Washington attorney general's first year brings full plate

By Brandon Macz
Bellevue Reporter

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 an editorial discussion with Reporter staff Tuesday, Dec. 3, Ferguson touted his selection of Nancy Krier as the open government ombudsman for his office and being able to bring that position back to full-time status. The attorney general said he is also proposing a bill to provide locally elected officials with an online training resource for navigating open records requests within the law.

While some cities like Kirkland are backing 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’s 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 will move forward this month. 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 continues to deny any wrongdoing, said Ferguson, adding he has 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, adding 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.”

The Washington State Liquor Control Board is taking applications through Dec. 18 for licensure to grow, process and sell recreational marijuana with the potential for legislation to be passed next year that 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’s 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 also has been warning 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.

Brandon Macz is a staff writer for the Bellevue Reporter, a partner publication of The Bellingham Business Journal. Macz can be reached at 425-453-4602 or bmacz@bellevuereporter.com.


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