On Jan. 30, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson spoke to the White Salmon-Bingen Rotary Club at its weekly noon meeting at the United Methodist Church.
Ferguson began his speech with some background about his job as a state attorney general.
“As an attorney general, I work for the largest law firm in the state where our job is to defend and enforce the laws of the state. The attorney general’s office has two major functions, to fight on behalf of the state government and to fight on behalf of the people of the state,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson and his team are currently working on multiple cases, spanning a range of state and national issues. He spoke about a hearing that was going on in New York, where a member of his team was arguing a case regarding protections for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which is scheduled to end March 5.
When asked what Washingtonians can do to help protect DACA recipients, Ferguson said, “Litigation is one route, though it has its limitations. The next best and most effective thing I’ve seen is continuing to speak publicly about DACA because there are a lot of misconceptions about it.
“To be eligible for DACA, individuals must have entered the United States before their 16th birthday and prior to June 2007, be currently in school, a high school graduate or be honorably discharged from the military, be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, and not have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three other misdemeanors, or otherwise pose a threat to national security. The program does not provide lawful status or a path to citizenship nor does it provide eligibility for federal welfare or student aid. To show proof of qualification, applicants must submit three forms; I-821D, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; I-765, Application for Employment Authorization; and I-765WS, Worksheet, as well as supporting documentation” according to the Department of Homeland Security Web site.
Ferguson also spoke about his current cases regarding consumer protections, gun control, and the federal government’s responsibility to the Hanford Nuclear plant.
Under consumer protections, he cited a current one-hundred-million-dollar lawsuit against the cable and Internet provider Comcast. According to a press release on the AG’s website:
“The suit asserts Comcast misrepresented the scope of its Service Protection Plan (SPP) as part of more than 1.8 million violations of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA).More than half a million Washingtonians subscribed to the SPP since 2011, paying at least $73 million to Comcast for the service plan from 2011 through the end of 2015.A sample of recorded calls between SPP subscribers and Comcast representatives obtained by the Attorney General’s Office reveal that Comcast may have signed up more than half of all SPP subscribers without their consent. Comcast deceived consumers even when mentioning the SPP, telling them the SPP plan was “free” when they signed up, when in fact, Comcast would automatically charge them every month after the first month.”
Ferguson has been asking those that have Comcast to check their bills for any discrepancies.
Ferguson is also working on a bill that will change Washington State gun ownership laws with regard to the age at which an individual can buy an assault rifle as well as limit high capacity magazines to 10 rounds.
“As the laws are right now, in order to buy a handgun in Washington State you have to pass a background check, which can take 10-30 days and be at least 21 years old. But an 18-year-old can walk into a Cabela’s and buy an assault rifle same day. This is due to the way guns, like AR-15 are categorized,’ said Ferguson.
Currently, AR-15s are categorized as long guns or hunting rifles. There have been many national debates on whether this categorization should be changed.
The Washington state Senate bill (SB) 5444 defines assault weapons as such: “A semiautomatic rifle or pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and has one or more listed features; a fixed magazine, that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition with an overall length of less than 30 inches.”
The testimony coinciding with this bill recounts a shooting that took place in Mukilteo where a 19-year-old murdered three of his classmates at a house party after purchasing an assault rifle on the same day. This hit home for Ferguson as his niece was a classmate of some of the victims.
The testimony also recounted the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nev., on Oct. 1, 2017, that took the lives of 58 people. The shooter used a bump-stock, a trigger modification that allows for rapid fire.
“This gun is designed to inflict the most carnage possible in a short amount of time and should not have been that easy to acquire…and a bumper slide stock should not be available,” says the author of the testimony.
On Jan. 29, the state Senate approved a bump-stock ban, a step in the right direction in Ferguson’s point of view.
Ferguson is also continuing work on a lawsuit he brought against the Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2014 regarding workers safety and clean up at the Hanford Nuclear Plant. The lawsuit alleges that vapors from the tanks at the site pose serious health risks to the workers.
“It is the federal government’s responsibility to protect the workers that are cleaning up one of the most hazardous sites in the country,” said Ferguson.
“The 586-square-mile Hanford nuclear site located on the Columbia River in Eastern Washington was used to produce plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program from 1943 to 1987. Production of weapons for World War II and the Cold War left behind large amounts of solid and liquid chemical waste — much of which is also radioactive,” according to a 2015 press release from the AG office.
At the time of the press release, Ferguson and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee had requested a safety assessment be done after reports of health issues after being exposed to radioactive material began to increase. The 2014 report was the most recent in a 20-year period of studies regarding the health risks posed by working at the nuclear plant.
“The federal government was conducting these studies, knew there was a connection, but still has not implemented any of the proposed actions to solve this issue and protect these workers,” Ferguson said.
In May of 2017, a tunnel containing nuclear waste at the plant collapsed causing the site to be evacuated. At the time it was announced that no one was in the tunnel when it collapsed and that no one had been exposed to the radioactive material. However, recent reports have shown that when the tunnel collapsed some radioactive material had been released into the air and now there are reports of widespread contamination in the area.
These are just some of the notable bills and cases the attorney general is working on.
During the Q& A period, one the most interesting questions asked was regarding the political status of state attorneys general; specifically, “Should the position of a state attorney general be a partisan one?’”
It should be noted that in 43 out of the 50 states, the state attorney general is elected, whereas in the other seven they are appointed by the governor.
“I think it should be an elected position, like you as an informed voter I want to know who I am voting for including their party affiliation. People tend to want to know where you stand on certain issues and that is usually a good indicator,” said Ferguson.
Prior to his speech, the Rotary Club introduced some of the foreign exchange students enrolled at Columbia High School through the Rotary Youth Exchange program. Rotary members also spoke about their dictionary and book donation programs.