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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 07, 2009
McKenna unveils major new initiatives to protect vulnerable adults, domestic violence victims

Agenda for 2009 legislative session also includes initiative to cut back on abusive records requests

OLYMPIA – Attorney General Rob McKenna today released his 2009 legislative agenda, with a special focus on protecting the state’s most vulnerable citizens and helping financially strapped homeowners.

“Today we’ve requested laws to strengthen our state’s ability to protect seniors, adults with disabilities, and the victims of the worst domestic abusers,” McKenna said.  “We’re also advocating legislation that builds on our successful work to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.”

AG McKenna also requested that the Legislature save taxpayer dollars by reigning in the most egregious abusers of the state’s public records laws: inmates who flood the system with document requests intended to tax state resources.

COMMUNITY SAFETY

Protecting the Victims of Serial Domestic Abusers
“These longer sentences will send a strong message to those who stalk, terrorize and attack innocent women and children that we will no longer offer a painless time-out for the perpetrators of shocking cases of domestic abuse,” McKenna said. “And most important, longer prison terms will provide the victims of abuse with the time they need to rebuild their lives.”

The requested legislation:

  • Represents the most significant updates to our domestic violence protections since the Domestic Violence Prevention Act first became law some 25 years ago.
  • Gives chronic domestic abusers the sentences that they truly deserve by ramping up the consequences of being a repeat abuser.
  • Requires judges to factor in the lower-level prior domestic violence histories of the worst batterers.
  •  Counts prior domestic violence offenses more heavily when it comes to sentencing.

“There are too many examples of lives lost to repeat domestic violence offenders who should have already been in jail,” said Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham, who will prime sponsor the Senate bill. “This legislation will treat domestic violence with the seriousness it demands so we can put dangerous criminals behind bars and protect citizens before they become victims.”

This bill has not yet been filed.

Improving Protections for Vulnerable Adults
“We’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of crimes committed against vulnerable adults: seniors and those with disabilities,” McKenna said. “It’s time for the government to act to protect those who can’t protect themselves from physical abuse or financial exploitation.”

The requested legislation:

  • Allows for greater public disclosure of information about reports of abuse, neglect, abandonment and financial exploitation.
  • Authorizes DSHS to establish a publicly searchable database of findings of abuse, abandonment, neglect and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults.
  • Requires longer sentences for those who commit crimes against vulnerable adults: Those who are (a) 60 or older who are unable to care for themselves due to mental, physical or functional disability, (b) developmentally disabled, (c) residing in long-term care facilities, (d) receiving in-home services or (e) incapacitated under guardianship law.
  • Requires employees of financial institutions to receive training to recognize and report financial exploitation of vulnerable adults.

“I hear every day from seniors and their families who have been taken advantage of by individuals and companies,” said Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, one of the sponsors of the bill. “My mother was one of these seniors, and I was astounded with the volume and persistence of these scammers. This legislation will further protect senior citizens and increase penalties for people who take advantage of them. I thank Rob McKenna for his work to bring these issues to the Legislature.”

This bill has not yet been filed.

Youth Internet Safety

  • Would study the feasibility of developing a digital forensics lab to be housed at the State Patrol.
  • Creates a class C felony crime of viewing depictions of child pornography.
  • Protects non-commissioned law enforcement personnel from prosecution when viewing depictions during investigations.

“Keeping children safe and giving law enforcement the tools they need are a top priority,” said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Mead, one of the sponsors of the bill.

“With emerging technology, consumers are becoming more vulnerable,” said Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, another sponsor of the bill.

This bill has not yet been filed.

Sexually Violent Predators
The Attorney General’s Office requests modifications to the state’s SVP law to:

  • Streamline the state’s ability to civilly commit dangerous offenders.
  • Clarify where civil commitment proceedings may be filed, especially in cases where the sexually violent offense occurred outside of Washington.
  • Make it easier for the AGO to receive court records.
  • Prevent the AGO from being charged court fees in excess of those charged to county prosecutors.

The Attorney General’s Office also requests legislation that would improve the state’s ability to commit sexually violent predators by:

  • Allowing out of state victims of sexually violent predators to receive reimbursement for the cost of counseling related to being notified, interviewed, deposed, or testifying in connection with SVP court proceedings.

This bill has not yet been filed.

SAFEGUARDING CONSUMERS

Mortgage Law Fix
“Over the last two years, we’ve worked to help families stay in their homes during the worst economic downturn in two generations,” McKenna said. “That’s why we fought last year for $200 million in relief and new, affordable loan terms for nearly 10,000 Countrywide mortgage customers. And that’s why we’re going to work to update last year’s foreclosure rescue bill to make sure that any homeowner who wants to sell their home rather than face foreclosure is able to find a real estate agent to work with them.”

Legislation, jointly requested by the AGO, the state Department of Licensing and the state Department of Financial Institutions, exempts real estate brokers from the law (RCW 61.34.020) and allows those simply offering to buy the home within 20 days of foreclosure to make the purchase.

“This was one of the best examples of collaboration. When we passed last year’s bill, we all shared the intent to nab scam artists. Instead, real estate professionals were caught in the net,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, who will prime-sponsor the bill when it is filed. “The agreed-upon legislation exempts realtors who do good work. It’s a good fix and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Tobacco Internet Sales

  • Would prohibit the shipment of cigarettes purchased through the Internet or by mail order to anyone other than licensed wholesalers or retailers, correcting a loophole in Washington’s laws regarding age verification, taxation, public health goals and certification.

This bill has not yet been filed.

Prizes and Promotions

  • Brings state laws into the Internet age by making sure Internet promotions are held to the same standard as direct mail.
  • Ensures that sellers obtain a customer’s express agreement to receive and pay for goods prior to seeking payment.

This bill has not yet been filed.

Lemon Law

  • Updates the state’s 21-year-old Lemon Law to meet changing consumer expectations and address substantially longer and more extensive warranties and other changes in the automotive industry.

This bill has not yet been filed.

OPEN GOVERNMENT

Improving Public Access to Records by Reducing Abusive Prisoner Requests
Over the past several years, incarcerated felons have been flooding state and local government with requests intended to overburden public records staff and harass law enforcement and other public employees. These requests have nothing to do with the conduct of government. In fact, they inhibit good, responsive government because time spent addressing inmate requests is time and money spent not addressing more important matters – including responding to legitimate requests from persons outside the inmate population.  

“Endless, broad public records requests bog down the system and waste taxpayer time and money.” said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, who will prime-sponsor the bill in the Senate. “There’s also a community protection component to this because some inmates are using drift nets to fish for personal information on law enforcement and corrections officers, judges and their families, when they should be limited to using one line at a time.”

Sens. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, who echoed Carrell’s concerns, will also sponsor the bill in the Senate.

The requested legislation:

  • Allows respondents to public records requests to request an injunction if a records request by an inmate is proven to be intended to harass or cause harm to a person or vital government function.
  • Gives courts authority to enjoin all or any part of the request and to retain jurisdiction for future requests by the same requestor.
  • Has the potential to save the state more than $500,000 per biennium by allowing respondents to cut down on record requests intended to harm government functions.

This bill has not yet been filed.

Public Records Act Board:
Working with State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Rep. Lynn Kessler, the AGO is requesting legislation to study the feasibility of creating a board that would:

  • Deal with complaints alleging violations of the public records act and the public meetings act.
  • Enforce the public records act and the open public meetings act.
  • Offer alternative methods for dispute resolution under the public records act and the open public meetings act.

“This bill is the first step towards giving existing public records and open meetings laws more teeth," said Rep. Kessler, D-Hoquiam.  "A board that is specifically charged with handling alleged violations of these laws, working together with the Attorney General’s office, helps protect the public interest.”

This bill has been pre-filed.

Open Public Meetings Act Training

The Attorney General and State Auditor have jointly requested legislation:

  • Requiring training and certification in the Open Public Meetings Act including curriculum based on model rules developed by the AG and SAO with input from the public and local government.
    • Current elected officials are required to complete the certification within 90 days of adoption of the model rules;
    • Newly elected officials are required to complete certification within 90 days of taking office after adoption of the model rules.
  • Providing a safe harbor for actions taken in an illegal executive session:
    • If the government body self-discloses the violation at the first regular meeting after the illegal session;
    • If the body has taken no final action related to the illegal session prior to the self-disclosure; and
    • If there is no actual or anticipated litigation related to the illegal executive session.
  • Allowing permissive recording of executive sessions by government entities, exempt from disclosure unless specifically authorized by a resolution of that entity.
  • Requiring mandatory recording of executive sessions, triggered by a judicial finding of any “intentional” OPMA violation and ordered by a court.  Recording is only required for two years from the court order and recordings are retained for two years, but exempt from disclosure under the PRA.

LINKS:

AGO 2009 Legislation



Contacts:

Janelle Guthrie, AGO Communications Director, (360) 586-0725

 

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