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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.

Voters in Seattle, meanwhile, approved an initiative Nov. 4 to establish a subsidized preschool program that would cover preschool tuition for up to 2,000 low-income kids through a four-year property tax hike.
In late October, the city of Seattle and King County hosted a gun violence summit of more than 75 public health and safety experts. The summit occurred just days before Washington voters overwhelming approved a referendum (Initiative 594) extending background checks to all private gun sales and transfers. UW School of Public Health faculty – including Frederick Rivara and Ali Rowhani-Rahbar – were on hand to facilitate discussion and share data. The two epidemiologists are conducting city-funded research on gun violence.
“Gun deaths are preventable and we must combine the best and sensible laws, smart law enforcement and public health to end this epidemic of violence,” Murray said after the shootings in June at Seattle Pacific University.

Constantine said gun violence could be approached as a preventable public health problem “through the kind of proven strategies that have reduced deaths from smoking, traffic crashes, and sudden infant death syndrome.” Smoking rates in the United States have dropped to an all-time low of 18 percent after widespread smoking bans in public places, higher taxes on cigarettes, and campaigns to raise awareness of the hazards of tobacco. Traffic deaths plunged after mandatory seat-belt laws, better designed highways and cars, and increased law enforcement.

Another state priority is advancing health reform in Washington, according to Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, director of the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice in the Department of Health Services. School of Public Health faculty served on a state panel to guide communities as they increase links between the health care delivery system, public health, and human services. They also helped the state develop a proposal for a multi-million dollar grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“The public health community in our region is really energized about change,” Kwan-Gett said.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

But the rule clearly gives local Forest Service officials latitude in deciding whether to allow the photography, and to base much of the decision not on whether wilderness areas would be harmed by the activity, but on whether the news report would be one that the Forest Service liked. A directive suggests a green light if the planned news report (and the news organization would have to disclose in advance what the report is intended to say) “Has a primary objective of dissemination of information about the use and enjoyment of wilderness or its ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.”

In other words, the Forest Service would insert itself into the newsroom to decide which stories get reported and which don’t.

Could amateur photographers be caught up in this too? Possibly. The rules make reference to “commercial” photography, but the definitions there too are slippery.

If anyone but the Forest Service is on the Forest Service’s side in this, they haven’t made it clear. Members of Congress from both left and right, Republicans and Democrats both, have jumped all over the Forest Service for this. News media have too of course, but you can expect an angry reaction as well from many wilderness supporters, many of whom love to take pictures when they hike the backcountry.

This rule is the most obvious and real “kick me” sign any federal agency has posted on itself in quite a while. And that’s saying something.

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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.

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One place to start in the discussion of a Seattle Times editorial about a particular tax is to point out that it doesn’t exist.

That is to say, the “death tax” – of which there isn’t one, at any event. What the paper was referring to, in an August 14 editorial, was the estate tax (which it correctly referred to in other locations). The trigger for the editorial was a story, run a few days earlier, about the last family farm located in Issaquah, and how it is being liquidated for sale to become (apparently) a subdivision.

“Twelve acres of open space farmed by a single family since 1883 will soon become a subdivision,” the paper said. “The McBride case ought to show us conventional thinking is wrong — the death tax really isn’t a whack on the wealthy.”

A pile of comments on the editorial argued that it was at best misleading. The comprehensive came comes from the blogger David Goldstein, who ran off a string of facts that effectively wiped out the editorial’s reasoning.

He pointed out that “Working family farms are entirely exempt from the Washington’s estate tax, while 99.4% of family farms pay no federal estate tax at all; the number of family farms liquidated to pay the federal estate tax is estimated near zero.” The estate at Issaquah is too small to qualify for estate taxation (the federal estate tax kicks in at $5.25 million, and the property was sold for $4.5 million), and its owner hasn’t even died yet. And, noted, Washington state’s estate tax law, which the paper described as “especially punitive,” actually “exempts the value of working farms entirely. All of it.”

The McBride family did, however, say taxes were an important reason they sold. But according to the Issaquah Press, the taxes that were becoming hard to bear were not estate but rather property taxes.
Goldstein: “So lacking an actual example of a family farm or small business being liquidated to pay off the estate tax, the Seattle Times had to cook one up.”

There hasn’t been a substantive response yet from the Times. Or even a bit of embarrassment over using the misleading “death tax” terminology. If we see one, we’ll include it in this space.

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The national news stories about Ferguson, Missouri, the heavy-duty local arms brought to bear by local law enforcement and the general militarization of law enforcement raised the question: Here in the Northwest, too?

You bet.

In our small home town of 2,000 people, this isn’t much an issue: The mode here is community policing, and it’s worked just fine over the years; our town isn’t much militarized. Our county (Yamhill, in Oregon) is among the small minority which hasn’t received military surplus gear, which is where a great deal of the arms come from.

The New York Times has mapped, by county, the recipients of such surplus gear from coast to coast, since 2006. Bearing in mind the eight-year time frame, the number do tend to look a little more modest then they first seem, so that should be borne in mind.) The overwhelming majority of counties have participated. In Washington state, all but three of the 39 counties have participated; in Oregon, all but 10 of the 36 counties do; and in Idaho, all but nine of the 44 do.

(The counties not opting in are – Washington: Ferry, Columbia and Garfield; Oregon: Yamhill, Benton, Linn, Curry, Jacons, Lake, Harney, Crook, Jefferson, Wasco; Idaho: Adams, Payette, Elmore, Boise, Camas, Cassia, Custer, Butte, Teton).

What do they get? Assault rifles – defined here as including 5.56-mm and 7.62-mm rifles, were sent to nearly all Northwest counties that received any surplus goods at all.

You might expect the most expansive armory would be the region’ by-far largest county, King, and it is: 201 night-vision pieces, 120 assault rifles, 105 body armor pieces – plus two helicopters and one mine-resistent vehicle. (One other Northwest county, Snohomish, also snagged a helicopter.)

Do they really have many road mines to worry about in King County? You might ask small, rural Lincoln County, Washington, the same thing: It also has such a vehicle. So do a number of other counties, including Snohomish, Pierce, Whatco, Yakima, Lewis, and Chelan in Washington, Clackamas, Polk and Baker in Oregon, and Canyon, Kootenai and Franklin in Idaho.

Multnomah County, home of make-love-not-war Portland, picked up 88 assault rifles (though nothing else). Lane County (Eugene) grabbed 490 night vision pieces (what’s going on there at night?), plus 76 assault rifles, 36 body armor pieces and two armored vehicles.

Even many of the smallest, most lightly populated counties, with only a few law enforcement personnel, picked up some good. Little Clark County, Idaho, with fewer than 1,000 people and light law enforcement (not a lot usually is needed there), got three assault rifles. Up on the Canadian border, Boundary County got not only five assault rifles and one body armor piece but – and you really have to wonder about this – 203 night-vision pieces.

You also have to wonder about the counties that picked up on military grenade launchers. In Oregon, Deschutes and Klamath obtained them, and so did Bannock and Blaine in Idaho.

Several questions emerge from all of this. One is, what is the cost of maintaining and securing all this? Another is, how much of it is really needed? Another: What’s the temptation to use all this fancy (and in some cases deadly) equipment that’s just, you know, lying around?

And: Is the Northwest really dangerous enough that most of it could be described as a militarized zone?

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The primary – which it still sort of is, despite its top-two functionality – in Washington often is regarded as a massive straw poll, a clear indicator of where things are headed in the November general election.

Often it provides good markers, especially when the results are strongly decisive. The incumbent members of Congress, for example, all came away with big leads in the primary. (That includes Suzan DelBene in the 1st, who many observers insisted was facing a close general election. If she is, it would mark a huge reversal from the primary.)

Closer primary results are another matter. Two of them jump out for interest come November.

One is in the 4th congressional district, where veteran incumbent Republican Doc Hastings is retiring. The issue isn’t which party will control the seat; in the strongly Republican 4th, that seems a given. But a large number of Republicans were competing for the seat, and the outcome was unclear.

This week, the field was led by Clint Didier, a former pro football player now aligned with Tea Party and NRA interests, who has run for office twice before unsuccessfully, and Dan Newhouse, a former state legislator from the area who could be considered a more centrist conservative, who led the state’s Department of Agriculture in former Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire’s administration.

The contrast between the two is almost as clear as if their party labels were different. Didier will draw from the Tea Party and cultural right (his loud support for keeping the Redskins football team name helped ensure that), and Newhouse will draw from the left, probably including most Democratic voters. Didier led in the crowded field, but Newhouse seems to have most of the early money for the general, because he has the opportunity to grab backing from more blocks of voters.

It will be a clear-cut contest. Much more clear cut than the primary was.

So, likely, will be the contest in legislative district 35, where long-time Senator Tim Sheldon appears to have come in second place.

Sheldon is in a key spot in the Washington Senate. Nominally a Democrat, he often has sided with Senate Republicans and at the beginning of this current term joined with fellow nominal Democrat Rodney Tom, and the chamber’s Republicans, to form a majority coalition dominated by Republicans, which among other things blocked large parts of new Governor Jay Inslee’s agenda (and the Democratic House’s). The contest for who will control the Senate in the next term remains closely fought.

The results not being entirely final yet, there’s a possibility in that in this close contest – he was running against Democrat Irene Bowling and Republican Travis Couture – his vote might slip to third place, and he could be shut out in the general election. For the moment, however, the situation looks like Bowling is in first place, Sheldon in second and Couture in third.

If so, a surface reading at least of the situation would suggest Sheldon survives in November. He would seem likely to pick up most of Couture’s vote, which would give him a clear advantage. But how many Sheldon Democratic voters have stuck with him in general elections past because he was faced with a Republican? Might some of Sheldon’s traditional Democrats peel off under those conditions? And if the contest is close, what might result from the difference in voting population (and it will be different) between the primary and general?

There’s enough material here to generate a bunch of speculations. The coming weeks will give Washingtonians ample time to explore them.

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Not commonly does a single public official, at least those unelected, manage to change a whole legal environment all on their own. But it can happen. A new story out of Seattle last week showed how one police officer managed to do it all on his own.
The instance came to light when the Seattle Police released its regular report, on required by city rules, on marijuana enforcement.

It said, “When reviewing data captured for this report, SPD staff discovered that 66 of 83, or approximately 80%, of marijuana tickets were issued by one officer. In some instances, the officer added notes to the tickets. Some notes requested the attention of City Attorney Peter Holmes and were addressed to ‘Petey Holmes.’ In another instance, the officer indicated he flipped a coin when contemplating which subject to cite. In another note, the officer refers to Washington’s voter-enacted changes to marijuana laws as ‘silly.’”
About half of the tickets went to people who were homeless.

The officer’s name was released by the department, after inquiries, and he was taken off the beat and reassigned.

This was an officer who didn’t get the city’s unofficial memo about marijuana enforcement. The city’s voters have passed a measure ordering that pot enforcement be, in effect, the lowest priority for police. The message has been in essence – well in advance of the statewide legalization vote – that unless violence or theft or children are involved, or someone complaints about a specific problem, that marijuana is best just left alone.

Still, the officer was following the terms of the law, a law that was on the books locally and remains on the books federally. Until it’s off the books entirely, he would have legal authority to unilaterally change the legal climate in his corner of Seattle.

Police and prosecutors have a lot of effective power. They could in theory go after many kinds of offenses; as a matter of practical reality, they pick and choose.

And as long as the law allows, some will choose in ways the community as a whole might not prefer.

That’s the case for not just expressing preferences, but for changing the law.

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TVW is one of Washington’s marvels – the closest equivalent to CSPAN the Northwest has.
CSPAN is so rigorously neutral that it could be taken for a government operation, although it – like TVW – is actually a nonprofit that simply watches government very closely, televising legislative hearings, official events, interview programs and so on.
That it isn’t actually a part of government comes up every so often, such as when it sought to stream action on the floor of Congress (there was a dustup over that). And now TVW has a dustup of a structurally related sort.
Earlier this year the Washington Legislature tried to get a handle on regulating the use of drones in Washington air space, specifically restricting their use by government agencies. Governor Jay Inslee vetoed the measure, apparently less out of broad philosophical disagreement but because he wanted an independent group, a task force, to take a run at it. In the meantime he issued an order to state agencies: No drones for now.
TVW has latched on to the subject and wanted to do a program about drone policy. That wasn’t a problem, but this was: It wanted to launch a drone and send it around the statehouse, maybe to give a sense of what they’re like and what they’re capable of. An Olympian article said that after reporter Christina Salerno, a state Department of Enterprise Services official responded, “While we can appreciate your desire to fly a quadcopter—a drone—around the Capitol Building and the campus, we are denying your request. The reasons include our concern that the use of this device for filming the campus may violate the privacy of tenants and visitors as well as posing an unnecessary public safety risk for those who may be below its flight path. Additionally, we believe this activity could unreasonably disrupt normal conduct of state business.”
For now, that can be attributed simply to wariness, and uncertainty about the implications of seemingly small current actions. But as policies get hammered out in the months and years to come, we may be seeing a lot more drones and a lot more requests that may be harder to comfortably deny. And from organizations not nearly as normally plugged in as TVW.

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