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Spin Control

State, feds nix each others Hanford plans

OLYMPIA — Washington rejected the U.S. Energy Department's latest plan for the cleanup of leaking tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The federal government, in turn, rejected the state's counter offer, setting up the prospect that they could be headed back to court with their long-running dispute over one of the nation's biggest nuclear cleanups. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to continue inside the blog.

WA to US: Hanford plan’s a no-go

OLYMPIA — Washington is rejecting the U.S. Energy Department's latest plan for the cleanup of leaking tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

In a letter today to the Justice Department, Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the proposal DOE made last moth to amend the 2010 plan on cleaning up the waste is too vague. The Energy Department has fallen behind on its timetable to clean up waste left over from years of production for the nation's nuclear weapons, and came up with a revision.

“Energy's proposal lacks sufficient specificity, accountability and enforceability,” Inslee said. 

The state has its own plan, which it considers more specific. If DOE rejects Washington's plan — which could happen later today — the state could go to “dispute resolution,” which involves a 40-day period of negotiations. If there's no agreement there, the state could go to federal court and ask a judge to order the department to use the state's plan.

Today’s fun video: MT candidate is quite a shot

 

This ad from Montana congressional candidate Matt Rosendale suggests two truths about American politics:

Guns are popular.

Drones are not. 

The ad also suggests that Rosendale considers himself a pretty good shot.

Elway Poll: Voters might support some tax hikes

Washington voters might be willing to approve higher taxes for some public projects, a new survey by The Elway Poll suggests.

Asked whether they would support or oppose a tax increase for seven different things local governments spend money on, a majority of the 501 voters surveyed to six of them.

75 percent would support tax increase for fire
74 percent for roads
73 percent for schools
64 percent for libraries
61 percent for parks and recreation
60 percent for public transportation.

Only 39 percent said they's support higher taxes for jails.

Elway pollsters were quick to point out that voters were differentiated between the different services, and on average only support tax increases for four of the seven. And, they said, “it's easier to tell a pollster you favor a tax increase than it is to raise your own taxes.” So local governments should be careful about loading up a ballot with a pile of tax plans.

Shea says feds making war on rural U.S.

 

YouTube video by Gavin Seim

The federal government has declared “war on rural America” with its rules and regulations on land use, a Spokane Valley legislator said in the wake of last week’s standoff between a Nevada rancher and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

In a speech on land near the center of the dispute, Republican Rep. Matt Shea called for federal land to be transferred to the states. A coalition of legislators from Western states was forming to stand up for Cliven Bundy and others in the fight against overbearing federal rules, he said.

But a spokesman for the group challenging Bundy's rights to graze hundreds of cattle on federal land without a permit or paying fees, said the rancher is trying to do something other cattlemen can't. And a federal judge's order supports that view. . . 

 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

To read the federal judge's order in the legal battle between the BLM and Cliven Bundy, click on the document below.


Documents:

Today’s fun video: Boehner opponent’s ad. Funny or over the top?

 

Some folks will say that J.D. Winteregg, House Speaker John Boehner's Republican primary opponent, is pretty clever. Others will say he went beyond the bounds of good taste.

What do you think?

Gun initiatives could load confusion into election

OLYMPIA — Whether they are more likely to support gun rights or stronger background checks, Washington voters appear to be confused about a pair of seemingly conflicting gun initiatives and could approve both of them this fall.

That's the conclusion of a new Elway Poll that asked about 500 voters their support for Initiatives 591 and 594, both of which will be on the November general election ballot.

In the survey, 72 percent said they would definitely or likely vote for I-594, which would expand background checks in Washington for gun sales beyond the current federal standards for purchases from gun dealers; 55 percent said they would definitely or likely vote for I-591, which would allow background checks to be expanded in Washington state only if it's part of a national standard.

Among those questioned, 62 percent said they thought background checks should be made more extensive, while 32 percent said they should be kept as is. But here, too, there was confusion, because half of those who favor more extensive background checks said they would vote for I-591; and half who said background checks should be kept as they are now planned to vote for I-594.

Flags going to half-staff for mudslide victims

OLYMPIA — State agencies will lower flags on or outside their buildings to half-staff Tuesday to honor victims of the Oso mudslide, and keep them lowered through next Tuesday.

Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the flag-lowering Monday afternoon for all state agencies and asked other governments, businesses and citizens to join the state. A formal ceremony on the Capitol campus is scheduled for noon Tuesday.

The March 22 slide that brought mud and debris crashing down on State Route 530 and the town of Oso left 36 confirmed dead and another seven remain listed as missing.

Rodney Tom calls it quits

Rodney Tom addresses a delegation from Spokane last January.

OLYMPIA — Rodney Tom, a Republican turned Democrat who joined with GOP members of the Senate to form a ruling coalition for the last two years, will not run for re-election this fall. 

Tom, currently the Senate majority leader, announced today he concluded over the weekend “the decision not to run is the right one for me and my family.”

He called his service as leader of the Majority Coalition Caucus “an opportunity of a lifetime for me personally”. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to continue inside the blog.

Medicaid costs need better oversight, audit says

OLYMPIA — The state needs to a better job of checking its Medicaid managed care programs for cost overruns, the state auditor's office said today.

A limited audit of the Health Care Authority's system to check doctors and other specialists in eight high-risk areas showed overpayments estimated at $17.5 million in 2010. Other tests showed billing error rates for administrative costs of 8 percent and 12 percent in samples from two of the largest organizations.  Those overpayments could have raised the costs to those managed care organizations, but they also could have cost the state more for higher premium rates in 2013 when the rates are calculated based on past costs. 

Because the audit was limited, and there were underpayments as well as overpayments within the areas examined the auditor's office couldn't say if the net result was an overpayment in the systems as a whole. “We cannot conclude that 2013 premiums paid by the state were higher or lower than they should have been,” the audit says.

The Health Care Authority needs contracts with its managed care organizations that allow the agency to monitor data thoroughly, and to recover overpayments when they are found, auditors said. It should also give the organizations clearer guidance on the data it sends to an actuary and have a more comprehensive monitoring system.

Better controls are becoming more important, auditors said, because Medicaid coverage is expanding under federal health care reforms and most of the people being added to the system will have managed care. The audit studied services that predated the Affordable Care Act.

Sunday Spin: The Pew elections rankings

To see the rankings by the Pew Charitable Trust for the state's elections performance mentioned in today's Spin Control column, click here. 

Haven't read the column yet? It's inside the blog.

McMorris Rodgers events next week

Congress is taking time next week off from its crushingly exhaustive work schedule for members to return to their districts to meet with voters and possibly cut ribbons or hunt Easter eggs.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers announced two public events for the first part of the week.

She'll have a Millennial Meetup, which is what in-the-know people would call a meeting with young adults in their 20s and 30s, on Monday afternoon at the Riverpoint Campus. Students from Gonzaga, Washington State and Eastern Washington universities, along with the Spokane Young Professionals have been invited. It will be followed by a press conference at 4 p.m.

On Monday, she'll have a “Conversation with Cathy” chat in Davenport, at 11 a.m. at the Lincoln County Courthouse.

Today’s fun video: Hillary Clinton dodges a shoe

 

Hillary Clinton comes up with some good comebacks after a shoe goes flying past her while speaking in Las Vegas. 

State could have sold computers with personal data

OLYMPIA — Some state agencies failed to wipe old computers clean of sensitive or personal data before sending them to be sold as surplus, a new state audit says. 

Random checks of computers that agencies sent to the state's surplus warehouse last summer revealed about 9 percent of them had information that was supposed be be removed before clearing them for sale. The information included Social Security numbers, medical or psychiatric histories of clients, and in one case an employee's tax return forms.

On one computer, auditors found a Post-it note that had the machine's sign-in and password, which still worked.

Auditors found flaws in the system, but no sign personal data that's protected by law was ever compromised.

State Auditor Troy Kelley said today those agencies were notified and their surplus sales of computers were frozen during the audit while procedures were changed, and there's no evidence that any private information had been compromised. He questioned whether the state should continue its practice of selling its obsolete computers.

“If we're getting very little money, and there's high risk, I think we  have to stop,” Kelley said. 

A study is being done to answer whether the risks outweigh the value of selling surplus computers, Michael Cockrill, the state's chief information officer, said.

“The state has received no reports of any data from PCs being compromised,” he said. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

 

So can you find Ukraine on the map?

A recent survey that shows most Americans can't find Ukraine on the map has been grist for the political pundit mill, as well as a funny bit from Stephen Colbert.

But given Americans' general lack of geographic knowledge, was anyone surprised? After all, we've been told for years that Johnny can't read, can't write, can't name any president that isn't on currency, doesn't know who won World War II, and a whole long list of other horribles. So Johnny grows up and we expect him to find Ukraine on a blank map? Not likely.

But forget Johnny. Can you find Ukraine on a map? 

Open the World Map One document, and point to it on your screen. Feel free to blow it up as much as you like, if that will help.

 Then open the World Map Two document, which has Ukraine in red, and see how close you came.


Documents:

Today’s fun video: Candidate who’s REALLY strong on 2nd Amendment

 

Bob Quast, running as a write-in for U.S. Senate in Iowa, makes it very clear where he stands on gun rights, term limits and law degrees.

Just wondering: How well would a Senate candidate with an ad like this do in Washington? Or in Idaho?

Obama to tour mudslide April 22

(Editor's note: This is an update of the short story that first appeared this morning on the newspaper's website. It generated more than 100 comments there, and you can join the conversation by clicking here.)

OLYMPIA — President Obama will make a stop in Washington later this month to visit parts of Snohomish County devastated by the March 22 mudslide.

Obama will visit on April 22 to get a first-hand look at the devastation and the communities’ reaction in Oso, Arlington and Darrington, the White House announced Tuesday morning. He plans to meet with families, first responders and recovery workers. . . 

To read the rest of this item, click here to continue inside the blog.

Political grades for WA and ID

OLYMPIA — It must be time for mid-terms. A pair of political watchdog groups is giving out grades for the states. Washington is passing; Idaho may be headed for summer school.

The Pew Charitable Trust released its biannual ratings on how the states handled elections. They collect so much data — 16 categories on everything from turnout to registration to the ability to look up voting information — they're almost two years behind and are releasing the report for the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Washington ranks 12th, keeping it in the top 25 percent of states for the three cycles the group has measured. Turnout was down slightly from 2008. The organization lists turnout the state's turnout for 2012 at 65 percent, which may sound low if you recall the state listed its turnout at 81.25 percent when all the ballots were counted that year.

That's because Pew and many states figure turnout differently. Washington takes the total number of registered voters, and divides it into the number of ballots cast, which is the normal elections official formula. Pew and some other academics take the total number of people who are eligible to vote, whether registered or not, and divides that bigger number into the ballots cast. About 16 percent of Washington residents who could register aren't, even though it's probably never been easier to sign up. But they're part of the turnout figure.

Idaho's turnout rate is slightly lower at 60.9 percent. (Idaho officials, use the same standard as their Washington counterparts, and they put the number at 74.3 percent.) Almost a fourth — 23 percent — of Idahoans who could register don't, even though they can walk into a polling place on Election Day, show proof of residency, get signed up and be handed a ballot. It ranks 46th overall.

Both states have relatively few mail ballots rejected. Washington got graded down a bit for having almost a third of its military and overseas ballots unreturned, about twice the rate of Idaho. The Gem State got dinged for a high rate of rejection for the military and overseas ballots that did come back.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups released their grades for openness in government, an annual exercise that looks at how easy it is for the public to find out what states are spending their money. The PIRGs look at things like whether the state puts its budgets online, what those web sites show and whether it's easy for the average person to figure out from the information provided what's actually going on.

Washington got a B, up from a B-, for some improvements in its web site, but criticism for a lack of accessible information on aerospace tax credits. Idaho got an F, for spending data that's only searchable by agency and without information on the recipients of development subsidies. California and Alaska also got Fs. You can read the whole report (it's 62 pages long) by clicking here.

Problem for county pot growers

Spokane County commissioners may have thrown a wrench into the plans of some would-be marijuana growers hoping to set up in unincorporated parts of the county.

An interim zoning ordinance approved Monday says anyone growing recreational marijuana will have to be on at least eight acres, with plenty of space between the fields or buildings and the property lines. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

 

The new Goat Standard

By spending nearly a year meeting with neighborhood groups and others to develop an urban farming plan that addressed various concerns before bringing it to a final vote, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart has created an unexpected new problem.

Any plan on almost any topic that the City Council considers from now on is likely to be criticized by opponents as “rushed” and inadequately “vetted,” with critics pointing to the sweeping community efforts taken by Stuckart to win support for allowing Spokane residents to raise small livestock in their backyards if they want.

Call it the new Goat Standard for community and stakeholder involvement.

Mayor David Condon used it to drive home his concerns that the City Council rushed its anti-sprawl measure to a final vote without adequately involving the community to identify and address any legitimate concerns. Condon, who vetoed the measure, noted that the anti-sprawl didn't get the laudably expansive efforts Stuckart took to craft the urban farming plan.

Developers also picked up on it.
 
Stuckart, for his part, already is growing weary of the tactic.
 
“Just because I set a high benchmark with urban farming, doesn't mean every ordinance is going to go through a yearlong process,” he said. “We're not going to be doing that on everything.”
 
Regardless, expect to hear various renditions of the Goat Standard in the months ahead, particularly on issues that tend to divide the officially nonpartisan council along its partisan 4-3 split.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

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