MOSES LAKE - A bill affecting the Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District (MLIRD) captured the focus of a forum on what's happening in the state legislature.
A few dozen people crowded into the Moses Lake Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning for the forum, organized by the Washington Policy Center, a non-profit, free-market think tank.
Eastern Washington WPC director Chris Cargill gave a brief overview of where things currently stand in the Legislature before giving the floor to 13th District Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, who accepted questions via a live video feed from Olympia.
Thirteenth District Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, joined Warnick in Olympia near the end of Wednesday's forum.
Thirteenth District Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, was unable to participate as scheduled due to a later-than-expected meeting Tuesday night, according to Warnick.
While a few queries concerned the budget shortfall and how it relates to business and education prospects, the majority of those who spoke up were concerned with Senate Bill 6512, which is sponsored in the senate by Holmquist Newbry and makes several changes to voting and property assessment laws for MLIRD.
Warnick sponsored a companion bill in the house - HB 2756 - but said she filed it late because she knew it wouldn't get a hearing and would help "start the discussion."
Among other changes, SB 6512 would make the district's elections a vote-by-mail process and limit district property owners to one vote each, or two per corporation. It would also require property assessments of more than 25 cents per $1,000 to be voter-approved.
Moses Lake Realtor Mark Fancher said he and others take issue with the bill's language and intent and would like some time to suggest changes before it's rushed through this session.
"I wonder if you have any insight on how we can proceed to get the reins pulled back and this thing killed for now," he said to Warnick. "I believe the voters and the community should have some input in what this bill might look like."
Bill Bailey, who was a candidate for MLIRD director in the recent election, voiced concern with the bill, saying there's been little local public input into its ramifications.
"I certainly would voice a lot of opposition to any radical and quick changes and I feel the bill needs to be thought out if, indeed, anything changes," he told Warnick.
She agreed and said the bill needs some work, saying the process of its passage should be slowed down.
"If a bill is not drafted right, it can have the exact opposite effect as what we intended," she said. "I would really hate to see the work of the district be affected because of something we do here in Olympia when it's a local issue."
Warnick noted Holm?quist Newbry is working on an amendment to the bill, although she couldn't say what the final bill will do.
Moses Lake business owner Dan Ferguson asked Warnick exactly how she plans to "slow down" the process of passing the bill.
She replied that while she doesn't have any control of the bill while it's still in the senate, she plans to do what she can if it moves into the house.
"Quite often people in my position, if it doesn't look like a bill is fully supported at the local level, quite often they're not willing to support it at the state level," she said.
No one at Wednesday's meeting voiced support for the bill, but in recent days some lawmakers have reportedly received an anonymous email message claiming to be a petition in favor of the bill's passage.
"We the undersigned people who own property in Moses Lake support Senate Bill 6512, which was introduced ... to clean up perceived corruption and possible fraudulent activities at the Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District (MLIRD) and to bring back accountability and restore public confidence in the MLIRD," states the letter, dated Feb. 7.
The brief statement is followed by a list of 150 names.
Hinkle told the audience he intends to stop the bill from moving ahead in what will likely be his last session before retiring from the state legislature.
"We're going to kill it, don't worry," he said.