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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 parks to stay open for time being"--Olympia Olympian
The 2009-11 biennial budget supposedly allocates enough money to ensure that state parks will remain open. The legislature approved a $5 opt-out “donation” on vehicle registrations and renewals that will fund state parks; the donation will automatically be added to the fees, but people can choose not to donate if they wish. The fee is estimated to generate about $23 million. Earlier this year, the state parks department had said it may need to close up to 40 state parks and lay off employees due to budget cuts. Layoffs may still happen but all state parks will remain open for the immediate future. - 05/01/2009

"A bridge without battles: Feds paid 90% of I-205 bridge’s $175 million construction price"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Bridges on I-5 and I-205 span the Columbia River between Vancouver and Portland. The adjacent bridges on I-5 were built in 1917 and 1958. They are due to be replaced by a new bridge since they a nationally recognized bottleneck. This project is a joint Washington - Oregon undertaking known as the Columbia River Crossing. Planning for the new bridge is complicated by the fact that everybody has an idea on what should--or shouldn't--be included in the new bridge design. It's starting to make people nostalgic about the simpler days of the 1970s and 1980s when the I-205 bridge was built. - 05/04/2009

"Guest worker program gets headaches from flu"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Farm workers are an important part of Washington's economy. Many of these workers come from Mexico, either illegally or through the H-2A certification system for seasonal workers. The H1N1 "Swine" influenza is complicating the H-2A application process because the State Department suspended many consular services in Mexico. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control is offering guidance to states and employers for helping migrant farm workers in the face of the influenza outbreak. - 05/05/2009

"Bill to loosen wine, beer sales in Washington on Gov. Gregoire's desk"--Seattle Times
Many in the alcoholic beverage industry have criticized Washington’s liquor laws for being out-of-date. A house bill awaiting Gov. Gregoire’s signatures aims to end some Prohibition-era restrictions on the sale of alcohol within the state. If the bill is signed into law, it will allow distributors to have financial interests in wineries or breweries, and will eliminate the requirement that manufacturers wait thirty days before making price changes. The new bill will also do away with a provision that required distributors to mark up the sale price of beer and wine at least ten percent over the manufacturer’s price. Some of the concessions in the bill stem from a lawsuit that Costco brought against the state, but Costco’s counsel says it hopes to make even more headway in reforming the state’s liquor laws in coming sessions. - 05/06/2009

"State programs out to help young farmers"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Farming is an aging profession in Washington--the average age of a farmer is 57 years. (A detailed profile of Washington farms and ranches can be found in the 2007 Census of Agriculture.) Start up costs for a young person buying a farm can be quite high--land, equipment, and operating costs. The current tight credit situation faced by most borrowers doesn't help. Fortunately the value of agriculture is recognized by state and federal programs. The Washington State Housing Finance Commission has a program aimed at new farmers. The federal Farm Credit Administration is mandated by Congress to support beginning farmers. The Washington State Department of Agriculture's "Washington Agriculture Strategic Plan 2020 and Beyond: Future of Farming" considers credit and capital as a resource. It issued a separate position paper on access to credit for farmers. - 05/06/2009

"Reports fault Colville child services"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Fairly or unfairly, the Division of Children & Family Services (DCFS) in the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is caught in a damned if they do and damned if they don't situation. However, the criticsm appears to be justified in the case of the Colville office. Two recent reports--one, "...Review of Issues..." by the DSHS' Children's Administration--agree that Colville DCFS office lost the trust of the community. These reports were done at the request of Tim Rasmussen, the Stevens County Prosecutor. The reports agree that poor communication existed between the Colville DCFS office and other parties including its clients and professionals in the community. There are also charges that the office would hide questionable decisions behind a cloak of confidentiality. Manuals with the DCFS policies and procedures can be found at this Children's Administration website. - 05/07/2009

"Robotic arm being tested to clean out underground tanks at Hanford"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
"It's easy to get waste into the tanks, but they are not designed to get waste out." That quote from a project manager at Hanford is an understatement. Workers are confronted by 142 tanks holding 53 million gallons of hazardous chemicals and radioactive waste. The latest tool being tested is MARS, a Mobile Arm Retrieval System (pictures of MARS in action can be found here). Contractuors use a variety of methods to clean out the waste tanks without damaging them and causing further leakage of wastes. - 05/11/2009

"Advocates say time is right to reform mining law"--Seattle Times
Congressional lawmakers have introduced legislation into both the House and Senate to reform mining laws that have been on the books since the post-Civil War era. Current laws don’t require that mining companies pay royalties to the federal government and give preference to mining over any other type of land use. The House bill calls for a four percent royalty on profits, while the Senate bill calls for a range of between two and five percent royalty. The House bills also require tougher restrictions on environmental damage caused by mining. The mining industry has been a powerful lobby group in the past and has squelched previous efforts to reform the laws, but lawmakers say the time is ripe. - 05/12/2009

"Law extends time limit for Spokane River cleanup: Dischargers must meet limits within 20 years, not 10"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
State and local officials are learning it can take years to clean up rivers that have suffered more than a century of pollution. Substitute Senate Bill 6036 amends RCW Chapter 90.48 to let the Department of Ecology extend cleanup schedules for bodies of water past the current 10 year goal. Any extensions have to meet certain conditions such as Environmental Protection Agency approval under the federal Clean Water Act. This new law is realistic for places like the Spokane River where much of the pollution comes from nonpoint sources. Environmentalists are concerned that the law is inconsistent with other cleanup efforts and its vague wording could lead to further delays in cleaning up the state's waters. - 05/12/2009

"Planners try to make Fort Lewis more like hometown"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Fort Lewis urban planners are hoping to make the army base more walkable and homey, both to reduce carbon emissions and to make the base more pleasant for families who live there. The new plan for the base will include thirteen neighborhoods, each with their own cafes, restaurants, and retail establishments. Planners hope to be near completion with the new design by the 100th anniversary of the founding of Camp Lewis in 2017. The Pentagon is prepared to spend $3 billion to make the plans a reality. The base is expected to have a population of 32,000 within the next two years. - 05/13/2009

"Panel says open-records law should apply to Legislature, too"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Transparency in government is a wonderful thing if you're on the outside, looking in. Some people on the inside of government would rather have some privacy. Washington voters passed I-276 in 1972 to ensure public access to government records. I-276 was the basis for RCW Chapter 42.56, the Public Records Act. This initiative is sort of a companion piece to the Public Disclosure Commission enforces the Public Records Act. Now the Commission is eyeing one group largely exempt from the Public Records Act: the state legislature. Now some members are very concerned about their constituents' right to privacy when contacting them about legislation. - 05/13/2009

"Many Hispanics call state home; Adams, Franklin counties are both majority-minorities"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Recent figures released by the Census Bureau map the changing demographics in Washington. The figures gives population estimates by age sex, and race on the state and county level as of July 1, 2008. A news release summarizes the national trends. One of the most notable trends is the growing number of counties that are majority-minority, that is, more than half of a county's population is made up of people who are not single-race, non-Hispanic whites. Adams County and Franklin County fit that description in Washington state. Franklin County is also the 26th fastest growing county in the United States. - 05/14/2009

"Painful choices for state"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The state’s Basic Health Plan needs to cut $255 million from its budget, and the only way to do that is to slash the number of people who can receive benefits under the plan. State officials are asking for input from the health care community about the best way to go about it, but none of the options are good news for the state’s neediest citizens. Some advocate cutting the healthiest people from the plan, but that leaves those with the most expensive medical needs to drain resources. Another option is to cut people randomly, but then officials run the risk of cutting off health care to someone whose life depends on it. There are now 25,000 people on the waiting list for Basic Health. A decision on how to proceed with the budget cuts needs to be made by June 20. - 05/14/2009

"Newly signed bills boost foster parent rights"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
House Bill 1782 and Senate Bill 5431, which were signed by Gov. Gregoire yesterday, both signal a refocus on the rights of foster parents. The house bill requires courts to consider long absences when ending parent visitations, and the senate bill says that children who are being removed from their parents for a second time should be placed with foster parents they know. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 5803 requires the state to notify foster parents of the limits of state funds available to pay for any mental health care a foster child may need. Although Gregoire has stated that she is only concerned about the needs of the children involved, foster parent advocates are hopeful that this handful of new laws will bode well for the future. - 05/15/2009

"Bellingham law would ban gun sales near city's 50 day care centers"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Bellingham city council is considering a law that would ban gun retailers from locating stores within 500 feet of schools, universities, and community colleges. Under the definition of “school” that the city is using, gun sales would also be banned near day care centers. The term “school” is not clearly defined in state law, so city officials say that have chosen a definition that will protect the largest number of children. State law does allow cities to ban gun sales within 500 feet of schools, if the city passes the appropriate legislation. The main concern for council members is whether their definition of “school” will be challenged in a law suit. - 05/17/2009

"Auto theft task force turns up pressure: Multi-agency effort has helped reduce number of cases in Clark County"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Some people steal cars for a joyride, some people steall cars for a living. Regardless of the motive, car theft can be expensive and troublesome for the victims. Clark County is starting to make headway against car thieves. The county has used grant money from the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority (WATPA) to pay for two detectives who concentrate on car theft cases. The increased emphasis on car theft seems to working--the number of car theft cases in Clark County has dropped off steeply compared to a year ago. WATPA is the product of the final version of House Bill 1001 in 2007. The motivation for this bill can be found in in the motor vehicle theft statistics from 1984 through 2008 that can be found on the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs website. - 05/18/2009

"Tri-Party Agreement stands 20 years later"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
The Tri-Party Agreement among the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the fedeal Department of Energy was signed 20 years ago. The purpose was to set goals for the cleaning up of nuclear wastes at Hanford. Since then most of the coverage of the Agreement has been about charges and lawsuits over unmet goals, often pitting the Department of Ecology and the EPA as regulators against the Department of Energy. Although progress has been made, many of the stakeholders are dismayed at how much remains to be done and how long it will take to do it. - 05/19/2009

"Gregoire vetoes cuts to auditor"--Olympia Olympian
Gov. Gregoire officially signed the 2009-11 biennial budget into law yesterday, but vetoed over fifty items. One of the items she vetoed was a $29 million cut to the state auditor’s office, as well as a requirement that the auditor’s office receive future funding from a portion of what their audits save the state in spending. Other vetoes included nixing a $32 million cut in medical services for DSHS, and a $9 million cut to tourism funding. Overall, the new budget will eliminate 7,000 to 8,000 state jobs and will force about 40,000 people off of the state-funded Basic Health plan. Many Republicans criticize the budget for not doing enough to reform government spending over the long haul. - 05/20/2009

"County manufacturing takes job hit: April unemployment rate rises compared to same month in ’08"--Yakima Herald-Republic
The numbers aren't good, but at least they're not worse. The April unemployment rate for Yakima County dropped slightly when compared to the unemployment rate for March. The unemployment rate for Washington state as a whole stayed more or less unchanged. Yakima County lost manufacturing jobs as did the state. Tables and charts that that go into the employment situation by industry type on the state and county level can be found hereon the Employment Security Department's website. - 05/20/2009

"Seattle's day to tell EPA how to fix climate"--Seattle Times
The Environmental Protection Agency is holding hearings today in Seattle regarding climate change policy. Members of the public, mayor Greg Nickels, and Gov. Gregoire will all be allowed to have their say and tell the Obama Administration what they think needs to be done to combat global warming. Congress is planning on passing laws dealing with climate change, but there is debate over the best way to go about it. Some advocate a carbon tax, while others argue for a cap-and-trade system, like the one put forward by Gov. Gregoire during the 2009 legislative session. President Obama has said that he wants to decrease carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. - 05/21/2009

"Newly discovered fault could rock Washington, say earthquake experts"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The U.S. Geological Survey has discovered that a fault line south of Whidbey Island extends all the way across the Cascade Mountains and as far as Yakima. Geologists had previously thought the fault was localized in the Puget Sound. Seismologists predict that the fault may be capable of producing an earthquake of up to 7.5 magnitude, which would be the most powerful earthquake on record to hit Washington. Geologists are coming to the realization that many of the smaller faults in Washington and the northwest are all connected and part of a much larger fault system, which means that earthquake preparedness is becoming essential for the state. - 05/22/2009

"State officials reject airport’s bid for expansion loan"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Not all economic development proposals get funded. The Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) rejected the Spokane International Airport's request for a $6.8 million no-interest loan to house two growing businesses. The businesses say they could add over 200 workers if the airport got the money to expand its business park. While CERB members don't dispute the need for expansion at the airport, they were put off by the size of the request. It is far above the $2 million upper limit for CERB loans. There was also a feeling among some CERB members that this much money shouldn't go to an urban area. CERB was created by the legislature in 1982 and is the subject of RCW 43.160. It is managed by the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development. Examples of successful CERB projects can be found in its biennial report. - 05/22/2009

"Washington falling far short of goal for use of biofuels: High prices, limited supplies among barriers"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Sometimes government projects are like New Year's resolutions--well-meant intentions that fall short in the face of reality. In 2006 the Legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6508 that set ambitious goals for use of biodiesel by Washington state government. The purpose of the bill was to reduce pollution and dependence on foreign fuel sources while encouraging the growth of a biodiesel industry that would benefit farmers. The goal was that 20% of the diesel used by state agencies on June 1, 2009 would be biodiesel. Washington's Department of General Administration recently released a report showing the state's use of biodiesel is more like 2%. Supplies of biodiesel are limited and expensive. The expense in this era of budget shortfalls has led to delays in commiting to biodiesel especially by the Washington Ferry System, state government's largest consumer of diesel fuel. - 05/26/2009

"Most economists see recession end in '09, survey finds"--Everett Herald
Although the country has recently weathered what many say is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, economists are optimistic that the current recession—in the strict sense of the word—will be over by the end of 2009 or the first quarter of 2010. However, they say that even though the nation’s economic growth may have rebounded by that point, unemployment may remain high and consumer confidence low for some time later. Forecasters also predict that consumers will continue saving rather than spending for the next five years. - 05/27/2009

"Incredible journey: PNNL tracks ocean-bound salmon"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
The Ecology Group of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has found a way to get very detailed data about the behavior of young steelhead and chinook salmon going through dams. The scientists implant tiny acoustic tags in the fish. This is done by anesthetizing the fish, inserting an acoustic tag, and then carefully suturing the incision. (The Tri-City Herald has a photo gallery showing this process.) The signals produced by the acoustic tags are picked up by sensors in the river. Researchers monitoring the signals can follow individual fish working their way past the John Day Dam. The data supplies detailed information about which combinations of by-passes and water flow give the fish the best chance of survival. A YouTube video displaying sample data can be found here. - 05/27/2009

"Government halts forest road-building for 1 year" - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a directive that puts a one-year moratorium on building new roads through national forests. The new order is a reinstatement of a 2001 directive issued under President Clinton, but various court cases have called that order into question. Idaho and Colorado were the only states allowed to issue their own laws regarding road-building in national forests, but only Idaho will be exempt from this new order since Colorado has not finalized their laws yet. The Obama administration says it is working on a comprehensive no-roads policy, and this directive will halt building until such a policy can be written. - 05/28/2009

"Health officials accuse 3 of buying fake degrees"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
A degree from a diploma mill does not make you a learned person. In fact, a you can get in serious trouble if you use a diploma mill degree to bolster your professional credentials. Three people--two social workers and a counselor--have discovered that the hard way after the Depratment of Health's Health Systems Quality Assurance Division (HSQA) investigated them. Now they're charged with unprofessional conduct and face discipline which could result in them losing their licenses to practice in Washington. HSQA is responsible for the licensing of health professionals and facilities in Washington. You can look up a health provider's credentials and file complaints about health providers on the HSQA website. - 05/29/2009

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