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Posts published by “Ridenbaugh Press”

Danger zone

Eastern State Hospital
Eastern State Hospital, at Medical Lake/DSHS

State mental hospitals always have been somewhat dangerous places, to some extent a naturally inherent quality of places for treating the mentally troubled. But there are matters of degree, and Washington state's seems a little more so than most.

In the Washington House, 24 members have just introduced House Bill 2187, now lodged in the Health Care & Wellness Committee, aimed principally at increasing the nursing staff, and taking other safety measures, in the state hospitals. The bill makes explicit the reasons: "The legislature finds that the continuing number of assaults in state hospitals have made conditions for both patients and staff unacceptable. The legislature further finds that appropriate nurse staffing levels will result in improved patient and staff safety and a reduction in the number of workplace injuries. Therefore, to improve safety conditions in the state hospitals, the legislature intends that minimum patient assignment limits and nurse staffing ratios and other safety measures be implemented as an urgent public policy priority."

The strength of the language about the "continuing number of assaults" suggests a major problem. And so there is.

Ten years ago, the state Department of Health developed a study about workplace injuries at the state hospitals. Here's the abstract:

In order to estimate rates and identify risk factors for assaults on employees of a state psychiatric hospital, we examined workers' compensation claims, hospital-recorded incident reports, and data collected in a survey of ward staff. Results revealed 13.8 workers' compensation claims due to assault per 100 employees per year. Assaults were responsible for 60% of total claims. Incident reports revealed 35 injuries due to assault per 100 employees per year. Survey data revealed 415 injuries due to assault per 100 employees per year. Of the respondents, 73% reported at least a minor injury during the past year. Assault management training in the past year was associated with less severe injuries. Working in isolation, the occupation of mental health technician, and working on the geriatric-medical hospital unit were associated with more severe injuries during the past year. Assaults on staff in psychiatric hospitals represent a significant and underrecognized occupational hazard.

Bad enough, but since then, things have gotten a good deal worse.

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Filibusted

Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith gave it a shot on Monday, but they didn't have the Senate-wide support needed to filibuster - a tactic they were trying to force Senate consideration of federal timber funding for 700 counties in 39 states, including, perhaps most critically, a string of counties in Oregon.

This is the funding cut we described on Saturday, that is wreaking severe damage all over, maybe most obviously in such counties as Coos and Curry. But many others, too. Senators from the Northwest seems to be spearheading the effort to recover the funding, but they're apparently not getting enough traction yet.

Wyden said he has hopes the funding will still be restored. Maybe so. But if so, not easily.

Going underground

This - Washington Senate Bill 5926 - could go some truly interesting places and kick over some significant rocks, in the area of illegal immigration.

Informal reports in the last couple of years have begun to suggest that the construction industry, not crop agriculture as in the past, is the largest attractor of workers who have no permission to be in this country. One report from the Pew Hispanic Center last March estimated 24% of all workers were working in agriculture, 17% in cleaning, 14% in construction and 12% in food preparation. Of these categories, construction has been the boom and - if the national construction frenzy maintains for a while - it may soon surpass agriculture.

Hence this statement of intent on the newly-introduced SB5926:

The legislature finds that some current estimates place the percentage of unreported employment in Washington state's construction industry at between twenty percent and fifty percent, although solid data on this phenomenon is not readily available in Washington. The legislature also finds that unreported construction employment may result in the loss of a worker's employment rights and protections, including workers' compensation and unemployment insurance compensation. The legislature further finds that unreported construction employment also could deny the state the revenues it is due, including sales taxes, business and occupation taxes, and other business fees paid to the state. The legislature declares that the underground economy in this state may permit unfair conditions to exist against persons working in the construction industry who do follow the employment laws and appropriately pay taxes. It is the legislature's intent to determine the extent and potential costs to the state of the underground economy in the construction industry.

It would do that, to begin with, by setting up a legislative task force. Such creatures usually merit the yawning reactions they generally get, but this one - because of its explicitly investigative mission - could matter quite a bit even if it never develops any legislation. The information it uncovers, if it has any aggressiveness at all, could make a difference. (By the way, see also the item on this on the Seattle Stranger's Slog.)

Nationally, we can hire all the border guards and erect all the fences we want, but illegals will keep coming as long as (a) conditions back home are deeply unsatisfying and (b) as long as they can get satisfaction from the economy here. Genuine solutions to the porous border problem clearly will have to do mostly with one or both of those issues. We have limited ability to address the first, but we can address the second, at least to some extent. For all the harrumphing going on elsewhere, the Washington legislature is now navigating closer to the heart of the issue than most.

(Lead sponsor is Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, joined by Senators Clements, Kastama, Weinstein, Fairley, Keiser, Marr, Tom, Murray, Oemig, Sheldon and Kline, all Democrats.)

Cattle kingdom: from growth to split

cows
More cows than people in the Magic Valley/morguefile

Besides the talk about the urban growth in parts of Idaho, there ought to be another round of discussion about the fastest-growing population in the state. Not of people: Of milk cows.

And that growth is finally have an effect on the people who work with them.

Over the last 20 years, the population of milk cows in the state has increased about two and a half times, from 174,000 to 473,000. As with people, the increase in milk cows (which is to say, the number and size of dairies), as with people, has not been evenly spread. Some places, like Franklin County, that had substantial or even major dairy activity in the mid-80s have declined (in Franklin's case, from 14,000 to 11,500 head).

The growth has been concentrated in the Magic Valley, and to a lesser degree in southwest Idaho, in a band from Owyhee, Ada, Canyon and Payette counties. (Today, Ada has 22,000 head and Canyon 30,000 head, in each case not quite double where they were 20 years - all alongside the massive new human development in those counties.)

The Magic Valley had 75,000 milk cows in 1986, well under half the state's total. Today it has more than four and a half times as many, 341,000, well over three-fourths of the state total. And within the Magic Valley, they're concentrated. Few are in Blaine, Camas or Minidoka counties; Gooding, Twin Falls, Jerome and Cassia, and a fair population in Lincoln, account for the largest portion.

Nor is that all. If a set of applications now on file in the eastern valley, in Cassia and Minidoka, are approved, another 100,000 dairy cows could call the area home.

Gooding County has more than 139,000 - more than twice any other county, well over a fourth of all the dairy cows in the state, and far more dairy cows (which do not account for all of the cattle by any means) in that county than there are people in any Idaho city but Boise. That's 190 cows per square mile in Gooding County.

It is also more than in the entire state of Oregon - 121,000; the biggest dairy county there is Tillamook, with 28,600 head. Washington has 237,000 head in all; geographically large Yakima County with 70,000 head and coastal Whatcom County with 52,000 account for much of it. Neither Oregon nor Washington has a regional dairy concentration resembling the Magic Valley.

You would think this would cause some stress and conflict. You would be right.

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Mini(cassia)-boom

Taking note of a non-urban area that's lately adding a bunch of jobs - the Burley area, in the eastern Magic Valley in Idaho.

Almost abruptly, about 500 jobs have been added there, not from high-flying employers but from basic manufacturers like Renova Energy and Pacific Ethanol.

They must be doing something right; a lot of community areas that size, and that far away from a substantial urban area, are having some difficulty consistently attracting new businesses these days.

Fiscal impact

Downtown Coos Bay
Downtown Coos Bay

When the sun set on the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000 in September 2006, people in urban areas generally took little note. In rural areas, in some rural areas anyway, it has meant, in the months since, a screaming emergency.

Some members of Congress, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden perhaps the lead among them (though he is not alone), have been trying to get those funds restored. One of his lines on the subject goes, “Without county payments funding, there is a real question as to whether or not these communities can survive.”

If that sounds hyperbolic, visit Coos County, as the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee committee did this week, and find out what the cut of $7 million has done to services there.

The tale of woe the senators heard at North Bend could have been a comedy routine if it weren't so serious.

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A faith shield

churchWe haven't seen much media attention yet to Oregon House Joint Resolution 16 and counterpart HJR 17, but we can't imagine that will last long. It has the potential to set off a small explosion.

Quite some time ago, when the child sex abuse cases against Roman Catholic archdioceses in Portland and Spokane were being filed, we suggested that the impact of these cases eventually could lead to something larger than themselves: They could lead to some redefinition and rethinking about the roles churches play in society. HJR 16, which results from those cases (and the prospect of similar instances in the future), is good example of how some of the debate around this rethinking is apt to play out.

HJR 16, which seeks to limit awards of non-economic damages in lawsuits against religious organizations, is a simple measure, and its direct impact seems reasonably clear.

SECTION 12. (1) Noneconomic damages may not be recovered against a religious organization in an amount that exceeds $1 million. The limitation of this section applies to all subjective, nonmonetary losses, including but not limited to pain, mental suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, injury to reputation, loss of care, comfort, companionship and society, loss of consortium, inconvenience and interference with normal and usual activities apart from compensated employment.
(2) For the purposes of this section, a religious organization is an organized church or group that is organized for the purpose of worship or religious teaching, and that is exempt from federal income taxation by reason of those activities.

It has a long list of sponsors, Representatives Fred Girod (the lead sponsor), Vicki Berger, Brian Boquist, Scott Bruun, Tom Butler, Kevin Cameron, John Dallum, Linda Flores, Bill Garrard, Vic Gilliam, George Gilman, Bruce Hanna, Wayne Krieger, John Lim, Ron Maurer, Karen Minnis, Andy Olson, Wayne Scott, Greg Smith, Gene Whisnant, and six senators, Roger Beyer, Gary and Larry George, Jeff Kruse, Frank Morse and Bruce Starr. All are Republicans; more than two-thirds of the House Republican caucus are included and more than half of the Senate Republicans. (Where were Dennis Richardson and Donna Nelson?) This appears poised to be hashed out as a partisan matter.

This stands to be a powerfully emotional battle. There is, after all, a point here. Lawsuits which extract so much money from churches (as the recent lawsuits appear to be doing) do conflict with an element of freedom, of people being able to worship as they choose.

At the same time, churches do not exist outside of society: Why should they have legal shields other non-profit, and other charitable, organizations do not? (Of course, it is true they're not substantially taxed, either.) But we should note here that just such a shield - for nonprofits generally - is the subject of HJR 17, proposed by the same sponsors and reading similarly except for extending the limit to non-church nonprofits as well.

What then about the plaintiffs who were damaged, and the ability of society to exact a punishment for wrongdoing that will at least be painfully felt?

No definitive answers here. And the Oregon Legislature may not find anything definitive either, but the issue now has certainly been placed on the table.

Buyer’s remorse

Wallowa LakeFollowing up a string of other polls indicating similar attitudes, a new Portland-based poll of Oregonians suggests that the land use Measure 37 is exactly as unpopular today as it was when it was passed in 2004.

A Moore Information poll of 500 registered voters statewide says 61% want the effect of Measure 37 to be lessened. That's the same percentage by which the initiative passed.

Oregon legislators are at work on amendments to it, but the outcome isn't yet clear.

COUNTERPOINT For an alternative view, you might also want to check out Ted Piccolo's counterpoint on the recent Measure 37 polling. However, the BrainstormNW editorial he cites in a nearby post generally does not persuade; it argues that the pre-passage predictions of trouble ahead were overblown, while we suspect a majority of Oregonians at this point would agree the problems today are substantial indeed.

Romney pulling Idaho’s GOP

With the latest news that Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig is becoming one of the two Senate "liaisons" (Utah Senator Bob Bennett is the other) for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, you get the sense that most of Idaho's top-tier Republicans are headed into the Romney camp.

We've thought that likely for a while. Locally, Romney has been talked up more than any of the other contenders. And there's the Utah connection (through Romney's work on the Olympics several years back) and as a member of the LDS church, to which something like a third of Idahoans also belong. His personal style is probable more appealing, too, than that of his two leading competitors, John McCain (whose sometimes a "maverick," sometimes not manner may not sit well) and Rudy Giuliani (who among other things may simply be too New York for Idaho tastes).

Not that all Idaho Republicans will necessarily fall into line. We'd not be surprised if Representative Bill Sali signed on with the longshot campaign of Tom Tancredo; that association runs deep into the early part of Sali's campaign last year, if not earlier. But in the main, for now, Romney seems to have the main Idaho track.