Friday, January 26, 2007

More commentary about bills in Olympia

There's still a lot going on in Olympia. Here are some comments on the bills that caught my eye on Friday, January 26th. Standard disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, I haven't read the text of each of these bills, and I only do this when I have time. Take my comments as coming from one person in the grassroots.

House Bill 1510 (Providing for the community reinvestment of oil windfall profits.):

Introduced by Rep. Bob Hasegawa on January 22, 2007, to create a state windfall profits tax. Tax rates would range from 10% for gasoline selling for $1.75 per gallon to 30% for gasoline selling for $2.75 or more. Oil companies would not be subject to a windfall profits tax for gasoline priced below $1.75 per gallon. The tax is designed to force oil companies to set gasoline prices at historically reasonable levels. Revenues generated from a windfall profits tax would be used to partially offset the adverse effects of high gasoline prices. The revenue would provide additional funding for public goods and services that are linked to the current costs of energy and the development of renewable in-state energy resources.

Details and Comments:

This bill caught my eye because it opens the door to something like the Alaska Permanent Fund, which is something that I would like to encourage. Maybe not from oil taxes, since the oil doesn't come from Washington State resources, but the financial infrastructure should be established for something like this.

House Bill 1511 (Modifying the business and occupation taxation of investment income received by corporations.):

Introduced by Rep. Bob Hasegawa on January 22, 2007, to modify the business and occupation tax on investment income received by corporations. The bill repeals the B&O tax credit for moneys derived as dividends or distributions from the capital account by a parent from its subsidiary entities, and moneys derived from interest on loans between subsidiary entities and a parent entity or between subsidiaries of a common parent entity. The exemption would only apply if the total investment and loan income is less than 5% of gross receipts of the business annually.

Details and Comments:

This is in the "step in the right direction" department. Washington is the only state to have a B&O tax, and it should be eliminated entirely. But with all of our major party leaders in the House (read Frank) running as fast and as far away from the political nuke of real tax reform, we'll have to see what we can get to work.

House Bill 1516 (Providing business and occupation tax exemptions for new small businesses.):

Introduced by Rep. Dan Roach on January 22, 2007, to create a business and occupation (B&O) tax exemption for new businesses. All new businesses would be exempt from B&O taxation for the first year of operation. Small businesses with 25 or less employees would be exempt from 100% B&O taxation for the first 2 years, 75% for year 3, 50% for year 4, and 25% for year 5. After five years of operation, the small business would be required to pay full B&O taxes.

Details and Comments:

Hmmm. B&O taxes are really small for retail, and I know it varies from industry to industry. I wonder if it would be effective to identify specific types of businesses that we want to encourage, and give them a larger exemption or rebate. If someone starts a new oil refinery, do we really want them exempt from B&O taxes for two years? I wouldn't. But if someone wants to start a business tutoring kids to improve their ability to reach their potential, I wouldn't ever want to charge them B&O taxes.

House Bill 1523 (Modifying voluntary green power program provisions.):

Introduced by Rep. Maralyn Chase on January 22, 2007, to modify provisions regarding green power programs. The bill would require electric utilities to provide their customers the option of purchasing energy from alternative energy resources owned or produced in the state of Washington. The bill would also add energy produced from biogas, manure digesters, or landfills as a “qualified alternative energy resource”.

Details and Comments:

Interesting language in this summary. I'd love to know if some utilities actually deny people permission to generate their own power to feed into the grid. It's a slightly different topic, I know, but it reaches the same goal of increased independence. I would support this one.

House Bill 1629 (Increasing the qualifying income thresholds for property tax exemptions for senior citizens, persons retired because of physical disability, and veterans.):

Introduced by Rep. John Ahern on January 24, 2007, to amend property tax exemptions for seniors, retired citizens due to disability and veterans by expanding certain income qualifications. The bill changes the tax exemption for qualifying citizens from thirty-five to forty thousand dollars of income a year. The bill also discusses other income and property valuation conditions necessary to receive the exemption.

Details and Comments:

A couple of questions on this one. When was the 35K exemption established, and has it kept up with the rising housing prices and property taxes? Obviously not, because we are looking to raise it, However, sticking pins in a graph seems inefficient to me. I'd like to see something in the bill that either requires a review of the tax rates every few years, or sets the exemption to an income or property tax level. I think we already have the periodic review happening, but if we can pin Minimum Wage to inflation, why can't we pin a property taxe exemption to the overall rise and fall of the housing market?

House Bill 1632 (Changing the number of seats in the state legislature.):

Introduced by Rep. Dan Roach on January 24, 2007, to amend the current number of seats in the legislature based on the federal decennial census from forty-nine legislative districts to thirty-three senate districts. The bill would also provide for three house districts within each senate district. The bill also states each house district would comprise one-third of the population of the
senate district for a total of ninety-nine house districts.

Details and Comments:

This is in the "It Takes Guts" department. I'm glad he's presenting the idea, as we should be having a good debate about our electoral world, but this will never fly. If we're going to do this, why not just do proportional representation like Krist Novoselic would like to see us do.

House Bill 1634 (Expanding high school mathematics instruction and instructional capacity.):

Introduced by Rep. Dan Roach on January 24, 2007, to enhance math instruction and capacities by increasing the requirements for graduation. The bill amends the law for high school classes in fall 2007. The bill requires three years of math, including a minimum of one year of math curriculum that exceeds the Washington assessment of student learning for graduation.

Details and Comments:

More tests, higher requirements, and another unfunded mandate. I haven't read the bill, so maybe he has some source for the money this would take, but I doubt it.

House Bill 1638 (Providing tax incentives for employer provided health care.):

Introduced by Rep. Bill Hinkle on January 24, 2007, to amend current law by allowing small employers a tax incentive if they provide health care. The bill allows employers to deduct taxes when health care services are provided to their employees. The bill also states that payments made by employees are not eligible for deduction.

Details and Comments:

This is almost a step in the right direction, but Single Payer would be so much easier, cheaper and better for the society. This bill isn't as bad and some out there, but it's still missing the big picture.

House Bill 1644 (Modifying health care eligibility provisions for part-time academic employees of community and technical colleges.):

Introduced by Rep. Phyllis Kenney on January 24, 2007, to amend current health care eligibility requirements for part-time technical college employees. The bill shortens the eligibility requirements in health care coverage for part-time technical college employees, from four to three quarters or three to two quarters, depending on certain related qualifications.

Details and Comments:

If we're not going to create Universal, this is a step in the right direction. I'd rathe go Universal and stop excluding anyone.

House Bill 1686 (Concerning parent and child health services provided by the department of health.):

Introduced by Rep. Lynn Kessler on January 25, 2007, to promote healthy birth outcomes and reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, by reaffirming the state’s commitment to encourage health plan coverage of family planning as an essential component of the health care system and to provide public health funding for preventive family planning services for women and men with family incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level. See companion SB 5585.

Details and Comments:

This looks like it should be part of the regular budget. Why isn't it?

House Bill 1695 (Restoring the business and occupation tax credit for high technology research and development spending.):

Introduced by Rep. Jim Dunn on January 25, 2007, to restore the business and occupation (B&O) tax credit for high technology research and development spending.

Details and Comments:

More spending on high tech research and development, using state universities. Yup, yup!! Let's keep more of our R&D work within the state.

House Bill 1696 (Facilitating the statewide initiative and referendum processes under Article II, section 1 of the state Constitution.):

Introduced by Rep. Joe McDermott on January 25, 2007, to create the Citizen Initiative Review Commission. The 12-member commission would convene panels of voters, demographically representative of the state as a whole, who would study and evaluate ballot measures through a quasi-legislative hearing process. The findings of the panel would be included in the voters' pamphlet.

Details and Comments:

Looks like someone read Tao of Democracy! There is a Senate bill as well, introduced by Sen. Eric Oemig

House Bill 1708 (Modifying the definition of criminal act.):

Introduced by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson on January 25, 2007, to modify the definition of a “criminal act.” The bill would remove language from the definition pertaining to terrorist acts, as defined in federal law, committed against Washington residents outside the U.S. See companion SB 5526.

Details and Comments:

This bill, which I had to read to get a clear picture of, removes the duplication of the Department of Redundancy Department. Terrorism is a crime. It's a special kind of crime, but it's still a crime and should be treated as such. Bravo, Mary Lou! Stick this in your pipe and smoke it, Gonzales!

House Bill 1711 (Creating an energy road map.):

Introduced by Rep. Maralyn Chase on January 25, 2007, to require the Washington State University energy program to conduct a study to create a Washington state energy efficiency program road map. The study must: (a) Evaluate the state's current efforts with respect to energy efficiency and conservation; (b) Evaluate the state's role in regional efforts to improve energy efficiency and conservation; (c) Evaluate the effectiveness of other jurisdictions with 6 established programs for funding energy efficiency and conservation; (d) Evaluate methods for funding energy efficiency and 8 conservation; (e) Evaluate funding sources for municipalities to promote energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy projects; (f) Identify areas where the state needs to increase energy efficiency and conservation; (g) Identify areas where the state could establish, expand, or fund efforts related to energy efficiency and conservation; (h) Identify methods and create recommended strategies to fund energy efficiency and conservation in areas where increased efforts are needed; and (i) Create the Washington state energy efficiency program road map containing recommended steps to be taken by the state, local governments, the Washington State University energy program, and other interested parties to establish, fund, and expand energy efficiency and conservation.

Details and Comments:

What, you mean actually figure out where we are, where we want to be, and the steps to get there? Hasn't the energy advocacy community already done this work? In Section 2.2, I would add the following potential participant: j. The general public. Otherwise, it's good. I wish they would have to report earlier than the end of 2008, however. As important as this study process is, we don't have time to waste on talking without action.

House Bill 1714 (Changing campaign contribution provisions.):

Introduced by Rep. Maralyn Chase on January 25, 2007, to modify campaign contributions laws. The bill would remove certain restrictions on contributions to candidates from political caucus committees. The bill would also increase the amount of money a county central committee could give to a political candidate.

Details and Comments:

I can't find the definition of a "political caucus committee". If anyone can find that in the RCW, please point me to the right page.

House Bill 1720 (Providing property tax relief for veterans of the armed forces.):

Introduced by Rep. Jim McCune on January 25, 2007, to amend tax exemptions for military veterans. A veteran with a combined disposable income of $70,000 per year or less would be exempt from some regular property taxes and all excess property taxes. See companion HB 1102.

Details and Comments:

Supporting our veterans is a basic tenant of citizenship in this country. I support this, and I'd like to hear arguments against it.

House Bill 1721 (Creating certified capital companies to promote economic development through investment in start-up and emerging businesses.):

Introduced by Rep. Pat Sullivan on January 25, 2007, to create certified capital companies. This bill is intended to assist small start-up enterprises to succeed in their business and to contribute to the future of Washington. See companion SB 5621.

Details and Comments:

I need to look at this more!

House Bill 1730 (Regarding the use of the life sciences discovery fund for human stem cell research.):

Introduced by Rep. Brian Sullivan on January 25, 2007, to allow the donation of human stem cells from any source for research purposes if the donor has provided written consent. The donor may not receive valuable consideration for the donation. The bill would also prohibit money from the Life Sciences Discovery Fund to be used for human embryonic stem cell research unless the stem cells were donated. However, such funding could not be used for donated stem cells for human cloning or to injure an embryo implanted in a uterus.

Details and Comments:

On the heels of California.

House Bill 1731 (Regarding reporting by lobbyists and lobbyists' employers.):

Introduced by Rep. Glenn Anderson on January 25, 2007, to require lobbyists and employers of lobbyists to electronically file mandatory political contribution reports. Currently, only political candidates or committees spending $10,000 or more per year are required to file reports electronically.

Details and Comments:

More information about lobbyist reporting can be found here: RCW 42.17.150 - 42.17.230

Senate Bill 5611 (Providing for a location endorsement to certain licenses for microbreweries and domestic breweries.):

Introduced by Sen. Ken Jacobsen on January 25, 2007, to allow a microbrewery holding either a spirits, beer, and wine restaurant license or a beer and/or wine license to apply to the Liquor Control Board for a location endorsement to either of these licenses to allow the microbrewery to open a second location. Each location endorsement would cost $1,000 per year.

Details and Comments:

Party on, Dude! With local brew, even!

Senate Bill 5614 (Creating incentives for community-based solar energy projects.):

Introduced by Sen. Phil Rockefeller on January 25, 2007, to provide that, for the purpose of calculating the annual incentive limit, community-based solar projects that are located on separate parcels of property, are not to be combined, as each project is individually eligible for incentives of up to $2,000 per year per project.

Details and Comments:

Anything with solar energy in the title gets my attention. However, can someone with realtor or similar experience explain this to me?

Senate Bill 5625 (Authorizing counties and cities to contract for jail services with counties and cities in adjacent states.):

Introduced by Sen. Jim Hargrove on January 25, 2007, to allow cities and counties to contract for jail services with adjacent cities or counties or adjacent states.

Details and Comments:

Adjacent cities or counties, maybe. I think that the community that produces criminals should be required to house those criminals regardless of where the crime was committed. If someone here in Seattle does something unacceptable, Seattle should bear at least part of the costs of their jail sentance. This would create incentives to encourage our kids NOT to become criminals in the first place.

Senate Bill 5626 (Requiring training for school directors.):

Introduced by Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe on January 25, 2007, to require certain training for school district board of directors. The legislature finds that school board directors are responsible for setting the vision for the school district, creating successful board and superintendent relations, understanding school law and finance, accounting for school and school district improvement, using data to make decisions, and advocating for public education in the community, regionally, and at the state level. Each member of a school district board of directors would be required to complete a minimum of 7 hours of training annually. The hours of training obtained by each member must be posted on the school district's web site.

Details and Comments:

Seattle is having a great deal of trouble, and everyone was watching what happened in Federal Way. Maybe it's time that School Board members got some training on how to do their job.

Senate Bill 5628 (Adopting the interstate agreement for the election of the president of the United States by national popular vote.):

Introduced by Sen. Eric Oemig on January 25, 2007, to create an interstate agreement regarding the election of the U.S. President. Currently, Presidents are elected by the Electoral College made up of electors from each state. Candidates need 270 of the 538 electoral votes to win the presidency. SB 5628 would pledge Washington’s 11 electoral votes to the winner of the nation-wide popular vote. However, this measure would only take effect if enough states possessing a majority of electoral votes adopt the same measure. The interstate agreement would guarantee the winner of the popular vote to be the next president effectively bypassing the Electoral College. See companion HB 1750.

Details and Comments:

Go Eric!!! Damn, I'm proud of that guy!!!

Senate Joint Resolution 8217 (Repealing a conflicting residency requirement for voting in a presidential election.):

Introduced by Sen. Michael Carrell on January 25, 2007, to remove Article VI, Section 1A from the Washington State Constitution. The article states, “In consideration of those citizens of the United States who become residents of the state of Washington during the year of a presidential election with the intention of making this state their permanent residence, this section is for the purpose of authorizing such persons who can meet all qualifications for voting as set forth in section 1 of this article, except for residence, to vote for presidential electors or for the office of President and Vice-President of the United States, as the case may be, but no other: Provided, That such persons have resided in the state at least sixty days immediately preceding the presidential election concerned. The legislature shall establish the time, manner and place for such persons to cast such presidential ballots.” This resolution would amend the state Constitution if approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of the voters in the next general election.

Details and Comments:

This is in the WTF department. Can someone tell me some background on what this is actually changing? If someone moves to the state in time for the residency requirements defined by the Secretary of State and the County Auditor, why are we limiting them to Presidential elections instead of helping to decide who their school board members are so their kids get an education, who their city and county council members are so they have a voice in how their property and sales tax dollars are spent, etc. I don't support this right now, based on the summary text. Somebody correct my misconceptions. Please.

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