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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.

"USGS groundwater study expected to spur progress"--Yakima Herald-Republic
No one is quite sure what the impact of the recently released groundwater study of the Yakima River Basin will be. The 12-year, $6 million U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study, which was commissioned as part of a settlement of disputes over new water wells and their impacts on existing water rights, includes a computer model that “can determine what impact a new water well will have on current nearby users and the Yakima River.” Since 1905, surface water in the Yakima River has been spoken for by the Yakama Nation and the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which means any subsequent well use takes water that belongs to someone else. Both entities want the state Dept. of Ecology to halt the draw on surface water by well users who started drawing after 1905. The lengthy and complicated USGS study will take time to process and digest, but Ecology officials say one thing is certain: “Offsetting new uses by purchasing a share of a senior surface water right will be part of the answer.” - 10/01/2011

"Economy drives up poverty in county"--Vancouver Columbian
New data released by the Census Bureau shows that more Clark County residents fell below the poverty line and lost access to health insurance between 2009 and 2010, most likely as a result of persistent unemployment since 2007. The percentage of county residents in poverty rose from 11.8% in 2009 to 12.6% in 2010, while the percentage of residents without health insurance rose from 12.8% to 13.4%. The county’s poverty rate is below the national average of 15.1, but it’s unemployment rate of 12.3% is higher than the national average of 9%. Lack of health insurance has led to an increase in charity cases and delinquent hospital bills, as well as higher insurance rates and deductibles for those who are covered. - 10/03/2011

"State auditor recommends Port of Olympia staff training"--Olympia Olympian
During a review of the Port of Olympia’s finances for 2010, state auditors found three areas of concern in relation to $155,832 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant funds that the port used for construction projects. The areas of concern are “that the port did not inform the contractor that the federal Davis-Bacon Act applied to its construction contracts or collect weekly payroll reports; that the port did not check whether the contractor had been suspended or debarred from doing business with the port; and that the port did not include a “buy American’ requirement in a construction contract.” In the response to the audit, the port has said that many of the issues noted stemmed from staff turnover in a key grant management position and that many were corrected before the review began. - 10/05/2011

"Bill easing killing of sea lions OK’d"--Vancouver Columbian
The House Natural Resources Committee has passed a bill that would speed up the application process for states and Indian tribes that want a permit to kill sea lions. Under the bill, the secretary of the Commerce Department would have to act on an application request within 30 days of receiving it and a single permit would allow the holder to kill up to 10 sea lions during a single year. The goal of the legislation is to help control the California sea lion populations that are feasting on endangered and threatened salmon in the Columbia River. The new bill has support from Republicans and Democrats in our region, as well as from state wildlife agencies, but when similar legislation was proposed in the past, it did not become law. No one is sure what the fate of this new bill will be. - 10/05/2011

"Second quarter 2011 a busy time for Whatcom retailers"--Bellingham Herald
Retail sales in Whatcom County stores hit their highest second quarter total ever this year, according to data released by the Dept. of Revenue. The $366.8 million total is up 8.6% compared to the same quarter in 2010. Overall retail sales, which include sectors such as construction and manufacturing, hit their third highest total ever at $742 million. The county beat the state’s retail trade increase of 3.7% with its increase of 8.6% and it beat the state’s overall sales increase of 2.9% with its increase of 3.7%. It is thought that a strong Canadian dollar helped send shoppers south of the border and into Whatcom County stores. The third quarter is also expected to be strong, but all eyes are on holiday sales in the fourth quarter. - 10/07/2011

"Council supports bill to end part of energy legislation"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Last week, the Kennewick City Council joined the Pasco and Richland councils, as well as Benton and Franklin county commissioners, in voicing support for two bills, House Bill 2124 and Senate Bill 5964, that would modify the state’s Energy Independence Act. The act was created in 2006 with the passage of I-937 and it currently requires public utility districts (PUD) and other utilities with more than 25,000 customers to incorporate enough solar and wind power energy to make of 3% of their energy load for 2012, 9% of their load in 2016, and 15% of their load in 2020. The bills, which were introduced late in the last legislative session, would modify the act so that “public utilities would have the option - not be required - to acquire alternative energy only when demand exceeded their supply.” The bills are expected to be reintroduced when the Legislature convenes in January. - 10/10/2011

"Ephrata approves 11 water projects"--Moses Lake Columbia Basin Herald
Included in the City of Ephrata’s updated water system plan is a list of 11 projects that the city hopes to complete. Among the projects are the final phase of a water pipe and road replacement project, a study to determine whether the currently shut down Well 6 can be rehabilitated or if it needs to be abandoned, and chlorinating the city’s 7 wells after problems with non-acute coliform bacteria were discovered. Cities must update their plans every 6 years and submit them to the Dept. of Health for review. - 10/11/2011

"Audit: State needs better handling of agency grants"--Olympia Olympian
A state performance audit of grant activities at the Department of Commerce, Recreation and Conservation Office, Administrative Office of the Courts, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) found that practices in two agencies led to questionable payments, while other agencies demonstrated the use of best practices. OSPI was found to have a system in place to review documentation submitted for reimbursements, while questions were raised about “allowable costs and the adequacy of documentation for costs,” mostly in courts programs. The review also determined that both courts and the Recreation and Conservation Office “lacked policies and procedures to ensure adequate controls for managing grants,” while Commerce was found to have variations in its management of grants in five separate programs. It was suggested by state budget director Marty Brown that the Office of Financial Management “take steps to better define grants and also code them for easier tracking.” - 10/12/2011

"Washington potatoes, apples, cherries to get boost from trade deals"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Congress approved three new trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia, and Panama on Wednesday, ending a years long stalemate. All three agreements were negotiated by President George W. Bush’s administration, but lay idle until recently. The agreements, which all passed the House and Senate by wide margins, represent the largest trade deals since passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., predicts that the agreement with South Korea will benefit Washington potato growers and processors by immediately eliminating an 18% tariff they must pay when exporting their products and he expects apple growers to see a surge in sales as well. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has said that the agreements will help the state’s aerospace and agriculture industries. - 10/13/2011

"Gregoire extends ‘no rules’ decree another year"
Under an executive order signed by Gov. Gregoire on Thursday, the moratorium on state rulemaking activities that was implemented by an executive order last November has been extended through December 31, 2012. In response to the original order, which was intended to allow businesses to focus on creating jobs, cabinet agencies put 436 rules, essentially half of what was proposed, on hold. Agencies are still allowed to move forward with rules “that protect Washingtonians from significant risks to public health, safety or welfare, or by request of local governments, businesses or entities the state regulates.” - 10/13/2011

"Bill before U.S. House would give Border Patrol unprecedented powers in Olympic National Park"--Port Angeles Peninsula Daily News
Under the National Security and Lands Protection Act, which recently passed the House Committee on Natural Resources and is currently being considered for a floor vote, U.S. Customs and Border Protection would be given “immediate access” to any public land within 100 miles of the northern border with Canada and the southern border with Mexico that is managed by the federal government ”for purposes of conducting activities that assist in securing the border (including access to maintain and construct roads, construct a fence, use vehicles to patrol and set up monitoring equipment.” The 100 mile zones include areas within Olympic National Forest and some that abut Olympic National Park. The bill also allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection to waive the Endangered Species Act and three dozen other mostly environmental laws, as well as the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, within the zones. A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, whose district includes Clallam and Jefferson Counties, has said that it’s unlikely that the bill will “gain any traction,” but it has been noticed by constituents on the North Olympic Peninsula. - 10/16/2011

"State to start monitoring prescriptions"--Vancouver Columbian
Legislation passed in 2007 that required the WA Dept. of Health (DOH) to create a prescription monitoring program is finally being implemented. The delay stemmed from the fact that funding for the program was never provided, so DOH has pursued grants to get the program going. Four grants totaling $907,163 should keep the program running through 2013 and the agency is trying to find funding sources to keep it going longer. Under the new program, licensed pharmacies and practitioners who dispense controlled substances in the state or to Washington addresses must electronically report the outpatient prescription data to the Dept. of Health. Inpatient hospital data will not be collected. The law pertains to all prescriptions of Schedule II, III, IV and V controlled substances, which includes certain tranquilizers, stimulants, and pain relievers. The patient’s name, address and date of birth; the pharmacy and prescriber information; the prescription drug name and dosage; and the prescribing and dispensing dates will be collected in a database that will be available to physicians, pharmacists, and law enforcement officers in January. Individuals will be able to request copies of their own information from the database. Prescribers began submitting data to the Dept. of Health on October 7th. - 10/17/2011

"Social Security recipients to get 3.6 percent more"--Bellingham Herald
For the first time since 2009, Social Security recipients will see an increase in their benefits in January. Thanks to inflation, benefits will increase 3.6%, or about $39 per month on average and recipients of Supplemental Security Income will also see a 3.6% increase in January. Some of the increase will be offset by an expected increase in Medicare premiums, though, as they are deducted from Social Security payments. The amount of wages subject to Social Security taxes will also increase next year, from the first $106,800 to the first $110,100. Also, the tax cut that lowered the Social Security tax rate from 6.2% to 4.2% for 2011 is set to expire at the end of the year, although President Obama wants to expand and extend it. - 10/18/2011

"Parties unveil maps"-- Olympia Olympian
Two new versions of the maps showing redrawn boundaries of the 49 legislative districts have been released by the bi-partisan Redistricting Commission. Earlier, each member of the Commission released a legislative map, but the four have been combined into two, one for each party, as a step toward one final map. The Commission has until January to complete the map, but they hope to release it in mid-November. The four mapsCongressional district maps have yet to be combined. - 10/15/2011

"CDC: 1 in 25 adolescents take drugs for depression"--Tacoma News Tribune
Data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that nearly 1 in 25 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 are taking antidepressants. The study, billed as the first to offer statistics on the 12 to 17 age group, examined surveys and depression screenings of about 12,000 U.S. adolescents and adults between 2005 and 2008. Overall, 1 in 10 adults are taking antidepressants, although the study discovered that only one third of people with symptoms of depression are taking medication. The study also shows that women take antidepressants more than men, whites take them more than blacks or Mexican-Americans, and rates of use among different income groups are about the same. - 10/19/2011

"Plan would convert ferries to liquefied natural gas"--Seattle Times
According a from the Cedar River Group, a consulting firm that was paid $100,000 by the Legislature to study the use of liquefied natural gas as a fuel for ferries, a proposal to convert six Issaquah-class ferries to the new fuel source could save the state $10 million a year. Conversion would cost $65 million, but it is expected that the money would be paid back through fuel savings in seven years. Should the ferries be converted, they would be the first liquefied natural gas-fueled ferries in the country. Sixteen boats are currently operating in Norway with liquefied natural gas fuel and consultants from Cedar River Group expect to travel there to investigate the boats before submitting their final report to the Legislature in December. - 10/23/2011

"Fewer injuries reported among workers in state"--Tacoma News Tribune
A study released by the Dept. of Labor & Industries last week shows that 5 out of every 100 workers in the state suffered a workplace injury or illness in 2010. That’s down from 5.3 workers in 2009 and the lowest rate recorded since 2003, when the department began calculating injuries and illnesses using a standard North American classification system. Of the industries tracked, seven recorded decreases in injury and illness rates, three showed increases, and one, professional and business services, was unchanged. - 10/24/2011

"Port Townsend City Hall not surprised by state auditor’s ‘at risk’ finding"--Port Angeles Peninsula Daily News
An annual state audit of the City of Port Townsend found that it is at risk of not being able to meet financial obligations at current service levels, a problem the city says it is already aware of. According to the audit, “the city has experienced a loss in tax revenues and other financial challenges due to the downturn in the economy, the temporary loss of ferry service in 2007, closure of the Hood Canal Bridge in 2009 and the ongoing stagnation of the real estate market.” While the city has taken steps to cut costs, they did not do so at a rate that kept up with the decline in revenues. A three- to five-year plan to re-examine the way the city delivers city services and to reduce payroll costs was on the agenda for Monday’s city council meeting. - 10/25/2011

"Audit: Seattle Schools followed law in MLK sale"--Seattle Times
In response to a citizen complaint, state auditors examined the sale of Martin Luther King Elementary School in Seattle to the lowest bidder, First African Methodist Episcopal Church. The audit found that Seattle Public Schools followed state law and district policy regarding the sale of a school and that it obtained a valid market-value appraisal of the property. The audit also found no evidence that the district’s former executive director, who was also an influential congregant in the church, participated in the decision-making process regarding the sale. - 10/24/2011

"State gives city of Blaine ninth consecutive clean audit"--Bellingham Herald
The city of Blaine has once again received a clean audit from the State Auditor’s Office. The audit examined areas that are at highest risk of having problems, including contracts, investments, police department, municipal court and a Homeland Security grant. For the ninth straight year, no problems were found. - 10/26/2011

"Gregoire to consider options for revenue"--Olympia Olympian
On Thursday, Governor Gregoire laid out a list of budget reduction options totaling $2 billion, enough to cover the looming budget shortfall and maintain a reserve through 2013. She also laid out another list of an additional $2.2 billion in cuts that she’s “considered but can’t stomach quite yet.” The additional $2 billion in cuts comes on top of $10 billion in budget cuts that have already been taken, and, in a major shift from a year ago, Gov. Gregoire has said that she’s willing to look at revenue options, including new taxes, to defray some of the cuts. Everyone is waiting on the November 17th revenue forecast for the most up-to-date snapshot of how deep the budget hole truly is, but the lists are essentially a preview of what could appear in the Governor’s budget proposal that’s due out the week of Thanksgiving. The Legislature will also be working on its own budget proposals when it convenes in a special session on November 28th. - 10/28/2011

"King County's growth reshapes council districts"--Seattle Times
The public is welcome to comment on proposed new boundaries for Metropolitan King County Council districts through Tuesday. Thanks to an 11 percent increase in county population since 2000, boundary lines need to shift so that each district has a population of roughly 215,000 people. The proposed new boundaries do not create any majority-minority districts, but 3 do have minority populations between 34 and 49 percent. A five-person committee redrew the boundaries and of the five, two were chosen by County Council Republicans, two by council Democrats, and one was chosen by the other four members. - 10/30/2011

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