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2014 Attorney General's Office Legislative Priorities 

Consumer Protection        Public Safety        Veterans        Open Government    

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 CP Banner

  HB 2055     SB 5985
  *1/14: Judiciary Committee Hearing
*2/5: Judiciary Committee Executive Session - Passed
*2/5: Passed to Rules
*2/14: 2nd Reading 
*2/18: Returned to Rules
**DEAD** 
    *1/13: Law & Justice Committee, First Reading
**DEAD**

Consumer Protection Attorneys Fees

Objective: Protect taxpayers and equalize the playing field for Washington consumers by bringing Washington law on attorneys’ fees in line with other states. 

Problem: Washington is the only state in the nation responsible for paying attorneys’ fees when it does not prevail in a government enforcement action under the Consumer Protection Act.

Washington’s outlier status creates an unlevel playing field, putting Washington’s consumers at an unfair disadvantage relative to private plaintiffs. In Washington, private plaintiffs who sue and lose a claim under the Consumer Protection Act do not pay attorneys’ fees to the defendant. Not so for Washington state taxpayers represented by the Attorney General’s Office.

Current law creates significant risk for taxpayers. Defendants can hire large law firms who assign multiple attorneys at high billing rates. Whenever the Attorney General’s Office pursues a case against such a defendant, it faces the specter of large attorneys’ fees – even for a purely technical “win” on a single claim by a defendant. For example, in State v. Pacific Health Center, Inc. (2006,) the state pursued action against a defendant who was practicing medicine without a license. The state won at a trial level, but the Appeals Court ruled that while practicing law without a license is a violation of the Consumer Protections Act, practicing medicine without a license is not. This technical ruling meant Washington state was required to pay $280,000 in attorneys’ fees.

In 2011, recognizing the urgent need to reduce Washington state’s liability in consumer protection actions, Attorney General McKenna introduced HB 1032/SB 5079 as agency request legislation.

(read the full one-pager)

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  Public Safety Banner

  HB 2122       SB 5965 
  *1/14: Public Safety Committee Hearing
*1/24: Public Safety Committee Executive Session - Passed
*2/3: Appropriations Hearing 
**DEAD**  
    *1/21: Human Services Committee Hearing
*1/29: Passed to Rules
*2/12: Passed Senate (48 Yeas, 1 Excused)
*2/19: House Public Safety Committee Hearing
*2/21: House Public Safety Committee Executive Session - Passed
*2/25: Referred to House Appropriations
**DEAD**

Reforming the Sexually Violent Predator Statute  

Objective:  Prevent the Release of Sexually Violent Predators who have not been rehabilitated by closing a loophole in the Sexually Violent Predator statute and defining treatment.

Problem: The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) is responsible for the commitment and recommitment hearings and trials for individuals deemed sexually violent predators.

The AGO is seeking three reforms to the sexually violent predator statute.

  • Some sexually violent predators refuse to participate in the annual reviews administered by the state’s forensic psychologists with the Special Commitment Center, severely reducing the experts’ ability to make an accurate recommendation as to whether the individual still meets the criteria of a sexually violent predator. Meanwhile, sexually violent predators can seek out their own experts to testify on their behalf. This creates an imbalance in the system, increasing the risk that a sexually violent predator who has not been rehabilitated will be released.
  • Only 37% of civilly committed sexually violent predators participate in the state’s treatment programs specifically designed to prevent reoffending.  Statute does not define treatment, and some individuals argue that activities such as Narcotics Anonymous meetings constitute treatment. The lack of clarity leads to unnecessary litigation and disincentivizes participation in the treatment programs being offered by the Special Commitment Center.
      
  • The state must administer examinations to determine whether civilly committed individuals continue to meet the definition of a sexually violent predator on an annual basis, even if it is within weeks of a re-commitment trial in which a jury of twelve has unanimously decided just that. This creates an unnecessary expense for the state and an unnecessary burden for Assistant Attorneys General prosecuting these cases.

(read the full one-pager)

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   Veterans Banner

  HB 2171     SB 5989 
  *1/14: Judiciary Committee Hearing
*1/21: Judiciary Committee Executive Session - Passed
*2/6: General Gov. Appropriations Hearing & Executive Session - Passed
*2/12: Placed on 2nd Reading
*2/26: Senate Law and Justice Committee Hearing 
*2/28: Passed to Senate Rules
*3/7: Passed Senate (47 Yeas)
    *1/13: Law & Justice Committee, First Reading
**DEAD**

Strengthening Economic Protections for Veterans and Military Personnel

Objective: Incorporate existing federal protections into state laws to protect military personnel, veterans, and their families.

Problem: Protections under state law for military service members called to active duty are less than those provided under federal law. This inequality means that service members whose active duty orders are signed by the Governor are less protected than those whose active duty orders are signed by the President. 

Background: The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides various financial and legal protections for military service members ordered to federal active duty. These protections allow the men and women who bravely serve in our Armed Forces to focus their full attention on their military responsibilities without adverse consequence for themselves or their families.

In 2010, Congress amended the SCRA to clarify that a private right of action exists, and granted authority to the U.S. Department of Justice to enforce SCRA protections that raise an issue of significant public importance.

Washington’s state version of the Service Members’ Civil Relief Act (RCW 38.42) does not include provisions similar to the 2010 federal amendments and is silent on who has the authority to affirmatively seek enforcement.

(read the full one-pager)

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  HB 2390       SB 6208 
  *1/23: Community Development Committee Hearing
*1/28: Community Development Committee Executive Session - Passed
*1/31: Passed to Rules
*2/7: Placed on 2nd Reading
*2/18: Returned to Rules
**DEAD**
    *1/31: Commerce & Labor Committee Hearing
*2/3: Commerce & Labor Committee Executive Session - Passed
*2/4: Passed to Rules
*2/12: Passed Senate (48 Yeas, 1 Excused)
*2/20: House Community Development Committee Hearing & Executive Session - Passed
*2/24: Passed to Rules
*3/3: Placed on 2nd Reading
*3/5: Passed House (97 Yeas, 1 Nay)
*3/10: Senate Concurrence (49 Yeas)

Protecting Veterans from "Pension Poachers"

Objective: Prevent elderly veterans and their surviving spouses from being scammed.

Problem: The AARP, Federal Trade Commission, and Attorneys General across the country have encountered “pension poachers” who pose as representatives of official veterans’ organizations in an effort to scam elderly veterans and their families out of their assets.

These scammers convince veterans to transfer their assets to a trust or invest in insurance products in order to qualify for federal Aid and Attendance benefits.

Serious problems can result:

  •  Veterans are not warned they could lose Medicaid eligibility;
  • Veterans reposition assets unnecessarily, purchase inappropriate financial products, and lose financial liquidity;
  • Veterans pay fees that are prohibited under federal law;
  • Veterans receive incorrect information and improper assistance with claims;
  • Veterans are not told about other available benefits that may be more beneficial.

Background: In 2012, the Government Accountability Office released a report with alarming findings about “advisors” who assist veterans with Aid & Attendance benefits – a federal benefit for wartime veterans and surviving spouses in financial need.  The report found many “advisors” misrepresent services, motives, and the Aid & Attendance program.

The Federal Trade Commission and AARP have issued warnings about these scams, urging veterans to be wary and offering tips for avoiding “pension poachers.” KING 5’s Jesse Jones highlighted this issue as a “scam of the week” with the story of a pension poacher who never delivered on his promises.

Other states are taking action. In 2012, California passed legislation to curb such practices. In 2013, the Oregon Attorney General brought a case against a senior living company for illegal marketing and rent collection practices related to these scams.

(read the full one-pager)

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   Open Gov Banner

  HB 2121     SB 5964
  *1/14: Gov. Operations Committee Hearing
*1/21: Gov. Operations Committee Executive Session - Passed
*1/27: Passed to Rules
*2/12: Passed House (64 Yeas, 34 Nays)
*2/25: Senate Gov. Operations Committee Hearing 
**DEAD**  
    *1/16: Gov. Operations Committee Hearing
*2/6: Gov. Operations Committee Executive Session - Passed
*2/7: Passed to Rules
*2/18: Passed Senate (45 Yeas, 2 Nays, 2 Excused)
*2/25: House Gov. Operations Committee Hearing
*2/26: House Gov. Operations Committee Executive Session - Passed
*2/26: Passed to House Rules
*3/5: Placed on 2nd Reading
*3/7: Passed House (66 Yeas, 31 Nays)
*3/8: Signed by President of the Senate

Open Government Trainings 

Objective: Require open government training for public officials to improve government transparency and reduce lawsuits.

Problem: Open government is vital to a free and informed society, and Washington State has strong transparency laws.  Currently, there is no formal requirement for training in the Public Records Act or the Open Public Meetings Act for public officials.  Many agencies and entities already provide training, but more consistent training is needed.

In 2012, the State Auditor found over 250 “open government-related issues” among local governments.  While many of these issues were relatively minor, others were more significant, such as:

  • Providing inadequate notice for special meetings and executive sessions;
  • Failing to consistently record minutes; and
  • Reaching informal agreement on an official matter via email, rather than in an open meeting.

Failing to comply with state open government laws can result in costly lawsuits and a loss of public trust.  For example, on June 27, 2013, one local jurisdiction was fined more than $500,000 for failing to comply with the Public Records Act. 

(read the full one-pager)

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