Sharp resigns from Kent City Council due to pending theft charges
Ken Sharp has resigned from the Kent City Council just two weeks into his first term because of what he said were “pending legal issues I fear will become too distracting for my fellow council members, for the mayor and for city staff.” Sharp, 66, won the November election and took an oath of office Jan. 7 under the shadow of looming first-degree theft charges. He faces seven counts of first-degree theft for reportedly stealing $297,500 from his 93-year-old mother’s bank account and putting the money into his account. If convicted as charged, Sharp faces a prison sentence of 22 to 29 months. If convicted, he would have been forced to give up his council seat. Sharp pleaded not guilty to the charges Aug. 29. Sharp, who owns Minuteman Press in Kent, defeated Bailey Stober in the November council race by 272 votes. He beat Stober and Barbara Phillips in the Aug. 6 primary. Sharp replaced Elizabeth Albertson on the council after she decided not to seek re-election. Kent Reporter, 1-16-14.
Highway 99 tunnel contractor objects to state’s criticism
Seattle Tunnel Partners project director Chris Dixon expressed surprise Thursday that after a longtime good working relationship, the state is suddenly blaming its contractors for difficulties with the Highway 99 tunnel project. Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson set a harsh tone in two recent public statements. The first was an announcement Monday morning that Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) was in “breach of contract” for setting barriers to small businesses owned by women and minorities, based on a federal civil-rights investigation last fall. Among other findings, the feds also accused the state Department of Transportation (DOT) of failing to provide oversight. The second, a memo emailed to lawmakers Wednesday, said that “WSDOT has had concerns about the machine’s operations and critical systems since its launch on July 30, 2013.” Dixon replied Thursday, in a letter sent to lawmakers and other state officials, that DOT’s actions have the potential to “adversely affect WSDOT’s and STP’s ability to move forward together to deliver this project.” Seattle Times, 1-16-14.
Will minimum wage hike cause job loss? A leading economist finds ‘very little evidence’
Reacting to Governor Jay Inslee’s call this week to increase the state minimum wage, Republicans had a predictable response. “More people will lose jobs,” Sen. Linda Evans Parlette (R-12) told the Seattle Times. It’s the same response conservatives and other skeptics of raising the minimum wage had when faced with SeaTac’s Proposition 1, which passed in November and set the wage floor at $15-an-hour for certain workers serving the airport. Likewise, when asked last week about the $15 movement in Seattle, state Washington Republican Party chair Susan Hutchison said her main concern was unemployment. Twenty or 25 years ago, most economists would have agreed with that concern, asserts Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts at Amherst economist and a leading researcher on the minimum wage. But their convictions were based on what Dube calls “shallow data.” Dube, with fellow economists T. William Lester and Michael Reich, looked at minimum wage differentials in bordering jurisdictions over a period of two decades. Their conclusion, Dube says: “There is very little evidence of job loss.” Seattle Weekly, 1-16-14.
State attorney general says local pot bans legal
A legal opinion released Thursday could open the way for a patchwork of access to marijuana across Washington. Cities such as Seattle and Tacoma are creating zones where state-licensed pot growers and sellers can locate. But places such as unincorporated Pierce County and Lakewood are placing de facto bans on marijuana. That arrangement can stand, according to the legal reasoning in a formal opinion by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office. The Democrat said local communities can ban recreational marijuana businesses from locating within their jurisdictions. The upshot: A marijuana business could receive a license from the state Liquor Control Board, only to be denied the local business license or other permitting it needs to open. A court may have the last word–if a business licensed under Initiative 502 sues a city or county that shuts it out. Tacoma News Tribune, 1-16-14.
McAuliffe introduces plan for class size reduction
Last week, the Washington State Supreme Court instructed the Legislature to develop a detailed plan for fully funding K-12 education under the McCleary decision. This week, Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D-1), responded to that call for action with SB 6108, which would detail a plan to implement class size reduction for grades K-3, as required by the Supreme Court. “We know smaller class sizes are key for closing the opportunity gap for struggling children and will help students graduate ready for college or a career,” said McAuliffe. “The root of our opportunity gap is evident when we look at the results in math and literacy for disadvantaged kids entering kindergarten. Our littlest learners who struggle need small class sizes to provide them with the individual academic support that they need to succeed.” For school districts that cannot pass capital bonds, the bill would set up a capital budget grant program to appropriate money for school construction to help alleviate capacity pressure. Bothell Reporter, 1-16-14.
Lawmaker wants to prevent criminals from suing their victims
A Tacoma lawmaker thinks convicted criminals should have to get permission from a judge before suing a victim of their crimes. A bill sponsored by Rep. David Sawyer (D-29) would require offenders convicted of a serious violent offense to obtain a judge’s permission before commencing civil action against their victims. HB 2102 would also require a convicted offender to get court approval before suing victims’ family members. Sawyer said the legislation was prompted by a murder in his district. Paula Henry’s husband Robert was shot and killed by Larry Shandola in 1995 in a Tacoma parking lot. Shandola was not convicted of the crime until 2001. Last year, Henry was served with a civil lawsuit by Shandola, who is currently imprisoned for the crime. Shandola contends that Henry inflicted emotional distress when she told Department of Corrections officials that Shandola should not be able to move to a prison in his native Canada. Henry testified that the lawsuit—which she described as “being sued by the person who blew my husband’s head off”—was the culmination of years of harassment from Shandola. “It’s ruined my life, ruined a great career,” she told committee members. “Please don’t let people live in the fear I do.” Olympian, 1-16-14.
Clark County Democrats ask Inslee to stand with them on CRC
Gov. Jay Inslee should veto any state transportation package that doesn’t include $450 million for the Columbia River Crossing project, Clark County Democrats said in a resolution the local party passed Monday night. The idea was brought forward by Precinct Committee Officer Ed Barnes, who previously served as a commissioner on the Washington State Transportation Commission, Clark County Democratic Party chairman Mike Heywood said. While on the commission, Barnes worked on what’s now the CRC project, which would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge and bring Portland’s light rail to Vancouver. Inslee, a Democrat, was an outspoken supporter of the CRC during the 2013 legislative session. He asked state lawmakers to approve a nearly $10 billion transportation package that would have raised the gas tax by more than 10 cents a gallon and also would have committed Washington’s $450 million share toward the CRC. The tax package stalled, however. Now Inslee and state lawmakers are negotiating a different version of the package that excludes the CRC. Barnes told his fellow Democrats this week that they need to ask the governor to continue his support of the project. Columbian, 1-15-14.
A high-profile Senate tussle — Isenhower takes on Hill in 45th
A former surface warfare officer in the Navy, who once tracked Somali pirates, is drawing a bead on the Republicans’ chief budget writer in the state Senate. Matt Isenhower, 33, who works as a senior product manager with Amazon.com, said Wednesday that he will run as a Democrat against Sen. Andy Hill (R-45). The Eastside constituency includes Redmond, Duvall, Woodinville, part of Kirkland, and Carnation. Isenhower commutes daily via Metro bus and van pool from Redmond to his Amazon job in Seattle. He is sharply critical of the Senate coalition for failing to write a state transportation bill that would help King County’s beleaguered bus system. “The Senate’s total inaction on transportation speaks volumes,” he said. “Andy Hill has not stood up for his district.” If the Legislature fails to act, Isenhower would support the Metro rescue plan put forward Tuesday by King County Executive Dow Constantine. In Isenhower’s view, Republicans running the Senate have failed to understand that mass transit is a necessary investment. Seattle P-I, 1-15-14.
Liias certain to succeed Shin; who will follow Liias?
There is no mystery which Democrat will succeed Sen. Paull Shin in the state Senate. Rep. Marko Liias (D-21) has been the only person seeking the vacancy created when Shin resigned Jan. 7 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Liias is expected to be formally nominated Saturday by Democratic precinct committee officers in the 21st Legislative District and officially appointed Tuesday by the Snohomish County Council. While there’s an absence of intrigue for the Senate appointment, there is a bit of suspense surrounding the selection of a successor to Liias. Three people are seeking the House appointment: Lillian Ortiz-Self, Susan Phillips, and Darrell Chapman. Under state law, their names will be forwarded to the Snohomish County Council for consideration. Democrats must decide Saturday who will be their first, second, and third choices to represent the district, which includes Mukilteo, Edmonds, Lynnwood, and south Everett. Ortiz-Self, of Mukilteo, is the odds-on favorite to garner the most votes. She’s been campaigning for the seat since October. That’s when Shin first announced he intended to retire at the end of 2014 and Liias declared he’d run for the seat. Everett Herald, 1-16-14.
Tri-City judge Sal Mendoza Jr. nominated to federal judgeship
The newest judge on the Benton-Franklin Superior Court bench appears to be a short-timer after his nomination Thursday for a federal judgeship. Sal Mendoza Jr. was nominated by President Barack Obama for a lifetime appointment to U.S. District Court. Mendoza, of Kennewick, became the first Latino judge in the bi-county judicial system when he was sworn in last May. The former lawyer had been appointed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to fill a Superior Court seat left empty after Judge Craig Matheson’s retirement. The list of judicial nominations, released by the White House press office, will be sent to the Senate for confirmation hearings. Tri-City Herald, 1-16-14.
Murray asks $750M tuition aid for undocumented, poor students
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray is proposing to earmark $750 million over 10 years to entice all states to make college more affordable for tens of thousands of poor high school graduates, including undocumented, each year. The Washington Democrat Thursday introduced a bill that would financially reward Washington and 18 other states that already offer in-state tuition or financial aid to students regardless of immigration status. It also would offer incentives for the remaining 31 states to drop legal status as a condition for lower tuition or student aid. The so-called IN-STATE for Dreamers Act of 2014 would be paid for with higher fees on F-1 student visa fees collected from international students who study in the United States. Washington state has offered in-state tuition for undocumented students, with certain conditions, since 2003. But students who came to the United States illegally are not eligible for the State Need Grant, which helps poorest students afford undergraduate education. Seattle Times, 1-16-14.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) announces plans to retire
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a doctor and outspoken fiscal conservative, said late Thursday that he will step down after the current congressional session ends early next year. Coburn has been suffering from a recurrence of prostate cancer and has hinted privately to reporters and in a published interview last week that his health troubles might force him to leave office before his current term expires in early 2017. He had already announced that he would not run for reelection, meaning his decision will have him exit two years sooner than previously planned. For most of the past 20 years, Coburn has represented the ideological moral high ground for conservatives. Believing in the role of a “citizen legislator,” he imposed a three-term limit on his House service, and unlike many of his fellow classmates from the 1994 elections, he lived up to his pledge and left Congress after the 2000 elections. After Sen. Don Nickles announced his retirement in 2004, Coburn won that seat while pledging to serve just two six-year terms. Washington Post, 1-16-14.
Former RNC chair Ed Gillespie makes Senate campaign official
Ed Gillespie formally jumped into the Republican primary to defeat Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) Thursday, unveiling his candidacy with a new campaign website and video. In the video, the former Republican National Committee Chairman touts his family’s history immigrating to the United States from Ireland. Prior to announcing his run, Gillespie’s old consulting website was interestingly scrubbed of clips featuring his support for comprehensive immigration reform. “I’m running for Senate because the American dream is being undermined by policies that move us away from constitutional principles of limited government and personal liberty,” he added. Talking Points Memo, 1-16-14.
McKeon (R-CA) cites gridlock in retiring from House
A tearful Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) Thursday singled out partisan gridlock as a motivating factor in his decision not to seek reelection this fall, a subtle rebuke of the far-right forces in the GOP pushing for cuts to federal spending even at the expense of the military. The House Armed Services Committee chairman, whose voice cracked as he vowed to press on in his fight to stave off reductions in Pentagon spending, has led the committee during a tumultuous time for the defense establishment, which has seen its power on Capitol Hill wane with the rise of tea partiers and libertarians in the GOP. But he noted that his decision to retire comes after a string of victories for defense advocates in Congress, who dragged a mammoth annual defense authorization bill across the finish line last month amid a partisan Senate spat over amendments—and recently notched a bipartisan budget agreement that staves off sequestration for the next two years. Politico, 1-16-14.
To Think About
Op-ed: Exemptions from the ‘contraception mandate’ don’t reinforce religious liberty, but instead threaten it
Can my employer make me pay the cost of practicing his religion? In the coming months, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide two cases involving just this issue. The cases are about the Affordable Care Act’s “contraception mandate” — the law’s requirement that employer health plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives without out-of-pocket expense, including co-payments, co-insurance or deductibles. The employers in these two cases are among scores of profit-making businesses that are claiming a religious right under a federal statute to be excused from this requirement because the use of contraceptives violates their owners’ religious beliefs. These cases indeed pose a grave threat to religious liberty, but not to the owners of these businesses. Exempting ordinary, nonreligious, profit-seeking businesses from a general law because of the religious beliefs of their owners would be extraordinary, especially when doing so would shift the costs of observing those beliefs to those of other faiths or no faith. The threat to religious liberty, then, comes from the prospect that the court might permit a for-profit business to impose the costs of its owners’ anti-contraception beliefs on employees who do not share them by forcing employees to pay hundreds of dollars or more out-of-pocket each year for contraception and related services that should be covered under the law. Frederick Mark Gedicks, Washington Post, 1-15-14.