Anyone interested in a look back at the just-concluded Washington legislative session might do well to start with the series of videos just posted at The Capitol Record.

There, TVW has interviewed a bunch of legislators on everything from grand policy to the mechanics of the “roadkill caucus,” and the effect is kaleidoscopic. The lawmakers run a wide gamut, which is the special usefulness of something like this.

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Washington

The tenor of new coverage after last week suggested that voters reared up against school district tax ballot issues – that schools were getting no traction. Closer looks even then suggested the picture was more complex. But a look back at a recent post on Betsy Russell’s Spokesman blog shows this:

A preliminary report on supplemental levy elections in held in school districts around the state compiled by the Idaho State Department of Education shows that of 36 school districts holding supplemental levy votes on Tuesday, 27 won passage from local voters, while nine failed, including, notably, one in the state’s largest school district, Meridian. That means 75 percent passed. The last round of school district supplemental levy votes was on March 8; according to the department’s figures, 29 districts held votes then, and 27 passed with just two failing. One of those two, Boundary County, went back to its voters on Tuesday, and this time, they passed the proposed $1.4 million levy.

All told, that means that this spring 65 of Idaho’s 115 school districts asked their voters to raise their own property taxes to add to the school district’s operating funds, and in 54 of those districts – that’s 83 percent – voters said yes.

The voters are approving paying for what their legislators declined to.

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Idaho

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Kirkland annexation map/City of Kirkland

Annexations of unincorporated areas to cities are not rare, even if they have been a little less common in recent years (they do have the effect of raising one’s property taxes). But the new annexation to Kirkland, set for completion on Tuesday, stands out.

Kirkland is now a city of about 48,000 people, which has expanded before by way of annexation. The new territory, which includes areas called Finn Hill, North Juanita and Kingsgate, will add about 31,000 people (and a couple hundred businesses) which King County will not have to service as intensively. The annexation was approved by voters in 2009. The expanded Kirkland will become the 12th largest city in the state, and the 6th largest in King County.

Jane Hague, of the King County Council (and who represents current Kirkland), said the city will gain in clout, moving from “a middle-size city to one of the big boys.”

There’s an oddity about it, though. Usually, the concern with annexation comes from the people who are being absorbed, who are likely to see their taxes rise. In this case, the property taxes paid by many of the annexees may actually drop. One reason is that while enough voters approved the annexation, less than the needed percentage approved accepting any of Kirkland’s existing debt – so the current area residents will continued to have to shoulder that.

The could settle out over time. But not all of the currrent Kirkland residents are happy with the way this has developed. And there seems to be some uneasiness all around.

A selection from the Seattle Times comments on this:

“As a Juanita resident, I’ve been dreading this day. Glad we removed dangerous and diseased trees in our yard before Kirkland told us we couldn’t. I wonder if Kirkland will make me get a permit to prune a four-foot ornamental hibiscus in the front. We were doing fine with the county without Kirkland getting their little rat-claws on some pretty quiet neighborhoods. Can’t wait to see them grab for our wallets in a few years.”

“You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”

“Mark my words in 2 years they will find a way to make the NEW residents pay more!”

“My impression is that the City Council went out of their way to burden existing Kirkland residents with higher taxes to support the annexation area. Why? Who gets rich off of this move? If there’s a common-sense explanation, what is it? I never heard a nuts-and-bolts explanation from the City Council, just quotes about it (annexation) being an “opportunity” and other such empty cheer-leading.”

Kirkland will have an interesting adjustment period.

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Washington

It had looked a little iffy, but the special session is over.

The take from Governor Chris Gregoire:

“We’ll walk away from this session with a stronger sense of partnership and cooperation – as well as a balanced budget that ensures we have the financial resources to provide core services now and into the future. And we developed that balanced budget with no new revenue, with no short-term fixes and with no budget gimmicks. We did it by tackling long term costs, by making government leaner and more efficient and by implementing innovative reforms that ensure the state can continue to provide critical services like health care, education and public safety.

“Additionally, we passed major legislation to spur job creation and strengthen our economic recovery. At the state level, we passed a transportation budget that will put 30,000 people to work. Our capital budget sustains another 15,000 jobs. And we passed major reforms to give our businesses the confidence they need to start hiring again – including significant changes to our workers compensation system, and a reduction in unemployment insurance rates. To help our families during these tough times, we provided a temporary increase in unemployment benefits to 70,000 Washingtonians.

“Along with the many needed changes, we also made cuts that will touch real lives. The decisions we made required deep, painful reductions to programs in every area. Some were eliminated entirely.”

You get the feeling this one may wind up having more impact that most, though what the political impact is may be hard to tell, since Republicans were deeply involved in the process.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Father Tim Ritchey (The St. Maries priest who also serves Harrison) and I were talking after Mass following “Good Shepherd” Sunday recently about how few northern Idaho residents have the opportunity, as many in southern Idaho do, to be exposed to the unique Basque culture.

It is one’s loss not to know a “Basco” or to have worked with one. The hardest working, most ethical, most loyal, most friendly people we know, we agreed were Basques. As Father Tim put it, “If a Basque gives you his word and shakes your hand, you can take it to the bank.”

Historically residents from time immemorial of several provinces along the border between Spain and France, many Basques immigrated to the United States in the 19th and early 20th century.

In particular, Basques took positions as sheepherders, an awfully lonely task trailing bands of sheep across high mountain country as the sheep wandered looking for grazing. The sheepherder’s job included protecting his band from the predation of wolves and grizzly bears, not to mention magpies that pluck out the eyes of recently born lambs during the lambing season.

Idaho has the largest concentration of people of Basque heritage outside of Spain, and many have contributed to the political, business and social fabric that make Idaho what it is today.

Among Idaho’s outstanding Basque-Americans are Ben Ysursa, the current Idaho Secretary of State, and Pete Cenarrusa, the former speaker of the Idaho house and long-time secretary of state. Across Idaho’s border with Nevada resided for many years a former governor and United States Senator, Paul Laxalt, probably President Ronald Reagan’s closest friend.

Father Ritchey and I discussed the many other fine Basques we know, folks with last names like Etchart, Eiguren, or Ubarragua, and always there was a story of perseverance. We agreed that to have a well-rounded life you must attend a Basque picnic, witness their contests, drink wine from a bota bag and revel in Basque warmth and friendliness.

I was reminded of all this during a recent trip to eastern Montana to attend a water conference sponsored by the Wheeler Center at Montana State University. The conference included a tour of the massive Fort Peck Dam, which, at the time it was built (1933 to 1940) was the largest earthen dam in the world. To think that President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched this project with the stroke of a pen, and almost simultaneously also authorized the construction of the Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams was simply mind-boggling.

There was no authorization by the Congress, no appropriation, no environmental impact statement. Under the powers granted FDR under the Works Progress Administration (WPA), he simply ordered it done and two weeks later the Corps of Engineers was at work on the site.

The conference was held in nearby Glasgow. While there I called on the parents of John Etchart, a former Helena business partner. They are 94-year-old Eugene and his 90-year-old wife, Elaine. Both were still sharp, in good health, and delightful hosts. Altogether, my former Boise business partner, Marc Johnson, and I spent two hours listening to Gene recall the early days of the dam.

He also told the story of his parents immigration to America, the hard and lonely work of herding sheep in Nevada for ten years before coming to Montana, where by more hard work the family accumulated three ranches in Valley County that together with the fee land they owned and the acreage they leased totaled almost 500,000 acres.

Gene proudly showed a picture of his father and some forty other westerners standing in front of the Department of the Interior during the 1930’s with then-Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. The group was there to provide input for legislation that became known as the Taylor Grazing Act. Gene also served on BLM’s national advisory board from 1958 to 1976.

In addition, Gene is a qualified pilot who still loves to fly (though with a qualified co-pilot these days) and spent years teaching hundreds of Montanans how to fly under a federal act that paid college students before the war to learn to fly. FDR, in seeing the looming war over the horizon, knew that America would someday quickly need many trained pilots.

Father Ritchey and I also agreed that the most sterling Basque quality is loyalty. Once a friend, a Basque is a friend for life, but of course loyalty has to run both ways.

This trait came to mind my last night in Montana, in Fort Benton, where we were staying in the grand old restored 1880’s hotel. In the small park in front of the hotel beside the Missouri River stands a statue to “Shep,” a border collie. Of course dogs were an important tool in managing sheep for any Basque sheepherder, and often they were border collies.

The plaque on the statute tells the story of how Shep came to town in 1936 following the casket of his sheepherder owner, who was soon placed on a train and shipped away for burial. Every day for six years Shep returned to his lookout position beside the tracks where he’d last seen his master disappear, until in 1942, he was accidentally hit and killed by a train.

To have inspired such loyalty I’m certain the sheepherder must have been a Basque.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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This was fairly obvious without polling, but now we have some numbers to attach to it.

With rare and unusual exceptions, candidates from one place make a mistake if they simply uproot and immediately run somewhere else. (Yes, Hillary Clinton did it sucessfully, and a few others, but those really were odd exceptions – they were national figures.) Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, the House member and periodic presidential contender, isn’t in that category. It sounded like a joke when talk shot around that, because post-redistricting he’s likely to be thrown into a congressional district with another incumbent, that he might look to run for Congress elsewhere. Like maybe Seattle.

And then he shows up in Seattle.

It’s not that Kucinich’s politics are far out of line with Seattle’s; on his visits there, he found plenty of backers. It’s that he has no connection with the region.

Voters seem to feel that way too. Public Policy Polling surveyed the issue, and Tuesday reported it found:

… he’s not popular in the state with only 19% of voters rating him favorable to 28% with a negative opinion of him. But the numbers on a potential candidacy for him are worse than the favorability spread- only 12% think he should seek office in the state next year to 39% opposed to the concept.

Even among Democrats, who like Kucinich by a 33/19 margin, just 22% think he should run there next year to 35% who dissent. It really doesn’t matter whether Kucinich moves to Washington or not, he’s not going to get elected there next year.

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Denny Heck
Denny Heck

We’ve suggested any number of instances where unsuccessful candidates gearing up for a second run may be thinking … unwisely. Today, a case arguing for the opposite.

Or, not really, because in the case of Denny Heck, the Olympia-area executive and Democrat who lost a race for the 3rd district last year to Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler, there are a bunch of changed conditions.

One is that 2012 is unlikely (as matters stand) to be the kind of strong Republican year than 2010 was. More important, Heck and Herrera Beutler are likely to be in different districts next time. Washington gains another congressional district next year, and the new territory will have to be parceled mostly out of the heavy population area running from around Olympia to King County east of Seattle. There’s a good chance Heck will be in a new district without an incumbent but with a Democratic leaning.

The Seattle Times reports, “Heck filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission last Thursday, setting up a campaign for the 10th District. He then refiled less than an hour later to say he was running for an unspecified congressional district (listing it as district “00.”)”

In a case like this, probably wise to put down a marker, if he has any interest at all.

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Washingtonians might be a little uneasy about tomorrow’s legislative special session deadline. They probably should feel better if legislators and the governor just went ahead and announced another session, right now.

That runs counter to most of what you hear: Those legislators should get it done and get out of town! Well, sure, ideally. Problem is that really tight deadlines can impair the decision-making process. It’s a little like torture: You’ll say or do anything, just to get it over with. (Remember the old legal principle, that hard cases make bad case law?)

The problem in Washington has had to do with developing a final budget. The excellent Political Buzz blog (of the Tacoma News Tribune), after noting some of the items which apparently are scheduled to be sliced, and some others that aren’t, reports that as of today, there’s talk that the session might wind up on schedule come Wednesday.

Or not: “A few minutes ago the Senate’s two negotiators on debt, Democrat Derek Kilmer and Republican Linda Evans Parlette, said they were still working on the issue, as they speed-walked into the office shared by House Speaker Frank Chopp and Majority Leader Pat Sullivan.”

Look through the rundown of cuts and no-cuts. Are those the lists you would endorse? Are they the best possible? Are Washingtonians likely to get the best possible from a pressure cooker?

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Veteran national political reporter Lou Jacobson (working for Governing magazine) has been searching out some of the top state legislator prospects for the future, and today released a list of 10 Republicans to watch (Democrats next week). Two of them are from the Northwest.

One is, for Oregonians, a easy-enough name to come up with: House Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna: “In the tied Oregon House, Hanna shares power with his Democratic counterpart, Arnie Roblan. The duo has won praise for their cooperation, including their attempts to hammer out a budget agreement with Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.”

The other, in Washington, is a newer face and less obvious, freshman state Senator Andy Hill: “Hill retired from his job as a Microsoft software engineer to fight what looked like terminal lung cancer. Thanks to an experimental treatment, he beat the disease and proceeded to knock off a Democratic state Senate incumbent in 2010. Since taking office earlier this year, he’s struck alliances with Democrats on certain environmental and education issues.”

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Modest headlines came out last week about a divorce between two prominent Oregon political figures: Kurt and Martha Schrader, married in 1975 and both active politically over the last couple of decades.

We’re noting here an odd (and maybe disquieting) bit of trivia Twittered by Nathan Gonzales: This divorce marks the fifth in a row for the occupant of the Oregon 5th district House seat, while holding that office. But not only that: Every person who has ever held the seat has gotten divorced while holding it.

The first was Republican Denny Smith (1982-90), whose second divorce occurred in 1986. (Smith had held the second district congressional seat when in 1982 reapportionment turned part of it in the new 5th, which he then won.) He was narrowly ousted by Democrat Mike Kopetski, also divorced during his two terms in the House. Republican Jim Bunn, who won the seat in the 1994 Republican wave, was divorced during his one term. That one had political impact when he soon after married his chief of staff, contributing to his loss to Democrat Darlene Hooley in 1996. In the course of her dozen years in the House, she too was divorced. And she was followed by Schrader.

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Jay Inslee
Jay Inslee
Rob McKenna
Rob McKenna

Before long, the race for Washington governor in 2012 ought to get a lot clearer. Campaigns – to the point of declaration for office – for that level of office have to begin fairly early, and the ticking clock will get loud soon.

And there remain unknowns about the field. Incumbent Democrat Chris Gregoire could run for a third term; she’s been silent on the subject. But she probably won’t. Democratic Senate leader Lisa Brown of Spokane might run. There remains talk of Republican Representative Dave Reichert, a recurring winner in a King County-based district, as well.

But take this maybe as an indicator: The main polling has concerned Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democratic U.S. Representative Jay Inslee (who ran once for governor before, unsuccessfully). A just-out result from Public Policy Polling shows the two of them nearly tied:

The most likely match up for Governor of Washington next year looks like it would be a barn burner, with Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna starting out with just a 40-38 lead over Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee. With 23% of Democrats and only 13% of Republicans undecided at this point that looks like a sheer toss up.

The main reason McKenna is ahead of Inslee at this point is slightly higher name recognition. 60% of voters know McKenna well enough to have formed an opinion about him, while that is true for only 51% when it comes to Inslee. The two have similar net favorability ratings with Inslee at +9 (30/21) and McKenna at +8 (34/26).

McKenna and Inslee would clearly be their party’s two strongest candidates. Christine Gregoire remains quite unpopular with 38% of voters approving of her to 48% who disapprove. She would trail McKenna 49-40 in a hypothetical contest.

Likewise Congressman Dave Reichert would not be nearly as strong as McKenna. His statewide favorability is 25/36 and he trails Inslee by a 42-36 margin and even Gregoire by a 45-41 spread.

McKenna has been a governor prospect since his first election as AG in 2004 (he had an easy and sweeping re-elect in 2008); 2012 was always the logical point for him to take his shot. His background on the King County Council gives him a strong base in a key, wing population zone. Inslee is well-positioned too. He had two defeats in the 90s (for a U.S. House seat in the Republican wave of 1994, and governor in 1996). But he did get elected once in the usually solidly Republican 4th district in central Washington, and since his 1998 return to the House in the 1st district (getting there by beating a two-term Republican incumbent), he has won solidly – his lowest recent score was 58% in the Republican year of 2010.

Could be a hell of a contest.

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ac district
An Ada-Canyon based district

Idaho redistricting is approaching; the reapportionment commission is expected to be called together on June 7, with meetings to start soon after, with an eye toward developing plans within three months.

Unlike Oregon, where there’s already some partisan battling going on, and Washington, where there soon will be, Idaho’s maps are likely to have less at stake. The Republican advantage around the state is so sweeping that the only real concern will be incumbent protection. The Democrats are vulnerable in a few places, but that mainly translates to whether the Boise area will continue to have four legislative districts in which Democrats can realistically compete, or whether the number drops by one (or possibly two, if Republicans get very creative).

The two congressional districts are almost sure to look very much as they have for a generation, with Ada County divided between them. That’s not a requirement, and it could be done in other ways. But it probably won’t be.

Submitted as an example of why: The map here, drawn with the state’s publicly-available and easy to use Maptitude software. Suppose you start with the premise that Ada and Canyon counties will be united in a single congressional district; what does that imply for what the districts would look like? This map shows you.

The problem is that there’s only enough population for two districts, which means the other district would have a population base in northern Idaho and another in eastern Idaho, with no useful linkages directly between them – the Boise area is the real link between northern and eastern Idaho. You could do it, but you’d have a hard time justifying it to the people in the north or the east (or the unfortunate representative trying to cover it all).

The software, however, is highly recommended. Visit and have fund with it, especially with legislative districts, which is where most of the attention is likely to go.

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Idaho

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Approximately eight years ago, Coeur d’Alene city councilman Mike Kennedy approached friends to assess whether his aunt, Anna Pearce, also known by her stage name as Patty Duke, could develop a second career as a successful public officeholder in her adopted state of Idaho.

One’s initial reaction might have been to wonder if he were serious? He was and with reason.

His aunt is not only a talented member of the nation’s acting community, who achieved stardom at an early age with her unforgettable role in “The Miracle Worker,” she also has long cared about public policy matters, is intelligent and can carry on an articulate conversation on almost any political subject.

Duke already had held the most challenging “political” office in Hollywood, that of president of the Screen Actor’s Guild. One of her predecessors, a B-grade actor by the name of Ronald Reagan, used the post as his springboard into public office. By all accounts Duke carried out her role as a union president successfully and, indeed, it had whetted her political appetite.

Her nephew, Mike Kennedy, is not the only member of the family bitten by the political bug. Her son, Sean Astin, star of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, is up to his eyeballs in a friend’s race for a congressional seat in California. Politics runs in the family.

While still in the process of becoming one of the few widely acknowledged talented members of Idaho’s declining Democratic Party, Kennedy did not want bias for his aunt to color his assessment. He also felt it was imperative he offer his aunt a process for evaluating her prospects without diminishing her acting career or exposing her interest prematurely.

For several weeks, Kennedy and friends discussed the challenge. Had his aunt been a conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan, the decision would have been much easier. Duke made it clear that if she were to run for any office it would be in her adopted state of Idaho, a state with which she and her husband have become deeply taken.

Anna Pearce (a.k.a, Patty Duke), though, is fundamentally a Democrat. She cares passionately about protecting the environment, and about the state fulfilling its constitutionally mandated role to fully support public education. Idaho, however, was well into its rightward drift at the time.

Could she overcome these perceived political handicaps, not to mention some candid confessions of problems early in her career laid out in her forthright best-selling autobiography? More importantly, how could she test her possible viability in a discreet manner?

Kennedy formulated a process that could achieve the goals, constrained as they might be. First, he correctly realized Duke was her own best spokesperson and salesperson. She had to go “on the road” around Idaho allowing folks across the state to get to know her while she in turn got to know Idaho in all its complexity.

Thought would be given to her speaking about her experiences as one of the stars of the Miracle Worker followed by a reception with proceeds going to Idaho’s Council on the Humanities. While visiting the state’s major communities, she would talk with newspaper editorial boards and call on key political cognoscenti.

At the end of this two-year roadshow, she would sit with family and friends to assess what she learned, determine whether a candidacy was feasible, and if it could be financed as well as won. (While well off by most people’s standards, she does not consider herself to be independently wealthy). Most importantly, she would decide what office she would seek basing the decision on where she could make a difference.

Nothing was ruled out – from county commission to a statewide office.

It says much about her innate political astuteness that when Mike laid out to her and her husband that there was a process to assess her prospects without unduly risking her current career, she decided that such an undertaking did not feel right to her. She instinctively understands one of the cardinal rules of politics, the rule of verisimilitude. It has to resemble the truth.

While she could carry off any acting role, she felt such a process would not be genuine, would ultimately be seen for what it was, and cause, at a minimum, a cloud over the sine qua non for any aspiring officeholder – credibility.

All of which goes to prove she might indeed be one good politician.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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maps
Software at the redistricting hearing/Stapilus

The first two – and they are only the first two – sets of Oregon redistricting maps, from legislators Democratic and Republican – already have drawn ome disapproval. The Oregonian pronounced itself (“Back to the drawing board“) dissatisfied with the opening shots on both sides – impractical and unlikely, it said. The two plans visible so far are, pretty clearly, partisan plans.

Lots of people have issues with the plans (each of which in a reasonable shot at protecting one or the other party). The hearing today started out with two of those critics: A Democrat and a Republican.

State Representative John Huffman of District 59, one of those large districts east of the Cascades (taking in Wasco, Sherman Gilliam and other counties); he noted that the plans call for splitting the area around The Dalles, splitting small counties – and that would be an issue for people in that area. The take from Representative Deborah Boone, in District 32 on the northern coast, had a similar complaint: The plans, she noted, split Tillamook County, and “of all my counties, that’s one of my most cohesive counties.” She wound up showing a map of the northern coast, “if I were queen for a day”.

There was some purely partisan commentary; one witness blasted away at the Democrats as having created a divisive and generally awful plan.

Some of the most interesting and pungent commentary came from Sal Peralta of the Independent Party, pointing out that both plans reduce the number of competitive legislative districts (of which there aren’t all that many to begin with). “Currently, there are only 10 of the 60 House districts with a voter registration differential of 6% or less between the two major parties,” he said. “Broadly speaking, this means that 83% of House legislative districts are non-competitive between candidates of the two main parties.” Competition isn’t one of the main criteria redistricters are required to consider, but maybe it should be.

“What I’ve seen in the press in the last week is not healthy,” he said.

He also suggested that the parties move out of their “silos” and try developing maps working together.

“It’s been an interesting week since the map were released,” Representative Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego. “Every day in this busines we gt critiized for trying to do business out of the bupublic potlight … We’re going to proceed to take public reaction – it’s been messy but I’m not sure there’s a better way to do it.”

Redistricting may be a math-based process, but there are no perfect answers.

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One of the complaints about direct-assistance programs is the potential for abuse: Give someone money to buy food, and how do you know they won’t use it to buy liquor? There are laws addressing some of this, of course, but slips happen.

Enter technology, as a bill in Washington takes note. There, the state offers electronic benefit cards to help the needy with basic costs. Then, as the Capitol Record blog notes, “The bill will make it illegal to use the cards for certain nonessential expenses — and will require those businesses to disable their ATM machines from accepting the EBT cards. What businesses are affected? Liquor stores, bail bond businesses, erotic entertainment venues, tattoo shops, taverns, casinos and other adult-only establishments. Cardholders who violate the law will be subject to a civil infraction.”

Resolvable, in large part, via computer programming.

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