Writings and observations

There was probably a time, back in the day of William Borah, say, when there was almost a certain amount of above-it-all classiness to say that you didn’t drive a car – as it’s said he did not – and maintained a bit of elevated distance from such things as traffic signals, speed limits and road conditions. And if you were a senator at the time, that could probably work. But when almost everyone began to drive, and we all were exposed to road rules and conditions every day, and the federal government was in the middle of building the interstate highway system, that kind of stance really didn’t cut it anymore. You wanted a senator who had the same kind of awareness of road traffic that most of us have. If he’d lived another 20 years, Borah might have appreciated that, and learned to drive.

It comes to mind this week with the unfortunate situation Idaho Senator Jim Risch is in over the newly deceased Protect IP Act, of which he had been one of the sponsors.

The Idaho Statesman‘s Kevin Richert noted in a post today that “When he began campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 2007, Jim Risch was proudly computer illiterate. After spending the better part of three decades in public life — and making a small fortune as an attorney — Risch all but boasted about being unplugged from e-mail, the Internet or the blogosphere.”

Which wouldn’t matter much except that after getting into the Senate, Risch is in the position of having to help make policy concerning the Internet. After hearing about intellectual property theft over the Internet – a problem that is quite real – Risch signed on to what was billed by Hollywood interests and others (and, it should be noted, these are among the biggest and most effective lobbies in the Beltway) as a solution. Except that it was more problem than solution.

Seen from the outside at least, Risch seemed taken by surprise – seemingly becoming aware just in the last few days that problems with the bills have cropped up. In a statement out today, Risch’s office said that “At the time of introduction and at the hearings, there was no opposition to the legislation (you may recall the Internet community was all on board with this, then a big split happened” – except that’s certainly not our recollection. A Google search will turn up opposition not only from the blogosphere but from Tea Party and many other sources going back for months, not to mention Senator Ron Wyden‘s once-lonely stand promising a filibuster if necessary. The problems have been evident to many computer-savvy people for a long time – since introduction.

The Congress need not consist of 535 computer geeks, but the people we send there should be conversant with these new rules of the road if they’re going to make policy about them. A suggestion for Senator Risch, who (and I sure wouldn’t say this of every member of Congress) is more than smart enough to program a computer were he to devote himself to the task: Get online. Surf the web. Leave comments. Get on Facebook. Get on – God help us all – Twitter. Drive the information superhighway for a while. You’ll be better prepared when these issues come around next time. Which they will.

Share on Facebook

Idaho

The snow, then ice, then rain, then power outages at the legislative building – the very religiously inclined might almost wonder if someone is trying to keep the House Committee on Education today from holding a hearing on the charter school bill. Considering how short the session is, the delay could be fatal.

The bill, House Bill 2428 and sponsored by 16 legislators (most Republican, but including Democrats as well), would put Washington in the majority of 41 states which have charter public schools. Idaho has had them more than a decade, and has been recently expanding their numbers, even while some run into some bad headlines. Oregon has a more limited program. Charter schools are public schools receiving public funds, but operate free of most of the rules governing most public schools. The bill would allow the state board of education to authorize up to 50 of them.

The Washington experience is more complex. As the bill analysis says, “In Washington, Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 2295 was enacted and signed by the Governor in 2004 to establish charter schools. However, Referendum 55 was filed as a result of collected signatures to prevent the bill from taking effect. Referendum 55 was rejected by the
voters in the November 2004 general election, 58.3 percent to 41.7 percent.”

The thinking evidently is that attitudes have moved on. It also is an example, from another side of the fence, of the legislature taking another crack at an issue turned down by voters. If it does pass this time, what will the response be?

Share on Facebook

Washington

Microsoft Corporation, the most successful big business in the Northwest, spoke out yesterday on a piece of Washington state legislation (which is within a single legislative vote of having enough for passage) which it said would help its business, and it got five other businesses to go along in the announcement. The legislation happens to be something a number of other states, including Idaho, could adopt if they chose.

Here’s what Microsoft said:

“Microsoft is joining other Northwest employers Concur, Group Health Cooperative, Nike, RealNetworks and Vulcan Inc. in support of Washington State legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples. This position builds on our history of supporting corporate and public policies that promote inclusion and equality. Microsoft’s greatest asset is a talented workforce as diverse as our customers. As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, equitable and inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families. This legislation would put Washington employers on equal footing with employers in the six other states that already recognize the committed relationships of same-sex couples. Passing the bill would be good for our business and for the state’s economy.”

Think Idaho will approve this economic development measure?

Share on Facebook

Idaho Washington