OLYMPIA – Five bills requested by Attorney General Rob McKenna are scheduled for public hearings this week.
• Consumer Protection: Enforcement
Washington is the only state in the nation that awards defendants attorney fees in a government enforcement action without requiring a determination that the state’s case was frivolous or malicious. HB 1032, prime-sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, permits reasonable attorney fees for a defendant only upon a finding by a judge that the state’s action was frivolous. It also makes it clear that that the Consumer Protection Act applies to Washington businesses that deal only with out-of-state consumers.
The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a public hearing to discuss the bill at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 12, in the O’Brien Building, Hearing Room A.
• Community Safety: Corrections Savings
SB 5025, prime-sponsored by Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, seeks to eliminate Public Records Act (PRA) penalty awards for inmates, removing the financial incentive for those behind bars to blister the state with records requests, trying to force errors and collect penalties along the way. Inmates would preserve their ability to hire lawyers to pursue claims, recovering attorneys’ fees and costs.
One inmate alone has 11 PRA lawsuits currently pending against the state (nine in superior court and two on appeal), and has submitted 161 records requests to the Department of Corrections (DOC) since April 2008. Another inmate has brought 11 PRA lawsuits against the state, and has submitted 124 records requests to DOC, requiring more than 1,400 staff hours to respond or 35 40-hour work weeks for one employee. The AGO spent more than 2,000 attorney/paralegal hours during fiscal year 2010 defending inmate PRA litigation – 50 full-time work weeks for one employee and roughly $237,000.
Hargrove is also the prime sponsor of SB 5024, which aims to restrict inmates from filing suits in state court at public expense if they previously brought three or more cases found frivolous by a court. Inmates could still bring claims if they are at imminent risk of serious physical harm.
The Attorney General’s Office is currently defending against 48 active cases brought by offenders who have “struck out” under the three-strike provision of the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Of those, 30 active cases originate from two offenders. Since Jan. 1, 2009, these two offenders have brought 44 legal actions where they seek and are almost always granted a filing fee waiver.
The Senate Committee on Human Services & Corrections has scheduled a public hearing to discuss both bills at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 13, in the Cherberg Building, Hearing Room 1.
• Government Accountability: Public Record Act Statute of Limitations
A recent appellate decision opens the door to a larger number of costly lawsuits against government agencies. SB 5022, prime-sponsored by Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, closes the loophole in the law by clarifying both for agencies and requesters that there is a single, one-year statute of limitations under the Public Records Act for any claim where a requester has been denied a record, regardless of whether the agency makes a single response or responds in installments.
The Senate Government Operations Committee has scheduled a public hearing to discuss the bill at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 13, in the Cherberg Building, Hearing Room 2.
• Consumer Protection: Unauthorized Practice of Law Affecting Immigrants
A flaw in state law allows seemingly government-approved “immigration assistants” to charge for help even when they’re not qualified to offer legal advice. Their mistakes can delay or ruin a customer’s chances of obtaining legal status. SB 5023 sponsored by Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, eliminates the state’s “immigration assistant” designation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a public hearing to discuss the bill at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14, in the Cherberg Building, Hearing Room 1.
Each proposal also has a companion bill in the opposite house. More information on the Attorney General’s proposed legislative package is available online at http://www.atg.wa.gov/2011-legislative-agenda.
Media Contacts: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager, (206) 464-6432, firstname.lastname@example.org. Primary contact for Consumer Protection bills.
Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725. Primary contact for Government Accountability and Community Safety bills.