Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Attorney General's Office 2016 Legislative Priorities

Protecting Youth Combatting Fraud & Abuse Improving Accountability in Government Improving Access to Justice

 


 

Raise the Sale Age of Tobacco to 21 

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OBJECTIVE
Increase the sale age of tobacco products to 21 to save lives, reduce health care costs, and prevent nicotine addiction among Washington youth and young adults.

PROBLEM
Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, killing 8,300 Washingtonians every year. If we do nothing, an estimated 104,000 of today’s Washington youths will die prematurely from smoking.

Smoking generates huge health care costs that impact Washington taxpayers. Every year, $2.81 billion in health care costs can be directly attributed to tobacco use in Washington. The negative health effects of tobacco cost each Washington household an extra $819 in state and federal taxes — every year.

Adolescent brains are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of nicotine and nicotine addiction, as the decision making, impulse control, and sensation seeking parts of the brain are still developing. 95% of smokers begin smoking before age 21, and 18- and 21-year-olds are a key cohort for becoming hooked.

EFFECTIVE SOLUTION
An RJ Reynolds researcher once declared that “if a person has not smoked by the time they turn 21, the odds are '20-to-1' they never will.”

In 2015, the Institute of Medicine concluded that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 will save lives. 

In its report, requested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, IOM estimates that if the tobacco sale age were raised to 21 nationwide, children born between 2000 and 2019 would suffer:
•    249,000 fewer premature deaths,
•    45,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer, and 
•    4.2 million fewer years of lost life.

Today, more than 90 localities in 8 states have raised the tobacco sale age to 21, and the strategy is working. In 2005, Needham, Massachusetts was the first jurisdiction to raise its tobacco sale age to 21. The effect was powerful. Youth smoking decreased by more than 50% - nearly triple what occurred in surrounding communities – and no convenience stores went out of business. In June 2015, Hawaii became the first state to raise the tobacco sale age to 21.

Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 would be particularly effective with 15-17-year-olds  who rely on older peers for tobacco access. Nationally, more than twice as many youth smokers get their cigarettes from social sources than from a store or vending machine, and 41 % of Washington 10th graders say it is “sort of easy” to “very easy” to get cigarettes. 

LEGISLATION (HB 2313 SB 6157) 

HB 2313 and SB 6157  will raise the sale age to 21 for tobacco and vapor products. 

 

 

 

Regulate Vapor Products to Prevent Youth Access 

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OBJECTIVE
Protect Washington youth from the harms of e-cigarettes and nicotine addiction.

PROBLEM
Teen use of e-cigs is increasing: At least 20 percent of high school seniors in Washington reported e-cigarette use in 2014, up from 7 percent in 2012.1  Nicotine is particularly harmful to brain development in children, and a recent study found that teens who start using e-cigarettes are 8 times as likely to take up smoking.2 

In Washington, it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors, but no state agency has authority or funding to enforce the law, and e-cigarette products can be easily  purchased online. 

There are few safety regulations on e-cigarettes and vapor products: E-liquid, the nicotine-containing component, can poison children via ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact. In 2015, at least 61 e-cigarette poisonings were reported, with 84 percent concerning 1- to 3-year olds.3 

The FDA does not currently regulate ingredients or safety claims made by manufacturers.  A Harvard study recently discovered diacetyl, an ingredient known to cause “popcorn lung” (bronchiolitis obliterans), in 75 percent of the flavored e-liquids they tested.4  Some products labeled “nicotine-free” actually contain small amounts of nicotine, and a recent AG investigation found e-liquids being falsely marketed as organic. 

 

LEGISLATION (HB 1645 SB 5573) 

To increase youth prevention and consumer safety, HB 1645 / SB 5573 will: 

  • Prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes and vapor products without a license, and allow the Liquor and Cannabis Board to issue fines to stores caught selling e-cigarettes to minors;  
  • Require school districts to prohibit use of e-cigarettes on school property, including school buses and other school vehicles;
  • Restrict the sale of e-cigarettes over the internet or in unsecured displays; 
  • Require listing of ingredients and warning labels on the packaging of vapor products; 
  • Require child-resistant packaging for all e-cigarettes. 

 


Reauthorize the Medicaid False Claims Act 

(Read the full pdf one-pager)

OBJECTIVE
Prevent Medicaid provider fraud by reauthorizing the state’s highly effective Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act.

PROBLEM
Unfortunately, unscrupulous medical providers seek to profit from the state’s Medicaid program—performing unneeded tests, charging for services not provided, and otherwise defrauding and abusing the Medicaid system. 

One of the state’ s most effective tools to combat Medicaid fraud is the Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act (FCA) which authorizes the Attorney General to bring civil cases against fraudulent providers to recover  Medicaid funds. 

Washington’s FCA is set to expire on June 30, 2016. Unless reauthorized by the Legislature, Washington will lose one of its most effective tools to combat waste, fraud and abuse in the complex arena of Medicaid fraud.

LEGISLATION (HB 1067 / SB 6156) 
The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) unanimously approved a report issued by the Legislative Auditor 1  recommending reauthorization of the Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act (FCA):

•    Without the FCA, fraud will increase. Without the FCA, state could not pursue civil cases that are effectively combating Medicaid fraud and abuse in Washington.

•    Medicaid recoveries have gone up. Since the FCA was enacted in 2012, Medicaid fraud recoveries have increased by 28% per year—recovering funds that can be reinvested in Medicaid services for Washington residents. 2 

•    The FCA pays for itself. For every state dollar invested in FCA enforcement, $3 has been recovered to the state Medicaid system.3 

•    There is “no evidence of frivolous qui tam cases.” Specifically, “no court has dismissed a qui tam case brought under Washington’s FCA as frivolous” and “concerned parties provided no examples of frivolous qui tam cases in Washington.”4 

•    The FCA is working as intended. Use of the FCA has complied with legislative intent, providing for efficient and economical fraud investigations, with adequate cost controls in place and does not duplicate the activities of another agency or the private sector.5

 


Require a "Cooling Off Period" for High-Ranking State Officials 

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OBJECTIVE
Establish a 1-year lobbying prohibition for former high ranking state officials. 

PROBLEM
Washington State has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of our government and ensuring that the actions of state employees are free from improper influence. Without a change to state law, high ranking state officials can leave their state job on Friday and start work on Monday as a paid lobbyist influencing their former employer.  This “revolving door” creates the appearance of special access, unfair advantage, and conflicts of interest that undermine the public’s trust.

 

BACKGROUND
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 31 states have enacted some form of a “cooling-off” period before a former legislator or other state officials can come back as a paid lobbyist or seek to influence state government.1   Additionally, federal statutes restricting former public officials and employees from lobbying date back to 1872.     

The Washington State Ethics Act, RCW 42.52, contains some specific post-state employment restrictions, such as where an employee had personally participated in the activity that would be involved in the private employment, where the private employment is a reward, or where the private employment would require disclosing confidential information obtained in state service.

However, Washington does not have a “cooling off” period before former state employees can be compensated by a private interest to influence their former state employer2.  As a consequence, the Center for Public Integrity gave Washington zero out of 100 points in this section of the state’s integrity score card in 2015.

LEGISLATION (HB 1136 / SB 6258) 

  •  Establishes a one-year “cooling off” period for elected officials, agency heads, and senior-level staff as follows:

  • Applies to compensated activities and provides limited exceptions, such as lobbying for another public entity; and,
  • Requires disclosure for elected officials, agency heads, and senior-level staff when leaving state service if he or she receives compensation from an employer or entity that does business with, or tries to influence action by, the state.

Strengthen Penalties for Open Public Meetings Act Violations (Updated)

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OBJECTIVE
Strengthen penalties for violations of the Open Public Meetings Act.

PROBLEM
The Washington State’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) assures government accountability and transparency by requiring state and local governing bodies to deliberate and make decisions in public.  

When the OPMA is violated, the public’s trust is eroded.  However, the current $100 civil penalty for knowingly violating the OPMA has not been updated since the law was codified in 1971.  Moreover, the OPMA does not address repeat violations.  

These provisions should be modernized to strengthen public confidence in open government.

BACKGROUND
Enacted in 1971, the OPMA (RCW 42.30) requires that meetings of city councils, school boards, county councils, state boards and commissions, and other multi-member public agencies be conducted in public.  

The OPMA authorizes a court to assess a $100 civil penalty against each member of a governing body who attends a meeting where action is knowingly taken in violation of the OPMA.  The member is personally liable and responsible for the penalty. While the public agency does not pay the penalty, the agency pays attorneys’ fees and costs. 

Unchanged for 45 years, the $100 penalty has lost its potency to deter violations due to inflation. A $100 fine in 1971 would be worth about $500 today.1  The OPMA does not include added penalties for repeat violations. 

These outdated elements put Washington’s transparency laws behind those in other states. Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, Rhode Island and Virginia all have higher penalties for open meetings violations.  At least one state, New Jersey, has higher penalties for repeat violators.

LEGISLATION (HB 2353 / SB 6171) 
This legislation will update the OPMA to:

•    Increase the penalty to $500 for a knowing first violation by a governing body member.

•    Enact a new $1,000 penalty for any subsequent knowing violation by a governing body member.

 


Establish a Pro Bono Legal Services coordinator for Military Service Members and Veterans

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OBJECTIVE
To promote and facilitate access to civil legal services by Washington’s current and former military service members.

PROBLEM
Without a focused and coordinated effort, the landscape of cost effective legal services available to serve Washington’s current and former military service members is fragmented and limited, and there is no “one-stop shop” for current and former service members to turn to learn about the resources available to them to protect their legal rights.

BACKGROUND
The men and women who serve our country in the Armed Forces can have unique legal needs and problems arising from overseas deployments, sudden moves, military service obligations, separation of key family members, and challenges in securing military benefits and health care. At both the federal and state level, certain existing law offers special legal protections to current and former military service members,  and, if they meet the qualifications, they may be able to access services from military legal assistance offices and or civil legal aid offices that provide help in seeking redress for these and their other legal rights. However, such assistance for current and former military members can be frequently limited in scope and availability. For example, special military legal assistance services may not be offered to reservists or members of the National Guard, while civil legal aid services are generally targeted to the population at large. 

Compounding the problem is that the limited civil legal aid services and legal pro bono services offered are generally targeted to the population at large, so that current and former military service members must compete for access. Additionally, , there is presently no central clearinghouse where this valued segment of our population can go to learn about the resources available to them to protect their legal rights.

LEGISLATION (HB 2496 / SB 6300)
Modeled after a similar effort in Nevada and others under consideration in Illinois and Indiana, this legislation establishes an Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance within the Office of the Attorney General to promote and facilitate civil legal assistance programs, pro bono services, and self-help services for military service members, veterans, and their family members domiciled or stationed in Washington state.

To accomplish this, the legislation authorizes the Attorney General’s Office to:

  • Recruit and train volunteer attorneys and coordinate with existing service programs;
  • Conduct intake and connect service members in need to available resources; and
  • Apply for and receive grants or other contributions to help support the office.

The legislation also establishes an advisory committee to provide advice and assistance regarding program design, operation, volunteer recruitment, and service delivery.