State funds not out of the question for city's requests

Port Orchard’s agenda for the 2012 legislative session includes controversial topics including medical marijuana laws, getting money from the state’s already tight budget and changing public records laws.

But Briahna Taylor, the city’s lobbyist to the state legislature, thinks the city has a decent chance of getting at least some of what it’s asking for, she said at City Council's work study session, Tuesday.

The state’s budget has been stretched, she said, but not in ways that would prohibit Port Orchard from getting funding.

The legislature will need to deal with a $1.4 million budget shortfall for the next biennium, she said, but it’s mostly in its operating budget.

“For the most part, our largest interest is in the capital and transportation budgets,” she said. “In those two budgets we have something else going on.”

For those budgets, the legislature plans to propose revenue packages for upcoming ballots, she said.

Legislators plan to put a transportation revenue package on the ballot for November 2012, and Taylor hopes to get a funding request for improvements on Tremont Street in that package.

“We are putting in that request in light of the fact that a transportation package is being put together,” she said.

Port Orchard’s city council also requested that the lobbying firm encourage the state legislature to ask federal lawmakers to clarify their stance on the legality of medical marijuana.

The vague state laws about the issue, currently contradict federal laws.

“I think what the congress needs is a group of states saying, ‘We need something on this one way or another,” Port Orchard’s Mayor, Lary Coppola said.

Several city councilmen agreed that this was a good idea.

“You could start this at the local level, with a joint resolution to the feds,” said Councilwoman Carolyn Powers. “It could go from Washington state to our national leaders.”

Taylor said she’d research the issue.

She thinks, though, that it would be a better idea to avoid the letter, and focus on encouraging state lawmakers to clarify the state’s vague medical marijuana statutes, instead.

By focusing on the federal issue, she said, she might be less effective in lobbying for the state issue.

Also during this legislative session, Taylor, and the Association of Washington Cities, hope to make progress at changing public records laws and laws regarding meeting notifications.

In order to meet sufficient notification requirements, the city has had to wait 21 days, in the past, between when they announce that they plan to take action on a business item, and when they actually act, because of the city’s meeting schedule and the newspaper’s publication schedule.

“Because of the notification schedule and the lag between when you all take action and when it can appear in a newspaper, it actually slows down or creates an inefficient process,” Taylor told the city council Tuesday. “We are working with the newspaper lobbying group to try to come to an agreement that allows open access and clear notification but also more efficient processes.”

Last year, the Association of Washington Cities, suggested that the state create a database for all of the notifications to be published.

“The problem with that is it takes a lot of business away from newspapers,” Taylor said. “We’re looking at something not as ambitious this year, in light of (opposition from lobbying groups) we faced last year.”

The city of Port Orchard would also like to change public records laws, so that they are held less liable if they fail to produce a piece of documentation requested by a member of the public.

In some cities, including Prosser, the current laws have created major problems.

A Prosser resident has made a full-time job of thinking of obscure public records requests, and collecting money when the city fails to produce them, Coppola said.

The city currently has “a $1 million situation” because of it, he said, and Port Orchard hopes to avoid similar problems.

These lobbying issues will be the second set, in recent memory, brought to the state legislature from the city of Port Orchard by a professional lobbyist.

The city hired Taylor, through Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs, to represent the city at the legislature for an introductory rate of $2,500 per month last year.

During her time at the legislature, $700,000 was secured to fix the local DeKalb Street Pier, and she touted the funding as a major accomplishment of her time at the legislature.

This year, the city re-hired her for $3,000 per month, less than what many of the firm’s clients pay.

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