I hope you enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family, notwithstanding the first snow storm of the season! Here at the Attorney General’s Office, it’s a busy time of year as we gear up for the Legislative session in January. Meanwhile, here's a quick update on the latest AGO news.
Promoting health and safety, limiting unsafe alcoholic energy drinks
College kids call it "black-out in a can" for a reason. Alcoholic energy drinks (AEDs) pose a serious threat to public health and safety, particularly to young people. Last month’s “nightmare” party in Roslyn that sent nine Central Washington University students to the hospital was just the latest horrific example of the crisis playing out across our country. Young people are grossly misjudging the dangers of consuming large amounts of alcohol pre-mixed with caffeine and other stimulants. Many have suffered severe alcohol poisoning. Some have lost their lives.
That’s why I was so pleased this month when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acted on the 2009 request from my fellow attorneys general and me to restrict these products. Last year, we asked the FDA to determine for itself whether, as we have observed in our states, the addition of stimulants to alcoholic beverages is unsafe under FDA standards. Our request included a report by experts in medicine, forensic toxicology, and public health documenting the dangers of these beverages because the caffeine and other stimulants mask - but do not offset -- the alcohol's intoxicating effects.
This month, Washington became the fourth state to restrict the sale of AEDs, and we’re continuing to work toward a nationwide solution to this problem. Meanwhile, the FDA’s decision is a big leap in the right direction.
Partnering to help victims of human trafficking
Even though human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world today, it’s still very difficult for many folks to believe it is happening across America and right here in our state. In fact, the U.S. Dept. of Justice estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the country each year, and Puget Sound is a hotbed of activity. Tens of thousands more are domestically trafficked -- no one is sure how many, but we know that children born in the U.S. are being prostituted and moved across state lines.
In fact, the FBI recently reported that Washington led the nation in the number of child prostitutes recovered as part of a nationwide crackdown on child traffickers and pimps. Washington also led the nation in the exploitation of Thai farm workers discovered in the break-up last September of an international human trafficking ring. These victims often remain silent, so they need our help.
Seven months ago, I joined Seattle Against Slavery (SAS), Seattle Police Lt. Eric Sano, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and other non-profit and governmental partners in developing a unique education campaign designed to empower victims of human trafficking to seek help. In November, we launched a comprehensive poster campaign with simple messages to connect with victims of human trafficking. The messages have been translated into Vietnamese, Russian, English, Tagalog, Spanish, Chinese and Korean and urge victims to call out for help. The Polaris Project, one of the largest anti-trafficking organizations in the U.S. and Japan, will staff the toll-free hotline 24/7 and connect victims with services.
This week, I am leading a panel discussion at the December meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General on human trafficking. This is the first time that NAAG will have addressed this issue, and I intend to keep it in front of my colleagues as I move into my year as NAAG president in June.
Defending the Independence of the Attorney General’s Office
Top attorneys from our office defended the independent authority of the Attorney General’s Office before the state Supreme Court on Nov. 18, in two cases challenging the office’s ability to represent the interests and defend the rights of the state and its people.
In the first case, City of Seattle v. McKenna, Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes seeks to force our office to withdraw the state from the multistate challenge to the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Solicitor General Maureen Hart argued persuasively that the courts have consistently recognized that the Attorney General’s constitutional and statutory role requires him or her to exercise independent legal judgment. That judgment includes taking into account the legal interests of the state of Washington as a whole when determining how to best protect its legal rights.
In Goldmark v. McKenna, the Commissioner of Public Lands asked the Court to force the Attorney General’s Office to file an appeal that four senior lawyers previously had determined did not meet our criteria for appeals. Deputy Solicitor General Alan Copsey argued to the Court that, in our structure of government, the Attorney General must take into consideration the impact of one agency’s desire to appeal an adverse court ruling on the legal interests of the state as a whole. There is no deadline for the Supreme Court to decide these cases, so stay tuned for new developments in both cases.
Tackling Gang Violence
Gang violence is a statewide emergency affecting every major city in our state, as well as many towns and rural areas. There are 2,093 gangs with 36,650 active members throughout the Pacific Northwest. Gang shootings are on the rise in many areas, up 45 percent across our state. Gang members are aggressively recruiting younger kids to commit violent crimes. Our law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve are struggling in this fight, and they need help now.
To answer their call, I recently announced a comprehensive anti-gang bill that offers a mix of civil and criminal provisions aimed at stopping gang activity in Washington. The bill calls for the state to support more community-based prevention and intervention programs, aimed at winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the kids who are being lured into the gang lifestyle. It also includes longer criminal sentences for gang leaders, and tougher penalties for gang graffiti which they use to mark territory and intimidate communities.
Before year’s end, I’ll update you on our complete 2011 Legislative Agenda. Meanwhile, stay warm and enjoy the holiday season!