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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.

"'Death with Dignity' law takes effect Thursday"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Washington’s new assisted suicide law will go into effect Thursday, March 5, 2009. The law, regulated by the state Department of Health, is modeled after Oregon’s assisted suicide law, and will allow state residents who are terminally ill to end their own lives through self-dosage with prescription medication. The law was passed by voters as Initiative 1000 in November 2008. A 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that states have the ultimate authority to decide issues relating to medical practice, including “right to die” issues. Under the new state law, individuals have to complete a series of steps, including diagnoses from two separate doctors declaring that the patient has only six months or less to live, before a physician will be allowed to prescribe the medication that will take their life. - 03/02/2009

"Bankruptcy filings up 40% in Tri-Cities"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
With recessions come bankruptcies. According to figures from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Eastern Washington, bankruptcies in the Tri-Cities area in 2008 rose by 40% above the 2007 totals. The numbers from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Western Washington are just as bad. If you look at the numbers for Eastern and Western Washington, there was a high number of bankruptcies earlier in this decade that fell off steeply in 2006 and have been rising since then. Most of the bankruptcies are Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcies. - 03/02/2009

"PUD makes cuts; rate hike looms"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The deteriorating economy is forcing the Chelan County Public Utility District to cut spending and consider a temporary raise in rates. The increase in rates for the PUD's customers could be at the 14% level. (The PUD has to inform customers at least 30 days before the rate change.) Disappointing revenues are the reason for the cost cutting and rate raising. Energy prices the PUD charges other customers for surplus power are lower than anticipated. Since the PUD's energy source is hydropower, the below normal snowpack doesn't bode well for power generation--and, by extension, sales--later this year. - 03/03/2009

"Feds unveil plan to help 9 million stay in homes"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The “Making Home Affordable” program was launched today by the Obama administration, in an effort to help homeowners keep their homes during the recession. The plan will allow struggling homeowners to modify their current mortgages, but will only allow them to do so one time. People applying for the program must meet certain financial requirements and cannot ask for a modification on a home costing more than $729,750. Representatives in the House are currently working on a bill that would allow judges to order banks to reduce interest rates in certain cases, but banking lobbyists have forced a compromise that would require homeowners to show that they tried to rework their mortgages with their bank before going to court. Washington residents concerned about foreclosure can also get help and information through the state Department of Financial Institutions. - 03/04/2009

"State cuts hit child welfare programs"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Hear that snapping sound? Feel that draft of cold air on your neck? It's just holes getting punched in the social safety net, and it's probably not affecting you--yet. It is starting to hurt public health operations and services for foster children in the Spokane area. Spokane is part of the Department of Social and Health Services Region 1 which has to deal with $3.5 million in budget cuts by June 30. Then the new fiscal year begins and with it more budget cuts. The cuts are deeply felt since they mirror cuts made by the Spokane Regional Health District. Some of the positions cut gathered information for the Passport Program that tracked foster children's medical history. - 03/04/2009

"WSU Extension loss would be big blow to local fruit industry"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Recession driven budget cuts are threatening government funded programs that help people and industries. Washington State University is considering deep budget cuts in its extension offices, including those in Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogon Counties. These offices offer valuable research and assistance to farmers and ranchers. They also support activites such as the Master Gardeners program and 4-H clubs for youth. The federal government offers assistance to state run extension services, but it can't carry the load created by closing state extension offices. The Tri-Cities Herald reports that "Arc of Tri-Cities pleads with lawmakers for funding". Several members of the Tri-Cities chapter of Arc, an advocacy group for people with developmental disabilities, are arguing against cuts to Division of Vocational Rehabilitation programs that fund services such as job coaches. These programs help people with disabilities stay employed in the community. - 03/05/2009

"Senate OKs tunnel to replace viaduct"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
The state senate voted 43-6 to go ahead with the tunnel option to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct in Seattle. An advisory group had taken the tunnel off the table when they presented the possible replacement options to Gov. Gregoire, Ron Sims, and Seattle mayor Greg Nickels in December, but the tunnel option was abruptly embraced shortly thereafter. Advocates say that the tunnel replacement will open up more views and increase land values, while causing minimal disturbance to traffic flow during its construction. Opponents worry about the high cost and safety of such a project. The state House of Representatives still needs to approve the project, and House Speaker Frank Chopp remains strongly opposed to the tunnel idea. - 03/05/2009

"Jobless rate bolts to 8.1 pct., 651,000 jobs lost"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The news from the Department of Labor this morning was grim – the nation’s unemployment rate is now the highest it has been since 1983. Since December, over one million jobs have been cut nationwide, for a total of about 12.5 million workers who are currently out of work. In addition, about 8.6 million people are working part-time who would prefer to be in full-time positions. Construction companies and factories have chopped the most positions since last month. Department of Labor Secretary Holis gave a statement today in which the Obama administration vowed to get the economy back on track for workers, starting with funding for unemployment benefits, training, and re-employment services. - 03/06/2009

"Obama overturns Bush policy on stem cells"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
President Obama signed an executive order today that will allow stem cell researchers to apply for federal grant money. Under the previous administration, no federal funds could be awarded to scientists researching stem cell lines created after 2001. Obama also released a memorandum along with the order that said the new administration will support scientific inquiry, independent of politics, and vowed that he will work to make up for time lost over the past eight years. President Obama went on to say that human cloning will not be allowed and assured the public that strict guidelines against abuse of scientific research would be put into place. - 03/09/2009

"Some Sunnyside residents say stormwater fees all wet: New charges intended to reduce runoff into rivers and streams"--Yakima Herald-Republic - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Sunnyside is mandated by the federal Clean Water Act to control stormwater runoff. It's not that people in Sunnyside are against paying for stormwater control activities--the complaints are against the way the stormwater control fee is calculated. Sunnyside used to charge each household a flat fee for stormwater control. Now it charges by the acre of property, regardless of how much of the acreage is covered by an impervious surface. An impervious surface increases runoff by preventing the soil from absorbing water. Many of the people complaining about Sunnyside's new fees either own open space without impervious surfaces or have developed their property in such a way that diverts stormwater to the sewer system. - 03/09/2009

"Sex offender tracking shows success; Gregoire wants to keep program"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
In times of budgets so tight that programs are being slashed how can you tell when people are lobbying to keep a program intact? People make sure the program gets widespread good publicity. Given the danger of re-offending, monitoring sex offenders in the community is a good idea that has attracted a lot of attention in the legislature. Washington counties were given $5 million to support in-person visits by law enforcement to prove that registered sex offenders gave accurate information about they live. This program has bolstered staff, paid for training, and led to more accurate record keeping in the Tri-Cities area. Statewide it has led to the arrest of unregistered sex offenders and those who gave inaccurate addresses. The Spokane Spokesman-Review has a similar story, "State tracking sex offenders: Program lets police check addresses", running today as well. It points out Spokane County got $275,000 to monitor over 1,400 sex offenders. The program also funds a statewide database of sex offenders that is managed by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. - 03/10/2009

"Fishery council slashes Northwest whiting harvest by 42%"--Seattle Times
The Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved a harvest cut of whiting fish from 322,000 tons to about 184,000 tons. The council defends this move by saying that whiting spawning has dropped to record low levels, so the cut in harvesting is necessary to maintain fish populations. Fishermen are disappointed with the news, as last year’s harvest brought in high profits. The price of whiting is also expected to drop due to the poor economy. Whiting is a type of fish used in fillets and other products. - 03/11/2009

"9th Circuit sides with state on Hanford waste"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Washington's Attorney General is happy that the 9th Circuit of Appeals has sided with the state in Washington v. Chu. The decision supports a requirement that the federal Department of Energy (DOE) dig up transuranic waste stored at Hanford and process it. This lawsuit had its roots in a Department of Ecology order in March 2003 that set a deadline for DOE to process these transuranic wastes. Ultimately the waste will be permanently stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. - 03/11/2009

"Labor group's tactics probed; worker rights bill shelved"--Everett Herald
Democratic legislative leaders Lisa Brown and Frank Chopp, along with Gov. Chris Gregoire, have put a halt to two controversial bills, Senate Bill 5446 and House Bill 1528. The decision to stop any progress on the bills came after Brown and Chopp were shown an email sent to a senator by someone at the Washington State Labor Council. Allegedly the email suggested that the labor council would discontinue its campaign contributions to democratic fundraisers if the bills were not passed. Gregoire, Brown, and Chopp met and decided to turn the email over to the Washington State Patrol, which is investigating whether any legal or ethical laws were broken. The bills would have made the Workers Privacy Act a state law. Boeing was known to have been against the act and had supposedly threatened to move production elsewhere should it become law. - 03/12/2009

"Conservation on the line"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Sometimes you don't get what you don't pay for. When an agency face major budget cuts, it often lets the public know what services will be cut. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is looking at losing $30 million in funding. This could lead to the closure of 7 of its 91 fish hatcheries and 175 staff including 50 trained biologists. The closing of the hatcheries would mean fewer gamefish for anglers to catch. Cutting staff means less study and management of fish and wildlife. This lack of knowledge could directly affect decisions about threatened and endangered species since WDFW is to be consulted in such decisions. They are supposed to be based on the best science available. - 03/13/2009

"Lawmakers thwart Gregoire's cap-and-trade plan on climate"--Seattle Times
Despite Gov. Gregoire’s announcement in January that Washington was going to be at the forefront of emissions law changes to reduce impacts on the environment, the legislature has effectively killed those efforts. The general sentiment among lawmakers was that the cap-and-trade legislation would be seen as anti-business at a time when the state needs businesses to thrive. Though a bill regarding cap-and trade has passed the Senate, it only asks state agencies to consider the problem of climate change and prepare recommendations for the legislature in 2011. The original bill would have put a cap on carbon emissions for businesses, forcing them to trade emissions allotments with other businesses if they needed to. - 03/16/2009

"Out of the shadows: Scientists hope new field data brighten odds of saving lynx"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The lynx is one of the endangered species that the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is supposed to "preserve, protect, perpetuate, and manage". WDFW biologists are using a radio collar to track a lynx to get a better idea of its movements in North Cascades and Okanogan regions. The lynx's low numbers could shrink even more as forest land is lost wildfires and logging. The snowshoe hare, a favorite food of the lynx, is a forest dwelling animal. When forests are threatened, the lynx's food is threatened. WDFW is hoping that the lynx can find enough forest to survive.. - 03/14/2009

"Renewed pressure for enforcement of lumber agreement rules"--Longview Daily News - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement was supposed to end complaints by American lumber industry goups like the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports that Canadian lumber companies were dumping softwood lumber on the American market. Softwood lumber is used in housing construction, and housing construction starts have been dropping since 2005. As construction starts drop so does construction spending and the need for construction materials such as lumber. As a result, lumber mills have been closing across the country, but Canadian lumber continues to be imported into the U.S. Representatives from the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports and the carpenters union are accusing Canada of continuing to dump lumber in the U.S. market and take away jobs from American loggers and mill workers. Not everyone agrees. Companies like Weyerhaeuser that have lumber operations in both the U.S. and Canada think the Softwood Lumber Agreement brings stability into the lumber market. - 03/17/2009

"Bill would help the young learn about finances"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Sen. Patty Murray is introducing legislation that would provide federal grants to educate students on personal finance issues. Research has shown that half of high school seniors have debit cards, and a third have credit cards, yet many young people don’t understand what an interest rate is. Seventeen states have financial literacy requirements in their K-12 curriculum, but Washington does not have such a requirement. Murray’s bill would give grants to state education agencies, non-profits, and community centers that focus on teaching financial responsibility. - 03/18/2009

"Legislature has no stock-water answer this year"--Yakima Herald-Republic
The Department of Ecology had hoped that the legislature would settle the dispute over how much water stockyards could use. This issue boils down to one of water rights. Stockyards are currently eligable to draw as much water as they wish for their operation--it's an "exempt" water right. There is concern that heavy use of exempt water rights could be at the expense of existing or "senior" water rights. This issue has flared up in Central Washington where growing demand for water is butting up against limited resources. Unfortunately this issue got lost in the scramble to deal with the state's budget crisis. There's a possibility that the state will form a group to study this issue. - 03/18/2009

"Pears take brunt of Mexico's retaliation tariff: Washington apples already pay extra duty; cherries, 'cots could be affected if fee remains"--Yakima Herald-Republic
What do Washington pears and Mexican trucks have in common? Diplomatically speaking, it's retaliation. The United States canceled a project that allowed some Mexican commercial trucks to travel on American highways. This project took place under the auspices of the NAFTA treaty. Mexico has responded to the cancellation of this project by raising steep tariffs on American agricultural products including Washington state pears. These tariffs hurt Washington's agricultural industry since Mexico is a major customer of the state's agricultural products. Nor does it help that the export market for pears was already showing signs of weakening. - 03/19/2009

"Supplier charged with using substandard steel in Sound Transit light-rail columns"--Seattle Times
The proprietor of steel supplier Appleby NW has pled guilty to fraud after engineers for Sound Transit determined that the steel sold to them was significantly weaker than they were led to believe. Tests show that the steel used in the elevated light rail line through Tukwila could only withstand 36,000 pounds per square inch, when the specifications for the project had called for steel that could withstand 50,000 psi. Sound Transit engineering studies have shown that the weaker steel is still safe enough for the intended use and still meets seismic requirements. Sound Transit is trying to complete the Seattle-Tukwila light rail line in time for the scheduled opening in July. - 03/19/2009

"Big appetites probably stranded sturgeon"--Seattle Times
About 1,500 white sturgeon fish got stranded in Port Susan Bay last week while feeding. Scientists assumed they were looking for food in the mud flats when the tide went out, and they were unable to swim back out to Puget Sound until the tide came in later. A dozen or so of the larger sturgeon, which can reach lengths of up to ten feet or more, died while they were stranded, but most made it safely back to deeper water. Sturgeon are bottom-dwelling fish that can be found in the Fraser and Columbia Rivers, as well as the Puget Sound. White and green sturgeon are native to the west coast. - 03/20/2009

"More than 8,000 jobs may be lost in state budget cuts"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
State legislators are putting together a budget that reflects an extra $552 million shortfall in revenue, which may mean even more layoffs for state workers than previously expected. In addition to the job cuts, lawmakers are looking at eliminating 10,000 slots at state colleges and universities, cutting several state programs, including basic health, and putting a tax referendum to the voters in November. Early surveys show voters may be in favor of increased sin taxes, but those types of taxes don’t generate very much revenue. Increased sales tax and property taxes may be a part of the tax proposal. House and Senate budgets probably won’t be released until at least the end of March. Technically, lawmakers have until April 26 to agree on a state budget, but the governor can call an extraordinary session if needed. - 03/22/2009

"State report says race, income influence mortgage rates"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Washington State Budget & Policy Center has issued a report that says members of minority groups and people with low incomes were much more likely to end up with high interest mortgage loans of the subprime variety. The state has reacted to such abuses by creating the nonprofit Washington State Housing Finance Commission. The Department of Financial Institutions has also posted consumer information on home loans and interest rates on its website. - 03/23/2009

"Janitor's path to a dream: Pave it, Seattle says"--Seattle Times
As a consequence of a new Seattle city ordinance, some homeowners are being asked to repave the sidewalks outside of their homes, resulting in huge fees for some. One such homeowner who had saved for years to afford to build his dream home is being forced to scale back his dreams to pay the $15,000 sidewalk construction fee. Seattle Department of Planning and Development officials say the ordinance was passed to force developers to bear the cost of building or repairing sidewalks in their developments, but some unfortunate homeowners fall under the ordinance as well. Officials say they cannot waive the requirements for anyone. Adequate sidewalks are a pedestrian safety issue in Seattle, and many neighborhoods have no sidewalks, or the ones they have are deteriorated. The planning department says sidewalk issues generate an enormous amount of complaints from citizens. - 03/24/2009

"Clark PUD nears 20-year deal to buy wind power"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Once the future of electrical power in the Northwest was in water-powered turbines; now the future seems to be in wind-powered turbines. People aren't talking about new dams, but they talking about new windfarms. Clark Public Utilities, a public utility district in Clark County, is looking into a joint project on a windfarm in northeast Oregon. Over the next 20 years Clark Public Utilities would spend $338 million buying power from the windfarm. This investment would help the utility meet the goals for renewable energy purchases by utilities that were set by I-937 in 2006. The windfarm would also diversify the sources of power purchased by the utility since it buys most of its power from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). It's likely that the BPA will raise its rates in October of this year. - 03/24/2009

"State tolls policy could change"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
In order to tap into federal stimulus funds, the state Department of Transportation is thinking about changing previous policy that said the state wouldn’t charge tolls on projects that weren’t yet completed. The state would like to get federal funding for the technology that would allow them to charge tolls on the 520 bridge across Lake Washington, but they must apply for the funds before the project is complete, which won’t be until at least 2016. First the legislature must approve the early tolling on 520. Another bill introduced in the House seeks to charge tolls on both the 520 bridge and the I-90 bridge, tolls which some say would be necessary to pay for the project and to insure that commuters use both bridges equally. - 03/25/2009

"Lawmakers put brakes on county rail project"--Longview Daily News
Some of Washington's highways are notoriously congested; the same can be said for some of Washington's railroads. A prime example is the section of railroad between Kelso and Kalama. It's a bottleneck where slow freight trains and fast passenger trains get in each other's way. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has planned a project to build additional rail lines to relieve the congestion. Unfortunately the state's budget crisis has forced WSDOT to place that plan on hold regardless of the importance of rail traffic to Washington's economy. WSDOT is hoping to get federal funding for the project since the Kelso to Kalama is on a federally designated high speed rail corridor. - 03/26/2009

"State may get $10 billion in stimulus"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Washington state projects funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act could begin as soon as April or May, and state officials are hoping they will create up to 75,000 jobs. The governor’s office will track the projects that receive federal funding and keep a tally of how many jobs are created or maintained. About $5.4 million has already been approved for Thurston County projects alone, including road and trail projects and energy grants for cities and tribes. Statewide, 138 transportation projects have been certified to receive stimulus funds. Another $150 million in federal funds will be used to complete military projects on bases around the state. - 03/27/2009

"State shuts down large Valley day care center"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
How not to run a business. Do not get into physical fights with your customers, especially if your business is a day care. It doesn't help if the child of your sparring partner witnesses the fight. The Washington State Department of Early Learning regulates day care centers and has rules about such things. These rules are laid out in Chapter 170-295 of the Washington Administrative Code. Once the state gets involved the consequences can be more than just a timeout in a corner. Had this happened in Idaho where "House shelves day care reform: Lawmakers vote to delay decision on basic standards" for day cares, there might not have been any consequences. - 03/27/2009

"Bainbridge Island breaks ground for Japanese-American internment memorial"
Groundbreaking begins today on a memorial “story wall” that will list the names of all the Bainbridge Island Japanese and Japanese-Americans who were forced to relocate to internment camps during World War II. March 30 is a significant date because it marks the anniversary of the day Executive Order 9066 went into effect on the island. The name of the memorial site is Nidoto Nai Yoni, which is Japanese for “let it not happen again.” Most of the island’s residents who were exiled were American citizens. The memorial on Bainbridge Island is a connected with the Minidoka Internment National Monument in Idaho. - 03/30/2009

"WSU Spokane lab studies dangers of sleep deprivation"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Asleep at the wheel? Part of Washington State University's Spokane-based Sleep and Performance Research Center, the Critical Job Tasks Simulation Laboratory specializes in effect of sleep--or lack of it--on judgment and reaction time. Many labs do sleep studies, but the Critical Job Tasks Simulation Laboratory has the edge in having its work stimulators in the same building where the study subjects actually sleep (or don't as required by the research). The work stimulators are elaborate 3-D displays that test the subjects' reaction time when faced with stressful scenarios. The laboratory has done research funded by the industry groups, the US Navy, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. - 03/29/2009

"Wilderness bill funds Ice Age Flood Trail "--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
The word "flood" doesn't quite capture what happened when glacial Lake Missoula would break its ice dam and scour its way across Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon on its way to the Pacific. Picture a tidal wave with 500 cubic miles of water behind it, reshaping the land now known as the channeled scablands and leaving a trail of debris in its path. Now, thousands of years later, the National Park Service will oversee a trail following the wake of the flood from Montana to the ocean. This trail is one of the many wilderness and scenic areas provided for in H.R. 146, a bill just signed into law by the President. - 03/31/2009

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