November 1, 2007

2007 Election Preview — Part Four

By Randy Hodgins

Well, we are less than a week away from the general election so I figured I’d better finish this preview or you will all have send your ballots in without reading these truly insightful comments.  In this election final preview, we will cover the two remaining ballot measures that we have not yet discussed — Referendum 67 and Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 8212.

During the 2007 session, the Legislature passed SSB 5726 which established the insurance fair conduct act.  This measure would make it unlawful for insurers to unreasonably deny insurance coverage or payment of benefits and allows “first party claimants” to an insurance policy to sue insurers for unresonable denials of coverage or payment of benefits.  Essentially, Referendum 67 asks the voters of the state of Washington their opinion on this bill.  A vote in favor of Referendum 67 means SSB 5726 would be enacted into law.  A vote against the referendum means the bill as passed the Legislature would not go into effect.

Proponents of Referendum 67 argue that the measure simply requires the insurance industry to be fair and pay legitimate claims in a reasonable and timely manner.  They claim that Washington is one of only 5 states with no penalty when insurers intentionally deny a claim.  Supporters include Rep. Steve Kirby (D-Tacoma); Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Roy); Diane Sosne, President of SEIU Local 1199; and Kelly Fox, President of the Washington Council of Firefighters.

Opponents of Referendum 67 argue that the measure will increase the number of frivolous lawsuits and represents a windfall for lawyers at the expense of consumers.  They claim that existing laws enforced by the state Insurance Commissioner are adequate to protect consumers.  Individuals listed against Referendum 67 include W. Hugh Maloney, President of the Washington State Medical Association; Don Brunell, President of the Association of Washington Business; Dana Childers, Executive Director of the Liability Reform Coalition; and Bill Garrity, President of the Washington Construction Industry Council.

SJR 8212 is a proposed amendment to the State Constitution which would authorize the state to contract out inmate labor in Washington State provided that the inmate labor programs are operated so that they do not unfairly compete with Washington businesses.

For many years, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) has managed a comprehensive inmate work program.  Part of that program involves Class I industries or “free venture” industries that use outside employers (both profit and non-profit) that produce goods and services for the public using DOC inmates.  The inmates work for these industries by their own choice and are paid wages that are comparable to wages paid outside the prison.

In 2004, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that these Class I prison industry programs violated article II, section 29 of the State Constitution.  Therefore, SJR 8212 would establish the ability of DOC to operate these work programs in the constitution.

Supporters of the resolution argue that that these work programs are important because they have been proven to reduce the chance of re-offending upon release.  The wages paid to the inmates also helps to insure that victims of crime received timely compensation for the offense.  Proponents include Senator Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam); Sen. Mike Carrell (R-Lakewood); Rep. Al O-Brien (D-Mountlake Terrace); and Donald Pierce, Executive Director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

Opponents claim that the purpose of the criminal justice system is to dispense justice and punishment for crimes and that the proposed work programs will take jobs away from law abiding private citizens.  They argue that the existing prison training and vocational programs should be sufficient to help offenders prepare to re-enter society.  Rep. Lynn Shindler (R-Spokane) and Rep. Larry Crouse (R-Spokane) prepared the voters pamphlet argument against the amendment.

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