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Posts published in “Washington”

Eclipse the bus rider

 

Eclipse, a black Labrador Retriever, has learned how to navigate the city's mass transit system - by herself. Occasionally, she hops on a bus to get the dog park... without her owner.

First of two, or three?

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Washington

Rob McKenna, the former attorney general who narrowly lost his bid for governor in 2012 to now-incumbent Jay Inslee, has been sending out periodic missives on the foibles of Olympia, taking aim most generally (as you’d expect) at the Democrats, including his former opponent.

His email from last week was something of a cautionary note applicable to both parties, since the parties now split control of the Washington legislature. The key section goes like this:

Insiders in Olympia are already taking bets on how much extra time the Legislature will need to complete its work and pass a budget this year. With a fight over spending and new taxes looming, it’s no surprise that people are bracing for a special session, or two.
But there’s also no reason legislators can’t get the job done on time. Responding to another legislator’s joke about having bought a six-month gym membership in Olympia in expectation of special sessions, Sen. Andy Hill said this week, “If you’re saying today, ‘It’s going to take us two or three special sessions,’ I would argue you’re not negotiating in good faith, because we know what the problem is.”
He’s right. They know the problems they face and they have enough info today to start hammering out a budget compromise. We don’t need any games to see who will blink first. As citizens, we need to make it clear to our legislators that we expect them to get the public’s business done on time.

The view here long has been, and still is, that a few more days of legislative time is small price to pay if the result is better legislation and better budgeting.

If the delay is simply a factor of partisan intransigence, that’s another matter. Both parties might do well to pay attention to McKenna’s note on the subject.

Ambition in 2015

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Washington

In 2016, Governor Jay Inslee will be up for a re-election that, presumably, he will be pursuing.
In 2015, he will be presenting (well, sort of already last week presented) a budget and legislative package that would have to rank as one of the most ambitious of recent years.

The headlines on four of his press releases from last week all by themselves give some of the flavor: “Inslee proposes sustainable, responsible, fair budget to ‘reinvest in Washington’;” “Inslee announces slate of proposals to curb pollution, transition Washington to cleaner sources of energy”; “Gov. Inslee calls for comprehensive statewide transportation program,” “Inslee proposes boldest new efforts in improving full continuum of education in 2 decades.”

He does this at a time when Republicans have come back into outright control of the state Senate, and Democrats maintain only the thinnest control of the state House. The Republican response to Inslee’s push is about what you might expect: Good luck with that.”

At this point, the probable outcome is that Inslee does push through a small number of relatively uncontroversial measures, but that most of them go no further.

Facing with this kind of situation, most governors (of whichever party) faced with a similar situation might tack toward the cautious and basic. Why simply offer a batch of proposals likely to get shot down, unceremoniously, in the legislature? (And yes, that
mostly does seem to be the likely result.)

The best answer that comes immediately to mind is that Inslee is planning to campaign for re-election in 2016on a package that looks a lot like this year’s budget proposal.

While the proposal package may have trouble at the statehouse, it might not make a bad basis for a campaign message and rationale, as well as forming a platform to running against the legislature as well as whatever Republican opponent solidifies. It may sink rather quickly in the next few months, but there seems to be a good chance it will re-emerge in 2016.

Health on the civic agenda

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Washington

This is from a December 12 report on the University of Washington Health Sciences NewsBeat, drawing some interesting connections in health policy. It was written by Jeff Hodson.

Reducing obesity among children. Investing in early childhood programs. Devising strategies to reduce gun violence.

These three efforts illustrate how public health has risen to the top of the civic agenda in the Pacific Northwest. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray have all announced initiatives “putting public health at the center of their priorities,” said Howard Frumkin, dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health.

“This couldn’t be a better place as well as a better time to be thinking about public health,” Frumkin said in his October State-of-the-School address. “That creates for our School enormous opportunities to be of service and, in the process, to educate our students while advancing public health locally and across the state.”

Frumkin serves on Inslee’s Council for the Healthiest Next Generation, a public-private coalition that kicked off in September. It aims to identify successful efforts already underway in communities and find ways to expand them statewide. One example is the YMCA’s work to install water-bottle filling stations at schools, a move to reduce the amount of sugary drinks children consume.

Other goals include increasing the number of children who breastfeed for at least six months and reducing the amount of time children spend in front of TV or computer screens. “Gold standard research shows we can bend the curve of childhood obesity if we act early in the course of children’s lives and by making health a focus in the places where children spend the most time,” Inslee said.

At the county level, Constantine is planning to ask taxpayers to fund a new levy in 2015 focused on pregnancy and early childhood, school-aged kids, and their communities. He announced the “Best Starts for Kids” levy during his annual budget address in late September. “What happens in early childhood and adolescence shapes health and well-being throughout one’s life,” he wrote to King County Council Chair Larry Phillips.

Details are yet to be announced, but School of Public Health faculty and students in the new domestic Strategic Analysis and Research Training (START) program are working on the county’s levy efforts. Constantine says early childhood programs show returns ranging from $3 to $17 for every dollar invested. That could reduce later costs for diabetes and other chronic diseases, mental illness, child abuse and neglect, and violence and injuries. (more…)

A need for a new job metric

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Washington

The unemployment stats in Washington and Oregon are a study in popular confidence as measured against the realistic basis for that confidence.

In Washington, for example, the state unemployment rate rose (in the stats released this week) to 6.0%, even though about 5,600 jobs were added to the job market – and filled.

No one was in error here; you just have to know what the unemployment stats reflect. As an article in this issue notes, Washington “State labor economist Paul Turek said the increase in the unemployment rate is not necessarily bad news because it is directly related to an increase in the state’s labor force, which rose by 12,200 in October.

And he said: “These numbers demonstrate increased confidence by job seekers entering or re-entering the marketplace. Job growth continues to gain momentum—with the state adding roughly 7,000 jobs a month—but for this month, the increase in the number of new job seekers entering into the labor market’s civilian workforce was greater than the number of new jobs added. That explains the increase in the unemployment rate.”

That was even more dramatically true in Oregon, which added even more jobs – 9,900 – than twice-as-big Washington state. Oregon’s was in fact the largest one-month addition of jobs in 20 years. But its unemployment rate stubbornly stayed put at 7.0%, which sounds worse than it is. It did that because workers have been pouring back into the work force (and, probably, a number of workers have been arriving from out of state as well).

For decades, we’ve focused hard on the unemployment rates (and note them here regularly). But have we reached a point where the more logical measure is of the balance between jobs opening up and those closing? Maybe something measuring, over the haul, the growth/retraction in jobs compared with the overall working-age population?

Certainly, we need some better metrics. The old ones just aren’t as useful as they once were.

Candidates and ballot measure

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Washington

Across the nation, election night 2014 was hailed (or decried, depending on perspective) as a Republican romp, and a few watchers called it a conservative triumph.

The first part was unquestionably true: With few exceptions (such as to Washington's south in Oregon and California) Republicans did extremely well nationwide, and while their gains in Washington were not enormous in size, they were significant.

Translating that to gains for conservatism is a more problematic matter. Most of the winning Republicans, in Washington and in many other places, did not campaign on down-the-line conservatism. Perhaps clearer however was the matter of the ballot issues.

A string of minimum-wage issues passed, severa in red states, around the country. Oregon and Alaska (and Washington, D.C.) passed legal pot measures mirroring Washington and Colorado from two years ago.

And in Washington . . . Voters turned their backs on the Measure 591, which would “prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.” It lost decisively.

Instead, the same cadre of voters which boosted Republican totals backed a measure specifically calling for more extensive background checks for gun sales.

The voters also narrowly – and apparently, since a recount may happen – passed a measure restricting school classroom sizes, a measure with little financial backup, so little that even Democratic Governor Jay Inslee said he voted against it.

So on two distinct issues the voters – the same voters helping out Republicans – went to the left of where most Democratic elected officials were willing to go.
Ponder that for a bit as you plot out the opening moves of election cycle 2016.

They’re not all alike

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Washington

The tragedy of this latest school shooting, Friday morning at the Marysville-Pilchuk school, is as they all have been, a sad and appalling loss of human lives, and especially of human lives with so much potential ahead.

And yet one different kind of lesson seems to come out of this new shooting, and it is this: Don't lump them all together and imagine that all, together, stand explained.

We've had enough school shootings that a standard profile has developed. An outsider kid, a trenchcoat-wrapped loner with few friends at school and a fascination with guns and other weaponry, coupled with a super-heroic (or anti-heroic) complex, roars into the school like a would-be Terminator and opens fire with his automatic (or semi-automatic) weapon on whoever happens to be around, killing and wounding as many as possible. The mass murder is the point; the identity of the victims doesn't matter.

Little of that explains this case. The student here, according to numerous reports (including those from families of the victims), was Jaylen Fryberg, a freshman football player, voted class “prince,” sometimes a class comic, and popular with both other students and adults. He was pegged by adults as a prospective community leader.

His weapon was not an automatic or even a rifle, but apparently a small handgun. He did not fire randomly, and he did not fire at anyone in authority. Walking into the school cafeteria, he took aim at specific people, people he knew – the two boys he shot were cousins of his – ad his motive may have been very specifically personal – one of the girls shot had apparently angered him for declining to go on a date.
None of this lessens the tragedy or the loss, or the shock in the community.

But there is this: It seems a little closer than some of the other shootings to being at least somehow explicable, a little less random.

And maybe too there's this: Let's not assume that all these shootings are all the same. They are all distinctive and consequently none have been entiurely predictable.
Maybe that's just a little more true in this case.

Detente

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Washington

Would be interesting to know who was the cool head who came up with the idea of ending the impending war between the University of Washington and Washington State University over medical education, and developing a powerful alliance of the two instead.

Whoever it was, it was a smart move.

UW has a highly-regarded and large-scale medical school operation, featuring both doctor training and medical research, to protect: A unique position in the region they would not want to lose. But there's also a doctor shortage in the region, and a growing Washington State University (and its board leadership) was seeing no good reason not to step into the gap. The opportunities for conflict between the two institutions were obvious.

But that was a loser's game; both sides were better positioned to block the other than to advance its own agenda. Just that was most likely going to happen in 2015.

Now, with an agreement signed by the presidents of the two institutions, they can and will go to the legislature with a comprehensive plan to increase medical education in the state, with WSU providing a major component of that. The two institutions will parcel out the pieces of the program, as (for example) UW increases its presence in Spokane with help from WSU. Their efforts may even be less costly this way.
The lobbying clout of the two together may be enough to push their plans through the legislature.

The need is clear. The nation is facing a doctor shortage, and it may be especially serious in areas away from major metros, like eastern Washington and Idaho state (which has no medical school and relies on its agreements with Washington to supply a number of its new physicians).

This agreement may be the first step in the Northwest's role in meeting that need.

Rules gone wild

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Oregon

Federal agencies heavily involved in regulation and rule making aggravate enough people in the normal and proper course of their work that the last thing they need is to go out of their way, in an incompetent fashion at that, to aggravate even more.

Meet the U.S. Forest Service, and its rules on photography in wilderness areas.

The Forest Services regulates wilderness areas around the country – many of them in the Northwest – and are supposed to do that with the purpose of wilderness in mind: Preservation of lands in a natural state, where people can visit but not stay and not leave behind traces of their visits. That means no human goods left behind, and no damage done to the areas.

The USFS has managed this job in many ways, some sound and some questionable. But restricting photography – the taking of still or video pictures with the use of hand-held camera equipment – in those areas wouldn't realistically occur to most people as damaging to the wild character of wilderness.

Last week reports – based mainly in the Northwest but spread rapidly around the country – noted that an obscure forest rule required permits for photography in wilderness areas. Well, some photography. Under some conditions. The gray area here is vast. The weirdly vague rule is up for possible permanent adoption later this year.

An initial Forest Service email described it this way: "All organizations ... including private citizens planning to use produced material to raise funds, sell a product, or otherwise realize compensation in any form (including salary during the production) are subject to review."

Including vacationers, and news reporters, apparently.
After the media explosion, Service Chief Tom Tidwell replied, “To be clear, provisions in the draft directive do not apply to news gathering or activities. . . . Generally, professional and amateur photographers will not need a permit unless they use models, actors or props."

Except that, in Idaho and Oregon at least, it turns out that news organizations (notably public television stations) have been either stopped from filming in wilderness areas or threatened with penalties if they did.

Salem Statesman Journal reporter Zach Urness, writing this weekend, noted that interpretations of the rule seemed to vary widely among Forest Service officials at various local and national levels. It does seem to open photography in the case of “breaking news,” though the definition attached to that term is also vaporous and open to abuse. (more…)

East and west

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Washington

The top Washington news story in the early part of last week was the growing (emerging) battle between the University of Washington and Washington State University over WSU’s proposal to establish its own medical school. And it did seem to be settling into a battle.

The idea has an extravagant ring to it but the bigger-picture justification could be there.
UW’s well-regarded school is hemmed in for growth, limited in its expansion options at a time when projections suggest a need for greater numbers of physicians around the Northwest. The niche would be a med school aimed more strictly at training physicians, leaving most of the advanced research (for which UW is well known) at Seattle. The training element need is becoming clearer with time.

Idaho State University leaders have discussed the idea of a med school there, and although that project may be a heavy lift for the smaller institution and state, it reflects real needs and pressures.

The WSU project may have enough force to carry it at least to early stages of development.

Maybe in part because WSU has developed some broad statewide reach – much broader than UW. In addition to its very substantial mother ship campus at Pullman, it has a large operation at the Tri-Cities, and more operations at Spokane, Vancouver and Everett – really, just about all of the corners of the state except for west off the Puget Sound.

The University of Washington, by contrast, has – despite its overall larger size and very large central campus at Seattle – major outposts only at Tacoma and Bothell, just a few miles away. Its reach is more within a metro area, than it is statewide.

That may not seem to have much to do with whether WSU gets a med school, but it could in terms of generating statewide support for the proposition.

Then, link it – coordinate it – closely with the major UW school (which of course no one would want to see diminished), and the whole could become larger than the pieces.

This doesn't have to be a battle. Shouldn't be.