26th District lawmakers busy during 2006 session

The Washington State Legislature adjourned on March 8, marking the end of the 60-day session one day ahead of schedule. Two weeks later, Sen. Bob Oke (R-Port Orchard) and Reps. Pat Lantz (D-Gig Harbor) and Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor), all of the 26th District, said they count themselves among those amazed at what was accomplished in two short months.

For Oke, the “highlight” of his 16 years in office came when his bill prohibiting the distribution of tobacco product samples to members of the public was signed into law after four past attempts.

“Sometimes, we fight so hard and try to do so much. That week, I just felt like the Lord said, ‘Back off and let me take care of it,’” Oke said.

Oke, who is suffering from multiple myeloma, said that if the bill hadn’t passed he would have run again for the Senate.

“I was ready to run (again),” Oke said. “I just wasn’t going to give up until it passed.”

But after the House passed the bill on March 3, Oke announced to his Senate colleagues that he would not seek re-election this fall. His current term expires in January 2007, when the newly elected senator from the 26th District is sworn in.

On March 7, the Senate paid tribute to Oke with a formal resolution.

Oke also sponsored other successful bills, one requiring proceeds from the sale of surplus real property acquired for the purpose of constructing the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge and any liquidated damages collected on any contract used to construct the bridge to be deposited into the Tacoma Narrows Toll Bridge Account instead of the Motor Vehicle Account.

Other bills, one allowing for group fishing permits, another requiring hunters to purchase turkey tags in addition to a small game license in order to hunt turkey, specifying that the money collected be used for the purposes of turkey and upland game bird management, were also successful.

Kilmer also counts himself among the legislators fortunate enough to pass legislation this session.

“My main focus in coming to Olympia was my interest in seeing our area grow more jobs,” Kilmer said. “We need to find new innovative ways of fostering growth in our economy so that our small businesses have the opportunity to grow and succeed.”

Kilmer sponsored and passed two pieces of legislation that increase the tax exemption for small businesses on their personal property. One of the bills — enabling a personal property exemption — is a constitutional amendment, so area voters will have the opportunity to vote on it this fall.

“When an owner is trying to get a business off the ground they face high overhead costs,” Kilmer said. “By increasing their personal property tax exemption from $3,000 to $15,000 per year, we can give new businesses the jump start they need to stay afloat.”

The proposed new Franciscan Hospital in Gig Harbor was in jeopardy because of inadequate roads around the proposed site. Kilmer passed a bill to create a local financing tool that will allow the roads to be improved and the hospital to be built without new taxes.

Kilmer passed a bill which adds military members and veterans to Washington’s anti-discrimination laws, protecting them from employment and housing discrimination.

In addition, he passed a bill that provided financial protections for Guard members and Reservists who own small businesses, capping interest rates on small business loans while they are deployed.

“The idea came at the suggestion of one of the brave soldiers I met at the National Guard Armory in Port Orchard,” Kilmer said. “The guardsman’s family business had suffered substantial financial hardship while he was deployed in Iraq. His business had substantial debt that had only managed to accrue interest in his absence. He said to me, ‘I spent 14 months of my life fighting for our country, and now I may lose my business in the process.’ That didn’t seem right to me.”

As a member of the Transportation Committee, Kilmer secured funding to enable a half-price discount for people who regularly commute across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge during the first year the bridge is open. Kilmer also got needed funding for local projects such as the Burley Olalla Interchange and State Route 302 and for passenger-only ferry service.

“First, we finally were able to broker a deal to get passenger-only-ferry (POF) service back up and running in the West Sound,” Kilmer said. “In the final hours of the legislative session, we passed a bill that would sell two retired vessels and use the proceeds to fund foot-ferry operations. Folks in our area have long wanted permanent passenger-only-ferry service.

“By November 1,” he said, “King and Kitsap Counties can submit business plans and apply for grants to subsidize a POF run from Southworth. Operators in Bremerton and Kingston can apply for these grants as well. This is great news for West Sound commuters.”

Lantz was also busy this session, introducing new legislation to create a felony charge for repeat drunk drivers who have received four or more DUI convictions within seven years, as well as an immediate felony charge for those who have a previous conviction of vehicular homicide or assault.

Lantz is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and a longtime advocate of medical liability reform.

She helped facilitate an an agreement on a proposal to improve patient safety and reform medical malpractice insurance and the civil justice system involving medical liability in Washington state.

“This compromise centers on patient safety and the prevention of medical errors first — not the competing interests of doctors or lawyers,” Lantz said. “The voters of our state have made it clear that they did not want such a serious issue decided by special interest groups. They want a real solution where everyone is at the table.”

Lantz also helped pass a bill that provides funding to expel pollutants from Washington’s waters by allocating funds to help upgrade wastewater projects in state parks that border both the Puget Sound and the Hood Canal.

“I was shocked to learn just how much our own state parks, including Kopachuck State Park in my own neighborhood, are contributing to the pollution of our waters,” said Lantz. “No one wants septic systems and wastewater dumping directly into swim areas and the surrounding environment. The state needs to lead by example and clean up its act if we are going to ask surrounding communities to join in our efforts.”

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