Bill would curtail power of state Attorney General

OLYMPIA — A bill introduced Monday by a group of Senate Democrats would prohibit the state’s attorney general from unilaterally taking legal action against the wishes of the governor or other agency heads.

Attorney General Rob McKenna angered state Democrats, including Gov. Chris Gregoire, by signing onto a multistate challenge to the national health care reform law.

Under the bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Adam Kline, of Seattle, the attorney general would be required to seek consultation on matters not already covered by state statutes that grant the office authority to act on behalf of the state, such as consumer protection or fraud.

Fellow Democratic Sens. Karen Keiser, of Kent, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, of Seattle, and Karen Fraser, of Olympia, have also signed onto the bill.

The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously last September that McKenna has the authority to lead the state into a challenge against the health law, and McKenna’s office said he has not joined cost-sharing efforts in the multistate case because some state leaders disagreed with it.

McKenna, who is running for governor, believes the health care law is unconstitutional because of a requirement that people without health insurance must purchase private insurance or face a fine.

Gregoire, a Democrat, has said in a federal court brief that McKenna’s participation in the multistate lawsuit does not represent Washington’s position. She has moved ahead with plans to implement the health care law.

Last week, about 30 Democratic members of the Legislature filed a legal brief, joining other lawmakers from around the country, in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the case in late March, with an outcome expected in late June.

“There are a lot of people in the state of Washington who stand to gain from this act, and their attorney general is not representing their interests,” Kline said. “He’s doing it cowboy style, he’s doing it solo.”

Kline said that because the attorney general’s office and governor’s office are both open seats for election this year and could be won by either Republican or Democratic candidates, “it’s not a political matter.”

“It’s about governance,” he said. “It’s about proper relationships between attorney and client.”

McKenna spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said that Kline’s bill impinges on the constitutional role of the attorney general.

“It’s the job of the Attorney General to balance the interests of individual state officials with the legal interests of the state and of the people as a whole,” she said in an email. “Sometimes that requires our office to take positions that are unpopular with other elected officials or individual state agencies. But to allow other officials to control the state’s legal interests, and those of other state agencies, would turn the Attorney General into a mere mouthpiece for those officials’ narrow interests.”

Kline’s bill also would codify a recent state Supreme Court ruling that requires McKenna to represent the state’s public lands commissioner in a legal appeal.

Justices ruled in September that McKenna can’t deny the commissioner legal representation. They said it was the first time the court had been presented with a case in which the attorney general had refused to represent a state official on an appeal.

Commissioner Peter Goldmark had argued that state law requires McKenna to provide legal aid upon request, but the attorney general refused to appeal a right-of-way case in Okanogan County. The county’s Public Utility District won a lower-court case allowing it to run power lines across state trust land that Goldmark manages.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers speaks to the crowd during an opening ceremony at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County executive pitches $1.66B budget

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced his proposed budget Tuesday afternoon. Public comment is slated to begin Oct. 10.

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

A view of a 6 parcel, 4.4 acre piece of land in Edmonds, south of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Housing authority seeks more property in Edmonds

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County doesn’t have specific plans for land near 80th Avenue West, if its offer is accepted.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Emergency responders surround an ultralight airplane that crashed Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington, resulting in the pilot's death. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Pilot dead in ultralight plane crash at Arlington Municipal Airport

There were no other injuries or fatalities reported, a city spokesperson said.

One of Snohomish County PUD’s new smart readers is installed at a single family home Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
PUD program seeks to make energy grid smarter for 380K customers

The public utility’s ConnectUp program will update 380,000 electric meters and 23,000 water meters in the next few years.

Water main break cuts off faucets in Tulalip neighborhood

Once service is restored, Tulalip residents should boil their water for a minute before use or use bottled water.

Most Read