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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.

"State’s stimulus take hefty: Hanford cleanup brings in bulk of federal funding"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
The federal Recovery Act has been very good to Washington state. The numbers vary depending on if you're looking at figures put out by the state government (over $2 billion in contracts), by the federal government ($5.5 billion in contracts, grants, and loans), or by Onvia, a private company that specializes in tracking government contracts ($8.16 billion). (These sites have interactive maps that let you identify recipients of recovery funds.) The numbers differ among these websites in part because of when they receive data about recovery, money granted vs. money received, and how job creation is measured. - 11/02/2009

"Eyman's anti-tax Initiative 1033 soundly rejected"--Tacoma News Tribune
Voters rejected Tim Eyman’s latest initiative to restrict the amount of money government can collect in taxes by a margin of 10 percent, with about half of the votes counted. Fifty-five percent of Washington voters had voted “no” on I-1033 at last report. The initiative, spearheaded by ubiquitous tax opponent Tim Eyman, sought to cap the limit of property taxes collected by the government at the rate of cost-of-living and population increases. Any money collected above the cap would have to be diverted back to tax payers in the form of property-tax cuts. The state’s Office of Financial Management estimated that the initiative would have cost the state about $6 billion in revenue over the next six years. The ballot measure passed readily in rural counties, but was solidly beaten in King, Thurston, and Snohomish counties. - 11/04/2009

"Kids’ health care in danger: Proposed DSHS budget would lower income threshold for state insurance"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
A deep recession can wreak havoc on campaign promises and well-intentioned social programs. One of Governor Gregoire's goals was that "...all of Washington’s children will be insured by 2010....". One path to achieving this goal was the Department of Social and Health Service's (DSHS) Apple Health for Kids program. This program made it easier for low-income families to get health coverage for their children. Programs such as this helped drive the steady increase in the number of children covered by DSHS medical programs since 2005. Unfortunately the state budget is running up deficits and cuts must be made. DSHS Supplemental Budget Request for 2010 is recommending steep cuts in programs like Apple Health for Kids (see pages 785-788). DSHS' 2010 Supplemental Budget Request can be found here. - 11/04/2009

"Douglas County looks north to save money on prisoners"--Wenatchee World
Jails aren't cheap so some cities and counties sign interlocal agreements. These interlocal agreements let me one city or county enter into contracts to house people covicted of misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors in another city or county's jail. As budgets get tighter some local jurisdictions are shopping around for the most economical way of housing their prisoners. Douglas County has a contract with Chelan County and Wenatchee to house its prisoners at the Chelan County Regional Justice Center, but it feels it's paying too much for the service since the contract has it paying for unused beds at $73.50 per bed. Douglas County is considering sending its prisoners to Okanogan County where a jail bed only costs $51 per day. - 11/05/2009

"Congress extends jobless benefits, expands tax credit to all homebuyers"--Seattle Times
In nearly unanimous votes in both houses, Congress voted today to extend unemployment benefits out to 99 weeks for those still out of work. This extension holds the record for the most number of weeks that Congress has ever extended these benefits. National unemployment is now at 9.8 percent, and job losses are expected to continue despite signs that the economy is beginning to recover. Congress also voted to continue the $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers, and added a $6,500 tax credit for homeowners who have lived in their homes for five years or more. The extension of unemployment benefits will cost about $2.4 billion, which will be paid for by unemployment insurance taxes on employers. - 11/05/2009

"Local tribes join national meeting with President Obama"--Everett Herald
President Obama kept his campaign promise to sit down with tribal leaders to talk about their needs and issues, and convened a Tribal Nations Conference at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. yesterday. Several cabinet members, including former Washington state governor Gary Locke, were on hand to listen and respond to questions. The president acknowledged that the former administration had been frustrating for tribes, and vowed to make his own administration more responsive. President Obama gave cabinet agencies a 90-day deadline to come up with better ways to communicate with tribal leaders and solve problems. The National Congress of American Indians will now be housed on Embassy Row, and will act as an embassy for Native Americans. - 11/06/2009

"Port Townsend's efforts to generate, share renewable energy earn state 'Solar City of the Year' honor"--Peninsula Daily News
Last month the Northwest Solar Center honored Port Townsend as “Washington Solar City of the Year.” Port Townsend now has 75 solar-powered homes, and has the largest number of solar powered homes per capita in the state. By comparison, Seattle only has 100 homes with solar panels. Port Townsend sits in the rain shadow of the Olympics, so it does not get as many cloudy days as its neighbors on the Olympic Peninsula. The federal government currently offers a thirty percent tax credit for homeowners who choose to install solar panels or other forms of green energy. State and federal tax incentives also exist for homeowners who make their homes more energy efficient in other ways. - 11/09/2009

"Latest review calls for closing Ahtanum View Corrections Center"--Yakima Herald-Republic
The office of Financial Management has released the final version of the study on eliminating beds at state institutions. This study was ordered by the legislature as a way to save money by reducing the number of inmates and residents in state run institutions, and consolidating the remaining beds in the most cost-effective settings. The section on the Department of Corrections recommends closing the Ahtanum View Corrections Center that houses offenders who are disabled or have other medical problems. These inmates would be moved to the Monroe Correctional Complex. This closure could result in nearly a $13 million loss to the economy in the Yakima area (see page 55). Other sections of the report cover proposed elimination of beds in institutions for the developmentally disabled and juvenile rehabilitation facilities. - 11/08/2009

"Death penalty a rarity in Washington: Out of more than 7,000 homicide cases filed since 1981, only 30 death sentences have been handed down."--Walla Walla Union-Bulletin - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Washington isn't Texas. Washington has executed 77 people since 1911 and no one since 2001; Texas executed 18 people in the first 11 months of 2008. There are reasons for this discrepancy in numbers. Washington's laws on capital punishment limit it to a punishment for aggravated first degree murder, and sentencing is the only the first step on the path to Walla Walla. The state appellate courts in Washington and the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals examine death penalties very closely. Aso there is some resistance to capital punishment after two infamous serial killers bargained their way out of the death penalty - 11/12/2009

"CDC: Swine flu has sickened 22 million in 6 months"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The federal Centers for Disease Control has issued a new report that officials believe is a more accurate portrait of how many Americans have been infected and died from the H1N1 virus. The new numbers show that almost 4,000 people have died from swine flu thus far, and 540 of those are children. Only about 42 million doses of swine flu vaccine are currently available nationwide, but while CDC officials say more vaccine is coming soon, only 23 percent of survey respondents showed an interest in being vaccinated. Adults over the age of 65 seem to have more immunity against the H1N1 virus, although scientists aren’t quite sure yet why this is the case. - 11/12/2009

"Washington in race for federal education funds"--Seattle Times
In an effort to compete in the federal Education Department’s new Race to the Top program, Gov. Gregoire has been meeting with the U.S. Secretary of Education and state teacher union leadership. The new program will grant $4.35 billion to states that are willing to commit to major overhauls in their K-12 programs in order to improve American’s overall education system. Apparently the Department of Education is looking to grant money specifically to states that allow charter schools, which are currently not allowed under Washington state law. Many think that Washington does not have a chance at winning the grant money because of the lack of charter schools here, as well as a probable lack of support from the state’s teachers' unions, who frown upon the teacher bonus system encouraged by the Obama Administration. However, the state’s current budget problems may make everyone more likely to cooperate for funds. - 11/13/2009

"Millions will have to repay part of tax credit" - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The U.S. Treasury Department predicts that many people will see a lower tax return this year because of special circumstances that may disqualify them for some of the Making Work Pay tax credit program. Under the program instituted last spring, most people received a small amount of extra money on each pay check; individuals are supposed to receive $400 total throughout the year, and couples can receive $800. However, the program didn’t take into account couples where both partners work full-time, individuals who work more than one job, or people who receive money through Social Security. Those who turn out to have been ineligible or who received too much money through the program will have the money taken out of their tax returns at the end of the year. - 11/16/2009

"Peace Corps’ popularity still strong, recruiters say"--Spokane spokesman-Review
The economy is down, unemployment is up, and what do you want to do with your life? More people are considering the Peace Corps. Washington is one of the leading states for providing Peace Corps volunteers. The Peace Corps offers international experience and some benefits such as financial aid for graduate school and medical coverage. Volunteers come from all adult age groups. For people who want to stay closer to home there are domestic programs like that offers opportunities with parks and natural resources and Teach for America. - 11/16/2009

"Bill collectors drop chiropractor: Ex-patient says therapist, who’s now unlicensed, kept sloppy records"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
She fought a collection agency, and she won! Not every one is so fortunate, but the circumstances and her determination were in her favor. She was one of many people who were contacted by a collection agency over bills paid year ago to a chiropractor who lost his license. The collection agency came into play because the (former) chiropractor declared bankruptcy and kept poor payment records. The woman was able to win because she researched laws on collection agencies. She complained to the Washington State Attorney General's office--it offers information about consumer affairs, including debt collection--and the Federal Trade Commission. It also helped that the collection agency didn't have itemized bills for the alleged debt. - 11/17/2009

"Ordinance on nuisance properties approved by committee"
A proposed Seattle city ordinance that seeks to hold property owners responsibility for illegal activities on their property may go into effect soon. The new law was approved by the Seattle City Council’s public safety committee, and will go to a vote in front of the entire city council. The ordinance will allow police to declare properties “chronic public nuisances,” which will require property owners to sit down with police to come up with a plan to alleviate the crime. Crimes such as prostitution, drug dealing, and gang activity are the ones police are most likely to target with this law, and the crime would have to have been committed three times within 60 days or seven times in a year in order for the police to invoke it. If the crime doesn’t stop, police would have the power to revoke the business license or slap the owners with up to $25,000 in fines. - 11/18/2009

"Governor opposes delay in WASL math and science"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Governor Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn have a profound disagreement over the science and math section of the mandatory High School Proficiency Exam (HPSE). This test will replace the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) test in 2010. Superintendent Dorn wants to delay and loosen requirements that students pass these sections of the test in order to graduate. He feels this will raise the high school graduation rate. Governor Gregoire wants a more rigorous approach. Her goal, supported by business groups such as the Washington Roundtable, is for Washington's schools to produce a skilled workforce well-grounded in math and the sciences. - 11/19/2009

"New taxes possible in 2010"--Everett Herald
The new budget forecast revealed this week has prompted many state democratic legislators to start using the T-word. The report released by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council shows that as of right now, revenue shortfall will reach at least $2.6 billion in the coming year, which means that the governor and state legislators will be working this winter and spring to make deep cuts in the state budget. State budget writers are saying that taxes will have to be raised in order to fill the budget gap, because there isn’t enough room in the budget after last year’s $3.3 billion in cuts to slash another $2.6 billion. The governor will release her proposed supplemental budget in December, which by law must balance the budget without tax increases. Then legislators will finalize and pass the supplemental state budget in spring of 2010. - 11/20/2009

"Cartels stretching tribal police: In testimony to Senate panel, Colvilles’ top cop says federal drug trafficking program could work in Indian Country"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Say you want to have a really big garden, but you don't want anybody to know about it. For some groups such as Mexican drug cartels growing marijuana, the answer's simple: do it in the back country on public lands and Indian reservations where law enforcement is thinly spread. Marijuana plantations on public lands is a long standing problem that's getting worse. Plantations have been found in national parks and are increasing on reservations. You don't want a drug cartel for a neighbor--violence, crime, and corruption follow. This dangerous trend was the subject of a hearing held by the U. S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The police chief of the Colville Nations testified that creating a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) on the Colville Reservation would pay dividends. A HIDTA would create a framework for cooperation by national, state, local, and tribal law enforcement. - 11/20/2009

"$4.4 million for cleaner air in Pierce County"--Tacoma News Tribune
Pierce County has been awarded a large grant from the Department of Energy to help control air pollution and make the county more energy efficient. The money will go toward replacing outmoded and inefficient heating systems in old homes and county buildings, converting traffic signals, and replacing the county’s computer disk storage system, among other things. The latest grant is one among about $239 million in other stimulus grant money awarded to the county. - 11/23/2009

"Connell prison expansion funds fire truck, remodel"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
It's not like winning the lottery or finding a pony under the Christmas tree, but Connell is getting a new firetruck and a remodeled fire station. The Franklin County Public Hospital District 1 is getting use of a new ambulance purchased by Connell. All of this will cost $1.1 million. Connell is getting the money to offset the impact on the community by the expansion of the Coyote Ridge Correctional Center. Connell has already received $10 million for the same reason. That money is going to sewer and water projects. The Department of Corrections is authorized to distribute these funds to communities hosting correctional centers under Washington Administrative Code (WAC) Chapter 137-12A. - 11/23/2009

"Deputies state their case against cuts"--Wenatchee World
Consider Chelan County. It has an area of over 2,900 square miles, a population of 71,200--40,440 of whom live in rural areas, five towns ranging in size from 2,980 to 30,270 in population, and a growing gang problem. Plus a budget that's over $2 million in the red. Now there's every sign that the budget ax will come down hard on the Sheriff's Office. It looks as if some deputies will be laid off and the remaining ones will work shorter hours. Patrols will be reduced to the point where there will be no patrols in most of the county for 2 hours a day. Some funding will come fronm grants and contracts, but contracts come with strings attached. For instance, the resort town of Chelan will continue to get patrols 24 hours a day. - 11/24/2009

"$178 million project to improve NW power system"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
The smart grid is a means of continually monitoring the generation of electricity and its consumption by the nd user. A Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development report describes the smart grid as "...information technologies that can be applied to electrical grids, and to equipment that connects to the grids, to enhance grid planning and operations." In this way it allows the most efficient distribution of electricty at times of peak demand and balances out fluctuations. The Pacific Northwest Laboratory has been working on this concept for years. Now it's received a $88,821,251 grant from the Department of Energy for a smart grid demonstration project that will covers parts of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Wyoming. The federal money comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The federal funds will be matched by money from the Bonneville Power Administration and 15 Northwest utilities. The project will create 1,500 jobs while upgrading the region's power grid. - 11/25/2009

"County law could change to allow guns in parks"--Everett Herald
Snohomish County might be removing a law currently on the books (22.16.090) that prohibits people from carrying guns in county parks. Attorney General Rob McKenna has issued an opinion saying that the state gun laws preempt local laws, and state gun laws allow owners to carry guns openly in public. The city of Seattle has recently been sued over its ban on firearms in city parks and buildings, but until the case goes to court, mayor Greg Nickels says city officials will continue to uphold the ordinance. The Snohomish County Council will vote next week on whether to strike their gun ban from the county code. - 11/25/2009

"Gov’t increases pressure on mortgage industry"--Everett Herald
The Obama administration is trying to pressure mortgage companies into doing more to help people at risk of home foreclosure. Apparently many companies have not been following through to make temporary reductions in interest rates more permanent. The companies say that some of the blame lies with homeowners, many of whom have not completed the necessary paperwork. The administration says that it will publish the names of companies that are behind in helping customers. As of September, about 14 percent of all homeowners with mortgages were either behind in payments or facing foreclosure. Washington residents who need help with their mortgage payments can visit the Department of Financial Institutions website to learn about their options. - 11/30/2009

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