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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 22, 2011
McKenna cheers passage of consumer protection, inmate public records bills

OLYMPIA – Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna expressed gratitude to legislators today for supporting several of his 2011 legislative proposals.

?“Contrary to public perception, Republicans and Democrats do work together in Olympia,” McKenna said. “During an incredibly busy year, I’m grateful to legislators for helping to increase protections for consumers and for preventing inmates from fleecing taxpayers.”

Consumer protection

Attorney General McKenna offered several consumer protection bills this year.  SB 5023 prohibits the unauthorized practice of immigration law and imposes legal consequences for making false representations about being skilled in immigration law. The bill removes the “immigration assistant” designation from the current law.  The Attorney General office worked closely with immigrant rights groups and members of the legal community to develop the bill. It passed with wide margins in the Senate and unanimously in the House. The bill was sponsored by Senator Margarita Prentice, D-Tacoma.

Law Enforcement Against Identity Theft (LEGIT) requested the Attorney General propose HB 1145, sponsored by Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Blaine. The new law is designed to reduce identity theft by defining mail theft and possession of stolen mail as felonies.

Corrections savings

The Attorney General’s Office offered two bills to reduce costly, frivolous public records requests and lawsuits filed from behind bars. HB 1037, sponsored by Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, stops inmates who filed three or more frivolous legal actions from filing more taxpayer-funded suits. SB 5025, sponsored by Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, will reduce the costs of litigation and penalties caused by inmates who make huge records requests to public agencies, in hopes of capitalizing on inadvertent errors by collecting penalties. The bill eliminates those penalties unless the agency has acted in bad faith. Both bills passed with wide bipartisan support.

Clock runs out on anti-gang, eminent domain and open government bills

Legislators chose not to act on a bill to protect neighborhoods from criminal street gangs.

?“People who live in the areas hardest hit by gang violence are, in many cases, more than 100 miles from Olympia,” McKenna said. “I worry that for some legislators, those families are out of sight and out of mind. But we’ll keep making the case that the state needs to step up its efforts against gang violence.”

HB 1126 would have injected money – up to a million dollars a year – into gang prevention and intervention programs, while allowing communities to file civil protection orders against known gang members. The bill never saw an up-or-down vote in the House. Meanwhile gang violence continues. In Sunnyside, for example, KIMA-TV reports that “crimes involving weapons have jumped from three in the first quarter of 2009 to 18 so far this year.”

Neither of the Attorney General’s bipartisan bills to cut back on the abuse of eminent domain passed this year. SB 5077, which would prohibit the use of eminent domain for economic development, easily sailed through the Senate but did not make it out of committee in the House. The only public opposition to the bill – which would primarily benefit the poor, minorities, immigrants and the elderly — came from Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s office and the Seattle City Attorney. 

Finally, on the Open Government front, SB 5022  was proposed to save money by clarifying the statute of limitations for lawsuits under the Public Records Act. It passed the Senate by a vote of 47-0 but proceeded no further. In addition, SB 5062 and its companion HB 1139, which received hearings but were not passed out of committee, would have allowed agencies to receive notice of a public record dispute and the opportunity to cure any error.  This bill would have strengthened the purpose of the Public Records Act, which is to make public records available, and reduced the loss of public funds caused by unnecessary litigation and assessment of penalties. 

Attorney General McKenna will review the bills that didn’t pass this year and determine whether to bring them back next session. Since 2006, the Legislature has passed 44 bills written by Attorney General McKenna’s office.

More information:
The AGO’s Legislative Page

Contacts:
Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725

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