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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.

"Region feels the pain of nursing shortage: Out-of-state hospitals offer big money, bonuses"--Spokane spokesman-Review - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Spokane, the medical center of Eastern Washington, is facing a loss of nurses to greener (in the money sense) pastures. Hospitals in other states are luring away nurses by offering higher wages and signing bonuses. Many of the new graduates from the Intercollegiate College of Nursing in Spokane are also going out of state. This trend aggravates an existing shortage of nurses in Washington. This shortage exists on a national level as well and will only get worse since many nurses are baby boomers who will retire before long. The Department of Health is looking into the issue of retaining nurses in Wahsington. - 06/02/2008

"Scooter sales zoom as drivers look for cheaper ways to get around"--Everett Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
With gas mileage offering as much as 80 to 100 miles to a gallon, scooters are becoming the transportation of choice for many in the Puget Sound area. U.S. sales of motor scooters are up 24 percent so far from this time last year. Scooters are better for the environment and are more fuel-efficient than larger vehicles, making them a very viable option for those tired of paying ever-increasing gas prices. Some larger scooters are also highway-rated, meaning they can use the HOV lanes just like motorcycles, although those require a special license. Smaller scooters, which can only use surface streets, don’t require any special endorsements. Motor scooters also come in electric-only models, but those only have a top speed of about 30 miles per hour. - 06/02/2008

"Speculation fueling oil prices, Senate told "--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A hearing held yesterday by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation probed the role of market speculation on the steep rise in petroleum prices. Witnesses, including Gerry Ramm of Ephrata, made the case that more than supply and demand was pushing up gas, diesel, and heating oil prices. They argued that speculators are responsible for half the rise in fuel costs. The hearing was chaired by Senator Maria Cantwell who criticized the Federal Trade Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) for not doing enough to deal with this market specualtion. The CFTC formed an Energy Markets Advisory Committee this year. The outcome of its work remains to be seen--perhaps most visibly at a gas pump. - 06/04/2008

"UN summit: corn on table or in tank?"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A United Nations summit convened this week in Rome to discuss the repercussions of using agricultural products for biofuel. The U.S. uses mainly corn in the production of this supposedly cheaper and less polluting fuel, while other countries use sugar cane or seed oil. However, the demand for these products as fuel may drive up costs, which is detrimental to developing countries who traditionally import corn to feed their populations. The summit is trying to reach an agreement on how best to keep food prices down while exploiting the potential benefits of biofuel. A final declaration was being drafted Wednesday night. - 06/05/2008

"Plants that cry"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Plants call for help when they're attacked by bugs like aphids. The plants release chemicals that attract other bugs that feast on the bugs feasting on the plants. This phenomenon is called herbivore-induced plant protection odors and is the subject of research done at the Washington State University research center at Prosser. The research could lead to less reliance on pesticides by growers of some of Washington's major crops such as hops and wine grapes. - 06/06/2008

"New rule aimed to beat heat"--Walla Walla Union-Bulletin - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Working outdoors in hot weather can lead to heat stress. The Department of Labor & Industries has issued new rules on heat stress that take effect on July 5. The rules are for the employers of outdoor workers. They are required to train their employees to recognize heat stress, have adequate amounts of water available, and be able to provide adequate care for someone stricken by heat stress. Once in place, the rules will be in effect from May through September every year. - 06/05/2008

"County budget cuts could reduce law enforcement efforts"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
King County Executive Ron Sims announced that the county will have to cut about $33 million out of the budget for 2009, most of which will come from the criminal justice system. The county expects to face a $68 million budget shortfall next year. Sims is asking all criminal justice agencies to cut 8.6 percent from their budgets, which will affect everything from the number of deputies in police departments to the way court cases are handled within the county. Seattle Municipal Courts will be expected to shoulder the burden of court cases that King County will no longer be able to handle, such as property crimes involving less than $10,000. The shortfall stems from a number of factors, including a weakening economy that has generated less money in sales and property taxes, as well the expense of providing services to unincorporated areas of the county. - 06/06/2008

"Earmarks help South Sound in surprising ways"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A controversial form of funding called the “earmark” helps local communities, Indian tribes, and businesses get federal dollars it might not otherwise receive. In 2007 Congress awarded about $1.38 billion in earmarks to Washington state alone. Earmarks are often derided by critics as “pork barreling,” or offering money in exchange for political favors. But advocates who use lobbyists to get earmarks say there are often few alternatives in a climate where everyone wants a piece of the pie. Intercity Transit, the city of Lacey, and the Thurston-Mason Medical Society are just a few examples of entities that benefit from federal moneys provided by earmarks. U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s office accepts earmark requests from all constituents; this year she was able to find money for about 250 of those requests. - 06/08/2008

"BIA official says 'long ways to go' in Cowlitz Indians' bid to build casino"--Longview Daily News
Stanley Speaks, the Northwest Regional Director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, discussed some of the factors surrounding any decision about the Cowlitz Tribe's application to build a casino near La Center. The Cowlitz Tribe is a federally recognized tribe, but it doesn't have a reservation. It could acquire land for the casino on a "land into trust" basis--that is, buy land and turn into federally owned land managed for the good of the tribe. The Cowlitz Tribe submitted a fee land to trust application for land for the proposed casino, as well as an draft environmental impact statement. It ran into opposition from some local groups and gambling opponents. Indian casinos in Washington are overseen by the National Indian Gaming Commission on the federal level and the Washington State Gambling Commission on the state level. - 06/09/2008

"Seattle gun ban ordered drawn up Mayor Greg Nickels"--Seattle Times
Nickels has issued an executive order banning guns in Seattle city buildings and on city property. Under the order, even people with concealed weapons permits will be asked to surrender their guns or leave the premises. Technically only states are allowed to make laws regarding firearms, so under this order the city doesn’t have the authority to make arrests or issue fines. The ban comes after shootings at the Northwest Folklife Festival injured three people. The shooter in that case was legally allowed to carry a weapon because he had a concealed weapons permit, but he had a history of mental illness. The Attorney General’s office has said that it would be unlikely for the state to challenge a city regarding a ban like this. - 06/10/2008

"NASA tests robotic vehicles in Moses Lake dunes"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Apparently one of the closest places on earth to Tranquillity Base is Moses Lake. NASA has found the Moses Lake area similar enough to lunar terrain to use it for testing equipment being designed for its return missions to the moon. The equipment includes robots and a lunar truck. This newspaper article has a gallery of pictures of the equipment and techniques being tested. - 06/11/2008

"State gets high marks for its birth weights"--Seattle Times
The annual Kids Count report shows that the nation’s low birth weight rate has risen to its highest point in 40 years. However, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington tied for the lowest rate of underweight babies, with only 6.1 percent of infants born at low birth weights. For overall childhood well-being, Washington came in at number 11 out of the 50 states, while Oregon came in at 17. The report showed that well-being for teenagers has risen in the nation overall, but decreased for babies. Meanwhile, a UNICEF report ranked the U.S. 32 out of 33 rich nations for childhood well-being. The Kids Count study found that low birth weights are much higher among blacks than among either hispanics or whites. The study also found that 18 percent of U.S. children are living in poverty. - 06/12/2008

"New law worries county Realtors"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A new state law aimed at equity skimming goes into effect today. Equity skimming occurs when someone persuades a homeowner in financial trouble to sign over their home with the understanding he or she will be able to buy it back, but instead the former homeowner ends up losing the place through deceptive practices. The new law, based on House Bill 2791, is widely supported, but realtors see one flaw in it. A person working on the sale or purchase of a distressed home is considered a distressed home consultant. This vaguely worded section of the law could make realtors liable for situations they had nothing to do with. The Washington Association of Realtors has a webpage on the law. Equity skimming is a national problem that has been around for decades and has attracted the attention of the FBI. - 06/12/2008

"Cool weather delays crops: Smaller yield, later harvest likely"--Spokane Spokesman-Review - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Food prices are being driven up by fuel prices. Now the weather will be playing a role in food prices. The state's cold, dry spring damaged the cherry and apple crops while the trees were in bloom and will also delay harvests (see pages 6-7). Hay crops were also delayed and then damaged by recent rain storms. These losses will further pressure hay prices that were already on the rise. When hay prices rise, they in turn pressure livestock costs. - 06/13/2008

"In Congress, a surprising can-do attitude for wilderness bills"--Spokane Spokesman-Review - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Congress could name up to 2 million acres as wilderness under the terms of the Wilderness Act this year. Part of this dramatic increase in wilderness Areas comes from conservationists working with local groups to build support for wilderness areas. This involves compromise based on local economic needs and the benefits of wilderness areas. It also reflects the power of committee chairs in Congress. The former Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee (then known as the House Resources Committee) had no use for new wilderness areas and acted accordingly. The new Chairman is much more supportive of wilderness areas so several wilderness bills have moved through the committee. Wilderness areas are among the lands maintained by the Forest Service. Some people question whether the Forest Service is adequately funded for this mission. - 06/16/2008

"Detergent ban starts here July 1"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Whatcom and Spokane counties will begin banning dishwashing detergents with more than .5 percent phosphorus in order to increase water quality. Phosphorus has been shown to cut off oxygen supplies in water because it accelerates algae growth and decay. The cumulative effect impairs the habitat of marine life. The ban will be statewide in 2010, but those two counties were tapped to begin earlier because a number of their lakes and rivers are well below state water quality standards. The ban on detergents will only apply to household consumers and not to commercial or industrial users. Department of Ecology officials say they want individual consumers to take responsibility for changing their habits to protect the environment. - 06/17/2008

"Tri-Cities adds more jobs in May "--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The job market in the Tri-Cities is holding its own. According to the "Washington State Employment Situation Report for May" issued by the Employment Security Department, the Tri-Cities added jobs even as the local unemployment rate rose to 5.4% from 5% in April. These numbers are similar to the national unemployment rate that rose to 5.5% in May from 5% in April. The state-wide unemployment rate grew to 5.3% from 4.7% in April. The May numbers are preliminary and are seasonally adjusted. - 06/18/2008

"Seattle’s housing growth is off the charts"--Seattle Times
In three years, Seattle has reached almost 50 percent of its targeted growth for the next 20 years, and some neighborhoods have grown even more than that. A city report on residential growth shows that many areas such as Ballard and Greenlake have exceeded the number of dwelling units the city planned for between 2005 and 2024. The high growth rate for many neighborhoods means that some city services have lagged behind the population. A group that opposes Seattle mayor Greg Nickels’ plan to expand tax exemptions for developers is using the Department of Planning and Development report to convince the city council that Seattle is growing too fast as it is. The tax exemptions require developers to build in a certain number of units for below-median income residents. Opponents to the exemptions feel that the city needs to concentrate on improving services for current residents before it entices developers to keep building. - 06/18/2008

"Boeing gets major boost in Air Force tanker battle"--Everett Herald
The GAO released a report yesterday siding with Boeing in its protest over the Air Force tanker bid. The report found that the Air Force did not make its requirements clear to Boeing, and that the Air Force told the company they were meeting objectives when the Air Force later claimed the size of Boeing’s proposed 767s was too small. The GAO report also said that the Air Force improperly figured cost requirements for the Boeing tanker, bloating the production price out of the competitive range. Boeing needs this tanker contract in order to keep its KC-767 division running; gaining the contract would mean a major inroad into the U.S. military market for Northrup/EADS. The Air Force has 60 days to respond to the GAO decision, and while it is not required to restart the bidding process, insiders think it probably will. - 06/19/2008

"Family says dairy farm operations will continue after E. coli plea deal"--Longivew Daily News
Why would a bucolic dairy farm have to make a plea deal with the federal government? For selling raw (unpasteurized), e.coli-laced cow's milk across state lines. Dee Creek Farm sold raw milk to people who believed it was tastier and more nutritious, a belief disputed by the Food and Drug Administration. At least 18 people discovered the hard way that raw milk is a good medium for e.coli, prompting warnings from the Clark County Board of Health and the Oregon Department of Human Services. Selling the milk across state lines violated federal law. The farm also operated without the state license needed to sell raw milk. The owners argued they weren't selling milk because the milk purchasers owned shares in the dairy cows. Washington State Law was amended to close this loophole. - 06/19/2008

"CH2M Hill wins $4.5B Hanford cleanup contract "--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
CH2M Hill is taking over the responsiblity for cleaning up the Central Plateau at the Hanford site. The company won the contract with a $4.5 billion bid. Subcontractors include Fluor which previously managed the cleanup. The Department of Energy (DOE) chose CH2M HIll for the 10 year contract a few weeks after announcing a proposed $302,000 fine against CH2M Hill for spilling radioactive wastes at Hanford. - 06/20/2008

"Slowdown reduces state reserves"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The good news is that state economic forecasters expect the slow economy to show a small turn-around at the end of the year. However, the current downturn will mean about $50 million in revenue will be not be able to go into state reserves, leaving the state surplus at $801 million. The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council said that although job growth will be weak and construction and retails sales have slowed down considerably, the state is not headed towards a recession. The state budget director claims that although some trimming will need to be done, the state budget remains on target for next year. Republican Senator Joseph Zarelli called for a state hiring freeze after the forecast council’s meeting yesterday, but it’s too soon to know whether such a drastic measure will be needed. - 06/20/2008

"Businesses struggle to insure employees"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A new study on the costs of employer-provided health care insurance highight the pressure such plans place on businesses. This study was commissioned by the influential lobbying group AARP. A press release about the study can be found here. The study found, among other things, that over 70% of the businesses surveyed will find it challenging to provide health care benefits to employees. At the rate of current cost increases 65% of these employers will have to pass on more of the costs to employees. Smaller businesses have seen higher increases in costs. Health care costs are also linked to lower profits and higher prices. This study dovetails with a study done in 2006 by the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner on the uncompensated health care costs among uninsured and underinsured Washingtonians, many of whom are the working poor. - 06/23/2008

"Raw milk: Should the state ban it? Or drink it up?"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Washington is one of 24 states that allow some dairies to sell raw milk to consumers. However, the other 26 states ban the milk, citing the possibility of contamination by infectious diseases such as E. coli. 22 dairies are currently licensed to sell raw milk in the state, and they are regulated by the Department of Agriculture, which sends inspectors to the dairies and also requires that all raw milk be sold with a warning label about contaminants. It is against state law to “share” cows, or sell raw milk to other families who help to pay for the cow’s room and board, without a license. Woodland dairy owners recently pleaded guilty to distributing adulterated food when several people became sick with E. Coli from drinking raw milk they had sold. Nationwide, there have been about 45 outbreaks of people sickened from raw dairy products in the last ten years. - 06/23/2008

"97A roadkill alley wildlife barrier on hold"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A Washington State Department of Transportation's (WSDOT) project to install a wildlife fence along Highway 97A has been delayed due to increased costs. The price for the 8 mile long has jumped from $1 million to $1.6 million. Over 500 deer and 15 bighorn sheep have been killed along this stretch of road in the last 10 years. WSDOT has placed more emphasis on protecting habitat and wildlife. When possible, WSDOT tries to construct highway crossing structures for wildife as do many European countries. These measures aren't taken just for the sake of wildlife. Another story in the Wenatchee World, "Motorcyclists injured in crash with deer", proves that some days you hit the deer and some days the deer hits you. - 06/24/2008

"Chilly spring delays strawberries, other local produce"--Seattle Times
Due to the cooler-than-normal temperatures this spring, many local crops are behind schedule, including strawberries, cherries, lettuce, and corn. Several Washington strawberry farms were forced to import berries from out-of-state for their annual strawberry festivals. Farmers report that varieties usually ready by early- or mid-June are just now getting ripe. The cooler weather has also kept bees from pollinating fruit trees and has slowed fruit growth, while the spring rain delayed the planting of wheat crops by as much as four weeks in some areas. All of the delays add up to mean that that produce will arrive in stores later, and possibly be more expensive because of smaller crop yields and rising fuel costs. - 06/25/2008

"Demand is up sharply at local food banks and soup kitchens"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Food banks and shelters are feeling the pinch of a slowing economy, made worse by high gas prices and food prices. Statewide, demand at food banks is up by about fifteen percent, and Whatcom County food banks are reporting between 17 and 20 percent increases in meals served from the same time last year. Area shelters and kitchens say that they are seeing an increase in workers coming there for meals, because the workers’ transportation costs are so high they can’t afford to buy food. Meanwhile, the increasing cost of staples such as milk and eggs mean that some food banks aren’t able to afford them, either. The price of gas also affects food banks, since they often drive to pick up food donations. - 06/26/2008

"Report doesn't support removal of rescue helicopters"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Many people in Washington state are wondering about the Air Force's decision making process. The Air Force has been strongly criticized by the Government Accountability Office for the way Boeing was shut out of the aerial tanker selection process. Another controversy is taking place in Eastern Washington where the Air Force wants to move the 36th Rescue Flight of helicopters from Fairchild Air Force Base. The 36th Rescue Flight supports the Air Force Survival School and, just as importantly to residents of the Inland Northwest, provides search and rescue services. (If you look at a list of county level search and rescue resources in Washington, you'll see few resources east of the Cascades.) The Air Force wrote a report justifying the move in response to a Congressional request. The report pointed there were rescue helicopters based in Portland, Oregon and near Great Falls, Montana. It didn't say how it would take one of these helicopters to reach Eastern Washington or North Idaho. This response didn't satisfy members of the Washington and Idaho Cognressional delegations. - 06/26/2008

"Thousands to lose Medicaid coverage"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Next week Washington state will start complying with new federal rules that require everyone seeking Medicaid to prove they are U.S. citizens. When the federal laws changed in 2006 to require documentation, Gov. Gregoire decided that Washington would continue their previous practice of only asking applicants to declare that they were U.S. citizens so that benefits would not be disrupted. However, the federal government is now saying that states not in compliance with the new law will be charged for every Medicaid recipient who is not a citizen. DSHS estimates that between 3,000 and 16,000 people will lose their benefits, some of whom are legal citizens but cannot provide documentation. About 1500 new applicants per month will probably be turned down because of a failure to produce the needed documents. - 06/27/2008

"100 Years of the Gifford Pinchot Forest"--Longview Daily News
The Gifford Pinchot National Forest turns 100 years old on July 1. Originally named the Columbia National Forest, it covers 1.4 million acres in Southwest Washington. Its history has been shaped by the tension among its various roles. It provides recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat, including the spotted owl, while at the same time providing opportunities for mining and logging. The latest controversy is whether the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, which is part of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, should be transferred to the National Park Service as a way to maintain the Monument's facilities and boost tourism. - 06/27/2008

"Lawmakers argue over a drilling moratorium off the Pacific Coast"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
For 27 years, offshore drilling of the outer continental shelf has been banned. However, Republicans in Congress are now looking at lifting that ban to boost domestic natural gas and oil sales and bring relief to gas consumers. However, many Democrats argue that lifting the ban won’t bring relief and won’t affect gas prices for years. Experts say that there is very little oil and gas to be found off of the Washington and Oregon coasts. A House Appropriations interior bill written by Rep. Norm Dicks (R-Belfair) has stalled because of this issue, which is covered by Dicks’ committee. The bill is slated to go to a vote on July 9. - 06/29/2008

"Finding natural gas bit by bit "--Yakima Herald Republic - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
There may be up to 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas under the basalt of the Columbia Basin. Or maybe not. Exploring for natural gas in that area involves drilling through thousands of feet of hard basalt to see not only if natural gas is there, but if there is enough to make well profitable. Drilling so deep poses expensive, technological challenges. Washington state offers the possiblity of producing natural gas in commerical volumes, but so far Washington's wells have been few and far between. - 06/30/2008

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