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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, fed cigarette tax in Washington $3.035 pack"--Yakima Herald-Republic - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Sin taxes are no joke to a dedicated smoker in Washington state. Combined increases in state and federal taxes on cigarettes are now more than $3 per pack. These tax increases will raise the price of a pack to around $6 or around $.30 per cigarette. The Department of Health sees this as a great incentive not to smoke. At the same time the Department of Health draws on tobacco taxes to help pay for smoking prevention programs. One wonders if the increased cigarette taxes will cause more people to avoid the taxes by shopping at tribal smoke shops or on the internet. - 04/01/2009

"State budgets may lead to taxes"--Tacoma News Tribune
The senate and house Democrats have released their budget proposals this week and now the negotiating begins. The budgets share many similarities: raising tuition for higher education, cutting funding for public schools, and freezing pay for state workers. But while both budgets end up cutting around the same amount of money ($3.8 billion vs. $4 billion), they take slightly different angles on the cuts they propose. The House budget would raise college tuition by ten percent; the senate only raises tuition by seven percent. The Senate proposes closing McNeil Island Prison, while the House does not. One big idea both budget proposals share is a reliance on federal stimulus funds to make up the approximately $5 billion gap between their suggested cuts and the $9 billion revenue shortfall that has been forecast for the 2009-11 budget. - 04/01/2009

"Crime reflects economy: Sharp increase in thievery blamed on pinch, job loss"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
The Spokane Police Department and other law enforcement agencies in the Inland Northwest are reporting a noticeable rise in property crimes. It's widely believed this is a reflection of the economic crisis. Property crimes in Washington state dropped during the period 2005-2007 as they did on the national level. According to "Suspect sought in Ellensburg mini-mart robbery", an article in Yakima Herald-Republic on April 1, a convenience store robber said unemployment was his motive. - 04/02/2009

"Democrats weigh state income tax"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles has introduced a controversial bill that would impose a one percent income tax on the state’s wealthiest residents. The tax would only affect individuals earning over $500,000 and couples earning over $1 million. While many lawmakers agree that this type of income tax would level the playing field between the state’s richest and poorest residents, many others, including Gov. Gregoire, say the tax could not be instituted in time to help with the next biennium’s budget crisis and therefore the legislature should avoid bringing it before the voters. Income tax referenda have been placed before the voters on previous occasions and have been resoundingly defeated. Other tax proposals, including increases in sin taxes, are still up for discussion within the legislature. - 04/03/2009

"Workers’ benefits hit as employers tighten expenses"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
As the economy worsens many people who consider themselves lucky to have a job still face losing employee benefits. The Employment Security Department's 2008Employee Benefits Survey Report notes significant drops in the number of companies that offered medical and dental coverage, paid sick leave, paid vacation and holiday leave, and retirement plans to employees. (A press release summarizing the report can be found here.) The employees who still get any or all of those benefits tend to be full-time employees of large companies. This report is issued annually. You can trace the decline in employee benefits by comparing the new report with previous reports for 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks employee benefits on the national level. - 04/03/2009

"Tribes, state will return to court over salmon"--Everett Herald
Following the decision reached in the Culvert Case last year in which a federal judge ruled that the state of Washington had not kept its treaty promises to native American tribes in western Washington, the tribes have filed another lawsuit against the state. This lawsuit says that the state is not working fast enough to repair damaged culverts that are blocking salmon runs. The Culvert Case found that by not repairing these culverts, the state was not fulfilling its implicit treaty pledge to maintain the region’s natural resources. The Culvert Case piggy-backs on the 1974 Boldt Decision, which declared that under treaties negotiated with tribes in the nineteenth century, the tribes are entitled to half of western Washington’s fish harvest. The state says that it does not intend to speed up repair or replacement of culverts, because the ruling of the Culvert Case did not stipulate that they do so. The tribes disagree. - 04/06/2009

"Air tanker replacement gridlock highlights problems with system"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Nobody denies that the KC-135 needs to be replaced after decades of service as an aerial tanker. Too bad the replacement process has proved to be an embarrassment for all involved. Boeing won the first round, but lost it in scandal. Northrop Grumman won the second round. but the Government Accountability Office found the deep flaws in the procurement process. One hopes the third round settles the issue, but with Senators from Washington and Alabama lining up behind both competitors it could get complicated. Unfortunately this is just one of several high-priced military purchases that pose problems. The Pentagon is under criticism for not prioritizing its purchases and poor planning for the acquisition of several weapon programs. - 04/06/2009

"Cap could be lifted on tax money for schools"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Gov. Gregoire wants to temporarily suspend a state law that only allows school districts to collect no more than 24 percent of the last year’s budget in local taxes. Voters in many areas have approved larger tax levies, but the districts are not able to collect as much money as the voters have approved because of the lid. The law was passed in order to insure that the state met their share of funding for school districts, but temporarily lifting that lid might allow many school districts to significantly decrease their budget deficits in the coming year. This would be welcome news for public schools, which are facing drastic cuts in the legislature’s budget proposals. Gregoire wants to suspend the rule for 2010 and 2011. - 04/08/2009

"Prosser OKs car tab fee"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Sometimes reality trumps deeply held beliefs. The Prosser City Council voted to add a $20 fee to the cost of a vehicle license tab. This vote can be seen as a reversal of I-695, passed in 1999, that limited license tab fees to $30. Prosser is in Benton County where I-695 passed by a comfortable margin (you can search for election results by county using this interactive webpage on the Elections Division website). The legislature later modified I-695 with RCW 82.80.140. This law allows a local transportation benefit district to add up to $20 to license tab fees provided the money goes to street repair. Why do this? Prosser needs up to $13 million for street repairs. At the same time, tax revenues for such projects have taken a nose dive. - 04/08/2009

"Report disputes immigrants' drain on state and local economies"--Seattle Times
OneAmerica, an immigrant advocate group, has released a new study that tries to debunk the idea that immigrants, legal and illegal, are a drain on local and state economies. The report finds that immigrants contribute around $1.5 billion in income taxes each year, and comprise 14.3 percent of the labor force in the state. However, the report also shows that immigrants tend use public assistance and food stamp programs at slightly higher rates than U.S.-born citizens. - 04/09/2009

"Gregoire seeks new incentives for Boeing to stay"--Everett Herald
Gov. Gregoire has asked the legislature to approve a new state council that would monitor aerospace interests in Washington state. Her request comes on the heels of a study that suggests Washington may be losing out in the field of aerospace business to more competitive states such as Texas, Kansas, and North and South Carolina. Among Washington’s disadvantages are high wages, strong unions, a high cost of living, and lack of aerospace training programs. While Gregoire wants to see more training programs put into place, she did not seem concerned about criticism towards Washington’s high worker compensation and unemployment insurance costs. The possible council has already been nicknamed the “Department of Boeing.” House Bill 2308, which would create the council, is scheduled for a public hearing on April 13. - 04/10/2009

"Dam pact aims to alleviate damage: Utility to help fish, improve tribal land"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Past progress can bear improvement in light of what we know today. The Box Canyon Dam, built and operated by the Pend Oreille Public Utility District, has been producing cheap electricity for one of the poorest parts of Washington since 1956. Unfortunately it put a lot of stress on the habitat of the bull trout, a threatened species. The reservoir also flooded 10% of the already small reservation belonging to the Kalispel Tribe. As the time came due to renew the operating license for the dam, the Pend Oreille County PUD began negotiating with the Kalispel Tribe and various state and federal agencies. The resulting agreement will have the PUD install fish ladders and carry out other activities to restore bull trout habitat. It will also work with the tribe to build new recreactional facilities for pow wows and boating. - 04/10/2009

"500 people ready to interview Seattle homeless"
A team of about 500 volunteers will roam Seattle streets in an effort to count and interview the homeless living on the streets and in cars and tents. This homeless census varies from the city’s annual One Night Count, because this study will ask people to answer questions regarding barriers that keep them from using available services and ask them what options might help them find a place to live. The hope is that the survey will help the city’s housing department figure out how best to spend its money to get needed services to Seattle’s homeless. The count is being undertaken by the city of Seattle, with help from United Way of King County and the Committee to End Homelessness. The University of Washington will tally up the survey responses. - 04/13/2009

"Talks aimed at reducing emissions criticized: Agency initially left out of TransAlta pact discussions"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Southwest Clean Air Agency (SWCA) is feeling left out in the cold. Transalta owns and operates the Centralia Complex, a large coal-fired power plant within SWCA's jurisdiction. Transalta has been in closed door meetings with with the Governor's office and the Department of Ecology over emission levels for the Centralia Complex. These talks began in 2007 when Transalta contacted the Governor's office about mercury emission levels. The discussions have reached a point where there will be public hearings. SWCA and environmental groups feel the negotiations over emissions should have been made public much earlier. - 04/12/2009

"A premium problem: One in six state drivers goes uninsured"--Yakima Herald-Republic
If you drive in Washington, you're supposed to have liability insurance. It's the law--specifically RCW Chapter 46.30--and violating it carries a hefty fine. However, a recent report by the Insurance Research Council, a trade group, estimates that one out of every six drivers in Washington lacks motor vehicle insurance. People who follow this issue in Washington believe this is a reasonably accurate figure and that it could be higher in poorer parts of the state when people have to make hard choices about their budgets. The Office of the Insurance Commissioner has more information about mandatory motor vehicle insurance. - 04/14/2009

"9.2% unemployment "troubling" for state"--Seattle Times
The latest numbers regarding the state’s unemployment rate indicate the highest jump in month-to-month rates since the recession of the early 1980s. Washington’s unemployment rate is now higher than the national average, with job losses spanning most sectors, including construction, aerospace, and software. Although some industries did add jobs last month, such as retail clothing stores, the majority of the economy has been suffering. Unfortunately, economists say that unemployment can lag behind other economic indicators even when the economy starts to recover, so unemployment will most likely remain high for some time. Oregon’s unemployment rate is currently at 12.1 percent. - 04/15/2009

"Undocumented residents in U.S. levels, study says"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, has released a new study, "A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States". The report estimates that Washington has around 180,000 illegal immigrants (somewhere between 140,000 to 210,00 illegal immigrants--given their situation it's understandable that it's hard to get exact numbers). The majority of these immigrants are Hispanics. Anecdotal reports suggest that these immigrants are settling down in Washington, instead of following the migrant worker circuit, and they are moving into other employment fields besides agriculture. The majority of these immigrants' children have been born in the United States and are entitled to U.S. citizenship. The most recent Census Bureau figures for Washington's Hispanic population can be found here. - 04/15/2009

"Deal close on Washington school-funding overhaul"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
The Superintendent of Public Instruction, along with other supporters of public education, think it's time to revise the definition and financing of basic education--and it wouldn't be cheap. Supporters of revising basic education point out the current definition of basic education dates back to 1977. They're backing Substitute House Bill 2661 that would phase in changes over a six year period. These changes would expand school hours, staff, student access to technology, and graduation requirements. The bill would also revise funding mechanisms for basic education. The fiscal note for this bill makes it clear that current funding would be inadequate to pay for these changes. - 04/16/2009

"State House grants more rights for gay couples"--Everett Herald
A bill passed by the legislature granting domestic partners many of the same rights as married heterosexual couples is on its way to the governor for a signature. If Gov. Gregoire signs the bill, it will add language regarding domestic partners to state laws stipulating rights to married spouses. Legislators say the new bill will not repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, but opponents have dubbed it the “everything but marriage” bill, and claim they will work to take the new laws to the ballot in November. Conservative groups are hoping that citizens will vote down the legislation. Vermont legislators recently overrode a gubernatorial veto in order to pass a law legalizing same sex marriage within that state. - 04/16/2009

"Plan for high-speed rail unveiled"--Seattle Times
President Obama has announced an ambitious plan to introduce high speed rail to the United States during his administration. Other nations around the world have successful high speed rail lines, which can move at speeds of up to 180 mph. Currently, only one U.S. train route, from Boston to Washington, D.C., qualifies as a high speed train. Amtrak, the only passenger train company in operation in the U.S., has struggled to attract ridership and has a record of numerous accidents and patchy service. Obama said in his announcement that his high-speed rail proposal will mean fewer cars on the road and airplanes in the air, which will reduce carbon dioxide emissions as well as traffic congestion. The administration hopes to begin awarding grants for rail improvements this summer. - 04/17/2009

"Yakima Valley water projects get $40M stimulus boost"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
$40 million funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will go to improving irrigation and water supplies in the Yakima River Basin. The money will fund one of the goals of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, a joint project of the Washington State Department of Ecology and the federal Bureau of Reclamation: increasing the efficency of water delivery and use. The money will go to lining and covering irrigation canals to prevent water loss due to leakage and evaporation as well as building a new pumping station. - 04/17/2009

"Church won't host homeless shelter that doesn't do sex offender checks"
SHARE, a large homeless-shelter network in King County, needs to find a place to house its group of homeless currently living in a West Seattle church. SHARE had an agreement with a church in Ballard, but then the church insisted that the shelter do Level 3 sex offender background checks on anyone applying to live in the shelter. SHARE says they have their own rules and background checks, and says that doing the sex offender checks would treat the homeless like criminals. Times are difficult for many homeless shelters, as churches turn out independent shelters in order to better serve the needy of their own congregations. Communities are also reluctant to have the shelters in their neighborhoods. - 04/20/2009

"State suspends 5 licenses of area health care providers"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Washington state does what it can to regulate health care providers. The Department of Health's Health Systems Quality Assurance division licenses health care providers and facilities with the power to revoke those licenses when necessary. This article tells how five people lost their licenses for things like substandard care, drug abuse, and inappropriate interactions with patients. The website includes links to information about health care professions that require licenses or certification, an online credential seach site with a useful frequently asked questions section, and complaint forms - 04/20/2009

"Forestry briefing explores wood as renewable energy source: Baird attends forestry briefing as Congress takes up cap-and-trade bill"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
On April 20 Representative Brian Baird held a hearing of his Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, part of the House Committee on Science and Technology, about using wood biomass as a source of electrical energy and a substitute for petroleum products. The hearing was attended by other Washington and Oregon Representatives as well as representatives from Chevron and Weyerhaeuser along with members of the public. Slash, the byproduct of logging and forest thinning, would be a major source of this biomass. One advantage of using slash is that it could create jobs in rural communities while reducing a major fire hazard. Like any energy source that produces greenhouse gases, wood biomass could be subject to cap and trade policies in the future. - 04/21/2009

"Official: FDA to OK Plan B for 17-year-olds"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Food and Drug Administration will allow 17-year-old women to have access to the “morning after pill” without a prescription, according to an anonymous government official. Apparently the FDA has made this decision in order to comply with a judge’s ruling last month that said access to the drug should not be age-restricted. The FDA is charged with letting politics overrule science in the fight over Plan B, a drug that contains high doses of birth control hormones. The drug helps prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of having unprotected intercourse. Religious conservatives have said that taking the drug is tantamount to having an abortion, and the FDA delayed for several years making a decision on whether or not to allow Plan B to be available over the counter. - 04/22/2009

"Lawmakers reach deal on state budget cuts"--Everett Herald
State House and Senate majority leaders allegedly reached an accord on the 2009-2011 biennial budget Wednesday night. The House will likely vote on the bill on Friday and if it passes, the legislature will be on target for wrapping up the legislative session on time on Sunday, April 26. Although leaders have agreed on cuts, the budget bills aren’t guaranteed to pass, given the huge slashes made to several programs. Leaders say cuts made to higher education, public education, and the state’s Basic Health Plan that appeared in House and Senate proposals will stay in some form. It is also likely that lawmakers will pass a bill to send a sales tax increase proposal to the voters. - 04/23/2009

"DOE defends Hanford, other cleanup spending"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Looking at somebody else's problem from across the nation gives a person a certain perspective--like "why bother". At a hearing of the Senate Armed Forces Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces an Alabama Senator was "baffled" by the amount of money spend cleaning up radioactive waste at Hanford. The Senator questioned a Department of Energy (DOE) Acting Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management and wondered if the $1.961 billion in Recovery funds slated for Hanford would be worthwhile. The Assistant Secretary replied that the costs increased as the planning become more realistic. The Government Accountability Office had previously criticized the DOE for lacking adequate information about the conditions at Hanford in a June 2008 report. - 04/23/2009

"Ocean Shores gets grant for treatment plant"--Aberdeen Daily World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Ocean Shores has received notice that it will qualify for $6 million in federal stimulus funds in order to replace its aquifer. The deep-water aquifer the city has currently allows for substances to enter the water which give it an unpleasant odor. Although the water is safe to drink, stimulus funds allotted for safe water projects will let the city replace the older aquifer with a new shallow-water aquifer, which will hopefully alleviate the skunky smell and also allow the city to filter a larger volume of water. The project will go out for bidding in the fall. - 04/24/2009

"Latest storm headache: Seattle sand clogs sewer plant"--Seattle Times
Some of the 12,400 tons of sand used to provide traction on icy Seattle roads this winter have ended up in the King County sewer system, clogging one pump used to clean sewer water and stormwater. The city’s department of transportation says that it has cleaned up more than 11,000 tons of the sand, over 90 percent, but the remaining sand continues to be a hassle. In 2008, 2,800 tons of debris had been filtered out of sewer system, while only 300 tons were removed in 2007. The city of Seattle has since changed its sanding policy to include the use of salt on icy roads, but no salt had been used prior to or during the heavy snow storms of December 2008. - 04/27/2009

"County goes on defensive against possible swine flu outbreak"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Public health officials have good reason to fear influenza; the outbreak in 1918 was a pandemic that affected every corner of the country including Washington. Now the Clark County Public Health Department is mobilizing in the face of an outbreak of human swine influenza that has killed people in Mexico and spread to the U.S. So far there have been no local cases reported, but the Washington State Department of Health and local public health departments across the state have ramped up surveillance of influenza cases as well as publicizing protective measures. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are tracking the outbreak on the national level and posting regular updates. The threat is significant enough to draw the attention of the Department of Homeland Security - 04/27/2009

"Former physician sentenced to prison: Hindman pleaded guilty to drug charges"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
How does a physician ruin a 30 year career? By writing too many, too large prescriptions to the highly addictive (and highly coveted by addicts) drug OxyContin. A doctor in Deer Park was convicted in federal court of over prescribing OxyContin to known addicts. He also lost his license to practice. OxyContin is a drug often abused in rural settings like Deer Park. It is a form of Oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, and is regulated on the federal and state level. Washington is a member of the National Association of State Controlled Substance Authorities, an organization of state and federal offices that attempts to keep the prescription of addictive drugs to patients who truly need them. - 04/28/2009

"Misdemeanor system overrun, mismanaged, study says"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A study headed by a Seattle University law professor concludes that misdemeanor courts are overwhelmed and inefficient. According to the report, public defenders have too many cases and don’t have enough time to pay attention to each one, which leads to cases going to court that could be settled in other ways. The study recommends that charges such as driving with a suspended license be decriminalized so that the offenders can work off their fines and clear their records through community service programs without going through the court system. Supporters say that would have the added benefit of decreasing court costs for taxpayers. - 04/29/2009

"Gold mine broke water rules from the beginning, state says"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
It took years of controversy before the Buckhorn Mine in North Central Washington got all the permits it needed to open in 2008. The Department of Ecology issued a key permit concerning water quality. Now Ecology is fining the mine $40,000 for not meeting water quality standards set out in the permit. Water from the mine is supposed to be treated before it is released, but untreated wter has been detected in nearby monitoring wells. Water from mines is often polluted with heavy metals and chemicals. The goal of the permitting system is to protect the water quality in nearby streams and bodies of water. - 04/29/2009

"Quincy port investigating state zone designation"--Moses Lake Columbia Basin Herald
The Port of Quincy is looking into taking advantage of a change of state law about the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development's Innovation Partnership Zones. This program was started in 2007 to encourage economic growth by combining research, training, and industrial projects in closely defined geographic areas. Previously there had to be a four year institution of higher learning located within the zone--now, thanks to House Bill 1128 it can be outside the zone as long as it can support the zone's mission. The Quincy and the Grant County area has cheap hydroelectric power, high speed internet connections, and the incentive of being a federally designated Historically Underutilized Business Zone by the Small Business Administration. - 04/29/2009

"Washington lawmakers urge more spending on ferries"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Sen. Patty Murray has sponsored a bill in Congress that would give federal funding to state ferry systems. About half of the money would be allocated according to ferry ridership, and the rest would go towards grants. Nationwide, ferry systems haul about 100 million people per year, with 23 million of those in Washington state alone. The state ferry system has been struggling with a reduced fleet after four ferries had to be retired due to their age. Lawmakers say the federal funds could not be used to build new ferries, but the state legislature allocated funding for two new boats in the new transportation budget. Any money received from the federal government would be used for maintaining the ferry fleet, as well docks and terminals. - 04/30/2009

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