Flash mobs aren’t just people bursting into song at food courts anymore.
Most people have heard of flash mobs: groups of people who convene at a set time and place to perform a coordinated activity, often organized via a viral email or text.
Now, flash mobs are converging on stores and stealing things in a trend commonly referred to as “flash robs.” Stores from Portland, Ore. to Chicago, Ill. were overwhelmed last year with young people who entered a store in sync and stole items while clerks helplessly watched.
Here in Washington, a state legislator wants to address the problem by making it easier to prosecute groups of people who organize a theft spree via text or email.
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, has introduced a bill that would allow groups of nine people or more to be charged with organized retail theft if they collectively steal $250 or more in merchandise and use electronic messages to plan the crime. Existing law requires a person and at least one accomplice to steal goods worth $750 to be charged with organized retail theft, which is a felony.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck said his 26 days on the job in Washington, D.C., has been like “drinking from a fire hose,” but he’s built a foundation for getting to work in earnest. He found a residence, opened a Capitol office, hired staff and received his committee assignments. And in his first month, he voted in favor of two controversial bills that turned into much more partisan fights than he’d liked.
“I in candor have to admit I’m a little discouraged by how polarized it is back there. But I don’t think I have a big enough sample size to …
House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt said this week that his minority caucus wants to change session rules to make it harder to raise taxes. His worry is that the state Supreme Court might toss out Tim Eyman’s two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases. The GOP apparently wants the rules to require a two-thirds vote before a tax bill can move to final reading – in effect giving the minority veto power over tax bills.
Except for possible technical changes, the Democratic majority wants to keep rules pretty much intact from past sessions. So the Eyman amendment, if you will, isn’t …
A widely expected fight over changes to Washington state’s worker compensation did not materialize on the state Senate floor this morning. Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said the Majority Coalition Caucus wanted to give minority Democrats more time after the Democrats objected to the fast pace the bills were moving. The package of bills opposed by organized labor could go to a vote as soon as Friday after moving out of the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee on Monday.
The beauty of a tax system is always in the eye of a beholder, and some business rankings say Washington state’s business climate is good partly because of its lack of an income tax. But a report by the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy rates Washington state’s system as the worst in the country in terms of how much harder it hits the poor and middle-class than the rich. Lack of an income tax is a clear factor.
ITEP, based in Washington, D.C., found that all states’ tax systems are actually weighted in favor of the wealthy. In other words, those well off pay a smaller share of income in state and local taxes than do the poor. But Washington was at the top of what ITEP calls the “Terrible Ten.”
“In these ‘Terrible Ten’ states, the bottom 20 percent pay up to six times as much of their income in taxes as their wealthy counterparts. Washington State is the most regressive, followed by Florida, South Dakota, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Alabama,” the report’s executive summary states.
Not that they have a lot of say in the state Senate lately, but minority Democrats held a press conference Tuesday to lay out a handful of bills they are introducing to hold the line on higher-education tuition, which has nearly tripled since 2000. Longer term, the Democrats said they want to set a new goal for a 50-50 split between the share of a college education paid by tuition and the state taxpayers’ share – reversing a trend that has seen state support fall to 35 percent at places like the University of Washington.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said she wants to take universities up on an offer to hold tuition rates flat in 2013-15 if the Legislature comes up with $225 million increase in funding over the next two years. Her proposed Senate Bill 5420would enact a two-year freeze on tuition rates.
Another measure from Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, would create incentives for universities to hold down tuition. He said SB 5390 would provide greater state support for institutions that do. After years of double-digit annual increases, tuition and fees at the University of Washington now total $12,383 per year.
But the Democrats are quickly finding what it is like to be in the minority. Kohl-Welles said she does not yet know if the proposals can get a hearing in the Senate Higher Education Committee, which is chaired by Republican Sen. Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor.
“I think the jury is out on that. We’d like to make the case for that,” Kohl-Welles told a press conference.
Kohl-Welles and other minority Democrats gave up a chance to chair the higher-education committee under a proposal from the Majority Coalition Caucus, which includes 23 Republicans and two Democrats, earlier this year. The remaining 24 Democrats in the minority believed the coalition was not truly offering bipartisan power sharing, and Kohl-Welles said it was not something she wanted to be part of.
That said, Kohl-Welles, Frockt and other Democrats including Sen. Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island want to make the case that with rising state revenues the Legislature should put more into higher ed.
Frockt said after the news conference that higher education “needs to be a priority” in the budget that will be written in March by the Republican-dominated majority in the Senate. He said $225 million is roughly 10 percent of the expected increase in state revenues over the next two years.
The lawmakers did not present specific ideas for new revenues at their news conference, but Kohl-Welles said she does like an idea from Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray of Seattle. Last week, Murray laid out an idea for a 5 percent capital gains excise tax. Murray indicated he wants the funds to go for K-12 schools and higher education.
The Democrats calling a press conference were joined by college students who said they were helped by the Guaranteed Education Tuition, or GET, program, which Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, has said the state should close to new entrants.
Frockt said that if the state were able to raise its commitment to higher education, the escalating tuition rates that are creating a potential deficit in GET would subside and level off for the next few years.
UPDATE: The Democrats put out a press release about their ideas, which is here.
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