277 new state laws hit books

OLYMPIA – Three months after the state’s lawmakers cast their final votes, the seeds of change they sowed are about to take root.

On Thursday, most of the 277 laws passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Locke will take effect, and residents will begin to learn what their representatives did for them and, in some cases, to them.

Among the potpourri of laws are those creating charter schools, banning extreme fighting, and invoking new rules for treating drunken drivers and selling Washington apples. There are no general tax increases, but a few of the laws involve fee increases.

State Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, said the diversity reflects challenges that residents confront every day and told lawmakers about when they came to Olympia seeking help.

Some new key laws

Animal Cruelty

* SSB 6560 makes it a gross misdemeanor to use or attempt to use a hook to pierce the flesh of a bird or mammal.

* SSB 6105 enhances the sentencing of certain crimes committed by juveniles and permits courts to order mental health tests, and treatment of offenders if necessary.

Birds

* ESHB 2650 tries to capitalize on a growing number of bird watchers and nature tourists by enhancing sites where they go birding.

Children

* HB 2765 improves and expands services for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. A new advisory council in the Department of Social and Health Services will, by Jan. 1, develop statewide standards for early intervention. By July 1, a pamphlet on available care will be available for parents.

Crime

* HB 2400 aims to keep the most dangerous sex offenders out of alternative sentencing and treatment programs. Originally, this law proposed to gut alternative sentencing in the state, but in its final version only requires the program to be reviewed.

* SB 6378 goes after those who pirate movies by making it a crime to use a recording device in a movie theater. The law also holds harmless theater owners and employees who detain those suspected of using a recording device.

Economy

* ESHB 2546 extends a program of business-and-occupation tax credits for qualified high-tech research and development expenditures. It also requires an annual report detailing the tax credit taken and the number of new products, research projects, trademarks, patents and copyrights associated with activities for which the credit was taken.

Education

* SSB 6171 and related bills seek to protect students from teachers and coaches who prey on them. The laws will speed up investigations of suspected misconduct and make the results of investigations more easily attainable by other school districts. It also requires school districts to exchange information regarding sexual misconduct by current and former employees. Districts cannot hire prospective employees who have not authorized the release of records of such investigations.

Employment

* ESB 6180 bars genetic testing of employees and prospective employees by any public agency or private company.

Higher Education

* SSB 5139 targets the increasing need of new college students for remedial courses. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and higher education officials must figure out which students need to acquire college-level basic skills and how to provide them.

Identity theft

* SSB 5412 would allow the voluntary inclusion of thumb prints or other biometric identifiers on driver’s licenses once verification equipment is installed by the state Department of Licensing. The bill takes effect July 1.

Liability reform

* SSB 6600 enacts a six-year statute of limitations for claims against contractors.

* SSB 6601 mirrors a new federal law barring people from suing fast food restaurants and food makers as the cause of their obesity.

Web site

For copies of these laws and others debated in the legislative session, go to www.leg.wa.gov or www.governor.wa.gov.

“Every bill is important to someone,” she said. “I think we did good things.”

Charter schools: In education, barring a successful referendum, the biggest news is charter schools, which will be allowed for the first time – even though voters rejected them twice before. Under the law, five charter schools may open in each of the next three years, and then 10 in each of the following three years.

Ultimate fights: A national outbreak of extreme fighting – promoted but unsanctioned brawls for cash – jolted lawmakers into action. They banned amateur bouts of no-holds-barred fighting. Promoters could be convicted of a class C felony.

Apple marketing: The settlement of a bitter legal battle between small and large apple growers led to a law prohibiting the Washington Apple Commission from promoting or marketing the state’s signature fruit anywhere in the United States, including Washington. Its role will be solely to promote sales in foreign countries.

Cyberstalking: Lawmakers created a new felony crime this year, cyberstalking. The bill was born out of the chilling tale of a Seattle woman whose ex-boyfriend relentlessly sent e-mails loaded with lies about her to her friends and co-workers. The bill was submitted by Sen. Dave Schmidt, R-Bothell, chairman of the Senate Technology and Communications Committee.

Drunken drivers: Another law targets drunken drivers by requiring first-time offenders to install ignition-lock devices on their cars. Drivers must breathe into the mechanisms before starting their cars. The car won’t start unless their breath is free of alcohol. Those with multiple driving-under-the-influence convictions already face the restrictions.

Oil spills: With the Point Wells oil spill off the Edmonds waterfront fresh on their minds, lawmakers endorsed the efforts of Rep. Mike Cooper, D-Edmonds, to force Washington to develop a zero oil-spill strategy.

Off-road fee: No session would be complete without a fee increase somewhere. The cost of annual off-road vehicle permits will rise from $5 to $18, and 60-day temporary use permits will cost $7.

Herald Writer Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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