Thursday, April 18, 2013

New protections enacted for stalking victims

Stalking is a crime that affects approximately 3.4 million Americans each year. These perpetrators know no economic, racial, or societal bounds. Some stalkers are former spouses or boyfriends who are angry about child custody battles or embittered by breakups. But they can also be total strangers to the victim.

Stalking can destroy lives. They sit outside homes for hours. They follow victims to work, to the gym, and out with friends. They call dozens of times a day and make constant threats.

Stalking may go on for years and can end in murder or suicide. Victims of stranger stalking in Washington state have virtually no tools to stop these actions. Under current law, the only protection these victims can receive is an anti-harassment order. Anti-harassment orders are what neighbors file against each other over barking dogs or fence disputes. Law enforcement places very low priority on anti-harassment orders.

Fortunately, HB 1383 sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) will help save lives. It will create a new a stalking protection order, similar to sexual assault and domestic violence protection orders. This will give law enforcement better tools to stop stalkers, more protections for victims, and harsher penalties for perpetrators.

HB 1383 passed the House and Senate unanimously. It was renamed the "Jennifer Paulson Stalking Protection Order" in memory of a Tacoma special education teacher who was murdered by her stalker three years ago. The bill now heads to the Governor's office for his signature.

More information:
•    End Stalking In America, Inc.
•    What other states are doing about stalking
•    Jennifer Paulson’s story

Photo credit: Salvatore Vuono/

Encouraging high-schoolers to study computer science

The demand for computer programmers exceeds the supply available to businesses in Washington that want to hire them. That's an opportunity that high-school students should take advantage of as they think about their future careers. But at the same time, they need to make sure they complete all the courses required for a high-school diploma.

Thanks to a bill by Rep. Drew Hansen that's nearing final legislative approval, it could soon be easier for high-schoolers to satisfy both those goals. House Bill 1472 calls for school boards to approve an advanced placement (AP) computer-science course as equivalent to a math or science course that counts toward meeting graduation requirements. Other states that do that, instead of treating the computer course as simply an elective, have seen more students enroll in computer science.

Read more about HB 1472 on Rep. Hansen's web page.

Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Passage of “Facebook” bill is a victory for civil liberties

We've all read about people seeking jobs and getting asked for their Facebook login information, or even told to log into their accounts right there so the interviewer can "shoulder surf".

Can employers do this as a condition for employment?

We've also heard about employers requiring their existing employees to disclose this information.

Are these requirements legal?

There's nothing in current law that prohibits employers from doing any of this. But that'll change as soon as Gov. Inslee signs Senate Bill 5211, which passed the House today on a unanimous vote.

A striking amendment -- introduced by Rep. Chris Reykdal and strongly supported by everyone on both sides of the aisle, the business community and the ACLU -- provides a clear solution to the problem of employers who demand that job applicants or current employees do one or all of these things:

  • provide the passwords to their private social media accounts such as Facebook
  • log into their accounts in the presence of the employer
  • add an individual affiliated with the employer to their "friends" lists associated with social media sites
Photo credit:
The legislation explicitly bars:
  •  employers from requesting or requiring disclosure of an employee or applicant's personal social networking login or password under any circumstance
  • coercive "friending" and forced logins in the employer's presence
  • employers from retaliation against employees for refusing to comply with their requests

The bill does allow investigations by employers in regards to leaks of proprietary information or to comply with law, but even then, the employer cannot request or require the personal login information or engage in coercive friending or forced logins.

If the employer is carrying out an investigation, he may request the leaked content, but there is no requirement that the employee turn it over.

In fact, this bill does not give the employer more power to force disclosure of that information than exists under current law.

With the passage of this bill, Washington joins 8 other states that have enacted some form of legislation addressing the issue.

Read this story in Spanish.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Getting tough on drunk drivers

Washingtonians are three times more likely to be injured or killed on the roads than at the hands of criminals. Drunk drivers are a major cause of the tragedies in our neighborhoods and on our highways.

This afternoon, Governor Jay Inslee introduced his plan to combat chronic drunk driving at a press conference with Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

House Bill 2030, introduced by Rep. Dawn Morrell (D-Puyallup), streamlines complicated DUI laws in our state. After someone is arrested for DUI, law enforcement impounds the vehicle. An ignition interlock device would be installed before returning the car back to the driver. This is a common sense change that will help prevent tragedies.

It also creates a new driver’s license for the most persistent offenders that will prevent them from purchasing alcohol for ten years.

The legislation also dedicates funds to support highly-effective DUI emphasis patrols. Counties often lack the resources they need to prosecute repeat offenders. These changes will give them the funds they need to get the job done.

 “As a critical care nurse, I’ve had to ask the family of a 12-year-old if they wanted their child to be an organ donor,” said Rep. Morrell. “Once you’ve done that, you are resolved to prevent more carnage on our roads and more funerals for little boys and girls who’ll never go to prom, never get their diploma, and never bring their own sons and daughters home for Christmas to their grandparents. This bill will save lives.”

The leaders were joined by Frank and Carol Blair of Puyallup. Three years ago, their daughter Sheena was killed by a drunk driver. Carol and Frank have dedicated their lives to preventing another family from experiencing the same heartbreak.

“Victims of drunk drivers don’t get a second chance at life, so it’s time we stop giving the drunk drivers a second chance,” said Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), chair of the House Public Safety Committee. “Governor Inslee has proposed strong new measures and although we only have a short time before the session ends I know we have the political will to pass these important reforms into law.”

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing the House Public Safety Committee on Thursday afternoon.

Read this story in Spanish.

Capitol Ideas podcast: Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller

Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver) is Speaker Pro Tem of the Washington State House of Representatives.

In a new Capitol Ideas interview, he takes listeners onto the podium in the House chamber for a behind the scenes look at the role debate plays in a modern representative democracy.

He also tells how he balances his leadership role with his duties as a state representative from Washington's 49th district.

Read this story in Spanish.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Justice at last for those wrongfully convicted

The third time was the charm for Rep. Tina Orwall’s measure to compensate the wrongfully convicted in our state now that the Senate passed HB 1341 unanimously this evening. 

It’s been a long and winding road for this legislation. When Orwall first introduced it in 2011, it didn’t even get a hearing. The 2012 attempt was passed out of Judiciary, but was not scheduled for a hearing in Ways and Means. This time around, however, after numerous hurdles and some tweaking in the Senate, it’ll be on its way to Gov. Inslee’s desk as soon as the House agrees to the changes, which modified the bill to allow structured settlement awards and establishes that claimants must waive any other compensation under state or federal law. 

Orwall’s measure will provide a wrongfully convicted person with:

  • $50,000 for each year behind bars
  • Additional $50,000 for each year on death row
  • $25,000 for each year on parole, community custody or as a registered sex offender
  • Compensation for child support
  • Reimbursement for restitution, assessments fees and court costs associated with the wrongful conviction
  • Attorneys’ fees up to $75,000
  • Higher education tuition waivers
  • Access to reentry services
 Read this story in Spanish.

There's (not) an app for that -- yet

The Washington State Legislature has an award-winning web site. All four corners boast web sites (you're visiting one right now), as do executive offices from the governor on down. If you want to find out something about state government -- how's that bill doing, what's this or that agency's latest initiative, where's the governor speaking next Thursday, or why are flags at half-mast outside government buildings -- you can sit at your computer and get your answer with a few keystrokes. We're a wired state government.

That only makes sense: With better than 85 percent of Washingtonians hooked up to the Internet, at home or at their business or, most often, both, we're well into the top 10 states for Internet penetration. We're a wired state.

Increasingly, however, we're also becoming un-wired. Mobile devices are changing the way people connect. Unfortunately, many of those great government web sites haven't adapted to this new reality and it shows.

This might not be such a problem were it not for two interesting pieces of data.

Last year, smartphones topped the 50-percent mark among U.S. cellphone users. For the first time, more than half the people you see carrying cellphones – and that's essentially everyone you see – are walking around with extremely sophisticated and capable hand-held computers that can also be used, in a pinch, as a telephone.

Second, and here's where the headline of this post becomes relevant, more of those smartphone owners (54.2 percent) used them to access apps than to access an Internet browser (52.1 percent) last year.

If there's an app for almost everything, what's missing? Conspicuously, most state-level legislative bodies. The Obama White House has a great app, the U.S. House has one, the Senate Republican Conference has one, and several U.S. representatives and senators have individual apps. Below that . . . crickets. As of last month, the National Conference of State Legislatures was aware of just seven legislative apps:

Alaska Legislature
Florida House
New York Senate
North Carolina General Assembly
Texas Senate Business & Commerce Committee
Utah Watch Bills
Puerto Rico Senate

Why? Various reasons, starting with cost. It takes serious skills to create a worthwhile, attractive, user-friendly interactive app, and those skills don't come cheap. Just the initial coding can run upwards of $15,000 for a relatively simple app, and the best ones, while appearing to be simple, aren't. Few legislatures have people on staff with the expertise to build an app, and in the midst of a recession, no one wants to be accused of unnecessary spending of public resources. 

Apps qualify as new territory – for us. But for the estimated 114 million Americans who use smartphones (not to mention 70 million tablets, and that stat is almost a year old), apps aren't new. They're expected, and more and more, they're preferable to traditional web sites.

Every legislature will have an iPhone and Adroid app sooner or later, and probably a Windows Phone app as well. Every caucus within those legislatures will have their app. The only question yet to be decided is, who'll get there the quickest, with the best product?

Hilarity in the House

It isn't all policy wonkery and political hardball in the House; sometimes, there's a bit of legislative levity, too. And each year, TVW nominates mirthful moments from its video coverage for the awards it calls "Cammies" -- a blend of "cameras" and "Emmys" -- and puts them to a vote by the attendees at its annual gala.

Two of the side-splitting solons honored with Cammies this year are House Democrats Ross Hunter of Medina and Steve Kirby of Tacoma: Hunter in the category of "The Grinding Gears of Government"  and Kirby in "Collegial Comity."

Check out Hunter's riff on color-coding in the Appropriations Committee and Kirby's transgressive remarks about the other chamber on the House floor.

Read this story in Spanish.