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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.

"General Motors files for bankruptcy protection"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
With almost $173 billion worth of debt, General Motors has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The filing will allow the federal government to own majority shares in the company and will reduce the size of the industrial giant. The Canadian government will also own 12.5 percent of the company, and the United Auto Workers Union will own 17.5 percent. GM has said it will close nine plants and stop production in three others in order to convert the company to a more manageable and sustainable entity, a necessary move in an economy that has seen drastic reductions in car sales. GM says it will also winnow its workforce by about 21,000 employees. - 06/01/2009

"Landfill hopes to avoid becoming waste-full: The state wants landfills to stop taking yard waste, so the Terrace Heights Landfill is looking at composting options"--Wenatchee World
Landfills get filled up. They're also expensive when built and maintained to the standards set by state law. One way to give a landfill a longer operational live is to compost or recycle materials that might otherwise end up buried with the rest of the garbage. That's the goal of Washington's "Beyond Waste Program. One of the projects involves getting small and rural communities to compost lawn waste or turn it into mulch rather than burn or send it to a landfill. "Plastic put to new use: Containers that once held pesticides shredded, recycled into other items", an article in the Wenatchee World, tells how farmers are are saving landfill space by recycling carefully cleaned, plastic pesticide containers. - 06/01/2009

"Tribes gather at border to protest new passport requirement"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Borders are often arbitrary lines, drawn up in locations far from the boundaries in question. Take the U.S.-Canadian border drawn up by American and British diplomats and politicians. The line they drew cut through the territories of several Indian nations including the Salish tribes in the Okanogan region. Until recently, it was easy for members of Indian tribes to cross the border. The new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative changes that in a big way. Now anybody entering the U.S. needs a passport or other approved travel document. Members of the related Colville Tribes and the Okanagan Nation Alliance protested the new travel regulations by taking down a barbed wire fence marking the border. - 06/02/2009

"Wage report shows Yakima near the bottom: Yakima County's ag-based economy has the fifth-lowest average weekly wages in the country"--Yakima Herald-Republic
According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report there are 334 counties in the United States that have more than 75,000 workers. Yakima County is one of them (see Table 1 in the report). The good news is that in the third quarter of 2008 employment in the county grew by 3.2 over the year. Jobs in the agricultural sector led this growth. The bad news is that Yakima County had the fifth lowest average weekly wages of the 334 counties--because of the low pay in the agricultural sector. The average weekly wage in the county is $580. That's little money for hard work (take asparagus harvesting for example). As the Occupational Outlook Handbook notes about farm work: "Farm work does not lend itself to a regular 40-hour workweek. Work cannot be delayed when crops must be planted or harvested or when animals must be sheltered and fed. Long hours and weekend work is common in these jobs. For example, farmworkers and agricultural equipment operators may work 6-or 7 days a week during planting and harvesting seasons...Farmworkers risk exposure to pesticides and other hazardous chemicals sprayed on crops or plants...Job opportunities for agricultural workers occupations should be abundant because large numbers of workers leave these jobs due to their low wages and physical demands...Farmworkers in crop production often are paid piece rates, with earnings based on how much they do instead of how many hours they work. Farmworkers tend to receive fewer benefits than those in many other occupations." - 06/03/2009

"41 percent in state don't finish college within 6 years"--Seattle Times
A study by the American Enterprise Institute has found that Washington ranks ninth place nationally as far as the number of students who complete a bachelor’s degree within six years. The percentage varies widely within the state, with Whitman College coming in first place with 86 percent of its students graduating in that time frame, while Heritage University in Toppenish ranks lowest with only 17 percent. Some critics of the study have said that the data doesn’t take into account the different types of students each college serves, especially when those students are largely people with full-time jobs and families. The AEI has said it released this report to open up a dialog on competition between colleges. - 06/03/2009

"Hundreds protest outside school board meeting"
Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson was greeted with protesters for her annual evaluation by the school board today. The Seattle school district distributed 172 lay-off notices to teachers last month, although that number has now been reduced to 165. The superintendent has been grappling with a $34 million budget deficit and unpopular school closures. The president of the board of directors has said that 80 percent of the district’s budget is made up of employee salaries, making it difficult to cut costs without cutting jobs. The legislature mandated several cuts to K-12 programs in the state budget this year, leaving districts with little money to spare. - 06/04/2009

"Housing for poor gets cash infusion: Money will help complete projects"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Low-income housing projects are getting a boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Walnut Corners housing project in Spokane is one beneficiary. The Washington State Housing Finance Commission is funneling tax credits from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC) to the project. Businesses can buy the tax credits at a discount and use them to lower their tax burden. The proceeds are used to finance low-income housing. LIHTC is jointly overseen by the Department of the Treasury, the Justice Department, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. - 06/05/2009

"Basic Health Plan premiums to rise sharply"--Seattle Times
Administrators for Washington’s Basic Health Plan have solved the problem of how to cut 40,000 members by hiking up monthly rates by an average of 70 percent. The poorest members will pay twice as much per month, while rates for members with higher incomes may increase to as much as $400 per month. Some are concerned that the higher rates will reduce membership to an unsustainable level, but others point out that there are 30,000 people on the waiting list to sign up for the plan. Administrators say they have already cut costs in other places as much as they can; cutting membership was the only option left to them. Ideas such as cutting people by lottery or by length of time they have already been on the plan were considered and rejected. - 06/08/2009

"Farmworker housing plan near Ringold has supporters"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Agriculture is a major sector of Washington's economy. Agriculture depends on farmworkers. Many of these farmworkers are migrant workers. So where do they stay? Franklin County Commissioners are facing this issue when dealing with a proposed 12 unit housing development for migrant workers near Ringold. The units would have to be built to standards set by the Department of Health. Since the units would be built in a rural area Franklin County zoning ordinances don't apply. However, some local opponents of the development want the Commissioners to write the Department of Community, Trade & Economic Development a letter asking that funding for the project be delayed. Local supporters and the Farm Bureau are asking the Commissioners to aloow the project to go forward. - 06/09/2009

"Senators hear about effects of changing oceans"--The Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The U.S. Senate subcommittee on oceans heard testimony yesterday from geologists, marine biologists and other experts that expressed deep concern over the acidification of the world’s oceans. Scientists testified that acidification due to global warming would likely pose a large economic threat to coastal communities and marine-related industries. Washington’s maritime trade activities, including port business, the fishing industry, oyster harvesting, and many other industries, bring in $3 billion in revenue yearly. Studies have shown that ocean acidification is particularly high in the waters of the North Pacific, home to oysters, crabs, and salmon, to name just a few species upon which Washington depends. Experts maintained that any policies implemented to stave off ocean acidification would have to address global warming as a whole. - 06/10/2009

"Yakama tribe withdraws from Portland harbor cleanup council"--Longview Daily News
Although the Yakamas live is upstream of Portland, Oregon, the tribe and the city have the Columbia River in common. Portland Harbor is located on the lower Williamette River right before it joins the Columbia. The harbor has been a shipping and industrial site for over 150 years. After all that time with all that use it's not surprising that Portland Harbor is a Superfund site. As the Williamette flows into the Columbia so does some of the pollution from Portland Harbor. Since the Yakamas have a vested interest in the Columbia and its fisheries, they were one of the stakeholders in the cleanup effort. They left the group because they felt it wasn't focusing enough on the effects of the Williamette's pollution on the fish in the Lower Columbia River. - 06/10/2009

"Clark County gas prices climb by 10 cents in 1 week"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Summertime and people are drivin'/Traffic's heavy and gas prices high. (Apologies to the Gershwin Borthers and DuBose Heyward) Gas prices are climbing like they do every summer when people drive more. It's not expected that prices will reach last year's high. Gasoline and diesel prices are lower this year because of the recession. Statistics about the same situation can vary because of methodology. The Columbian article is based on data from AAA which gets its numbers from the Oil Price Information Service, a private firm that gets data from up to 120,000 service stations. The federal Energy Information Administration gets its data from 115,000 serretail gasoline outlets. - 06/11/2009

"WHO: Swine flu pandemic has begun, 1st in 41 years"--Seattle Times
The World Health Organization has declared the swine flu a worldwide pandemic, and is asking drug manufacturers to step up production of the swine flu vaccine. There are now over 30,000 cases of swine flu worldwide, and now that the southern hemisphere is entering flu season that number could quickly increase. Officials are saying the flu strain poses only a moderate danger, because in most cases it has not been deadly. There have been a total of 144 deaths from the flu so far. WHO officials said that they probably would have declared a pandemic sooner, but had not been getting accurate information from European countries regarding the number of flu cases. Find information from the U.S. government regarding the pandemic declaration here. - 06/11/2009

"Canadian city to stop dumping untreated sewage"--Seattle Times
The Canadian city in question is Victoria, which for decades has been dumping its raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the stretch of water separating Washington from Vancouver Island. The sewage pipes are located about a mile into the strait and 213 feet deep. Officials have maintained that no significant environmental damage or public health risk has been caused by the dumping, but pressure from the community caused the British Columbian government to announce that they will be building four sewage treatment plants to serve Victoria. The decision comes in the wake of a 2006 report that said relying on water dilution and tidal currents was not a long term solution for sewage disposal. - 06/12/2009

"Digital TV transition official today"--Yakima Herald-Republic
The day has finally come. Television broadcasts in the United States have gone all digital. Rabbit ear antennas have joined manual typewriters, rotary dial phones, and mimeograph machines in the landfill of history. Moving to all digital broadcasts provides a better quality sound and picture while freeing up the old analog frequencies for emergency responders. As anyone who's watched television during the last year knows, this transistion has been heavily advertised. The transistion was originally slated for February 12, 2009, but was delayed for 4 months to get better compliance. This transistion doesn't affects people who have cable or satellite television. - 06/12/2009

"Major wildfire waiting to happen?"--Yakima Herald-Republic
The Naches Ranger District is conducting controlled burns, that is setting small, controlled fires to prevent far larger and worse fires later in the fire season. This area has been spared major forest fires in recent years--unfortunately this has disrupted fire ecology by letting fuel accumulate to the point where future wildfires could be fiercer than normal. The National Fire Plan is an attempt to restore some of the natural role of wildfire while protecting people and property. This effort is mirrored on the state level by the Department of Natural Resources and down to the county level with plans like the Yakima County Draft Community Wildfire Protection Plan. These plans are common in Washington, especially where there are the high-risk wildland community interfaces. - 06/14/2009

"Raising chickens becomes a suburban pursuit"--Everett Herald
Chickens are the new fad among suburbanites looking for ways to “reconnect” to the earth. The problem is that many municipal laws currently forbid the raising of chickens within city boundaries, something many chicken-friendly residents are trying to change. Most people do agree that roosters should not be allowed in neighborhoods, but communities like Edmonds are beginning to change their minds about hens. Those living outside municipal boundaries generally get to abide by more lenient county regulations. But while some cities may start to allow people to raise chickens, homeowners should note that many homeowners associations restrict the type of “pets” that can be kept by members. - 06/15/2009

"Big money and the courts: When should judges step aside?"
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that large campaign contributions might affect a judge’s ability to be impartial in cases that involve campaign donors. The ruling says that elected judges should recuse themselves from such cases. This decision has implications for Washington state judges, who, along with judges in 39 other states, are popularly elected. A task force has been asked to recommend changes to state Code of Judicial Conduct regarding circumstances in which a judge should step down from ruling on a case. Tough issues will need to be addressed, such as the dollar amount of contributions that disqualify a judge from a case, and whether the type of organization that did the contributing (individual, corporation, or political action committee) will matter. - 06/16/2009

"How low can you go? Struggling contractors slashing bids on public works projects"--Longview Daily News
Longview is discovering a silver lining to the recession--public projects that are put out to bid are costing less. Low bids on projects are lower than expected. There's less competition for construction materials because of the recession so prices are lower. Contractors need work to stay in business so they're lowering their profit margins. State and local government contracts in Washington are covered in RCW Title 39, "Public Contracts and Indebtedness". The Department of General Administration and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) are major sources of contract work and projects on the state level. So far bids for WSDOT projects funded by federal stimulus money are averaging 21% below the Department's estimates. - 06/16/2009

"$180 million to fix Tacoma streets?"--Tacoma News Tribune
The Tacoma City Council is thinking about putting a property tax increase on the ballot in November in order to fund a huge street and sidewalk repair package. A similar proposal failed in 2006. The levy would increase property taxes by 12 percent, which might be asking a lot of voters given the current economic crisis. The six-year project would be spread out among all Tacoma neighborhoods, and would include 46 miles of sidewalks, 49 miles of bike lanes, and 91 lane miles of arterial streets. - 06/17/2009

"New protections for estates of abused seniors making an immediate impact"--Longview Daily News
Elder abuse is one of those social problems that people would rather not talk about because it makes them uncomfortable. Financial exploitation of vulnerable adults occurs when somebody drains the victim's financial resources. Too often the exploiter is a person close enough to the victim to be named in the victim's will. House Bill 1103, which passed and was signed into law this year, cuts anybody convicted of financial exploitation of an elder out of the victim's will. The Washington State Attorney General and the DSHS Aging Disability Services Administration have information on recognizing and reporting elder abuse. More information can be found on the federal National Center on Elder Abuse website. - 06/17/2009

"Local lawyers offer free foreclosure-prevention help"
The Washington State Bar Association is sponsoring a new program to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. The group is offering legal help to low income people in danger of losing their homes, and meanwhile Seattle’s Foreclosure Prevention Program is holding a free foreclosure-avoidance workshop next month. Mortgages entering the foreclosure phase were up 64 percent this year over last year in Washington, with thousands of filings being added every month. Washington’s foreclosure rates are still below the national average. - 06/18/2009

"Federal payments in lieu of taxes coming to NCW"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Federal lands can be a burden to local governments. The local authorities may be expected to provided services such as law enforcement to federal lands, but they can't tax those lands. Relief comes in the form of the federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT)program. This program is important to North Central Washington where Okanogan and Chelan Counties have nearly 3 million acres of federal lands. They're benefiting from a clause in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (see pages 391-393) that boosted PILT payments by 4%. You can get an idea of how much of Washington is covered by federal lands from this small map from the National Atlas or a much more detailed map from the Department of Natural Resources. - 06/18/2009

"Company challenges traffic camera ticket in Moses Lake"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Nobody likes traffic tickets. Now somebody is challenging the right of the government to use traffic cameras as a basis for issuing tickets. A company is suing the city of Moses Lake because one of its drivers got a ticket after an automated enforcement system camera caught him alledgedly running a red light. RCW 46.63.170 allows local governments to use traffic cameras to catch traffic violaters under certain conditions. The local government has to have an ordinance in place allowing their use (the Municipal Services and Research Center has a useful set of links to local ordinances). The Washington State Department of Transportation had annotated bibliography on automated enforcement systems done in 2007. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued guidelines on using red light cameras in 2003. - 06/22/2009

"Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Zig...zag...zilch? The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF) is not having a good year. First, the program and its $50 million appropriation was omitted from President Obama's budget request. A bipartisan group of western Senators and Representatives--some of them quite powerful--lobbied the White House to have the funding restored. The White House listened and requested that the funding be reinstated. The House Leadership didn't listen. Instead the money would go to National Marine Fisheries Service's competitive protected species recovery fund, and could be used anywhere in the nation. Now it's up to the Senate to restore funding for the PCSRF and then convince the House to keep it during budget negotiations. - 06/23/2009

"Water seeping through Howard Hanson Dam is picking up speed"--Seattle Times
The Howard Hanson Dam in South King County appears to be leaking at a quicker pace than engineers had previously thought. A dye test confirmed that water is quickly seeping through a leak, though the Army Corps of Engineers is unsure what the root of the problem is. They are taking precautions by lowering the reservoir level, installing a grout curtain, and drilling more drains until they can find a more permanent solution to stop the leaking. Meanwhile, the communities of Renton, Tukwila, Auburn and Kent are bracing for the possibility of flooding. The valley had previously been farmland which flooded regularly before the dam was built in 1961. - 06/24/2009

"Pot establishing medicinal niche: Marijuana dispensaries’ legal status remain in limbo"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Before there were drugstores there were apothecaries where formulated drugs and medicinal herbs were kept in jars behind the counter. Now the apothecary has a modern counterpart of sorts--the medical marijuana shop. One has opened in Spokane. Washington voters approved the use of medical marijuana when they approved Initiative 692 in 1998. It entered the Revised Code of Washington as Chapter 69.51A. A doctor can write a prescription for medical marijuana if a patient's illness meets certain conditions. The Washington Department of Health seems to have certain reservations about the idea of medical marijuana. The federal government has no use for the idea of medical marijuana. The Food and Drug Administration isn't interested in approving it as a therapeutic drug. The Drug Enforcement Agency sneers at the idea of medical marijuana. The DEA classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug which means it's seen as having a high potential for abuse without any medical use. Nonetheless, there is evidence for marijuana's medicinal uses. - 06/24/2009

"Drowning in student loan debt? Help's here"--Seattle Times
Starting July 1, a new federal program begins to help people with overwhelming student loan debt. Anyone with at least $30,000 in federal student loan debt accumulated after October 1998 will be eligible to participate in the program, which offers lower monthly payments and automatic debt forgiveness after 25 years. The plan also offers discounts for people with jobs in public service, such as state or federal government positions, but special restrictions apply to that option. The disadvantages of the program include a rise in accumulated interest over the life of the loan so that individuals may end up paying more for their student loans than they would under the standard repayment plan. Also, individuals must submit paperwork every year to show their income level and family size. - 06/25/2009

"Judge: Gay city workers names don't have to be released, for now"
A King County superior court judge has decided that although documents pertaining to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning and Friends Club do need to be released to the public, names of club members will be redacted for the time being. The club is sponsored by Seattle Public Utilities and members are all city employees who are allowed to participate in club activities for two hours a month on paid work time. The judge sided with city attorneys, who argued that since the club was paid for with city funds, the names of members are of legitimate public interest under the state’s public disclosure laws. The judge indicated that the names will probably have to be released at a later date. Although attorneys for city workers said that they are concerned about harassment and discrimination, previous appeals court decisions have said that public records must be released even if they result in such behavior. An anti-gay rights activist has requested the records, saying the LGBTQF club discriminated against him by not allowing him to join. - 06/25/2009

"Sunnyside school uniform proposal tabled until July"--Yakima Herald-Republic
The Sunnyside School District has postponed a decision on whether students will have to wear school uniforms to school. This issue has been debated in the district for two years so Board members hope to make a final decision in July. One of the reasons for mandatory school uniforms is that it might help deter gang activities. This argument was used in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Education's Manual on School Uniforms. It was also used in RCW 28A.600.455 (see the "Notes" section). According to the most currently available figures about 14% of the nation's public schools required uniforms in 2005-2006. - 06/26/2009

"Hope wanes for brewery"--Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The old Olympia brewery and surrounding property has sat vacant for six years, and it seems unlikely that the grounds will see any new owners in the immediate future. The Miller Brewing, Co. pulled out of Olympia in 2003 and sold the brewery to the All American Bottling Corp. However, the owner of that business soon went bankrupt. Since then the property has had some interested takers, but one serious buyer was turned away by Tumwater officials who thought that the proposed use—a large distribution center—would have put too much traffic on local roads. The future of the brewery is also confused by the fact that local municipalities have bought the water rights on the property. - 06/29/2009

"E. Washington hungry for enhanced driver licenses"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
Patience can be a virtue at a Department of Licensing office. It helps to be especially virtuous if you want an enhanced driver's license (EDL). The EDL has certain advantages such as making it easier to travel to Canada and Mexico and being more secure than a regular driver's license. It takes more time to get an EDL because of the heavy demand for the license and the documents it requires. Many people are not bringing the documents they need to establish their identity berfore getting an EDL. One place to get certified copies of the documents like birth certificates is the Department of Health's Center for Health Statistics. - 06/29/2009

"Spokane County methadone program cuts dozens"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Budget cuts are taking a toll on programs that save money in the long run. Lack of funding is forcing the Spokane Regional Health District to drop people from its methadone maintenance program. This program helps recovering opioid (drugs related to heroin and morphine) addicts by blocking withdrawal symptoms on a day to day basis. Methadone treatment is a proven, cost-effective way to allow recovering addicts to function in society. - 06/30/2009

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