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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.

"County, state seek middle ground as new ban starts"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Life would be much simplier if fresh, potable water were an infinite resource--but it's not. There's only so much of it, and everybody feels entitled to it. That's why the Department of Ecology and Kittitas County are butting heads over development in upper Kittitas County. Ecology has restricted new wells in the area unless the water use is somehow mitigated. On November 30 it extended this rule for another 120 days. This move protects holders of senior water rights such as the town of Roslyn, the Yakama Nation, and irrigators. Kittitas County, developers, and property holders in the area oppose the rule because it could lessen property values on land that doesn't have senior wate rights. The county and Ecology are trading suggestions on a possible compromise. - 12/01/2009

"Stimulus funds for SBA loans dry up: Congress will be asked to extend program for small businesses until February"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
One way to tell if a program is popular is if it runs out of money. That very thing has happened with the $730 million the Small Business Administration (SBA) had for Recovery Act loans. The SBA was flooded with loan applications when word got out in October that its Recovery funds were running low and then loan volume increased 77% in November. Loans applications filed after November 23 are on a waiting list, pending renewal of the program. Businesses in Clark County are hoping the program gets renewed--already $13 million in SBA stimulus loans have gone to Clark County. - 12/02/2009

"Medical-marijuana hearing to consider expanding its use"--Seattle Times
The Medical Quality Assurance Commission is holding a hearing tonight to discuss the possibility of allowing sufferers of depression and certain anxiety disorders to use medical marijuana. Right now, state law is written so that only those with a “terminal or debilitating medical condition” may have possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes. There is some evidence that marijuana may relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, but California is the only state that has approved the drug as treatment for psychiatric disorders. After the commission hears testimony, they will deliberate in private and issue a decision within several weeks. - 12/02/2009

"Governor acts against Arkansas"--The Olympian
Gov. Gregoire has issued an order that breaks Washington’s interstate pact with Arkansas regarding transfers of parolees. All states have uniform agreements that allow parolees to move from one state to another – there are currently over 2,500 parolees from other states living in Washington. It’s not clear whether Gregoire actually has the authority to break that compact, but she has been quoted as saying that her job is to protect the people of Washington, and she apparently feels that Arkansas’ current system does not allow her to do that. The order comes in the aftermath of the police officer shootings by Arkansas parolee Maurice Clemmons, who some argue could have been kept in jail in Washington if Arkansas had not rescinded their parole violation warrant. After wracking up several charges, Clemmons was released on $190,000 bail in Washington prior to the November 29 shootings. - 12/03/2009

"17 state boards get axed"--The Olympian
Gov. Gregoire issued an executive order yesterday to eliminate 17 boards and commissions, and asked legislators to reorganize 78 other boards or small agencies. Gregoire said that the state must become more efficient and think of different ways to operate in a time when budgets are stretched to the breaking point. Part of her recent order will move many programs out of the state Department of Commerce and into other agencies, will eliminate about 30 jobs in fiscal and accounting positions from small agencies, and asks the legislature to dissolve many smaller state agencies and redistribute their services to larger agencies. Several advisory boards have already been eliminated in this order. Gregoire said she will issue recommendations for health care reform in January. - 12/04/2009

"Cities’ 10-square-mile West Plains gain is county’s loss"--Spokane spokesman-Review
The cities of Spokane and Airway Heights are annexing 10 square miles unincorporated Spokane County. The area is along Highway 2 near and including parts of the Spokane International Airport. The County isn't happy about it, and why do the cities want the additional responsibility in times of tight budgets any way? Tax revenue. The area has industry and a box store. Airway Heights gets sales tax revenue from a Wal-Mart. Spokane will get a net gain of at least $600,000 in tax revenue. The annexation will take cost the County $1.8 million in tax revenue while it has to continue providing services to the rest of unincorporated Spokane County. Annexation by cities is covered in RCW Chapter 35.13. Sample city-county annexation agreements can be found here. - 12/04/2009

"Stimulus grant: Lack of efficiency, wasted energy"--Tacoma News Tribune
Gov. Gregoire has given the state’s Commerce Department a tongue lashing over their slow efforts to begin using federal stimulus funds to weatherize homes for low-income families. The problem, according to Commerce officials, is that the federal funds require using a whole different set of wage rates than what the state normally uses. But the legislature demanded that local government agencies use the state’s own prevailing wage rates for these stimulus projects, so officials have been trying to figure out a way to reconcile the two standards. Supposedly this has been done and workers are ready to begin a number of weatherization projects throughout Washington. Apparently states that don’t use all the federal funding within a certain time frame get money taken away and watch it get disbursed to other states, a fate Gov. Gregoire and the Commerce Department hope to avoid. - 12/07/2009

"U.S. settles royalty dispute with Indian tribes"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
One of the missions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is to manage trust lands belonging to Indian tribes. These lands cover millions of acres and contain rich natural resources. There's reason to believe that the BIA has mismanaged these resources in the past and cost the tribes billions of dollars in royalties from logging, mining, and other uses of the land. The lawsuit Cobell v. Salazar was filed against the BIA 13 years ago over this issue and has been in court ever since. A settlement was announced today. Terms of the settlement include $1.4 billion going to claimants, $2 billion going to buying back consolidation Indian lands, and $60 million to scholarships for Indians. - 12/08/2009

"Economic outlook rocky for another year"--The Olympian
Economic experts presenting at the Thurston County Economic Development Council’s economic outlook forecast meeting told the audience that the region’s slow recovery will probably continue into next summer. How quickly the South Sound region recovers depends largely upon consumer spending, especially in the housing market. Numbers of new home listings in the northwest have fallen 13.35 percent between November 2008 and November 2009, because people are not moving around as much as they did in boom years. Hopeful signs for better times ahead include greater confidence among business leaders for the coming six-month period, as well as the expected return next summer of thousands of soldiers to the region’s military bases. - 12/09/2009

"As academics grow, recess recedes: Study finds most of state’s schools lack study break policy"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Childhood obesity is recognized as a national problem. Physical activity is one way of combating it. Recess in elementary school is a major source of physical activity for children in their formative years. The Washington state legislature passed Senate Bill 5551 in 2009 to find out how much recess time kids are getting. The bill required the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington State PTA to do a survey of schools' practices and policies about recess. The survey results have been released: 98% of students get some recess time, but "[t]he overall trend appears to be towards decreasing recess time...." The major reasons for reducing recess time is to spend more time on academic activities and lack of staff to supervises recess. - 12/10/2009

"Gregoire disowns budget plan; favors raising taxes"--Seattle Times
Gov. Gregoire released her first proposed supplemental budget yesterday, with the caveat that it was not the budget she hoped to see passed by the legislature. She called the budget “unjust,” but is required by state law to release a balanced budget proposal that does not include tax increases. However, Gregoire said she will submit another budget proposal to the legislature in January that includes unspecified avenues of increased tax revenue, as well as closure of tax loopholes for businesses. This current budget proposal axes the state’s Basic Health Plan, the General Assistance-Unemployable program for the disabled, school-levy equalization, and all-day kindergarten, and includes major cuts to state prisons and schools for the developmentally disabled. - 12/10/2009

"Controversy surrounds Bellingham plan to require low-income housing"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Bellingham City Council is considering passing local laws that would make it mandatory for developers to include low-income housing in their developments. Whatcom County's comprehensive plan for growth supports such policies, but as of yet the city and county councils have not decided to make them mandatory. Whatcom County has created a fund to support low-income housing initiatives, but the funding source is not in place, and county council members voted down a proposal to increase property taxes for the fund. A look at available housing in the Bellingham area shows that very few homes fall within the purchasing power of the median income level, which is $47,000. Local mandatory affordable housing requirements must also fulfill certain stipulations in state law. - 12/13/2009

"Franklin County jail faces capacity issues "--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Bare-bones budgets aren't good for public safety. Franklin County's budget cut positions at its county jail. At the same time, the trend is for more people going to jail. The Franklin County Sheriff says overcrowding hasn't reached the crisis point--yet. That should happen sometime next year. It'be been suggested that Franklin County could follow the lead of Kennewick and reach an agreement to house prisoners in the Benton County jail. Such interlocal jail agreements are common in Washington state. The problem is that Franklin County doesn't have the money for it. - 12/14/2009

"Spokane County’s jobless rate increases: Wash. unemployment rate steady at 9.2 percent"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Spokane County's 8.7% unemployment rate is still below Washington's 9.1% unemployment rate and the national 10% unemployment rate, and true, there are parts of the state with much higher unemployment rates. Still that doesn't help the 400 people who lost jobs in November. The Employment Security Department offers help for job hunters. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers information on coping with the stress of unemployment. - 12/15/2009

"Water treatment fix will force rate increase sooner or later, officials say""--Longview Daily News
The bottom line is that you need safe drinking water to survive. Longview is finding out that providing safe drinking water isn't cheap, even for a city that gets its water from the Cowlitz River. Longview's water treatment plant is 60 years old and showing its age. A proposed new treatment plant would draw water from wells and cost $36.7 million. City officials say the project requires a 13% raise in water rates. The city council is debating on whether to hold off raising water rates or perhaps even delaying the project to save residents money. This debate is important since a list of funding sources shows that $21.6 million of the construction funds would come from water rates charged by the city. Other funding comes from the state and federal government. The state's Public Works Board can provide another $840,000. Federal grants supply $956,000. The Environmental Protection Agency's Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, administered in Washington state by the Department of Health, can cover $8 million of the construction costs. - 12/16/2009

"Hanford workers new cancer package OK'd"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Workers at Hanford were exposed to radiation from elements many people have never heard of including thorium, neptunium, and polonium. (Incidentally, polonium was discovered by Marie Curie, who probably died from exposure to radiation.) The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has decided to let more former Hanford workers submit compensation claims to the Office of Compensation Analysis and Support (OCAS) for work-related primary and secondary cancers. There have been several studies done due to ongoing claims by hundreds of former Hanford workers over illnesses caused by their exposure to radioactive materials. These claims led to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 and an Excutive Order 13719 that provide for compensation payments to these workers. - 12/17/2009

"Errors preceded fair escape: Panel faults hospital procedures, urges new rules for insane patients"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
In September a patient from Eastern State Hospital (ESH) walked away from a supervised outing to the fair. He was loose for three days. That was bad. The fact that he was committed to the hospital after killing somebody made it far worse. Headlines used the phrase "insane killer". The head of the hospital resigned. A State Psychiatric Hospital Safety Review Panel was created to see what went wrong. The Panel has released its report. It listed several shortcomings in ESH's policies and procedures. Furthermore it recommended that criminally insane patients at ESH be transferred to Western State Hospital near Tacoma. An article in the Tacoma News Tribune, "Criminally insane may move to Lakewood", quotes the Pierce County Procescuting Attorney who really doesn't like that recommendation. - 12/18/2009

"State gets extra $7.5 million in federal funds"--The Olympian
For being a leader in health care for needy children, Washington state is one of nine states receiving a federal bonus to help continue its program. The state’s CHIP plan provides free insurance coverage for children whose families make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level; it currently enrolls 664,000 children. Gov. Gregoire’s first supplemental budget proposal for 2010-2011 drastically reduced the number of children the program would have been able to cover. Officials at the governor’s office say that the federal grant will put back about two-thirds of what was cut, and Gregoire has already said that she hopes to raise taxes in order to keep funding the CHIP plan and other state programs for the low-income and disabled. - 12/18/2009

"Food-stamp use takes record jump in Washington"--Seattle Times
As of October, 12.8 percent of Washington residents were signed up to receive food stamps, an all time high. Eligibility for the Basic Food program has changed in the past several years, and assets such as homes and cars are no longer taken into account when applying for food stamps. This means that more people are now qualified to receive the “stamps,” which are now issued as debit cards. Most families average around $200 in benefits per month, and can use their cards at most major grocery stores, Costco, and farmers markets. State residents enrolled in Basic Food spent about $1 billion to date on food for their families, which generated about $1.80 in revenue for the state for each dollar spent. - 12/20/2009

"Yearlong study will create ‘vision’ for regional transit"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
The Spokane area is turning to the Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC) for a coherent transportation plan. The SRTC is one of the state's Regional Transportation Planning Organizations, which were authorized under the Growth Management Act as a means of efficient transportation planning. Community groups, state government, local governments, and transportation adovcates in the Spokane area have not always worked together on transportation issues. This lack of coordination has cost the area funding opportunities for projects such as the North Spokane Corridor. - 12/21/2009

"Incomes and spending post gains for November"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Personal incomes nationwide rose .4 percent during November, thanks in part to the slight decrease seen in unemployment rates. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to .5 percent due largely to holiday purchases. While both numbers reflect a slowly recovering economy, the increases were even less than economists had predicted, and the numbers don’t show enough improvement to end the effects of the recession anytime soon. Home sales fell 11.3 percent in November and median home prices had decreased by two percent – both signs that the economy has a ways to go before it can truly recover. On the up side, gross domestic product has shown growth for the fourth consecutive quarter. - 12/23/2009

"State on target to get 10th House seat"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Ho, ho, ho, what would Washington state like to get in 2010? Another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, maybe? Washington already has 9 Congressional Districts. An early report from Election Data Services (not Election Data Analysis as cited in the story), a firm that specializes in re-districting issues, suggests that the state could get a 10th Congressional District. Of course, the actual data that will be the basis for redistricting will come from the Census Bureau. The Census data could also lead to the redrawing of state legislative districts. This task was handled by the Washington State Redistricting Commission when this was done after the 2000 Census. Redistricting in Washington is covered by the Washington State Redistricting Act (RCW 44.05) and WAC Chapter 17 "Redistricting commission" - 12/24/2009

"Senate passes historic health care bill"--The Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
In a 60-39 vote, the U.S. Senate passed its health care reform bill, the first bill to take on reformation of the health care system in this county in several decades. More work remains however; the House and Senate now need to agree on amendments in the bill, which will then have to be signed by President Obama. The historic act will require all Americans to carry health insurance, and will provide subsidies for those who can’t afford the premiums. It will also ban insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing medical conditions. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that parts of the bill will end up reducing the deficit by $130 billion dollars in the next ten years. The Senate bill lacks a “public option,” the option which would allow the federal government to sell health insurance to consumers. - 12/24/2009

"Asarco tried to shirk cleanup - but failed"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Grupo Mexico, a Mexico-based conglomerate, bought out Asarco in 1999, and has since been trying to maneuver the smelting corporation into bankruptcy to avoid expensive environmental clean-ups. Asarco is responsible for $1.8 billion in hazardous waste clean-ups throughout the U.S., including Washington state. One of Asarco’s copper smelting operations was based on Ruston Way in Tacoma. Lawyers and judges involved in the bankruptcy case were suspicious of Grupo-Mexico’s motives, and a federal judge blocked the company’s effort to move control of Asarco to another subsidiary. The company will still be responsible for paying for environmental clean-ups. - 12/28/2009

"Oregon law affects e-waste rules: County centers must stop accepting some items without charge"--Vancouver Columbian
Electronic devices such as computers and televisions have long been recognized as not being landfill friendly. The vast number of electronic devices that quickly become obsolete means a steady supply of items filling up landfills. Furthermore, heavy metals are present in electronic devices, and you don't want heavy metals accumulating in landfills. Washington has a law aimed at keeping electronic waste from going to landfills. An Oregon law going into effect at the start of 2010 has the same purpose. A Vancouver waste management company will have to start charging for electronic products since the landfill it uses is located in Oregon. The Washington State Department of Ecology offers a list of collection sites that will take discarded electronic products for free. - 12/28/2009

"Disorder in the court: Judge is blocked out"--Yakima Herald-Republic
An affidavit of prejudice can be filed when an attorney feels he or she cannot get a fair hearing from a judge. The Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney filed such an affidavit against a Yakima County District Court Judge. A district court is a court of limited jurisdiction that handles misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, and civil cases. The Prosecuting Attorney felt the judge did not understand law. He felt the local court rules and the Criminal Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction (CrRLJ) supported the affidavit. As a result of the affidavit, the judge is no longer hearing criminal cases. Instead he's hearing civil cases and Municipal Court cases. Some people qustion the judge's reassignment since District Court Judges are elected officials. - 12/29/2009

"Controversial plan to keep sport fishers from Cape Flattery area might be put on hold"--Peninsula Daily News
The State Fish and Wildlife Commission says it needs more time to decide if rockfish and groundfish in Neah Bay should be off-limits to sport fishermen in the 2010-12 rules. The commission says it needs to study the issue further. Opponents of the plan say it would decimate the economy of the Neah Bay region not to allow sport fishermen into the proposed off-limits area. One member of the commission has been accused of putting forth the proposal in order to pursue his own agenda as a diver who wants to see the zone set aside for diving enthusiasts. All parties agree that the rockfish and groundfish population in the area are currently healthy. - 12/29/2009

"One man, one year, 78,000 pages of public documents"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A Lakewood resident has filed 78,000 pages worth of public disclosure requests to the city of Lakewood this year alone, and city officials have had enough. They are asking the legislature, by way of the Association of Washington Cities, to change state laws to allow local governments to curb problem requesters. The city says they understand that citizens have a right to view public documents, but they argue they have spent $16,000 this year in staff time and resources just dealing with one man’s requests. He has generated 56 percent of their public disclosure requests this year, but has only paid $73.50 in copy fees. Attorney General Rob McKenna has already submitted a bill to the legislature asking them to create an Office of Open Records, which would deal with just these types of issues. - 12/30/2009

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