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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.

"Online schools make gains"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
About one percent of South Sound students, or 400 pupils, have enrolled in fully online public schools this year. The online distance education programs are run by private companies but offered for free to any students with a computer and Internet connection at home. Online public schools are funded at the same rate as other public schools and are considered to be alternative education programs. Many of the enrollees were former homeschool students who switched to the online programs, but some are also students who don’t learn well in traditional classrooms. Olympia Public Schools offers its own online program, called iConnect Academy, and the Tumwater and North Thurston districts also have some online classes through their high schools. Other online programs available in Washington include the Washington Virtual Academy (WAVA), Insight School of Washington, and iQ Academy. - 12/01/2008

"Folks switching to digital broadcasting urged to recycle old TVs"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Computers become out of date after a few years, and televisions are going digital. Many people dispose of old tvs and computers by putting them in the garbage or by dumping them. There are better places for them than a landfill or the side of the road. Starting on January 1, 2009, people in Washington state can recycle televisions and computers for free through the Department of Ecology. The law behind this program is RCW 70.95N. - 12/01/2008

"State lets contract for new Port Townsend ferry; vessel could be going by mid-2010"--Peninsula Daily News
The state Department of Transportation has awarded a ferry–building contract to Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle. Although their bid was much higher than the department’s internal estimate, Todd’s was the only bid the state received for a new ferry on the Port Townsend-Keystone route. Washington State Ferries is hoping to have the new ferry built within 18 months at a cost of $65.5 million. The new ferry will be modeled on a Massachusetts ferry, the Island Home, although some features of that ferry will be modified to better suit the Port Townsend-Keystone route. WSDOT has indicated that it hopes to iron out a budget this legislative session for replacing and adding other state ferries within the near future. - 12/02/2008

"Douglas County may reduce snowplowing on some rural roads"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The residents of rural Douglas County might have to live with this equation when it snows in 2009: rising costs - (recession + initiatives that limit government funding) = reduced services from local government. Douglas County is facing a budget shortfall caused in part by Initiative 695, a 1999 initiative that limited car tab fees and tax increases, and Initiative 747, a 2001 intitiative that limited property tax increases to 1% per year. The cost of doing business rises by 5% to 7% per year. The county is looking at ways to reduce the shortfall in its 2009 budget. One way it can save $200,000 is by reducing the amount of snowplowing its extensive road system. - 12/02/2008

"Seattle ornament banned from White House Christmas tree"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Artist Deborah Lawrence’s ornament for the White House Christmas tree that represents the 435 congressional districts has officially been banned. Lawrence’s ornament was submitted for Rep. Jim McDermott’s 7th congressional district. McDermott had asked the King County Arts Commission to choose an artist for him, and says that he had no personal responsibility for choosing the artist or her message. Lawrence’s ornament integrates text that praises the proposal to impeach President Bush into the red-and-white striped design; McDermott voted in favor of the proposal. Though representatives for both the King County Arts Commission and Rep. McDermott’s office support the decision to take the ornament down, Lawrence was unapologetic, saying the decoration was probably her only chance to send a political message to the White House. - 12/03/2008

"High-wire health care: Family makes too much money to get help for daughter"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Just because a family makes enough to get by doesn't mean that they make enough to cover all the healthcare costs for a chronically ill child. The article is about a family that makes a few thousand dollars too much to qualify for the state Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). They qualify as medically needy so they're getting temporary help. However, to qualify for this they have to spend enough money on medical services to put them in a lower income bracket. In January 2009 their daughter will qualify to covered by the state's new apple Health for Kids program. The question that hangs over their heads is how well will the state be able to fund this program during a recession. Expenditures for children's health insurance programs have a way of growing. - 12/03/2008

"Third-party campaign cash surges to a record"--Everett Herald
Independent special-interest groups spent $24.7 million on election campaigns this fall, a significant uptick from previous years. $19.7 million of those dollars went towards the campaign for governor, and most of that money was spent in attack ads on the other candidate. The Building Industry Association of Washington and the Republican Governors Association spent about $11 million in ads for Dino Rossi, while labor unions, the Evergreen Progress Political Action Committee, and the Democratic Governors Association spent $6.1 million in ads for Gov. Gregoire. The Public Disclosure Commission is discussing the spending report with its commissioners, but doesn’t expect that any new regulations will come out of it. - 12/04/2008

"Disease kills 19 cattle shown at Puyallup Fair"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A rare disease called malignant catarrhal fever is responsible for the 19 bovine deaths. Veterinarians believe the disease was transmitted from sheep that were staying in the same barn with the cattle during the fair. Because the disease is so rare, very little is known about it, and there is no known cure or vaccination. Scientists do know that the disease cannot be passed to humans, and can only be transmitted to cattle through direct contact with a sheep’s nasal secretions. It’s the largest outbreak of MFC the state has ever seen. - 12/05/2008

"Policy that lets inmates get out early might stay"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The current law that lets some prisoners out of jail early for good behavior will likely be kept in place as legislators try to hammer out the biennial budget this session. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy has found that the policy, which can let out prisoners after only half of their sentence has been served, saves the state money. When the prisoners are no longer institutionalized, they cost the state less money and are less likely to end up back in prison. Prisoners who are let out early often must serve some time doing work release programs. The state saves an average of $10,000 for every inmate who is let out early for good behavior. Domestic violence offenders and other violent crimes offenders are only eligible to have their sentences reduced by one-third, and sex offenders are only eligible to receive reductions of 15 percent. - 12/08/2008

"Big plans for biodiesel crop faltering: High wheat prices, falling cost of fuel have cut incentive"--Spokane Spokesman-Review - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The drop in gas prices is hurting the biodiesel industry. Biodiesel was more expensive than gas and around the same cost as regular diesel even when gas was nearing $4 a gallon. Now with gas costing under $2 a gallon, there's far less incentive to invest in biodiesel operations. Pressure is also coming from rising wheat prices; farmers find it more profitable to grow wheat than the plants used to make biodiesel. However, the biodiesel industry gets support from state programs. One such program is mandated by Senate Bill 6508. It requires that eventually 20% of the fuel used for state-operated diesel-powered vehicles and vessels be biodiesel. - 12/08/2008

"Valley lawmakers object to EPA's role in dirty wells issue"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Studies have found high, unhealthy levels of nitrates in the water from many wells in the Yakima Valley. The nitrates come from many sources and are a good example of nonpoint pollution. Water quality is overseen by local governments, state agencies such as the Department of Ecology and the Department of Health, and federal agencies. No single local, state, or federal agency has taken responsibility in the past to deal with this problem in the Yakima Valley. Some state representatives are unhappy that the Environmental Protection Agency took the lead in organizing a meeting last week to look at solutions to improving water quality. The politicians would feel more comfortable with the Department of Ecology overseeing any cleanups and so avoid a federal agency imposing federal regulations. They would prefer to see a locally managed program along the lines of the Columbia Basin Groundwater Management Area. - 12/09/2008

"New jobs in Washington paying less than living wage"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
A new study published by the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations shows that 80 percent of job openings in Washington paid less than a living wage for a single parent with two children. The study also says that this percentage has remained stagnant since 2006. The federation maintains that federal poverty levels are out of date; their figures estimate that a living wage in Washington is about $55,245 for a family of three. King and Snohomish counties require the highest wages to meet basic needs, while Asotin County requires the lowest wages. Since the report only covers statistics for 2007, study authors fear the economic picture is even bleaker for families right now. - 12/09/2008

"900 Washington teachers to get raises after certification"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has recognized 918 teachers in Washington state for their classroom abilities (to see the press release with more details, click on "Washington" in this list). This certification is recognized by the state and entitles the teachers who have earned it a $5,000 bonus. An additional $5,000 bonus is given to certified teachers who work in schools where at least 50% to 70% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. - 12/10/2008

"House expected to pass auto bailout; filibuster possible in Senate"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Big Three automakers, Congress, and the White House have reached a tentative deal for a bailout proposal that may go to a vote in both houses of Congress this week. The deal calls for a “car czar” who would dole out federal money with conditions that the automakers restructure their business plans. The czar would have the power to force an automaker into bankruptcy if it does not submit viable blueprints for change by March 31, 2009. The clause that called for automakers to drop lawsuits against California for its tough emissions laws has been eliminated. The bill needs a two-thirds majority in the Senate in order to avoid a filibuster. - 12/10/2008

"Water plan would help restore fish"--Yakima Herald-Republic
The Yakima River is a classic example of a river being asked to support healthy habitat for fish while providing water for irrigation, homes, and businesses. Both the state and federal governments are working on a solution this problem. The Department of Ecology has just released a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for its recommendations (summary here, full report here). The comment period on this proposal is open until January 16, 2009. - 12/11/2008

"Whatcom County landowners could lose development potential"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
In light of a recent state Growth Management Board ruling, the county planning commission will have to re-examine and possibly redraw rural boundaries to limit urban sprawl in rural areas. The county will need to limit houses to one per five acres in areas deemed to be rural, and limit other building. Overall, the county will look at 20,000 acres and decide on boundaries for rural areas, taking into consideration factors such as preserving the character of established neighborhoods, using natural boundaries, and not forcing abnormal boundaries. The county will publish new maps and zoning requirements sometime in 2009. - 12/11/2008

"Viaduct options: Down to 2"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
State, city, and county officials have narrowed down replacement ideas for the Alaskan Way viaduct in Seattle to two options: an elevated highway, and two one-way downtown surface streets. Total estimated costs for the elevated highway, which would include two bridges running side-by-side, is about $3.5 billion. Estimated costs for the surface-street option come in at about $3.3 billion. Gov. Gregoire has stated that the state has a total of $2.8 billion to spend on this project, but she is committed to tearing down the viaduct by 2012. Officials say the viaduct has been damaged by earthquakes and is dangerously unstable. About 110,000 vehicles travel along the road daily. - 12/12/2008

"Report: Spokane psychologist key in expanding torture"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Part of the training at the Air Force Survival School run by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency at Fairchild Air Force Base involves teaching military personnel how to resist hostile interrogations by captors who don't follow the Geneva Conventions. Dr. Bruce Jeppsen, a Spokane psychologist, was a consultant at the Survival School. He devised methods that replicated unlawful interrogation techniques. They were used on Survival School students under controlled conditions. According to hearings held by the Senate Armed Forces Committee on June 17, 2008 and September 25, 2008, (Executive Summary of the Hearings here), these techniques became the basis of interrogation methods for suspected terrorists. These methods were criticized being illegal and were the target of the McCain Amendment. - 12/12/2008

"Tax exemptions under microscope"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Citizen Commission for Performance Measurement of Tax Preferences will be working to recommend to the legislature ways in which the state can earn more money, namely, by outmoding a number of tax exemptions. There are currently about 567 tax breaks on the books, which save taxpayers about $53 billion. However, that’s money that could be used to fill state coffers in a time of squeezed budgets. Many of the exemptions involve retail sales and use taxes on items like food. The legislature mostly ignored the commission’s recommendations last year, including exemptions on agricultural producers and public utilities, among others. - 12/15/2008

"Mid-Columbia officials crafting stimulus wish lists'--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Local officials would love the smell of asphalt in the morning. County and city officials in the Tri-Cities area have been compiling wish lists of needed projects ever since they heard that infrastructure projects are part of the Presiden-elect Obana's economic recovery plan. Officials across Washington state have been making lists of ready-to-go projects that could take immediate advantage of any stimulus funding coming their way. A list of Washington State Department of Transportation projects shows there's no shortage of work to be done. - 12/15/2008

"Supreme Court rejects Hanford appeal"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Downwinders, who suffered serious health problems after they were exposed to Iodine-131 releases from Hanford, won a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court. The iodine was released during the 1940s and 1950s and covered a wide swath of Eastern Washington from Oregon to the Idaho Panhandle. The Centers for Disease Control issued a study that said there was no statistical proof of increased thyroid diseases due to the iodine releases. The downwinders disagreed, especially since other radioactive toxins were released as well. They sued contractors who operated Hanford at the time of the releases. The contractors appealed a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that gave downwinders the right to sue them. - 12/16/2008

"Work on interstates to make 2009 a test of patience"--Seattle Times
In order to get other major roadwork out of the way before starting on huge road projects like the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the 520 Bridge overhaul, the Department of Transportation has several big projects planned for the Seattle area in 2009. Work on I-5, I-90, and I-405 will mean lane closures and inevitable back-ups for Seattle area commuters. The state will spend about $279 million on these construction projects, all of which will be paid for by the state’s gas tax. The department also hopes that the projects will stimulate the economy by providing more area jobs. - 12/16/2008

"Alcoa dredges contaminated sediment from Columbia"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
After $42 million and 13 years of studies and negotiations with the Department of Ecology, Alcoa has dredged over 5,000 cubic yards of PCB contaminated sediment from the Columbia River at the site of its closed Vancouver smelter. The smelter was also a Superfund site. The Port of Vancouver is in negotiations to buy the cleaned up site for port expansion. - 12/17/2008

"Gregoire lays out first version of budget parade of horrors"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Gov. Gregoire’s budget proposal for the 2009-2011 biennial takes a no-new-taxes approach, but carves big cuts out of several programs. Her cuts include closing 13 state parks, capping the children’s health insurance program, cutting funding for the Basic Health Care plan by 42 percent, and eliminating pay raises for school teachers and other state employees. State economic forecasters have predicted that state revenue will run a deficit of up to nearly $6 billion within the next two years, but Gregoire has steadfastly promised not to raise taxes. The budget proposal reflects where she would like to see major spending cuts in state programs, but the final state budget won’t be passed by the legislature until the spring. - 12/18/2008

"New credit-card rules faulted"--Seattle Times
Although the Federal Reserve recently decided on new regulations that put limits on the types of interest rates credit cards can charge you, they won’t go into effect until July of 2010. Consumer advocates argue that many people will have defaulted on their cards by then. Under current law, credit card companies generally have fine print written into their consumer contracts that allows them to increase interest rates if someone’s credit report suddenly changes, even if the change has nothing to do with their payments on the card in question. Rate increases can go as high as a 50 percent APR or more. These sudden increases are known as “universal default.” They can cripple consumers’ ability to pay other bills in addition to the credit card bill, causing them to file for bankruptcy. - 12/19/2008

"Thunder, snow make wild combo"--Everett Herald
The National Weather Service has confirmed the claims: the Seattle area did experience thunder and lightning in association with the snow storm on Thursday morning. The weather service advises people to take cover should they hear thunder or see a flash of lightning – it generally means a big pile of snow is coming your way. “Thunder snow,” as it is termed, is a rare phenomenon, but it can happen in convergence zones when a snow storm is about to hit. - 12/19/2008

"Washington state finds 30 dangerous illegal dams"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Washington state has dam regulations, and the Department of Ecology's Dam Safety Office is responsible for enforcing them. The Office recently discovered several illegal dams, many of them in the Yakima area. The problem with a do-it-yourself dam is a dam failure. - 12/24/2008

"Expanded felon DNA testing in our state?"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way wants Washington to adopt the federal law that allows law enforcement to collect DNA samples of anyone arrested on a felony charge, regardless of whether or not they are ultimately found guilty of committing the crime. As state law now stands, felons who are convicted have their DNA collected and placed in a database. The American Civil Liberties Union contends that collecting the DNA before individuals are found guilty is an invasion of privacy, and other legislators in Washington have tended to agree. Rep. Miloscia’s bill also faces an uphill battle in this year’s session because of the costs involved. Thirteen other states have adopted the federal rules regarding DNA collection. - 12/29/2008

"Minimum wage on the way up: State’s lowest-paid will get 48-cent raise on Thursday"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Minimum wage earners in Washington state rejoice! You're getting a 5.4% raise on January 1, 2009. Washington's minimum wage will go from $8.07 per hour to $8.55 per hour. This increase will give Washington workers the highest minimum wage in the nation. The federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour. States that don't have minimum wage laws use the federally set minimum wage. The minimum wage in Washington state is based on I-688 that voters passed in 1998. It says that the minimum wage will be increased every year based on increases in the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index--Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The increase is measured from August of the previous year to the August of the current year--so the 2009 raise was based on the increase of the CPI-W from the end of August 2007 to the end of August 2008. - 12/30/2008

"Gregoire favors deportations as way to cut state's jail costs"--Seattle Times
Rather than allow illegal immigrants to serve out prison sentences, Gov. Gregoire is proposing that the state cooperate with U.S. Customs and Immigration to have the inmates deported. Officials estimate that this would save the state $9 million within the next two years. A program already in place called the 287(g) agreements would allow state employees to act as immigration agents in some cases. Arizona and New York have already implemented deportations within their prison systems, with New York reporting a savings of $141 million so far. Washington’s agricultural sector attracts illegal immigrants for farm work, and federal estimates put the state’s illegal immigrant population at 270,000 in 2007. - 12/31/2008

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