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Appleton is on the attack for reform

OLYMPIA — Though she is only half-way through her first biennium, chances are that even Sherry Appleton’s most fierce political adversaries across the aisle aren’t viewing her as a naive freshman legislator.

The political savvy and legislative know-how that Appleton (D-Poulsbo) gained in 11 years as a lobbyist in Washington’s capital was best exemplified when, unlike most of her first-year counterparts, she avoided taking on a bipartisan-backed bill with almost guaranteed passage.

Instead, she took on one of the most controversial topics around: health care reform.

“For freshman, they try to make your first bill your easiest bill,” Appleton said. “And what happened was that this was a very controversial bill.”

That piece of legislation, House Bill 1168, would authorize the state board of pharmacy to regulate non-resident Canadian pharmacies, following a line of other bills aimed at importing prescription drugs from Canada to drive down health care costs. A centerpiece of Appleton’s campaign promises, the bill prompted more than a dozen floor speeches both for and against and debate raged for 40 minutes.

In her own speech, Appleton attempted to appease her opponents, who say the issue will hurt economically the American pharmaceutical industry.

“I think we all want senior citizens to be able to buy from American pharmacies,” Appleton said, citing her own mother as a beneficiary of Canadian imports. “But unfortunately, they can’t.”

The divide on the issue turned out to be almost purely partisan, the Democrats in favor and the Republicans against. Rep. Bev Woods (R-Poulsbo), the other 23rd District house member with Appleton, was largely critical of the importation concept.

“There’s prescription drug bills that will do nothing to help (make) affordable prescription drugs for the citizens of this state,” Woods countered. “(HB 1168) isn’t even legal. How in the world does Washington state think that it can go to Canada and regulate pharmacies in another country?”

But Appleton’s majority party won the vote, with the bill passing 54-41. The bill now moves into the senate, where it will face a more ferocious battle due to a tighter partisan gap.

Diversified bill portfolio

Though it is the first she’s passed, that bill is only the tip of the iceberg of a busy Appleton agenda. Also the assistant majority whip in the house, Appleton’s sponsored bills include everything from designating the Orca whale as the state’s official marine mammal to regulating the body piercing industry.

Her work on the select committee on Hood Canal has produced a bill that would mandate a study of the geoduck population in the environmentally-troubled waterway, the first in 34 years. But she also wanted to ensure her constituency that the legislative committee isn’t stepping on the toes of local agencies that are already working on the canal’s environmental issues.

“They’re afraid we’re going to jump in and demand they spend millions of dollars. We’re not doing that,” she said, adding that the legislative canal committee will attempt to align all concerned bodies by making the Hood Canal Coordinating Council the overseer of all groups.

Appleton’s health care initiatives include a life insurance bill that would make it possible for citizens traveling to countries on the U.S. “watchdog” list to get life insurance.

“So many of our contractors have been going to Iraq to rebuild the country and yet insurance companies are saying, ‘We’re going to allow you to apply for life insurance,’” she said. “And I think ... that type of discrimination is wrong.”

She’s also raised eye brows statewide by taking on a bill that would regulate the body piercing and art industry by helping to create and enforce underage laws and write Department of Health codes regarding sterilization and protocol for practitioners.

“The truth is that anyone can go put out a shingle and say they’re a body piercer,” Appleton said. “There are no regulations whatsoever.”

Transportation issues also fill Appleton’s plate. In a bipartisan effort that includes her counterpart Woods, she’s pushing for a bill that would study the idea of discount tolls on the Tacoma Narrows’ Bridge when its new span opens. She also has a bill that would aim to re-establish food service aboard Washington state Ferries.

Appleton said she acknowledges that though her experience as a lobbyist has helped make the session more easily navigable for the first-year legislator, she expects that each of her reforms will take time to implement.

“I know that the wheels of the legislature move very slowly,” she said.

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