Council presents 2012 wish list to legislators

Kennewick officials put their wish list before 8th and 16th district legislators this week, hoping for new laws in 2012 to curb gang activity, identify illegal immigrants through driver's license registration and maybe even eliminate the sales tax loophole for out-of-state shoppers.

Representatives Larry Haler, R-Richland, Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, and Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick; and state Senator Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, attended a city council workshop where priorities were presented for the upcoming legislative session.

Council members also said exempting Kennewick General Hospital from having to prove a certificate of need before building a new hospital would greatly benefit development in the Southridge area.

"This is very important to us since we are in partnership with Kennewick General Hospital," said City Manager Marie Mosley.

Klippert said he and other legislators agree statewide legislation is needed to identify illegal immigrants through the electronic verification, or E-Verify program, that has been adopted throughout the U.S., and that a statewide approach to the gang issue is needed.

But organized opposition led by the American Civil Liberties Union packed the committee hearing rooms, dooming both measures in the last legislative session, despite broad bipartisan support, Klippert said.

Klippert said the Tri-Cities needs to fill as many seats as possible at the hearings in 2012 to support the bills.

But getting the sales tax exemption for Oregon and Idaho shoppers erased is unlikely, Hewitt predicted.

"The border cities (Vancouver, Walla Walla and Spokane) will be hurt," he said, noting that the struggling economy will make it more painful for retailers in those cities who would expect to see a drop in business from out-of-state shoppers.

From the state side, Hewitt said local governments can expect to see more budget bad news in 2012 -- about $1.2 billion worth, which will require more creative thinking on making more cuts.

Mayor Steve Young said legislators should look harder at state agencies, and the Department of Ecology in particular.

Greg McCormick, city planning director, suggested overhauling the State Environmental Policy Act, which is outdated and in some ways irrelevant because of newer state regulatory laws such as the Growth Management Act.

"It also slows down development," said Jeff Kossow, the city's director of economic development.