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Posts published in January 2012

Not really quaint anymore

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.

WA Bill of the Day: House Bill 2428

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?

An economic development thought for Idaho

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?

ID Bill of the Day: House Bill 392

It's a little unfortunate that election schedules have to be uprooted because of legal battles over things like redistricting. But that's what seems to be happening in Idaho.

House Bill 302 (introduced by Representative Tom Loertscher, R-Iona) may be an inevitability, and is certainly something legislators were wise to get into the pipeline sooner rather than later. Probably wouldn't be necessary or wise to pass it through in the next three to four weeks. But if the Idaho Supreme Court hasn't signed off on a new redistricting plan by the end of February, it should be ready and positioned for quick action, since the candidate filing period will not then be far off.

Maybe 10 years from now, could the redistricting process be altered so that any approved plan is automatically forwarded to the Idaho Supreme Court for final disposition? We know it will be appealed there anyway, and in these cycles (in contrast the usual more extensive period the justices have for review of most cases), a few weeks can make a lot of difference.

In the meantime, an August primary wouldn't be so bad. Idaho's had them before. Washington has them still. They do have the virtue of cutting down the campaigning season, and they need not be held before national party conventions for presidential elections any more, since both parties have gone to the caucus system.

ID: Back to the redistricting board

Was said here that the legislative redistricting map produced late last year by the Idaho redistricting commission looked reasonable and ought to pass constitutional muster. That opinion doesn't change.

Has also been said here, from time to time, that you can never conclusively predict what a court will do. That one too remains valid: The Idaho Supreme Court has just thrown out the redisticting plan. C'est la vie.

The summary says, simply, "This is a petition challenging the constitutionality of Plan L 87, a legislative redistricting
plan adopted by the commission for reapportionment. We hold that the plan is invalid because it violates Article III, section 5, of the Idaho Constitution by dividing more counties than necessary to comply with the Constitution of the United States. The commission for reapportionment is directed to reconvene to adopt a revised plan."

The issue is division of counties. The appeal of the commission was brought by Twin Falls County, which is divided into three pieces (politically, we would say, more an advantage than not), and which argued that the 12 divisions of counties were too many and unnecessary to comply with other requirements. The Supreme Court: "Plan L 87 divides twelve counties. The commission considered and rejected other plans that comply with the Federal Constitution and divide fewer counties. Thus, Plan L 87 does not divide counties only to the extent that counties must be divided to comply with the Federal Constitution. It likewise does not avoid dividing counties whenever possible in violation of Idaho Code section 72-1506(5). It therefore violates Article III, section 5, of the Idaho
Constitution and the statute. We are not holding that the commission must adopt any particular plan. The plans submitted to the commission show that there are different ways to draw legislative districts that comply with both the State and Federal Constitutions."

Even with that said, this is a bit of an unusual decision in the more limited discretion its gives the commission. That's not our lone opinion; it also shows up in a strong dissent from Justice Jim Jones:

I read Article III, §§ 2 and 5 of the Idaho Constitution to grant the Commission a good deal of discretion in developing its redistricting plan, and I believe this Court should, as it has in the past, grant substantial deference to determinations made by the Commission. In my view, the Commission performed in an exemplary fashion in developing Plan L87. It made detailed findings of fact, clearly explaining how the plan was developed, the steps it took to comply with one-person, one-vote requirements, its rationale for dividing or splitting counties, and how it applied the legislative guidelines in I.C. § 72-1506.

On the other hand, the Petitioners, although disagreeing with several of the county splitsmade by the Commission, failed to present any competent evidence to cast doubt upon the validity of the Commission’s findings. Petitioners presented no competent evidence showing that a lesser number of splits could be accomplished, while observing the requirements of the federal and state constitutions, as well as the Legislature’s guidelines. Petitioners do not refer in their papers to any plan in the record that contains a fewer number of splits than L87. Petitioners proffered a plan that they claim would accomplish reapportionment with just six county splits but, when viewed based upon the criteria in the record for determining splits, their plan contains eight county splits. That compares with twelve splits for Plan L87. Petitioners did not submit their proposed plan to the Commission, so it is not a part of the Commission’s record. Petitioners’ plan is not authenticated, there is no indication of who prepared it, what criteria were considered, or who determined where and why splits should be made. Therefore, it is not competent evidence before the Court.

But, the court's take is dispositive. Back to the maps.

WA Bill of the Day: House Bill 2594

Here's a thought for how to deal with street gangs: Sue 'em.

Okay, sounds like a joke. But House Bill 2594 is actually an interesting idea, providing (with rules-style specifics on how it operates) the ability for a state or local prosecutor to ask a judge for a specific street gang injunction, intended to put a spike into especially hazardous street gang activities.

When the judge agrees to consider an incumbent, papers go out to the gang: "Service of the summons and complaint on the criminal street gang may be made by representative service of process on at least five associates or members of the criminal street gang, at least two of whom occupy a leadership role in the criminal street gang at the time of filing. The court shall order an evidentiary hearing on the complaint. The hearing may be held whether or not any person served in a representative capacity appears to contest the issuance of the injunction."

Such a hearing - if the gang decides to show up to contest an injunction - could be a fascinating thing by itself. You can imagine a few cases at least where it leads to a mediation type session. Where it doesn't, at least everyone's talking. The bill is based on ideas tried elsewhere and - they argue - successfully.

The bill has 35 House sponsors, including plenty from both parties.

Carlson: Peak v. Hitchens

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Kathleen Parker is one of the finest syndicated columnists writing today. Thoughtful, analytical, practical, non-ideological, she offers an always insightful and informative perspective. Recently she wrote a sensitive, moving eulogy on the passing of Christopher Hitchens, the talented, prolific, iconoclastic English writer who died at age 62 from esophageal cancer.

The literary cognoscenti of the English-speaking world universally mourned his loss. His last book, a voluminous collection of essays on an incredibly broad range of subjects, was listed at year’s end by the New York Times Book Review editors as one of the ten best “must read” books for 2011.

Hitchens could clearly be a charming personality. Never having met him, like many one lets the view of another we respect influence our own. In the case of Hitchens, though, there is cause for pause, and ample reason for the Kathleen Parkers to separate image from the real person.

Hitchens was obviously a gifted writer. One might even say he was blessed with God-given talent, except he was a militant atheist and would be highly offended. For many his in your face militancy made him an unpleasant person.

Kathleen Parker will never meet Joe Peak. It’s a shame because he too is an iconoclastic, one of a kind character. For years Joe has operated a well-known watering hole a few miles off of I-90 up the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, a former bordello called the Snake Pit. Full of ambience and odd historical relics, as well as Joe and wife Rose Mary, it has been a must stop for years for thousands of fly fishermen seeking a burger and an adult beverage, along with advice on where to find the wily cutthroat. (more…)

Supporting the SOPA/PIPA strike

This site has opted not to be among those striking in protest over the SOPA and PIPA measures in Congress; we chose to explain our view here instead. But we do strongly support the effort, and agree that those two measures - billed as anti-piracy but carrying a prospective reach much broader and much more dangerous - must be stopped.

Some of the leading figures in working to stop these measures do come from the Northwest, including Senators Ron Wyden - one of the first to stand up on it, bring national visibility to it, and the prime backer of a filibuster-if-necessary - and Maria Cantwell. Most members of the Northwest delegation haven't yet made a clear statement of support or opposition to the bills. A request from here: Urge them to oppose the bills, and soon.

A good but simple introduction to the problems involved is available. The strike's page is online (at last check).

WA Bill of the day: House Bill 3563

So far 26 Washington House members (all Democrats to date) have signed on with House Bill 2463, which would impose a capital gains tax - but with a twist: Just capital gains over $10,000, amounts below that being exempted.

Washington doesn't have a capital gains tax at all, which sets it out from the other Northwest states - Oregon has an upper bracket at 11% (high nationally) and Idaho at 7.8%. It's generally tied (as in those states) to income taxes, and since Washington has no income tax, there's no capital gains tax.

Except that this bill would add one specifically. The Washington Budget and Policy Center, which supports the bill, offers this case for it:

Capital gains are the profits people accrue from selling stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets. The proposal would create a new 5 percent excise tax on capital gains above $10,000 per year ($5,000 for single filers).
The proposal does not tax all capital gains. The first $10,000 of anyone’s yearly capital gains would be exempt from the tax. The profit from the sale of anyone’s primary residence also would be exempt.
Under the proposal, for 97 percent of Washington households there would be no tax increase at all. In fact, the richest one percent get three-quarters of all capital gains generated in the United States (see graph below).
This tax on profits from high-end financial transactions wouldn’t affect retirement savings, the sale of farmland, charitable giving, or assets left to family members as part of a will.
The idea of taxing capital gains is not new: 42 states have already figured out that capital gains are a revenue resource that makes sense. Oregon taxes capital gains at 11 percent and in Idaho the rate is 7.8 percent.

There will be a big fight, and the odds are against it. But since the day of taxes-are-off-the-table seems to be ending, it may get more of a hearing than usual.