Writings and observations

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act on February 3. Then, this is not new. The House has voted nearly sixty times to either revoke the law or to make huge changes. But this time the House and the Senate are in Republican hands. So that means what was a symbolic act now has the potential of becoming law.

Well, maybe.

The Affordable Care Act is like a national soap opera that should rivet any audience. Will the law survive? What sort of challenges does it face legally and politically? And, most important, what does this daytime drama mean to Indian Country?

Here is the story so far.

Turn back to to 1974. President Gerald Ford signed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act into law, a measure that modernized the federal delivery of health care in Indian Country. But that law had an expiration date; it needed another act of Congress to renew it. And that did not happen. Congress let the bill lapse despite repeated attempts. That’s where the story takes a turn. The whole health care reform debate was heating up and folks in Congress decided to roll the Indian Health Care Improvement Act into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This language was shortened to the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” — and it’s now the law of the land. The Indian health provisions were made permanent so future Congresses would not have to renew them.

The Affordable Care Act had other benefits to Indian Country. The law improved funding channels for Indian health facilities, a source of money that’s growing during lean budget years. Next year’s Indian Health Service budget estimates more than $1.1 billion collected from Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration and private insurance.

But Republicans have been adamantly against the Affordable Care Act. Four years ago a Republican House was elected and that body started voting over and over to repeal the law. But nothing ever happened because the Democratic controlled Senate ignored the actions in the House.

But like any good soap opera there are new characters joining the story. The Supreme Court could strike down part of the law, causing a lot of confusion. And the Senate is now run by Republicans who will definitely consider the House legislation to repeal the law. This will not be easy. The Senate usually needs 60 votes in order to pass legislation (stopping the threat of a filibuster). And there are not 60 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

That’s another twist. Democrats were short 60 votes back in 2010 — so they turned to an arcane process called budget reconciliation that allowed the legislation to pass with a simple majority, or 51 votes. Now many Republicans are asking their party leaders to do the same thing and use the budget reconciliation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That idea would probably work if there was a Republican in the White House. But you can bet that President Barack Obama will veto any attempt to roll back his signature health care legislation. So that means Congress would need a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto. There are not nearly enough votes in either the House or the Senate to do that.

But many Republicans see repeal (enacted or not) as an important statement that will define the 2016 election campaigns.

If Republicans find a way to repeal the Affordable Care Act that would raise new questions and chaos. For example what happens to those people who’ve purchased insurance now or who signed up for the expanded Medicaid programs? Would people lose coverage and get nothing in return?

The questions for Indian Country are troubling, too. What happens to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act? Or how will the Indian health system replace money from Medicaid and other sources opened up through the Affordable Care Act?

A few Republican Senators have started a “framework” about what kinds of alternative law they would pass to replace the Affordable Care Act. Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Finance Committee, said in a Senate floor speech: “Our plan rests on four simple principles. First: Repeal Obamacare – with all its costly mandates, taxes, and regulations – in its entirety. Second: Reduce costs by taking the government out of the equation, and, instead, empowering consumers to make choices about their own health care. Third: Provide common-sense consumer protections to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions. And, finally: Reform our broken Medicaid system by giving states more flexibility to provide the best coverage for their citizens.”

There are key issues here for Indian Country. First, the Indian health system is not part of the debate. It must be. Any repeal of the Affordable Care Act is also a repeal of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Second, there is no easy way to eliminate “government” from the Indian health system. And, finally, a reform of Medicaid, especially one that grants more power to states, will reduce health care funding for Indian health facilities. Already nearly half the Indian health system is shortchanged by the states that refuse to expand Medicaid. This is a real problem.

Cue the organ music. This daytime drama has many twists and turns ahead. But the story’s ending should be simple: the United States promised American Indians and Alaska Natives healthcare. The only question should be, “how will that promise be delivered?” Stay tuned.

Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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Trahant

The much-referenced press conference by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber last week, as he discussed various issues concerning Cylvia Hayes and his office.

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Oregon Oregon column

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)

Former racing boss followed rules on WY job (Boise Statesman)
Several animal care, cruelty bills in the works (Boise Statesman)
Clearwater Paper declares loss last year (Lewiston Tribune)
Profiling Rep. Dan Rudolph (Lewiston Tribune)
Moscow plans single-stream recyclilng (Moscow News)
WA bill would block many vaccine exemptions (Moscow News)
Kerby bill proposes more scholarships (Nampa Press Tribune)
Measles vaccines urged at Pocatello (Pocatello Journal)
Conflicting reports emerge on school growth (TF Times News)
Aquifer recharge this winter insufficient so far (TF Times News)

Possible third infection of blood disease (Eugene Register Guard)
New Eugene call center adds 350 jobs (Eugene Register Guard)
Eugene timeline for Civic Stadium buy extended (Eugene Register Guard)
Oregonian calls on Kitzhaber to resign (KF Herald & News)
Klamath battle continues on “In God we trust” (KF Herald & News)
IOT President Maples drops from Ohio job race (KF Herald & News)
Medford mulls Coker Butte annexation (Medford Tribune)
Three top Harry & David’s officers depart (Medford Tribune)
Concerns about oil prices at Coos Bay gas plant (Medford Tribune)
Committee goes to work on marijuana bills (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Oregon deadline for immunization approaches (Portland Oregonian)
Governor’s website loses page for first lady (Portland Oregonian)
Bill lets terminal patients take unapproved drugs (Salem Statesman Journal)

Everett nurses go public about contract issues (Everett Herald)
Legislative testimony take from remote areas (Kennewick Herald)
Legislators call for talks on Spokane med school plan (Kennewick Herald)
Senate approved Hatfield hemp legislation (Longview News)
Tighter limits planned for vaccations (Olympian)
Changes ahead for Olympia artesian park (Olympian)
Measles patient shows at Olympia peninsula (Port Angeles News)
Sites considered for sports arenas (Seattle Times)
Seattle minimum wage law soon to arrive (Seattle Times)
Review of vaccinations in Spokane area (Spokane Spokesman)
Washington considers moving its wolves (Spokane Spokesman)
Legislators try to push electric cars (Tacoma News Tribune)
Columbia Land Trust buys 51 key Rock Creek acres (Vancouver Columbian)
Legislature looks at fireworks regulation (Vancouver Columbian)

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First Take

frazier DAVID
FRAZIER

 
Boise
Guardian

Once again, Cynthia Sewell at the DAILY PAPER has shown the “power of the press.”

Idaho Horse Racing Commission director Frank Lamb resigned his position following Sewell’s disclosure of his dual role as a regulator in Idaho while simultaneously acting as a paid lobbyist advocating the slot machines in Wyoming.

Lamb’s job fell under the Department of State Police.

At issue was the practice of gambling on casino-like slot machines and calling them “instant racing or historical racing.” The GUARDIAN has declared them to be slot machines for several years and at the beginning of this year’s legislative session many lawmakers agreed.

There is a bill, presented by Idaho Indian tribes, seeking to repeal the 2013 approval of electronic gaming on horse races on the machines. Some legislators say they were “duped or hoodwinked,” into approving the machines because the machines in place are not the same as those approved in 2013.

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Frazier

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)

Harvard innovation lab head comes to BSU (Boise Statesman)
Institute of Medicine says potatoes are healthy (Boise Statesman)
Measles outbreak under scrutiny (Nampa Press Tribune)
Bill to move money from urban renewal to schools (Nampa Press Tribune)
Caldwell state of city address delivered (Nampa Press Tribune)
Guns on campus costing money at universities (Pocatello Journal)
Male-female wage gap lessens in Idaho (Pocatello Journal)
More state funding sought for wolf kills (TF Times News)
Idaho dairies won’t lose permits for waste dumping (TF Times News)

At Eugene, another packed hearing on marijuana (Eugene Register Guard)
Second deadly bacteria instance at UO (Eugene Register Guard)
Are gas projects undermined by cheap oil? (KF Herald & News)
Jackson may set up wolf compensation program (KF Herald & News)
Hearing draws strong reaction on Medford casino (Medford Tribune)
White City could become major pot center (Medford Tribune)
Local legislators take their seats (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Pendleton still grapples with pot regulation (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Gas now cheaper than bottled water (Portland Oregonian)
Cities want to regulate, tax pot (Portland Oregonian)
About the hiring of Salem’s new bridge builder (Salem Statesman Journal)

State bill would end daylight savings time (Bremerton Sun, Longview News)
Legislators consider changes to fiscal initiatives (Everett Herald)
Murray concerned over Hanford budget cuts (Kennewick Herald)
Newcomer named head of Cowlitz humane socity (Longview News)
Kelso’s violence crime diminished (Longview News)
Olympia considers joining Sound Transit train system (Olympian)
Military personnel barred from pot shops (Port Angeles News)
UW President Young heads to Texas A&M (Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune)
Enrollment in state health exchange slips (Seattle Times)
Tights oil by rail rules proposed for state (Spokane Spokesman)
Ruston considers development annexation (Tacoma News Tribune)
Murray plans to push for Obama’s budget (Vancouver Columbian)
Critics of La Center casino file appeal (Vancouver Columbian)
Civil rights violations noted in Yakima schools (Yakima Herald Republic)
Still progress on downtown Yakima hotel (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

The recent settlement of a malpractice lawsuit filed by the Diocese of Spokane against its long-time outside counsel should be viewed as another example of a bishop who, while professing to reflect the new direction set by Pope Francis, does not by his actions truly walk the talk.

The Spokane Catholic diocese, while under the leadership of Bishop Blasé Cupich – now archbishop in Chicago – spent two-and-one-half years, and who knows how many wasted dollars, because he was, according to the deposition of former vicar general Father Steven Dublinski, “throwing mud at Paine-Hamblen to see if any mud sticks.”

Dublinski resigned over his differences with Cupich.
But the settlement announced January 22 leaves no other conclusion than none of the “mud” stuck.

Cupich, who denies making the mud-on-the-wall comment, was trying to explain his lawsuit against the diocese’ long-time outside counsel, Paine Hamblen, which served the diocese for many years. Shortly after arriving in Spokane, Cupich says he asked for a review of the firm’s work regarding a diocese bankruptcy filing. In particular, Cupich thought the settlement did not fully anticipate future claims from those abused by diocese priests. The potential consequence would be insufficient funds to handle new cases.

The malpractice suit might have concluded with a pre-trial settlement or a jury award of damages to the diocese.

Everybody knows lawyers are covered by malpractice insurance, so the individuals in the firm would not pay personally. Reputations, though, are priceless, and the lawsuit put that of the partners at Paine Hamblen at risk.

Whatever the archbishop believed, it is up to individual members of the laity, as well the diocese’ priests and nuns, to decide whether he was sincere or insincere. The settlement, the actual terms of which have not been disclosed, would appear to be a complete vindication for of the law firm.

One cannot help thinking that if more Catholic bishops across the country would truly take a cue from Pope Francis and follow his lead, walk the talk, act with humanity, humility and with a dose of common sense, the Catholic Church would be in much better standing.

Another example of this need to use common sense and act humanely towards all is the behavior of the bishop of the Fort Wayne/Indianapolis diocese. Two years ago, he fired a married, veteran Catholic teacher in the diocesan high school for violating the morals clause of her contract. Her sin?

She and her husband could not have children “naturally,” so they went the in-vitro fertilization route with her donating an egg, he his sperm, and then implantation in her womb. She informed her principal, who initially congratulated her. None of them were aware they had crossed Catholic doctrine, which does not condone in-vitro fertilization, primarily because the process can result in more than one egg combining with sperm, and that’s the beginning of an independent, individual life. These other inseminated but unused eggs are disposed of, which Catholic doctrine says constitutes abortion. So she was fired.

Last month, a grand jury awarded her and her husband $2 million for a violation of her civil rights. The diocese cannot afford the award and so will appeal. The pure doctrinal approach taken by the diocese’ bishop will insure a federal ruling further restricting the right of private, religion-based schools to require adherence to church teachings from its teachers, who sign contracts pledging not to teach counter to church doctrine and to reflect church teachings in their private lives.

The unintended consequence will be further restriction of a religion’s right to operate separately from the so-called norms of secular society. Common sense and a humane, non-doctrinaire response should have told the bishop to look the other way and be happy there was a wanted child.

Bishops everywhere should get in sync with the new pope, who acts and speaks with common sense and humanity guiding him. If more of them did, the Roman Catholic Church would begin to restore its tarnished image.
While in the Philippines in early January, the Pope Francis interacted with people living on the streets. He spent time in particular with two young teen-age girls, one of whom asked him the question that is at the center of Russian author Fyodor Dostoyesky’s great novel, “The Brothers Karamazov”: Why does God permit children to suffer?

Did the pope offer some philosophical treatise? Did he cite church doctrine? Nope, none of these. In the face of this mystery in front of him, he reacted like a real human being, a real father: he wept.

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Carlson

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From a guest opinion by Levi B Cavener. Cavener is a special education teacher in Caldwell. He also manages the blog IdahosPromise.org where a larger version of this piece, including hyperlinks to primary sources, is available.

Recently, Roger Quarles, executive director of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and former chief deputy on Tom Luna’s staff, announced that the Albertson Foundation would change course in its philanthropic giving, moving away from public schools and focusing new dollars on community based projects.

The reason for the alleged shift seems to be due to an underlying frustration that teachers and schools just weren’t adopting Albertson-fueled “innovation” quick enough. In a recent Boise State Public Radio interview Quarles voiced his frustration regarding the lack of Idaho schools to adopt Albertson initiatives, “You have to look at that and go ‘fundamentally there’s some problems within that system.’”

Let me be clear: Albertson has done some terrific work in supplying schools and students with funds to pilot classroom technology, curriculum, and emerging instructional methods. However, let me also point out that Albertson and Quarles have been equally complicit in building those exact same “fundamental problems.” For example, take Idaho’s longitudinal cradle to cadaver data tracking system: Idaho System of Educational Excellence (ISEE) and its companion, Schoolnet.

ISEE/Schoolnet was developed to uniformly track student and teacher data across the state. Unfortunately, millions of dollars and years later – and funded by both Idaho and the Albertson Foundation – ISEE/Schoolnet, like Victor Frankenstein’s monster, is still lying on the table waiting to be shocked into life. ISEE/Schoolnet has been such a colossal failure that in 2014 Idaho paid school districts to fund whatever system they preferred.

Schoolnet was so dysfunctional that Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, inquired at a 2013 legislative committee meeting, “Is [Schoolnet] working anywhere, for any purpose, to improve education?” The answer? No. In addition, as reported in both the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Ed News, when the data finally made it into teachers’ hands, it often wasn’t accurate.

Said one U.S. Dept. of Education federal grant reviewer of Idaho’s original ISEE/Schoolnet plan, “Idaho could benefit from examining the successful models of several states and hiring a professional grant writer and some technical experts….” While such feedback should have initially tapped the brakes on the project, Idaho and the Albertson Foundation pushed the gas to the floor, with Albertson promising a $21 million dollar grant.

Which is where Mr. Quarles fits in. When the Legislature caught whiff of the project’s total ineptitude, Supt. Luna dispatched then-Chief Deputy Quarles to clean up the mess. It didn’t go well. Despite some “software CPR,” districts across the state jumped ship and started again using a hodgepodge of independent data systems.

It gets better: Since then, Quarles left his post as chief deputy to become executive director of the Albertson Foundation. One of his first acts as executive director was to break the Foundation’s promise to Idaho’s schools and students by withholding the final ISEE/Schoolnet funds. To be fair, it was the correct decision; the writing was on the wall about ISEE/Schoolnet. Even Pearson, the company hired to build ISEE/Schoolnet, skipped town.

But this dysfunctional outcome is precisely the type of “fundamental problem” that Quarles places on Idaho’s public school system. Perhaps it’s better that ISEE/Schoolnet remains in the lab on life support. Like Victor Frankenstein’s monster, some things just aren’t meant to be shocked into life.

Albertson’s decision to back out is telling; it highlights precisely the dysfunction caused when radical, ideologically driven interest groups dabble in education policy. Albertson’s continued commitment to funding more special interest groups, like Teach For America, merely compounds the so called “fundamental problems” here in Idaho. Sorry, but Idaho’s “fundamental problem” has nobody to blame more than the Albertson Foundation itself.

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Idaho Reading

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)

Guns on campus costs universities $3.7m (Boise Statesman)
PUC Commissioner Martha Smith will depart (Boise Statesman)
Homeless census underway (Lewiston Tribune)
WA legislature looks at abortion notification (Lewiston Tribune)
WA might spread pot revenues to cities (Moscow News)
Moscow will survey residents on utilities (Moscow News)
Nampa council halts its streets proposal (Nampa Press Tribune)
Senate panel approves oil and gas proposal (Nampa Press Trbune)
Gaps in child mental health help decried (TF Times News)
Variety of bills moving in Senate Judiciary (TF Times News)

UO ponders what to do about Howe’s field gates (Eugene Register Guard)
Democrats plan policy for legislative action (Eugene Register Guard, KF Herald & News)
Strippers organizing to improve work conditions (Eugene Register Guard)
Snowpack low, despite good rain (KF Herald & News)
Klamath drought troubles still in search of solution (KF Herald & News)
Who compensates, and how much, when wolves kill? (Medford Tribune)
Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe plans 93 worker layoffs (Medford Tribune)
Medford looks to ban styrofoam (Medford Tribune)
Low carbon bill progresses, over GOP complaints (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Plans call for thinning some area forests (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Democrats move for broader motor voter law (Portland Oregonian)
Hillsboro looks at street fee plan (Portland Oregonian)
Ruling says cake refusal was discrimination (Portland Oregonian)
Public hearing on pot rules draws hundreds (Salem Statesman Journal)

Snohomish courthouse prospects pricy (Everett Herald)
State considers tolling on I-405 (Everett Herald)
Budget proposal for Hanford hits $2.3b (Kennewick Herald)
Support grows for banning studded tires (Kennewick Herald, Olympian)
Cowlitz United Way says no funds were stolen (Longview News)
Strippers in Oregon orgazize for better work conditions (Longview News)
Legislature considers pot revenue for cities (Vancouver Columbian, Yakima Herald Republic, Longview News)
Business owners seek help on burglaries (Port Angeles News)
Many foster parents decline flu shots (Seattle Times)
Pierce courthouse price could top $127m (Tacoma News Tribune)
EPA has issues with operation at Point Ruston (Tacoma News Tribune)
Increase speed to 75mpg on rural I-90? (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

barney football

 
Barney, male harbor seal at the Seattle Aquarium with a Seahawks football. The aquarium said, “Our harbor seals (Barney, Q and Siku) got another fumble return and touchdown pass practice in today before the big game this weekend.” (Photo/Seattle Aquarium)

 

We’ll have a little more about the Super Bowl in next week’s Washington Briefing, but the basics are well enough known already: The Seahawks lost a competitive game after what was called the “worst play ever” called by their coach, resulting in the New England Patriots taking control of the ball at a critical moment.

Elsewhere around the three states, legislatures get into full swing – now in Oregon as well as in Washington and Idaho – with financial and other decisions in play.

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Briefings

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)

Mobile park residents concerned about staying (Boise Statesman)
Scientists study bighorn sheep disease (Boise Statesman)
Seahawks lose Super Bowl (Lewiston Tribune, Moscow News)
Neighbors concerned about rural Asotin gun club (Lewiston Tribune)
WA Supreme Court considers WSU golf water case (Moscow News)
Clif Bar production site in preparation (TF Times News)

Lane economists project modest growth in area (Eugene Register Guard)
Seahawks lose close Super Bowl (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard)
Lion sanctuary launches at Phoenix (Medford Tribune)
OHSU researches irregular heart rhythms (Portland Oregonnian)
Capitol activities alongside the legislature (Salem Statesman Journal)

Seahawks lose close Super Bowl (Seattle Times, Spokane Spokesman, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, Vancouver Columbian, Yakima Herald Republic, Kennewick Herald, Bremerton Sun, Olympian, Longview News)
YMCA plans three-year resurgence (Everett Herald)
Dental practitioner bill considered (Port Angeles News)
Vancouver rep blasts Inslee environment plan (Vancouver Columbian)

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First Take