow parents to exempt their children from vaccinations on personal or philosophical grounds. Cleveland has sponsored Senate Bill 5841 that would do away with this exemption.

The bill passed out of Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee on Friday. Reps. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, have sponsored House Bill 1638, a narrower bill that would remove the personal exemption for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The bill passed out of committee on Feb. 15.

Cannabis bills

Two cannabis-related bills sponsored by Sen. Ann Rivers, La-Center, have advanced this session.

Senate Bill 5298 was crafted in response to recent state regulations that would prevent cannabis companies from making claims about the “curative or therapeutic effects” of their products. The regulations had some companies worried that consumers wouldn’t have enough information and their business would be hurt. The bill would allow cannabis companies to use words such as “healing,” “relief,” “restorative” and “wellness” on the packaging of their products to better describe their effects.

Rivers also saw Senate Bill 5318 advance. The bill is intended to reform how the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board enforces existing laws to make regulation less punitive for cannabis companies.

Port elections

A bill sponsored by Wylie that would limit campaign contributions in port district elections passed out of the House Committee on State Government and Tribal Relations on Feb. 8.

Wylie sponsored similar legislation last session in response the 2017 election for Port of Vancouver commission that became one of the most expensive in state history after oil and environmental interests poured over $1 million into the race. However, the bill stalled.

Current law caps contributions at $1 per registered voter in port districts with more than 200,000 voters, which only applies to the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma. The bill would extend the cap to all port districts.

Sex trafficking bills

During the session, Kraft has made combating sex trafficking a priority and has had some success. One of her bills, House Bill 1082, would require massage therapists and reflexologists to have state ID that matches their certification. The bill, which passed out of committee earlier this month, is meant to give law enforcement another tool to crack down on massage parlors serving as prostitution fronts.

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House Bill 1836, another bill sponsored by Kraft, would set a $5,000 minimum fine for individuals convicted of sexual exploitation of children and passed out of committee last week.

Kraft also sponsored House Bill 2088, a bill that would expand the definition of indecent exposure to individuals who expose themselves or make the obscene expression in restrooms. The bill specifically mentions “biological male(s)” and “biological female(s)” who enter restrooms that don’t correspond with their gender. The bill did not receive a hearing.

Republican bills

Before the start of the session, Republican members of Clark County’s Republican delegation indicated that they would pursue narrowly tailored bills aimed at specific issues after Democrats expanded their legislative majorities.

Wilson has moved bills that would exempt feminine hygiene products from the state’s sales tax, allow victims of domestic violence to better monitor perpetrators, allow community colleges to employ their own security personnel, index decisions made by a state land-use panel and another intended to get drivers with out-of-state license plates to register their vehicles in Washington.

Rivers has also moved bills that would increase the penalties for harming police animals, make diaper sales tax-free, provide better protection for diabetics from health risks posed by manicures and others.

First-term Rep. Larry Hoff, R-Vancouver, saw his bill to create a short-form death certificate move out of committee. Hoff also saw a bill that would modernize the state’s licensing system pass the House unanimously.

Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, saw a bill broadening the definition of a certified public accountant pass the House. Another bill sponsored by Vick would allow local government to invest in long-term funds administered by the state treasurer passed out of committee. He also co-sponsored a bill with Stonier intended to broaden screenings for highly capable students that passed out of committee.

Columbian political reporter