News

Attorney general reflects on first year, prepares for next

By BRANDON MACZ

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says his office is prioritizing as best it can to deal with current and pending legal challenges in the state in the face of a slimmer budget and he’s confident critical issues are being addressed.

In a discussion with Bellevue Reporter staff in early December, Ferguson touted his selection of Nancy Krier as the open government ombudsman for his office as well as the reinstatement of the position as full time. The attorney general said he will propose a bill to provide locally elected officials with an online training resource for navigating open records requests within the law.

While some cities legislative agendas include supporting efforts to create budgets that make government accessibility a first-tier service, others are being challenged by what they consider to be burdensome requests for public information. Ferguson said it is good for local governments to work to clarify with the public what they want in order to narrow the scope of requests, but sometimes it doesn’t matter.

“There will be some cost to that and some inconvenience,” he said of following open government laws, “and that’s a fact.”

The attorney general’s lawsuit against the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association over campaign finance concealment claims was expected to move forward in December. So far, Ferguson said the association is accused of hiding the identities of contributors of up to $10.6 million to its campaign against I-522 in Washington, which would have required labeling on some genetically modified food products. He added it is the largest amount of concealed money ever donated to a campaign in the state.

The GMA has since provided the names of its backers and their share of contributions but disputes any wrongdoing, Ferguson said.

In addition, he read an association letter to its contributors that promised to conceal their identities.

“They were very thoughtful and deliberate in concealing the names of those donors,” he said and noted his office is seeking more options than just monetary penalties against the GMA. “Even a significant (monetary) penalty on their end may be interpreted as the cost of doing business.”

Another issue Ferguson will monitor is the progress of regulating marijuana, both recreational and medical.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board received hundreds of applications by the Dec. 18 deadline for licensure to grow, process and sell recreational marijuana with the potential for legislation next year which would require medical marijuana patients to go through these suppliers without being subjected to taxation. Many cities have accepted that they will soon need to make room for retail marijuana stores and grow sites, but others like the city of Kent are not embracing the change. The Kent City Council voted last month to put a moratorium in place for marijuana businesses.

Ferguson said the Liquor Control Board is now seeking an opinion from his office about whether these municipalities have legal grounds to oppose marijuana as a commercial enterprise in their cities and oppose the will of voters who approved I-502.

He was trying to come up with a legal opinion as fast as possible, he said, while continuing a good faith effort with the federal government to keep it from intervening with state law.

With the holiday season in full swing, the attorney general’s office warned the public about potential scams, such as in retail, online and fake charities.

Ferguson said his office also is focusing on improving protections for veterans and matching state protections for those deployed by order of the governor with federal protections afforded to those deployed by the president. The legislation is called the Washington Service Members’ Civil Relief Act and is being requested for consideration during the 2014 legislative session.

 

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