Back in October of 2012, Sen. Kevin Ranker knew exactly what he wanted to do in the 2013 session. His number one priority was clear, “It is going to be a continued laser focus on job creation, with a particular focus on opportunities like renewable energy and toxic clean-up.”
To that end, Ranker introduced a bill to overhaul the Toxic Substances Fund which taxes companies that move dangerous chemicals and uses that money to fund spills across the state.The problem was the funds were difficult to access and access quickly. His bill (SB5201) would have streamlined the process, releasing those funds to legitimate cleanup agencies (Ports, Municipal bodies, etc) so they can begin hiring people immediately. “This effort is already paid for, it is just a matter of clearing the way for green jobs, environmental clean-up and the resulting economic growth.”
However, this session with the Republicans taking control of the state senate, Sen. Ranker found himself in the minority, so his bill had to go through the committee controlled by Sen. Doug Ericksen. Ericksen, who had signed on as a co-sponsor of Ranker's bill, decided to introduce his own version of the bill (SB 5296) with some key changes.
Ericksen's bill required that private companies be considered as recipients of the funds first, before municipal bodies. Therefore, if British Petroleum spilled toxins in Birch Bay, they could turn around and apply for taxpayer dollars to clean it up. The other key change was that rather than expediting the process of releasing the funds from where they already were, Ericksen's bill creates a new fund named after his daughter (ELSA). The money would be moved into that fund then distributed from there.
As the session carried on the Senators repeatedly clashed, with Ericksen breaking the rules to shut down Ranker in committee and then bragging about their bipartisan cooperation the next day. Ranker continued to maintain a positive outlook, even as his bill died in committee and Ericksen's proposal got passed. The state House tried to pass a second bill to close the loopholes Ericksen's bill created but that effort died in the Republican controlled senate.
Ralph Schwartz over at the Bellingham Herald covered this issue, but I wanted to lay out the history behind this single bill because it shows how Sen. Ericksen often tackles legislative problems. He co-opts his opponents issues, pushes a flawed version of the bill that sounds alright but has some technical issues which leaves Democrats stuck either trying to shoot down their own legislative priority for not being good enough or living with an empty bill.
Ericksen pulled a similar trick with banning the toxics chemicals found in mattresses and childrens toys. Ericksen took the Democratic bill and gutted it so it only applies to two chemicals and only to children's toys. When pressed on why, he simply responded that the Democrats will pass it, “Do they want to ban those two chemicals or not?”
Does this make Sen. Ericksen an effective legislator? It depends on what you mean by effective. Is he passing bills, yes. Is he representing the priorities of the 42nd legislative district? I don't believe that we are better off because our mattresses still have toxic chemicals in them, but that is my two cents. I just wish I had the money to buy Sen. Ericksen steak dinners on a regular basis so that he would represent our priorities, as opposed to the American Chemical Association.