Our Voice: Thumbs up to Cantwell, Murray for efforts to preserve B Reactor

The state's two Democratic senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, are pushing to preserve Hanford's historic B Reactor by creating a new national park.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis deserves a nod too for supporting the proposal.

Some senators have opposed forming a Manhattan Project National Historical Park until the $11 million maintenance backlog at America's national parks is cleared. The issue was addressed Thursday during a Senate committee hearing.

"My theory on new units is that history doesn't stop just because you have an economic challenge," Jarvis said at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

Cantwell, who led work on the current bill to create the park, said she "was not going to have the attitude that we're not going to do any new park until the maintenance backlog is caught up."

"Our generations' challenge is to be good stewards," she said.

The proposed park would preserve an important part of America's history -- the dawn of the nuclear age. Atomic weapons played a crucial role in ending World War II and the United States' eventual victory in the Cold War.

The House already has approved the new park. The Senate's action is needed. It's good to see Cantwell and Murray working to make that happen.

Just say no

Thumb down to ambiguity in the Legislature's ethics rules, which recently resulted in an investigation into whether five state senators accepted too many free meals from lobbyists.

Here's a simple way to add some clarity and give lawmakers certainty about when they've crossed an ethical line -- set the bar at zero. Nada. No free lunch.

This summer, lawyers are spending hours gathering records on lobbyist-paid meals to present to the Legislative Ethics Board in the fall.

The investigation was prompted by a complaint filed after The Associated Press and a consortium of public radio stations found that the state's 50 most active lobbyists pampered legislators with $65,000 in free meals in the first four months of this year.

Washington ethics law prohibits public officials from accepting free meals on more than "infrequent occasions," but that rule is not clearly defined, the AP reported.

The ethics complaint focused on the top five recipients identified by reporters: Republican Sens. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale; Steve Litzow of Mercer Island; Joe Fain of Auburn; Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla; and Mark Schoesler of Ritzville.

But regardless of whether they are guilty of letting lobbyists foot the bill on more than infrequent occasions, the bigger questions remains -- why allow it at all?

No, we don't think legislators can be bought for the price of a meal. We've picked up the check ourselves after breakfast meetings with lawmakers.

But any special treatment widens the gap between elected officials and the people they serve, who, by the way, already provide ample support for legislators during the session.

The annual salary is $46,106, and during the session, lawmakers get $90 a day per diem for travel to and from Olympia from their home districts, for an apartment while they're in Olympia and for food.

That's enough to buy your own lunch.

Reefer madness

Thumbs down to a federal law that classifies hemp as marijuana, despite obvious differences that make the comparison silly.

For starters, hemp only contains traces of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana -- not enough to make people high. Treating it as a narcotic makes no sense.

But the plant does have plenty of beneficial uses -- as fiber for rope and fabrics and as high-protein feed for livestock. One government study estimates the value of a legal hemp crop at $300 million.

Nine states have passed laws that allow farmers to grow the crop, but federal law forbids growing hemp without a permit. Violators face a range of potential consequences, including prison terms and the loss of their land.

The prohibition on hemp never made sense even from an anti-marijuana point of view. It's time to let farmers pursue a profit from the crop.