OLYMPIA – The Legislature will hear public testimony on 11 bills requested by Attorney General Rob McKenna this week, 10 pertaining to open government and protection of private property.
Monday, Jan. 17:
- Community Safety: Corrections Savings - Three strikes for frivolous lawsuits, 1:30 p.m., House Judiciary Committee, House Hearing Room A in the John L. O’Brien Building
The House Judiciary Committee will hear HB 1037, sponsored by Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, and 21 others, which restricts 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 waiver of the $250 filing fee, costing the state roughly $11,000 in filing fees alone.
The committee is scheduled to vote on the measure in executive session on Thursday, Jan. 20. The Senate Corrections Committee heard the companion measure, SB 5024, on Thursday, Jan. 13.
Wednesday, Jan. 19:
- Government Accountability: Eminent Domain Protections: 8 a.m., House Judiciary Committee, House Hearing Room A in the John L. O’Brien Building
The House Judiciary Committee will also hear two measures to protect private property by addressing eminent domain abuse.
State law encourages municipalities to redevelop community renewal areas using private enterprise. But the blight statute allows -- and even encourages -- what is explicitly prohibited by the state Constitution, Art. 1, Sect. 16, which says "private property shall not be taken for private use."
Washington's Community Renewal Law (CRL) allows municipalities to eliminate "blight" using the power of eminent domain. "Blight" includes any physical deterioration, inappropriate uses of land, diversity of ownership, high levels of unemployment or poverty, crime, as well as factors affecting welfare and morals. This definition is too broad and vague, putting landowners at risk.
According to a recent policy brief by the Washington Policy Center, since 2000, Washington local governments have applied or attempted to apply the CRL to take the property of more than
71,000 Washington residents.
When compared to residents in other areas, those living where the CRL has been used or contemplated are more likely to be:
- Ethnic or racial minorities;
- Less educated;
- Surviving on significantly less income; and
- Living at or below the poverty line.
HB 1036, sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, and 21 others, gives property owners 120 days to improve blighted property before condemnation and allows property owners to appeal to a county Superior Court to remove a blight designation.
A hearing on the Senate companion measures to these bills is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 20 in the Senate Government Operations Committee.
- Government Accountability: Public Record Act Statute of Limitations, 1:30 p.m., Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Hearing Room 1, John A. Cherberg Bldg.
A recent appellate decision opens the door to a larger number of costly lawsuits against government agencies. SB 5022, sponsored by Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and others, closes a 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.
Thursday, Jan. 20:
- Government Accountability: Public Records Act Enforcement: 10 a.m., House State Government Committee, House Hearing Room E, John L. O'Brien Bldg.
The Committee will hear four bills pertaining to the state’s Public Records Act on Thursday.
- HB 1034, sponsored by Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, and22 others, 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.
- HB 1044, requested by State Auditor Brian Sonntag and McKenna and sponsored by Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, and 12 others, creates an independent Office of Open Records to enforce the Public Records Act and save requesters and the state money.
Citizens denied access to public records and public meetings have no choice but to go to court. Lawsuits are costly and time-consuming. In addition, state agencies and local governments face a logjam of citizen complaints, costly litigation and uncertainty regarding potential liability requiring payment of attorneys' fees, costs and daily penalties. Many states provide an independent administrative review process to resolve these complaints without litigation.
- HB 1139, sponsored by Armstrong and others, requires records requesters seeking court penalties to first notify a government agency of their intent to file a lawsuit over denied records, allowing agencies time to correct possible mistakes, solving disputes before they turn into lawsuits and saving taxpayers money.
- HB 1033, sponsored by Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland, and14 others, is the companion to SB 5022 (detailed above), which will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 19.
- Government Accountability: Eminent Domain Protections: 10 a.m., Senate Government Operations Committee, Senate Hearing Room 2, John A. Cherberg Bldg.
The Senate Government Operations Committee on Thursday will hear companion measures to two bills heard on Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee.
SB 5078, sponsored by Shin, Sen. Dan Swecker, R- Rochester, and eight others, gives property owners 120 days to improve blighted property before condemnation and allows Washington property owners to appeal to a county Superior Court to remove a blight designation.
More information on the Attorney General’s proposed legislative package is available online at http://www.atg.wa.gov/2011-legislative-agenda.
Media Contacts: Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725. Primary contact for Government Accountability and Community Safety bills.