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Washington State News Archive

Below are archived news items for the current month. To view a previous month, choose it from the list below.

"Health costs: No relief in sight"--The Olympian
State workers will be paying more in health care insurance premiums, co-pays, and out-of-pocket expenses, no matter what happens in the legislature this year. All three costs have already gone up in 2010 for state employees, and most lawmakers seem to think costs will go even higher in 2011. Monthly premiums shot up by 50 percent this year for employees in the Uniform Medical Plan, and out-of-pocket limits could be raised to as much as $5,000 in 2011. Costs for members of the Group Health plans also increased. Most lawmakers seem to agree that raising health care costs for state employees is a given, and is preferable to making further cuts in other areas. Republicans are criticizing Gov. Gregoire for signing union agreements that make it hard to cut health care even further. - 01/04/2010

"Eyeglasses program has blurry prognosis: State could cut money for Medicaid-funded assistance"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
A million here, a million there can add up to real savings. That's why even relatively small health programs have fallen until the budget ax in the Governor's 2010 budget. One such program provides glasses to 95,000 low-income residents at the cost of $1.7 million. The state offers this program as part of Medicaid. It receives an additional $2 million from the federal government to help fund it. The program is regulated in the Washington Administrative Code, and the billing is tightly controlled. The glasses can come from private companies or through the state from Correctional Industries. - 01/04/2010

"Preparers face tough IRS rules"--Yakima Herald-Republic
"In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." These days it seems that many people are more intimidated by taxes than by death. A study by the Internal Revenue Service finds that 80% of individual returns are done by either paid tax return preparers or tax preparation software. It argues that paid tax return preparers should be regulated. This recommendation is in line with testimony by the Government Accountability Office that some tax return preparers do poor work, sometimes at the taxpayer's expense, sometimes at the government's expense. As a result, the IRS is recommending new regulations for paid tax preparers. They would be expected to register with the government, pass competency tests, and adhere to ethical standards. These regulations could be in place as early as the 2011 tax season. - 01/05/2010

"Fed judges: Wash. felony inmates should get vote"--Seattle Times
A panel of three 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled in a 2-1 decision yesterday that Washington state felons currently under supervision by the state Department of Corrections should be able to vote. The panel ruling concludes that Washington’s criminal justice system is biased against racial minorities, and as such goes against the tenets of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Currently felons who are still in jail or under community supervision by DOC are not allowed to vote, although a law passed this summer enables felons to more easily restore their voting rights after their time is served. The decision is significant, because it goes against precedents set in similar court cases in three different states. Attorney General Rob McKenna and Secretary of State Sam Reed have said they are going to appeal the decision to either a larger panel of judges in the 9th circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. - 01/06/2010

"Where there's smoke, there's ire: Finding the right balance between forest health and public health is tricky, as illustrated by a jurisdictional tug of war between the U.S. Forest Service and the local clean air agency"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Prescribed burns are an accepted way to prevent wildfires--controlled fires are set in limited areas to burn off the fuel that would feed a major fire. Weather is one of the factors taken into account when planning a prescribed burn. Too bad weather can be tricky. A prescribed burn near Naches last September 28 went wrong when the wind shifted and the smoke settled in the Yakima Valley. Air quality went from good to choking. The Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency fined the U.S. Forest Service $12,000 for that mishap. The Department of Ecology got involved when a similar event happened in the Methow Valley in 2003. - 01/06/2010

"Gregoire, state leaders talk of stopping violence against police"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Gov. Gregoire and state law enforcement officials met to discuss changes to Washington’s correctional system to alleviate the kind of institutional malfunctions that led to the release of cop killer Maurice Clemmons this fall. High on the priority list was a change to the state constitution’s provisions for handling bail (Article I, section 20). The judges who dealt with Clemmons in Washington state said that current law does not allow judges to deny bail, except for capital offenses. The interstate compact that governs how out-of-state offenders are handled between the states is also an area where Gov. Gregoire has said much improvement is needed. However, changing the constitution and changing interstate agreements takes a lot of time, and these are issues that legislators may not have time to address in this year’s short legislative session. - 01/07/2010

"EPA pushes smog limits: New standards could cost violators billions"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
35 years ago Tom Lehrer sang, "When you visit American city/You will find it very pretty/Just two things you must be aware/Don't drink the water and don't breathe the air." While air quality is much better, the EPA sees room for improvement by tightening standards on ground level ozone. Currently cities and regions need to keep the ground level ozone at or below 75 parts per billion before they need to take steps to reduce ozone. Under the new standards, ozone cound not exceed 60 to 70 parts per billion for eight consecutive hours. After that point remedies would include such measures as tighter emission standards for businesses. The tighter standards are seen as a health related issue. Some businesses see it as a cost realted issue.Air quality in Washington state is under the purview of the Department of Ecology and local clean air agencies. You can check current air quality in Washington state and across the nation. - 01/08/2010

"On your mark, get set, legislate"--The Olympian
Washington state’s 2010 legislative session convenes today, amidst much talk of revenue shortfalls, possible tax hikes, and government reorganization. This year’s session will only be 60 days long, a short amount of time in which legislators will have to decide how to fill a $2.8 billion budget gap. Much like last year, the bulk of the focus will be where to cut and how much, and whether to raise taxes and which ones to raise. Some side issues may also get discussed, such as decriminalizing marijuana use and making education reforms in order to take advantage of federal Race to the Top grants. - 01/11/2010

"Pasco gains new ally at state Capitol"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
A lobbyist is someone who tries to influence the passage or defeat of bills in the Washington legislature or the adoption or rejection of regulations by state agencies. Broadly speaking, lobbyists are advocates if you support their position or tools of special interest groups if you disagree with them. The city of Pasco is happy to have Cindy Zehner as its new, well-connected advocate. She's been chief of staff for the Governor, head clerk in th Washington House of Representatives, and CEO of TVW. Lobbying is covered in Chapter 42.17 in the Revised Code of Washington. The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) is responsible for regulating them. The PDC has a searchable databases of lobbyists working in Olympia. - 01/11/2010

"Justice Department targets violent crimes on reservations: Memo cites offenses against women, children"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
The Department of Justice is increasing its efforts "...to fight crime and promote justice in Indian Country". The U.S. Attorney General sent a memo to all U.S. District Attorneys' Offices in Indian Country that outlines the policy of increased cooperation with tribal governments along with local and federal law enforcement agencies. This effort is being done to combat violent crime on reservations. Crimes against women are above the national average. This pattern of violent crime includes the Northwest. That's why all the U.S. Attorneys in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska got the memo. - 01/12/2010

"'Jobs are the way out of this recession'"--The Olympian
Gov. Gregoire revealed some new information about her upcoming second supplemental budget proposal in her State of the State address yesterday. She emphasized job creation, and said she has a plan to create 40,000 new jobs by attracting new businesses to the state. Gregoire also said that she hopes to add around $780 million in federal aid to the budget, which still leaves more than $1 billion that needs to be cut. She said closing loopholes in certain tax exemptions will help provide some revenues, but she reiterated her plans to reorganize state government by eliminating more boards and commissions and grouping smaller agencies in with larger agencies. Gregoire did not mention raising taxes, as many thought she would. Her new budget proposal will be unveiled on Thursday. - 01/13/2010

"Short-handed assessor wants help from above"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Budget cuts forced the Spokane County Assessor to cut 6 positions from his staff. He has an idea for doing more with less. The public usually applauds this sort of thing, but in this case it could lead to higher tax revenues and perhaps even some fines at property owners' expense. Currently the assessor uses photos of property taken from street level where you can't see what's behind a fence. An apparaiser needs to make a site visit to go behind a fence. The Assessor wants to use low altitude, high quality aerial ortho photographs of buildings and properties for tax assessment purposes. He would make them available online and share them with other government agencies. Regular aerial photographs have some distortion; ortho photos don't so you can get accurate measurements from them. They would also show additions, new buildings, and improvments that the Department of Building and Planning and other agencies didn't know about. - 01/13/2010

"Gov. Gregoire wants new verdict option for insane "--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
After a series of events including a killer escaping from an Eastern State Hospital field trip, Governor Gregoire has proposed a new sentencing option: guilty and mentally ill. Currently courts have the option of sentencing a person as being not guilty by reason of insanity; if so, that person will be sent to a mental hospital. Under the new sentencing option, the offender could be sent to prison. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs support the legislation. Advocates for the mentally ill such as the Washington state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness feel that prisons are not the place to treat mental illness. There are already programs for dangerous mentally ill offenders who have finished their sentences or have been released on probation. - 01/14/2010

"House bill would legalize growing, selling of pot"--Everett Herald
The House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee held a hearing yesterday on two bills that seek to decriminalize marijuana use. House Bill 1177 would make possession of 40 grams or less of House Bill 2401 would make possession and growing of pot legal for adults aged 21 and over. Advocates say that legalizing marijuana could be a big boon for the state, since the state could tax the drug the same way it taxes alcohol and tobacco. Meanwhile, advocates argue that street crime would diminish. Opponents of the bills say that legalizing marijuana would encourage people, especially kids, to start smoking pot when they wouldn’t otherwise do so. The committee will vote on whether to the bills forward next week. - 01/14/2010

"U.S. Supreme Court to hear Ref. 71 case"--Seattle Times
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that it will hear Washington’s controversial case regarding the release of petition signatures. This particular case focuses on whether the citizens who signed petitions to have Referendum 71 placed on the ballot should have their names revealed as part of the state’s Public Records Act. Secretary of State Sam Reed has argued that when citizens sign petitions regarding initiatives and referenda, they are acting as citizen legislators, and part of the legislative process in this state requires transparency. However, the plaintiff in the case, Protect Marriage Washington, has said that releasing the names goes against first amendment rights of political expression. Referendum 71 asked voters to accept or reject the so-called “Everything But Marriage” legislation passed by state lawmakers in 2009. The Supreme Court decision on the case will likely affect the 27 states that currently allow initiatives and referenda. - 01/15/2010

"Request: Tougher anti-gang measures: Yakima group delivers message to Legislature "--Yakima Herald-Republic
Street gangs roam in the smaller cities and towns and rural areas of the state. This problem is not new, but it's been getting more attention from lawmakers who passed laws such as HB 2712 in 2008 that targeted criminal street gangs (see section 12, 13, and 14 for definitions). Two new bills have been introduced in this legislative session and had their first hearings in the House Judiciary Committee on January 14. (You can find a podcast or video of this hearing on TVW.) House Bill 2413 would make it easier for authorities to seize and sell real and personal property if it facilitated a gang-related offense. House Bill 2414 would make it easier for authorities to shut down places deemed to be a gang-related nuisance; personal property there could be seized and sold. These bills are sponsored by lawmakers from the Yakima Valley and have bipartisan support. - 01/15/2010

"Boise paper mill to examine its 'footprint' "--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
The Department of Ecology is studying the industrial footprint of four Washington paper mills. (A fifth paper mill dropped out of the project.) The goal is to focus on environmental performance, not just environmental regulation. Ecology is studying more than just pollution that might be caused by the plants; it's also looking at areas such as the plants' energy consumption and use of recyled materials. The study is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency's State Innovation Grant Program. - 01/19/2010

"Feds receive Puget Sound tidal power application"--SeattlePI.com
The Snohomish County Public Utility District has submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to install tidal turbines underwater in Admiralty Inlet. Underwater turbines are a novel renewable energy technology, with only a handful of experimental sites around the world. The Snohomish County PUD is asking to install one or two turbines, which will be installed 200 feet deep, and will supposedly generate 100 to 200 kilowatts of power. Researchers at the University of Washington who are part of the project say the feds will likely take several months to consider the application. Meanwhile, scientists are trying to predict how the turbines will affect marine life and the water quality in the inlet. - 01/20/2010

"Crossing conditions worry state transportation chief: Hammond reacts to letter from four metro-area officials"--Vancouver Columbian
Sometimes the biggest obstacle faced by a major transportation project is local politics. The Columbia River Crossing is a project to replace the aging I-5 bridge between Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon with a new 10 lane bridge that could also carry light rail. Local leaders agree that a new bridge is needed. Beyond that there are significant differences--so significant that the mayors of Portland and Vancouver and other local leaders sent a letter to the governors of Washington and Oregon setting conditions for local/state planning. It's hoped these conditions would bridge differences between Vancouver and Portland. Federal and state officials are convinced that tolls will be necessary to pay for the bridge, but the new mayor Vancouver campaigned against tolls since so many people in the Vancouver/Clark County area commute by car to Portland. Portland hopes to relieve the congestion on the Portland-Vancouver I-5 corridor by including light rail on the bridge, but Vancouver is lukewarm on that proposal. - 01/20/2010

"Report: Whatcom County's job growth among worst in nation"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
According to a report issued by CareerBuilder.com, Bellingham was number ten on a list of ten metropolitan areas that showed the worst job growth over a four-month period in 2009. The web company used data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which showed that jobs in Bellingham declined 2.3 percent from July to October of 2009. Experts are quick to point out that data from one four-month period does not tell the whole story. What the data does say is that job growth in the area will probably not come anytime soon, given that the average number of hours worked in a week has declined in the past year. When the number of work hours increases for people already working, employers will demonstrate that they are gaining confidence in the economy. - 01/21/2010

"Expedited Larch closure spurs anger: Lawmakers send new letter to governor, questioning motives"--Vancouver Columbian
When the state budget is billions of dollars in the hole everybody agrees on the need for budget cuts, at least until the budget cuts hit home--or, in the case of a legislator, in his or her district. The Governor's Supplemental Budget for 2010 cuts over $12 million from the Department of Corrections budget. Part of the savings will come from closing some correction centers. Larch Corrections Center in Clark County is one of the proposed closures. The legislators from Clark County sent letters to the Governor on January 12 and January 21 protesting the closure of Larch Corrections Center. The letters argue that Clark County has such a high unemployment rate that it needs the jobs provided by Larch CC. They also argue that the Department of Natural Resources needs the cheap labor provided by Larch CC for forestry work and fire fighting. The halls of Olympia are full of people protecting programs that benefit them. - 01/22/2010

"State furloughs pass Senate"--The Olympian
Two significant budget bills were voted on in the state House and Senate last Friday. The first, SSB 6503, the so-called furlough bill, would require all state agencies to implement furloughs or “temporary lay-offs.” The bill passed in the senate, with 27 yeas and 17 nays. Some state workers would be exempted from the furloughs, such as college professors, prison workers, lottery workers, and tax collectors, among others. The bill is expected to save the state around $69 million, and would mean an approximate five percent pay cut for affected employees. As it now stands, the bill allows agencies to select their own furlough days, rather than requiring all agencies to be closed on the same day each month. State labor unions have said they do not support the furloughs. The state House passed a bill that would declare a fiscal emergency and pass a state budget before the end of the legislative session. - 01/23/2010

"Feds drowning in demand for nuclear power licenses"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Coal and oil fueled power plants produce greenhouse gasses. Hydroelectric dams rely on stream flow. Wind farms only produce power when the wind's blowing. Still there's a growing demand for power so people are looking at nuclear power again. The Department of Energy's Office of New Reactors is examining 30 complex applications for the construction of nuclear power plants in the South, Midwest, and Northeast. The additional nuclear plants can provide a steady source of energy; the question remains on where to store the radioactive waste generated by the plants. - 01/25/2010

"Yakima River levees face a concrete risk: County project will help reduce flooding risk along Yakima River by removing concrete chunks and allowing water to flow more freely"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Dikes along rivers can make flooding worse downstream. As the flood waters fill the stream, dikes funnel the water to flow at higher velocities, creating more erosion downstream. The dikes were often built to reclaim wetlands for agricultural or building purposes. Now the Yakima Valley Flood Control District is removing some dikes along the Yakima River as a way to control flooding. When the dikes are removed, floodwaters can spread out in old meanders and wetlands. This lessens the velocity and amount of water going downstream. The Washington State Department of Transportation supports the idea since water trapped between the old dike and the I-82 roadbed was threatening to undermine the highway. - 01/26/2010

"Ecology tells Chelan County commissioners they must adopt stormwater rules"--Wenatchee World
The Chelan County Commissioners are upset; the Department of Ecology told them that the county's proposed stormwater rules aren't strict enough. Chelan County already has a stormwater utility in place. It does not meet the standards in the "Stormwater Management Manual for Eastern Washington". Local stormwater rules can be stricter than the rules set by the Department of Ecology, but they can't be weaker. Stormwater rules have to support national water pollution standards and requirements for salmon recovery. - 01/27/2010

"Plan: Business tax credit"--The Olympian
Washington state senate Democrats have proposed a number of bills to stimulate job growth. The bills would give tax credits to small businesses that hire more employees, would create retraining programs, and would create incentives for businesses that provide “green” jobs. Senate Republicans have called for relaxing tax regulations and easing unemployment insurance payments for businesses in the state, and contend that the Democratic bills did not address these issues. House Democrats are proposing a bill that would ask voters to approve an $861 million bond package. - 01/27/2010

"DOE vows to help with transition to fewer Hanford jobs"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
The Tri-Cities area in Benton and Franklin counties has some of the lowest unemployment rates in Washington and is one area where there's job growth. Currently there are over 11,000 workers cleaning up Hanford's radioactive wastes and developing new ways of safely handling and storing them. Getting nearly $2 billion in Federal stimulus funds certainly helped the employment situation. The stimulus funds acclerated the cleanup projects. Now the Department of Energy is working with the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC) to handle the transition to lower employment levels as the work winds down. It's estimated that there only be 2,100 workers at Hanford in 2050. - 01/28/2010

"Washington to get $590 million for high-speed rail improvements"--Seattle Times
As part of last year’s federal stimulus package, the federal government is awarding Washington $590 million to improve rail lines between the borders at Blaine and Portland. The eventual goal is to run 13 trains a day between Seattle and Portland at speeds reaching 150 mph. The money will provide a number of improvements to rail lines and allow for side tracks to be built in certain areas, which will let passenger trains through more quickly. Overall, the Obama administration announced a total of $8 billion in awards to projects throughout the country. California and Florida received the highest amounts for high speed rail projects stretching from Sacramento to San Diego and from Tampa to Orlando. - 01/28/2010

"Volunteers count homeless"--The Olympian
Thurston County volunteers swept the county yesterday for the 2010 homeless census. The data gathered will be used to allocate funding to agencies that help the homeless, and to give officials an idea of how many people may need assistance. The volunteers found that there were more homeless camps overall this year than last year, but there were fewer people in the camps. Last year the census found 1,016 homeless individuals living in Thurston County, but that number only reflects a portion of the people living deep in the woods or people who live with friends or relatives but have no permanent address. A final count of homeless in Thurston County should be ready by the end of March. - 01/29/2010

"Spokane County, city eye joint use of Pine Lodge facilities for jail: State delays closure of prison to consider arrangement"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women, located near Spokane, is one of the corrections centers slated for closure as a cost-savings measure. Where the state sees savings, local jurisdictions see opportunity. Spokane County and the city of Spokane are jumping at the chance to reduce the costs of expanding their jail. This possibility is particularly appealing since the Geiger Corrections Center, currently used by the city and county, is slated to be converted to other uses. The Department of Corrections is holding off on closing Pine Lodge until the Department, Spokane, and Spokane County can look more closely at the possible transfer of Pine Lodge. - 01/29/2010


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