McKenna legislative agenda makes sense

Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna's 2011 legislative requests make sense and would make Washington safer -- and less costly -- for its citizens.

This is no arcane jiggling with the laws.

Nor is it some ideology-driven crusade to push one political point of view or the other.

These are common-sense proposals to make government more responsive to the people and to make the people safer.

Most of it centers around priorities McKenna has long championed: Open government, consumer protection and fighting gangs.

But some of it is concerned with closing gaps in existing law that make the taxpayers more vulnerable than they should be.

The gang question, and McKenna's good ideas on ways to deal with them, we covered in a recent editorial.

He seeks to make it mandatory for hospitals to report all gunshot and stab wounds, make an additional five-year penalty available if prosecutors can tie violence to gang activity, double penalties for gang offenses near school property and authorize the forfeiture of private property on which three unrelated gang-related events have occurred in the prior year.

Beyond gangs, he includes proposals for these important changes:

w Legislation to require corporate defendants who ask for the state to pay attorneys fees (often as a bargaining ploy) to prove the Attorney General's Office acted maliciously or frivolously.

As the law stands now, a defendant found guilty of fraud in a complex case, for example, can still get the state to pay all court costs if even a minor charge is thrown out on a technicality. Washington is the only state not to have such protection.

w Make mail theft a Class C state felony instead of its current designation as a misdemeanor. The upgrade would reflect the fact that mail theft is a common tactic for criminals specializing in identity theft.

w Create an office to oversee nonjudicial appeals when citizens feel they have been unfairly or illegally denied access to public records, helping expedite the release of requested documents.

w Prohibit governments in the state from using the laws of eminent domain for economic development. Governments would be allowed to force land sales only for legitimate public uses, such as highway construction.

In all these instances, we see a general public good arising from McKenna's proposed changes.

A couple of other proposals have more limited scope.

One would eliminate the term "immigration assistant" so that clients seeking legal help with immigration issues would not be confused into thinking they are dealing with lawyers.

Another proposal would restrict the abuse of the Public Records Act by prison inmates.

McKenna said 75 percent of all Public Records Act requests are brought by inmates, and six inmates account for 60 percent of those. He seeks to eliminate a per diem ($5 to $100 per day) fine levied against governments that aren't quick enough to respond to open records requests. As the law stands, inmates can reap financial rewards for piling on nuisance requests.

He would also restrict inmates from filing suit in state court at public expense if they previously brought three or more cases determined by a court to be frivolous or malicious. The inmates could still file the cases, but it would have to be at their own expense.

The changes sought by McKenna seem to us reasonable -- actually, desirable -- and the costs in these tough times seem more likely to run to savings.

We wish McKenna, and the citizens of Washington, good luck in his getting his requested legislation passed.