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New bill gives citizens leverage for challenging state agency rules

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Rep. Janea Holmquist and Gov. Gary Locke were both present for the bill signing ceremony for House Bill 2598.

Citizens affected unfairly by state agency rules and regulations will have an easier time challenging those rules, thanks to a new law ushered in by state Rep. Janéa Holmquist, R-Moses Lake. The governor signed House Bill 2598 Monday, which will allow citizens to file suit against state agencies in one of four counties throughout Washington.

Until now, state law required all such legal challenges against the state to be filed in Thurston County. The new bill will allow citizens to file cases against the state in Yakima, Spokane, Whatcom and Thurston counties, depending on where they reside.

"State agencies have really enjoyed a home-court advantage," Holmquist said. "This move to open up new venues to challenge agency rules will take many cases out of Olympia and into other jurisdictions, where there may be a greater understanding of the plight of the private sector and less bias in favor of state government."

According to Holmquist, this bill will help ensure the voices of families, property owners and small business owners are given due consideration when state agencies draft regulations, knowing they may have to defend them in courts throughout Washington.

"If nothing else, it will allow citizens to have their grievances heard closer to home," she said.

John Rothlin, public information officer with House Republican Media Services, explained that under the old law when an agency adopts a new rule, the only way that rule can be challenged is for a person to file a suit in Thurston County. Holmquist's bill opens those filing locations up to include three other counties across the state. Rothlin said agencies often draft new policies and rules ranging from the Shoreline Rule to the ergonomics rules, which were repealed by voters last fall.

The governor vetoed House Bill 1530, a similar measure co-sponsored by Holmquist and approved by the legislature last year. The bill would have allowed legal challenges in five counties in Washington.

Holmquist and other supporters of the proposal worked out a compromise with the governor, opening venue options to four counties as a pilot project through June 2008.

"This is what the governor has agreed to for now, but my goal is to make this a permanent option and expand it to all counties," said Holmquist. "Our objective is to raise the level of accountability in state agency rule making, and if the governor's administration is using its rule-making authority in a fair and responsible manner, then the agencies should not be worried about making it a little more convenient for citizens to challenge those rules."

HB 2598 takes effect 90 days from the end of the 2004 session, which adjourned March 11.

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