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July 31, 2012

Last month, I concluded my one-year term as President of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG).  NAAG is an outstanding organization where attorneys general from across the country come together in bipartisan cooperation, pooling their expertise and legal might to tackle major issues facing our citizens, individual states and the country as a whole.  Serving as president of NAAG is a remarkable experience and a great honor. 

Over the past year, despite the tremendous challenges facing our state and our nation, states attorneys general had some very impressive accomplishments.  My presidential service was not only personally rewarding, but also a unique opportunity for our state to shine as a national leader on several issues of great importance to many Americans, including the foreclosure crisis, human trafficking and youth smoking.
 
Mortgage assistance programs are up and running - struggling homeowners must call now!
A great accomplishment of state attorneys general that I’m especially proud of is the landmark $25 billion dollar mortgage settlement with the nation’s five largest banks. Programs being offered to assist homeowners are now well underway, and updates and information on how to seek help are available on the National Mortgage Settlement website.

As I’ve been travelling the state to educate homeowners, I’ve also been alerting Washingtonians to an evolving new situation. Some banks involved in the settlement are reporting that not all eligible homeowners are responding promptly to the notices being sent out by the banks.  As the foreclosure crisis continues to affect millions of homeowners across the nation, it remains critical that anyone who may be at risk of foreclosure take immediate action, either by contacting their bank or calling the Washington Homeownership Information Hotline at 1-877-894-4663.   Housing counselors have been funded in part by consumer protection settlements with banks, and are standing by to serve homeowners.  Nobody has to navigate this difficult process alone, and nobody has to pay for help.  However, homeowners must open their mail and take immediate action because the sooner they seek help, the better their chances for a resolution that will keep them in their home.

Meanwhile, my fellow attorneys general and I will continue our work on behalf of homeowners and ensure that banks are meeting their timelines and obligations under the settlement.  The programs offered by this settlement are designed to help struggling homeowners for years to come, and because states attorneys general are committed to ensuring lenders are changing the way they do business, we’re working to protect future generations of homeowners as well.

As always, bipartisan cooperation among Republican and Democratic Party attorneys general plays an important and very effective role in achieving results, in this case reforming the mortgage industry and ultimately helping stabilize the housing market.   As I’ve said many times, this settlement represents the best of what public officials can do when they work together, across party lines, for the good of the citizens we serve.

Ending modern day slavery through social change
It wasn’t too long ago that many people couldn’t even fathom the idea that modern day slavery still exists in America.  Thankfully, today social change is well underway. And as more citizens take notice of this terrible problem, much more is being done to solve it.   Since just last summer, when I launched my Presidential Initiative “Pillars of Hope: Attorney Generals United Against Human Trafficking” to bring state leadership to the fight against modern day slavery, state attorneys general have made significant progress in raising awareness of the problem, pushing this issue into the spotlight, and charting a new course for our nation to strengthen its efforts to end human trafficking. 

In order to continue these gains, it is critical that every citizen take a stand against human trafficking and help be the force of change that will make it universally, socially unacceptable for anyone, anywhere, to purchase, or even consider purchasing another human being for any reason, whether forced labor or sex.

Unfortunately, as with many tragedies that have blighted world history, when it comes to ending human trafficking, the biggest obstacle to be overcome is greed.  It is the tens of billions of dollars in annual profits that drive the world’s demand for modern day slaves, which brings us right back to what’s happening in our own communities…on Backpage.com.

Backpage still refusing to budge when it comes to protecting their prostitution ad profits
Instead of joining the rest of the country in the fight to stop minor sex trafficking, Village Voice Media continues to choose profits from prostitution over protecting children.  Their latest resistance tactic involves taking Washington to court over our state’s new law aimed at reducing child sex trafficking, which they clearly fear will cut into the millions of dollars they are making each year from sex-for-sale ads posted on Backpage.com, many of which involve child victims.   

Even though our law was unanimously approved by the Legislature, signed by the Governor and scheduled to take effect in June, we still cannot effectively protect these children because Backpage has now received a preliminary injunction which puts our law on hold until their lawsuit opposing it can be heard in court. 

While this setback is frustrating, our legal battle is by no means over, and lawmakers, prosecutors and others who support this law, including myself, are not backing down.  Of course, we strongly disagree with the injunction, but it’s certainly not going to stand in our way of continuing our fight to stop the selling of children for sex on Backpage and elsewhere.  Last Friday, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and I issued this statement about the injunction and next steps being considered to put a stop to Backpage’s disgraceful business practices. 

I’m very thankful for the gains we’ve made in the fight against human trafficking and I have no doubt ending demand for modern day slaves is an achievable goal. All of the work being done by so many concerned citizens, along with the rising tide of government and citizen engagement, plus the heightening public interest and awareness, are all the right and necessary ingredients for success.

Continuing Washington’s commitment to the Master Settlement Agreement
I’m also proud to have been a participant in NAAG’s ongoing work relating to the Master Settlement Agreement, particularly the efforts to prevent young people from accessing and using tobacco. The folks at NAAG have long been committed to reducing teen smoking, and their efforts are paying off with a decline in youth smoking and a huge drop in overall cigarette sales nationwide.

Unfortunately, smoking related illnesses remain the number one preventable cause of death in the United States, so NAAG’s important work on this front not only helps young people, but impacts all Americans as well.  Ongoing updates on the work being done, which is an invaluable investment in the health of our citizens and in turn, the health of our country, can be found on the Tobacco Project section of the NAAG website.

Looking ahead
I’m very pleased that my fellow attorneys general will continue providing much needed state and national leadership on these issues.  I know from personal experience how committed they are to important issues that impact the quality of life of all citizens.  Our country is well served by these men and women, and I have no doubt that my experience as NAAG President will, in turn, always serve me well.

I hope you’re having a great summer!

‪Sincerely,

Rob McKenna
Attorney General


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