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Party Timing 

As the Washington State Legislature reaches its halfway point, a look at which bills are still raging and which have passed out in the corner.

February 25 was the last day that bills in the Washington State Legislature could be read in their committee of origin. In other words, if a senator or representative’s piece of legislation hadn’t gotten its first sign-off and been moved down the line, it was dead. And while legislators are still waist-deep in the difficult process of bridging the state’s historic, now-$8-billion budget shortfall, they took time off last week to make sure their pet projects made it past the session’s first big hurdle.

Here’s a look at some of the bills that are still kicking and a few that quietly passed out in the corner.

STILL RAGING

The Other BPA
Not the Bonneville Power Administration, but bisphenol A, a chemical that used to be found in the clear plastic Nalgene bottles so prevalent among outdoorsy types and American students abroad. The chemical is thought to have reproductive and developmental side effects. Bills aimed at banning BPA in sport bottles and baby bottles by July of next year have cleared the necessary hurdles in both chambers of the Legislature. Their opponents say the health risks are inconclusive. Supporters say it’s a no-brainer.

Cap and Trade
This isn’t the collectors’ memorabilia swap you’re thinking of. The proposal would put a cap on emissions and then allow polluters to trade off their allotment of pollution. President Obama should get serious about a similar proposal soon, but the local version will probably be a focal point in the second half of the legislative session.

Live/Work/Ride the Bus
In an article on Crosscut, Seattle Neighborhood Coalition leader Kent Kammerer practically predicts this bill will turn your city into a haven for delinquents and rapists. Its supporters, he says, see something more akin to a Rick Steves travelogue: “couples walking down quaint little streets, dining in sidewalk cafes. The smell of fresh baked bread … in the air.” The bill would significantly change policies surrounding development, transportation, affordable housing and the environment to encourage dense, urban growth around transit lines and train stations. One Republican aide The Inlander spoke to gasped, “It puts parameters on what people can drive!” (But then so do oil prices.)

Toga! Toga!
House Bill 1462 would make it legal for wine and beer specialty shops to carry big kegs of malt liquor. Before, they were only allowed to stock containers of 5.5 gallons or less, which is about a third of a full-sized keg (and roughly a quarter of a party).

Everything But Marriage
Washington has already granted certain rights to domestic partners, including visitation rights and power of attorney, but two bills have made the halfway point that throw in everything but the wedding dress itself. “It is the intent of the Legislature,” the summary for Senate Bill 5688 reads, “that for all purposes under state law, state-registered domestic partners must be treated the same as married spouses.” The bill even makes the terms “husband” and “wife” gender neutral.

Check-Into-Cash Check
A whole host of bills this session has targeted the payday loan industry, which, critics says, traps borrowers in a cycle of skyrocketing interest and multiplying debt. With more than $1.5 billion in loans issued in 2007 (resulting in $194.5 million in fees to lenders), it’s a formidable industry. And while bills have ranged in the severity of their criticism (and regulations), the solution gathering steam involves capping the amount you can borrow to 30 percent of your monthly income, creating a database of borrowers’ debt and making it illegal for lenders to show up at your work with a tire iron and an attitude.

The Tropic Thunder Rule
No more calling it “mental retardation.” Under a House bill, the term “intellectual disability” would be used in all future state laws. (We’re looking at you, Mr. Downey, Jr.)

Pet Sounds
Sen. Ken Jacobsen’s bill allowing dogs in bars was shot down again this year, but a proposal to allow Master to be buried with Fido passed its committee in late January. (It’s apparently illegal now.) Thankfully, the committee changed the definition of “pet remains” from the slightly gross “body of a deceased cat or dog in any state of decomposition” to “the body of a deceased cat or dog in cremated disposition.” Still, no love for pet turtles, hawks or alligators?

Another bill, which would expand domestic violence protection orders to include pets (not just the victim and his/her possessions), has already leap-frogged from the House to the Senate. (And this one is vague enough to include the above-maligned companions.)

The Cotlet Debacle
Despite vehement objections from this paper, The Stranger and state Senator Chris Marr (D-Spokane), the proposal to name Aplets and Cotlets as Washington’s official state candy continues to have legs. Idiots.

The Three-Foot Rule
House Bill 1491 would require that motorists give cyclists a three-foot berth when passing them on the road. It also allows motorists to cross the centerline to do so. Great idea. Still, cyclists aren’t holding their breath that motorists will carry a copy of the RCWs in the car with them.

High on Responsibility
Ever feel like you probably should take your buddy to the ER after a long night of drinking, dancing and shooting yourself full of ketamine, but you were afraid you’d get busted in the process? We have, too. Fortunately, there’s a bill working through the Legislature that would mean you can’t be prosecuted under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act for seeking medical help for your friend, or yourself.


Free Weed
As we reported last month, lawmakers are considering a bill that would knock possession of less than 40 grams of pot down from a misdemeanor to a class 2 civil infraction, with no jail time and a $100 penalty. The bill has passed out of the Judiciary committee.

BLACKED OUT

Say No to Studs
In his bid to completely ban studded tires from Washington’s roadways, Sen. Chris Marr wisely pointed out that studs cause some $18 million of damage a year and only help in about 1 percent of driving conditions. But that’s a hard number for west-siders to really feel. Marr might’ve been wiser to invite Olympia to Spokane for a Sunday drive/obstacle course race.

The Corridors of Power
We quote The Stranger: “Representative Tami Green (D-28) was all ready to crack down on the dark, seedy world of unregulated colon hydrotherapy, but our ailing state economy may have given back-alley enemists a stay of execution.” Apparently lawmakers are too busy gutting the budget to stomach your colon. The bill never made it past a first reading.

On a Related Note
Apparently, it’s legal to poop on a bus. Because HB 1606 died in committee, it still is.

Newspaper Bailout
Four different bills during this session considered bailing out state newspapers by reducing their business and occupation tax burden. Despite the Seattle P-I’s imminent closure, the bills went nowhere. This, at a time when many newspapers — in Washington and elsewhere — are struggling to find a business model that would allow them to continue to print.

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