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Posts published in January 2014

Legislative tracking from home

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

When I started covering the Idaho Legislature in the mid-70s, there was literally no substitute for heading down to the Boise statehouse, picking up on the paperwork and watching the session unfold, not if you wanted to follow developments there at all closely.

No longer. You can track this 2014 session almost as well from your home as you could on the scene. (Well, not quite – there's still something to be said for personal contact and interaction. But close.) Credit the legislature, over the years, with making it easy.

Back then, printed lists of committee agendas, bill status and bill copies didn't emerge widely from the Statehouse. Now, that same material, and more, is on the legislature's own website, at http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/. Go to that page and in the center, at the top of the list of links, is “Bill Center.” There you can find any piece of legislation by number (divided by House and Senate), if you happen to know it, or you can search by subject.

Click on the bill, and you get not only the bill text but the legislative history – where it is in the process, and how it got there – and the statement of purpose, which is a relatively plain-language brief description of what the bill is designed to do. Mostly, the SOPs are straightforward, though some are written as much to obscure as illuminate: So read them carefully. And there's a fiscal note, if the legislation is expected to cost the state anything; sometimes the fiscal notes can become the subject of heated debate. Everyone with an interest in the legislature ought to prowl through the bill lists. And do read the bills of interest to you; they're written in plain English (more or less), as either amendments or additions to the current law, or sometimes as repealers. Anything deleted has a strike-through on it, anything added is underlined. Sometimes the real intent is a little obscure, but that's something legislators, lobbyists and reporters periodically struggle with too.

That alone is not a bad collection. The main thing missing, which some legislatures provide, is an alert letting you know when the next action on the measure is expected, if something has been scheduled. (Sometimes bills are sent to a committee and are, well, never heard from again.)

If you really want to bear down, you can look at the same thing legislators have been spending much of their time on these first few weeks of the session: Administrative rules. Legislators review them, and can kill them, during sessions, and there's even a proposal to lock that role into the state constitution. (I think the state did just fine in the years before 1995 when legislators reviewed the rules simply when someone had an objection to one, but we'd be talking about the legislative giving up authority now.) Those rule books are all on line.

Reporters and everyone else used to rely on printed agendas for floor and committee action. They're all posted online, and in the main reliably. And you can read the “progress report,” the number of bills and other measures introduced and passed this session compared to this point in the last five sessions. (This year, so far, they're introducing more than last year but fewer than the years before.)

And then there's watching the action. You can go to to the Idaho Public Television page www.idahoptv.org/insession/leg.cfm to watch the Senate or House floor action. Not all of the committee meetings are video streamed but many of them are, in the Lincoln Auditorium, the budget committee room and a House hearing room.

Read the legislative reports from journalists; you can get more and faster that way than by peering through the official reports. But those official reports can broaden and deepen your grasp of what's going on.

On the front page

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

On law enforcement cooperation on drugs (Lewiston Tribune)
WA House Democrats back minority voting (Lewiston Tribune)
Efforts to raise minimum wage (Nampa Press Tribune)
Is Pocatello's fired coach coming back? (Nampa Press Tribune)
Bill on concealed weapon on campus (Pocatello Journal)
Attorney sues former ISU prof on defamation (Pocatello Journal)
Prosecutor on why no charge in dog killing (Pocatello Journal)
Legislator seeks repeal of stumpage districts (Sandpoint Bee)
Private mental health provider criticized (Sandpoint Bee)
Classrooms go online as books fall apart (TF Times News)
Review of sage grouse debate (TF Times News)
TF man helped prompted legislature rule process (TF Times News)

Leaburg Dam ailing (Eugene Register Guard)
Driving/cell phone fine costs rise (KF Herald & News)
Medford teacher may strike February 6 (Medford Tribune)
Reviewing dog bites locally (Medford Tribune)
ATF gun sting not yielding a lot (Portland Oregonian)
Oregon clout in Senate growing (Portland Oregonian)
EPA slow in assessing Salem cancers (Salem Statesman Journal)
Salem may approve redevelopment of old BC property (Salem Statesman Journal)

Shohomish emergency dispatch still behind (Everett Herald)
Minority voting measure action planned (Vancouver Columbian, Yakima Herald Republic, Kennewick Herald)
Wind farms killing birds of prey? (Longview News)
Methanol plants could boost region (Longview News)
Area economic development leader quits (Port Angeles News)
Marijuana businesses, banking (Port Angeles)
Red light cameras found working (Spokane Spokesman)
Tacoma pay benefits considered (Tacoma News Tribune)
Apartments growing fast at Tacoma (Tacoma News Tribune)
Proposal to add two Clark commissioners (Vancouver Columbian)
More questions arise on pot (Vancouver Columbian)
Changing Endangered Species Act (Yakima Herald Republic)

Scattershot initiative?

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

The successful 2012 initiative legalizing marijuana also carried with it orders to both tax and regulate and set up a distribution system. This the state has been steadily working on doing, slower, admittedly, than similarly-situated Colorado has.

But it has been slowed by a number of factors, one a pre-existing condition and other a development in the aftermath.

The earlier condition was the lack of a distribution system for legal (under state law) marijuana for medical purposes. Dispensaries popped up, but there was no state provision for them, and so no system to build off when recreational legalization came around. The new regime had to start, to a greater degree, from scratch.

It also faced a different kind of obstacle, localized opposition.

The 55.7% initiative win carried in most of the larger counties but lost in 19 of them, primarily smaller and rural (Clark and Yakima were the largest). Quite a few people in those places do not want marijuana stores in their areas, and they're busy at work passing ordinances designed to block them. A state attorney general's opinion says they have considerable latitude in doing that.

As time goes on, some may change their minds. The stores will be moneymakers (if they are not, they go out of business), and will bring new (above-ground) money to communities that house them. Some may find the economic plus and the tax loss to be not worth the ban.

There's also the real possibility of the legislature stepping in an limiting that authority. This would not be out of line, because initiatives passing in the state are intended to be in practical effect statewide; the local actions are meant as a nullification. How far can or should local nullification go?

That's a larger question, of course, covering territory well beyond marijuana. But it could be that marijuana is the subject area turf where it is initially grappled with.

On the front pages

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Judge throws out St, Luke's buy (Boise Statesman, Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News)
People speak at legislative health care hearing (Lewiston Tribune)
Lewiston sawmill does major upgrade (Lewiston Tribune)
Housing costs rise at WSU (Moscow News)
WSU frat closed (Moscow News)
Add the words effort goes on (Nampa Press Tribune, Pocatello Journal)
Private mental health provider critcized (Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News)
Pocatello fired coach status unclear (Pocatello Journal)
Labrador holds Sandpoint hown hall (Sandpoint Bee)
Conflict over Common Core (Sandpoint Bee)

Curry gold course delayed (Coos Bay World)
Coos County budget process begins (Coos Bay World)
Businesses complaint about parking lack (Corvallis Gazette Times)
State recalculates student poverty (Corvallis Gazette Times, KF Herald & News)
Rare winter wild fires in Oregon (Eugene Register Guard, Medford Tribune, Corvallis Gazette Times)
Engineer hired for area events center (Pendleton East Oregonian, Hermiston Herald)
Ashland watershed area burns (Ashland Tidings)
Organic Nation distillery shuts down (Ashland Tidings)
Medford teachers quit talks (Medford Tribune)
Reviewing Eastern Oregon economy (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Flu still active in Oregon (Portland Oregonian)
OLCC warns of probems if groceries sell liquor (Portland Oregonian)
Courtney wants Cover Oregon fixed (Salem Statesman Journal)
State defense of gay marriage ban (Salem Statesman Journal)

What's the smell at Marysville? (Everett Herald)
Machinists face internal battle (Everett Herald)
Police brass was law to aid discipline (Kennewick Herald)
Oil train safety considered (Longview News)
Feds seek protection for captured orca (Seattle Times, Longview News)
Washington has major gender pay gap (Seattle Times)
Eastern Washington U president retires (Spokane Spokesman)
Baking for pot stores? (Tacoma News Tribune)
Tacoma port passes Seattle on containers shipped (Tacoma News Tribune)
Stuart explains quitting Clark board (Vancouver Columbian)

Unwinding anti-competition

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

Federal District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled today that a buyout by St. Luke's Health System of the Saltzer Medical Group at Nampa violated anti-trust law.
The case had been brought by St. Alphonus Medical Center-Nampa. The decision followed a trial in October.

Winmill's decision was led with a plain-language summary of analysis that runs through recent views of the economics of health care.

From that analysis:

For years, health care costs have exceeded the inflation rate. Americans spend more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined – a list that includes Japan, Germany, France and the U.K. – yet we lag behind many of them on quality and patient outcomes. In Idaho, the quality of our health care is outstanding, but we pay
substantially more than the national average for that quality.

Among the experts, there is a rough consensus on a solution to the cost and quality concerns nationwide. They advocate moving away from our present fee-for-service health insurance reimbursement system that rewards providers, not for keeping their patients healthy, but for billing high volumes of expensive medical procedures. A far better system would focus on maintaining a patient’s health and quality of life, rewarding successful patient outcomes and innovation, and encouraging less expensive means of providing critical medical care. Such a system would move the focus of health care back to the patient, where it belongs.

In fact, there is a broad if slow movement to such a system. It will require a major shift away from our fragmented delivery system and toward a more integrated system where primary care physicians supervise the work of a team of specialists, all committed to a common goal of improving a patient’s health.

St. Luke’s saw this major shift coming some time ago. And they are to be complimented on their foresight and vision. They started purchasing independent physician groups to assemble a team committed to practicing integrated medicine in a system where compensation depended on patient outcomes.

In Nampa, they acquired the Saltzer Medical Group. The
combined entity now includes 80% of the primary care physicians in Nampa. Its size, and the sterling reputations of Saltzer and St. Luke’s, make it the dominant provider in the Nampa area for primary care, and give it significant bargaining leverage over health insurance plans.

These circumstances prompted the Federal Trade Commission, and a group of other health care providers including St. Alphonsus and Treasure Valley Hospital, to file this lawsuit claiming that the Acquisition violated the antitrust laws. They ask the Court to unwind the deal.

The antitrust laws essentially require the Court to predict whether the deal under scrutiny will have anticompetitive effects. The Court predicts that it will. Although possibly not the intended goal of the Acquisition, it appears highly likely that health care costs will rise as the combined entity obtains a dominant market position that will enable it to (1) negotiate higher reimbursement rates from health insurance plans that will be passed on to the consumer, and (2) raise rates for ancillary services (like x-rays) to the higher hospital-billing rates.

The Acquisition was intended by St. Luke’s and Saltzer primarily to improve patient outcomes. The Court is convinced that it would have that effect if left intact, and St. Luke’s is to be applauded for its efforts to improve the delivery of health care in the Treasure Valley. But there are other ways to achieve the same effect that do not run afoul of the antitrust laws and do not run such a risk of increased costs. For all of these reasons, the Acquisition must be unwound.

On the front page

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Skimming devices stealing debit card data (Boise Statesman)
Heavy inversion in Treasure Valley (Boise Statesman)
Luna presents schools budget (Lewiston Tribune, TF Times News, Nampa Press Tribune, Sandpoint Bee)
Luna on Common Core, teacher raises (Lewiston Tribune)
Moscow may loosen residential requirements (Moscow News)
Bujak says not guilty on bankruptcy (Nampa Press Tribune)
Permit for Snake River jumper (Nampa Press Tribune)
Ravens Nest store closing (Pocatello Journal)
Fired coach will return if asked (Pocatello Journal)
Labrador speak on federal spending (Sandpoint Bee)
Glanbia layoffs relate to milk demand (TF Times News)
Idaho House oks same-sex filings (TF Times News)
Blaine officials back White Clouds monument (TF Times News)

Fire warnings in southern Oregon (Salem Statesman Journal, Medford Tribune, Corvallis Gazette Times)
No smaking in Medford parks, maybe (Medford Tribune)
Dredging in the Willamette helping (Corvallis Gazette Times)
New signage at Corvallis City Hall (Corvallis Gazette Times)
Debate over Whoville homeless at Eugene (Eugene Register Guard)
Klamath crafts pot policy (KF Herald & News)
Klamath may get four waste transfers (KF Herald & News)
Organic farmers fighting GMO (Ashland Tidings)
Former Ashland library director dies (Ashland Tidings)
Change in firefighter compensation (Ashland Tidings)
Possible teacher strike at Medford (Medford Tribune)
Bill would press commission on problem gambling (Portland Oregonian)
Review of escape tries at Ontario prison (Portland Oregonian)
Schools will change uses of poverty data (Portland Oregonian)

Everett council may reschedule meetings (Everett Herald)
Section 8 vouchers cut at Snohomish (Everett Herald)
Tri-Cities need downtown (Kennewick Herald)
Car fatalities down (Kennewick Herald)
WA may follow OR rule against smoking with kids in car (Longview News)
Water getting better at Longview (Longview News)
Local response to health insurance exchange (Port Angeles News)
Alaskan plan to buy land for marine center (Port Angeles News)
Employment rising in state (Seattle Times)
Rules proposed for oil trains (Spokane Spokesman, Vancouver Columbian)
Tacoma city may give raises to some (Tacoma News Tribune)
High-end hotel may come to Tacoma (Tacoma News Tribune)
Panelists discuss Clark growth (Vancouver Columbian)
Commissioner Stuart won't run again (Vancouver Columbian)
Oregon 'done' with CRC, legislator says (Vancouver Columbian)
Crime stats down decrease (Yakima Herald Republic)

Impressions of the field: GOP, Corvallis

corvallis
Republican candidates speak out at a forum sponsored by Oregon State Republicans, at Corvallis. (photo/Randy Stapilus)

 

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

Most of this year's Republican candidates for governor and senator turned up at the Corvallis - Oregon State University Republicans - forum this evening, enough of them to bring some contours to those nomination contests.

It was notable event, and clearly Republican - ticket for a gun raffle were on offer.

The major missing candidate was Monica Wehby of Portland, one of the Senate candidates and notably interesting for her fast raising of $500,000 for her campaign.

But four other Senate candidates, Representative Jason Conger of Bend, IT consultant Mark Callahan, former Linn County Republican Chair Jo Rae Perkins and Portland attorney Tim Crawley, were there. And three Republican candidates for governor: Representative Dennis Richardson, rancher Jon Justeson and real estate broker Bruce Cuff from Salem.

Overall impression: The two legislators, Conger and Richardson, overall seemed most likely to emerge with the nomination. Their talk, from opening and closing statements through a range of questions, seemed most general-campaign-ready, with a greater consideration of the counter arguments that would be thrown back at them on subjects from Obamacare to same-sex marriage.

Their approaches were arresting. Some of Richardson's takes were quite centrist, almost moderate, or at times answering from the side. On education, he described Oregon K-12 as "the laughingstock of the nation," but didn't specify what he would do differently. On same-sex marriage, he took the striking (in the context) stance that Oregon probably would pass a same-sex marriage measure this year, and if he's elected governor he'll have to implement it - and left it at that.

Conger was the most polished of the candidates, a skilled speaker, but with a few exceptions - such as a flat call for repeal of Obamacare (which most of the other candidates also urged) - his answers were mostly vague. (On the minimum wage, he cautioned that wading in on that was playing "on the Democrats' turf.") He'll need to sharpen them as the campaign goes on.

That may be especially true if Callahan, who also was a strong presence and clear speaker, takes hold in the Republican primary base. He might; more than any of the other candidates, he served up red meat, and did it effectively. "Our government is basically telling us they need to take care of us," he said. "Common Core is socialist and it needs to be eliminated," he said at another. On same-sex marriage, he made clear that he was opposed to the amendment, that "marriage is a religious institution."

There were other statements of interest. On education and government action connected with it, Crawley said "We're trying to create a Nazi Germany were everyone is uniform and all walking in line. We need to stop that."

Maybe most startling, while the minimum wage drew mostly negative reactions, Justeson broke from the group to say that not only should the minimum wage be raised, but possibly it ought to be doubled. (The audience seemed taken aback.)

The candidates got a positive reaction overall from the audience of about 100. We'll see how the field looks a few months out.

Coziness

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

An opinion piece written by Idaho Democratic Chair Larry Kenck.

We the People of Idaho do not control what happens in our Statehouse. Lobbyists and special interests are calling the shots there. The outcome: more cash for the wealthy and higher taxes for the rest of us.

If Idaho’s rank as 50th in family wages is not enough proof of that, then look at the cozy relationship between high-powered lobbyists and GOP politicians.

On January 10th, GOP politicians skipped work to attend a free campaign school organized by Idaho’s most powerful lobbyists—for more than two hours during a time of day that our legislators to be working for all of us.

Over 50 GOP politicians attended the “Republican Incumbents Campaign School.”

School attendee, Sen. Dean Mortimer, said this: “Skip and the others are saying, ‘Anything we can do to help get you re-elected, we’re here.’”

Idahoans should note—the lobbyists said they’ll do “anything” to keep GOP politicians in power. (“Skip” is former Sen. Skip Smyser, longtime lobbying powerhouse who is partnered with a former chief of staff for … Governor Otter.)

Why does this matter? What does this lobbyist-GOP politician partnership mean?

It is the reason that Idaho families are suffering through an economic catastrophe. After 20 years of handouts to the wealthy and well-connected, our families are paying for it. (more…)

Poorer than we thought

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

A statistic hit the media during the last few days - a statistic so startling and unbelievable that I read right past it before doing the classic “double take” and reading it again. And again. And again and again!

Here it is. Just 85 individuals hold HALF THE WEALTH of the entire world! Those 85 versus the rest of us! Those 85 versus more than 300 billion of us! Just let your head play with that immense statistic. Take a couple of minutes. I’ll wait.

Let’s just deal with our own little country of the U.S. of A. Of course, you know the wealthy are much wealthier than the rest of us. But did you ever think they’d be 288 times wealthier? That much? Yep. That much. So says the Economic Policy Institute in its newest survey of how rich we are - or how much poorer we are.

In 1962, the top 1% - you remember them - well, back then they had 125 times the worth of America’s median household. Jump forward to 2010 and it increased to that 288!

Two reasons, actually. The rich really did get richer. And the middle class really did get poorer. While the 1% saw its average wealth grow from $9.6 million in 1983 to $16.4 million in 2010, we in the middle class saw our household net worth drop from $73,000 to $57,000 during the same period.

And here’s something more depressing to think about - while you’re still thinking about that previously depressing statistic. If middle class income had grown at the same rate as the top 1% during that 27 year period, yours and mine would have gone from that $73,000 to - wait for it - $119,000!

All of this is based on a lengthy statistical examination by EPI of income, jobs, mobility, poverty, wealth and a few other factors.

While that wealth gap has been widening for a decade or more, it was the “Great Recession” starting about 2008 that really changed the picture. From that point to 2010, median income of the wealthiest households declined about 15.6%. But, for all the rest of us in the supposed “middle income” grouping, we lost 47.1% during that same time.

I hate talking about statistics. But I gotta throw in a couple more. At the end of that same period - 2008 to 2010 - the typical black household ended up with a median net worth of $4,900! And the median net worth of Latino families plummeted 86.3% to about $1,300. $1,300!!!

Biggest reason those two groups fell so far off the economic cliff is because of the much smaller net worth before the bottom dropped out, so the percentages were more adversely affected. That - and the fact that their home ownership rates grew faster during the housing boom but fell further when things collapsed.

So, will all this affect future elections? You damn betcha. I’ll leave all the really tough brain twisting to more scholarly types. And, believe me, you’re going to hear a great deal from them about how this huge disparity still affects all our lives in many, many ways. But here are a couple of thoughts - off the top of my gray head - based on some lengthy experience.

With neither political party conducting the policy and vision discussions they should have in recent months, the most-heard stories of past campaigns were about money. Not who had it - or didn’t - but about who was spending it, how much and for what. Billionaires. PACS and SuperPACS. Unions. Republican and Democrat campaign committees. Congressional PACS. Candidate campaigns. A hundred million or two for this state. A few million more over there. Dollars were constantly being tossed around in amounts most of us couldn’t fathom. More than an “embarrassment of riches” it was a “prostitution of riches” when compared to the current economic lives - and economic experiences - of the rest of us.

When the value of your home is gone - or underwater - it’s hard to get worked up over some stranger’s political future. When your job is gone, feeding, clothing and housing a family block out nearly all the extraneous noise emanating from campaigns. In fact, a few recent conversations I’ve had reveal most of us folks in the middle - or at the bottom - had damned little time to listen to - or much inclination to get all involved with - anyone’s candidacy. Too busy and/or couldn’t relate. (more…)

On the front page

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Driver of log truck said to cause big I-84 crash (Boise Statesman)
Legislators want rule review in constitution (Boise Statesman)
LCSC budget presentation (Lewiston Tribune)
Otter considers Bedke tax plan (Lewiston Tribune)
Water use lower (Moscow News)
Harvest Hills development in Moscow okayed (Moscow News)
Nampa mayor's state of city speech (Nampa Press Tribune)
Same sex marriage case, AG role (Nampa Press Tribune, Sandpoint Bee)
Id Press Tribune new managing editor (Nampa Press Tribune)
Melaleuca alleges poaching by CA firm (Pocatello Journal)
Idaho State Uniersity budget presentation (Pocatello Journal)
Legislative Common Core debate (Pocatello Journal, Andpoint Bee)
50 laid off at Glanbia (TF Times News)
TF officials put off by canyon jump (TF Times News)

Emmons Meat Market closes (Corvallis Gazette Times)
Schoolhouse hauled up Hwy 99 (Corvallis Gazette Times)
Legal case opposes timber sale (KF Herald & NEws, Corvalis Gazette Times)
Low precipitation, heavy fog (Eugene Register Guard)
Jobless rate rises to pre-recession (Salem Statesman Journal, Eugene Register Guard)
KF Utility District riles passions (KF Herald & News)
Library district plans (Ashland Tidings)
Medford teacher strike possible (Medford Tribune)
Army depot reuse infighting opposed (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Milton-Freewater ambulance district can't afford election (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Wolf-kill provisions now set by state (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Billion-dollar refineries for Kalama, Clatskanie (Portland Oregonian)
Oregon economy picks up (Portland Oregonian)
Too-high pot testing standards? (Portland Oregonian)
Amnesty for alcohol poisoning callers (Portland Oregonian)
Cascade Head area at risk (Salem Statesman Journal)

School superintendent resigns (Kennewick Herald)
Many Hanford layoffs canceled (Kennewick Herald)
Big methanol plants at Kalama, Clatskanie (Longview News)
Flu season peaking (Spokane Spokesman, Port Angeles News)
Kilmer visits Port Angeles (Port Angeles News)
Home prices improve (Seattle Times)
Spokane charter school approved (Spokane Spokesman)
North Corridor road project uncertain (Spokane Spokesman)
Tacomans propose charter schools (Tacoma News Tribune)
Debating state's Discover Pass (Tacoma News Tribune)
Clark considers rural area zoning (Vancouver Columbian)