Lawmakers act on range of measures

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers moved ahead Saturday on a range of legislation, including measures on child pornography viewed by criminal defendants, electric car fees and adoptees’ access to birth certificates.

A bill to restrict the ability of criminal defendants to view child pornography pertaining to their cases passed out of the House unanimously. The measure stems from a case of a convicted child molester who, by acting as his own attorney, was able to watch hours of videos he shot of himself sexually abusing boys.

Weldon Marc Gilbert, a former pilot who pleaded guilty to federal sexual exploitation charges in 2009 and is serving a 25-year sentence, was preparing his defense on related charges in Pierce County when a judge ruled last July that he could watch the videos without supervision.

Under the bill, criminal defendants could view pertinent child pornography only in the presence of a court-appointed supervisor. HB 2177 goes next to the Senate.

In the Senate, a bill to charge electric car owners a $100 annual fee to compensate for the lack of gas taxes they pay passed by a 31-16 vote. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said that while electric cars are good for the environment, they put the same wear and tear on the state’s roads that gas vehicles do.

“This simply ensures that (electric car owners) contribute their fair share to the upkeep of our roads,” Haugen said in a statement.

The same bill passed in the Senate last year but failed in the House. SB 5251 goes next to the House.

Washington’s gas tax stands at 37.5 cents per gallon, and is the state’s largest source of transportation dollars. The bill does not apply to hybrid vehicles or to those that don’t exceed 35 mph.

In the House, a bill passed unanimously to allow adult adoptees access to their birth certificates unless a biological parent has filed an affidavit to the contrary. The bill would place Washington among a handful of states, including Oregon and Illinois, that such access.

The measure would also allow adoptees unconstrained access to non-identifying information about their birth parents, which could shed light on adoptees’ medical histories. Adoptees born in Washington state after Oct. 1, 1993, have long had these rights. The bill applies to those born before that date.

It would also allow adoptees to learn whether a birth parent who has filed an affidavit of nondisclosure is dead.

Under the bill, birth parents seeking anonymity would be required to renew their affidavits every 10 years. Parents of those born after the 1993 cutoff must do so every five years.

“We’re at a moment in our nation’s history where we’re ready to explore this,” said Rep. Tina L. Orwall, D-Des Moines, who sponsored the bill. Orwall is herself an adoptee, but because she was born in Florida — where adoption records are sealed — the bill would not affect her.

HB 2211 now heads to the Senate.

Earlier Saturday, that chamber passed a bill to rein in future tax breaks granted by the Legislature. Approved by a 45-3 margin, the measure would put five-year sunsets on all new and extended tax breaks unless otherwise specified.

It would also require the Legislature to explain what the tax break is intended to achieve. Washington has more than 600 tax breaks, most of which have no expiration date.

“When the Legislature passes a tax break without defining its benefits, it makes it difficult to determine whether the tax break actually provides the benefit,” Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said in a statement. “This measure will clear up the mystery.”

A separate, more ambitious effort in the House to phase out 251 existing tax breaks amounting to nearly $2 billion and subject them to a review remains in the Ways and Means Committee. It faces an uphill battle to get a floor vote.

SB 6088 goes next to the House.

In the House, a bill to foster the implementation of the insurance exchange associated with the federal health care overhaul was hotly debated and ultimately passed 52-43, largely along party lines. Democrats, who mostly supported the bill, said it would help ensure that the state is ready to comply with the federal rules when they go into effect in 2014.

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, said the measure would bring the state “one step closer to implementing health care reform.”

Republicans, who were united in opposition, said government involvement in the insurance industry would raise costs.

“Socialized health care is impossible,” said Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Blaine.

When Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, referred to the federal law as “Obamacare,” Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Moeller interjected, saying the term was a pejorative. He prohibited its use on the House floor.

Bailey and other Republicans subsequently referred to the act as “Obama Health Care.”

Democratic Reps. Chris Hurst, Enumclaw and Larry Seaquist, Gig Harbor, broke ranks to vote against the measure. HB 2319 goes now to the Senate.

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