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Floods, ferries key in coming Olympia session

Local legislators say ‘big’ bills will have trouble in the short session.

Bainbridge’s legislative delegation expects floods, ferries and climate change to headline the 2008 legislative session, which begins next Monday in Olympia.

With a short, 60-day session, it will also be a year for budget tweaks and pet projects.

“Big issues have a much more difficult time in a short session,” Rep. Sherry Appleton of Poulsbo said. “Everything is so compressed, it seems like it goes by at the speed of light.”

Appleton, and Bainbridge’s Rep. Christine Rolfes and Sen. Phil Rockefeller, said finding state and federal relief for victims of recent storms will be a priority.

Rockefeller said Gov. Christine Gregoire will likely request supplemental funds for flood relief, and he expects legislators from all parts of Washington to respond.

“Everybody realizes their turn could come, that we’re all in this together,” he said.

Funding for culvert and stormwater improvements will also be discussed, Rolfes said.

“Its not just about flood relief, but flood prevention in the future,” she said.

The legislators hope statewide attention will also be paid to the ferry system after the high-profile shelving of Port Townsend’s aging steel electric boats.

Rolfes said she will support Gregoire’s proposal to fund construction of a new ferry for the Port Townsend route, and will also work to restore passenger-only service to Kingston.

Rep. Sherry Appleton already launched four ferry bills in the December pre-filing, including one that would triple the amount of vehicle excise tax money allocated to WSF. Two others would end expiration dates and one-car-per-trip limits on the “Wave2Go” passes, while a fourth would create a state ferry advisory commission.

“Ferries will stay in the center stage as long as we keep them there,” she said. “It’s not just me or Christine or Phil – people need to keep this center stage, they need to speak out so that other representatives will know how important it is.”

Appleton said she will also continue her 2007 efforts to pass a universal health care bill, as well as legislation aimed at capping interest rates on payday loans.

Ferries aren’t the only transportation issue islanders should keep an eye on, Rolfes said.

The debate over whether to toll drivers on major arteries like Seattle’s 520 bridge will find its way to the floor.

“That’s something that Kitsap residents can really get behind,” Rolfes said. “We tout ourselves as the only ones who have to pay a toll to leave our county.”

Rolfes also plans to push forward a local pilot project to promote telecommuting by Kitsap residents employed in King County, which she said could ease transportation and environmental impacts.

As vice-chair of the newly created Ecology and Parks Committee, Rolfes said she will back the state climate change initiative, which aims to rollback Washington’s greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels.

Rockefeller said legislators can lay groundwork for that effort in 2008 by requesting the necessary data on 1990 emissions levels, and identifying greenhouse gas point sources across the state.

The senator will introduce his own bill requiring new vehicles to carry a label detailing their emissions so consumers can consider environmental impact while shopping for a new ride.

California and New York have already adopted similar policies.

“My hope is that we would become the third state in the union to do that,” Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller said that on Bainbridge an increasingly finite water supply inland, rising water levels on the shores and elevated runoff and erosion from storm events should be ample cause for islanders to rally behind emissions controls.

“As an island community we have a lot of things to think about in terms of climate change,” he said.

Also on the green front, the senator will sponsor a bill to create a clear framework for establishing marine reserves in Puget Sound. Marine reserves have been created by several state agencies, but Rockefeller sees a need for a sound-wide set of standards.

“There’s no statutory framework for this, or procedure for how we go about it,” he said.

Rockefeller’s 2008 legislation will include a bill authorizing public utilities to upgrade failing water systems and another that would give families of state-protected children visitation rights if cleared by a judge.

Appleton, Rockefeller and Rolfes will all be up for reelection this year.

While campaigning is prohibited until after the legislative session, Appleton said it’s a temptation for some to use legislation as a campaign tool.

“A lot of bills get proposed that are going nowhere,” she said.

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Session players

The Washington State Legislature will convene in Olympia Jan. 14 for a 60-day session.

Rep. Sherry Appleton can be reached in Poulsbo at (360) 697-2588 or in Olympia at (360) 786-7934.

Rep. Christine Rolfes can be reached on Bainbridge at 842-8029 or in Olympia at (360) 786-7842.

Sen. Phil Rockefeller can be reached on Bainbridge at 842-3748 or in Olympia at (360) 786-7644.

For legislative information see www.leg.wa.gov.

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