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Spin Control

Archive for April 2014

Spokane pot businesses could bank on credit union

OLYMPIA — Numerica Credit Union is the first financial institution in the state willing to accept clients whose business is recreational marijuana, the Washington Liquor Control Board was told Wednesday.

But only for Spokane area businesses, Becky Smith, the board's marijuana licensing manager, said: “They want to keep it local.”

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

State to dispensaries: Pay your taxes

OLYMPIA – The state Revenue Department is stepping up efforts to make medical marijuana dispensaries pay their taxes.

After more than two years of “educational outreach” designed teach medical marijuana businesses that they must register with the state and pay taxes, the department says in a memo this week it will go after dispensaries that continue to ignore the law.

Dispensaries owe business and occupation taxes on their gross receipts. They must also collect sales tax on marijuana and “medibles” – the edible products containing the drug – and send it in. . .

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

Stuckart to seek re-election next year

Spokane City Council Chairman Ben Stuckart is already making plans for next year's election, saying today he will seek another term in his current position.

Stuckart, currently part of a liberal/progressive/Democratic majority on the council, had been rumored as a potential candidate for mayor against incumbent David Condon, who might best be described as a conservative/business/Republican.

Technically, city elective positions are non-partisan. Mayor and council president are the only positions elected city wide. Council members are elected by district.

In a press release this morning, however, Stuckart said he wanted “to remove any doubt to  his commitment to lead an agressive legislative agenda as council president.”

To read the entire press release, or to comment, go inside the blog.

2015 critical year for school reform, panel says

OLYMPIA – The Legislature needs to pick up the pace at coming up with more money to improve the state's schools, a special committee is telling the state Supreme Court in a report due Wednesday.

Although it may not have done as much for schools in the past session as some may have wanted, a joint legislative committee said the Legislature did pass some improvements during the short session, such as increasing the number of credits needed for high school graduation in 2019, showing consensus is possible.

The real test will come next year, the panel concluded in its report. It asked the court give “deep consideration” to the improvements made so far and “recognize that 2015 is the next and most critical year for the Legislature to reach the grand agreement needed.”

That agreement could mean as much as $3.5 billion more for public schools between 2015 and 2019.

The Legislature is under a 2012 order from the court to improve schools, and essentially put money behind its past promises for education reform. Last year the court ordered the Legislature to provide it with a report by April 30 on how it will meet those goals. On Tuesday, with one day to spare, the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation adopted a 58-page report which is primarily a summary of actions taken since 2009 and a recap of education bills that did or didn’t pass in the 2014 session. It includes extensive appendices for the court that explain the state’s two-year budget process and how it pays for basic education.

Article IX is the section of the state Constitution that says it is “the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

The report offers little insight into what the Legislature might do next year. As Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, said after the meeting, the committee can’t commit a future Legislature to any particular action.

“Coming up with the plan is not within the jurisdiction of this committee,” Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said.

The question of how to pay for better schools likely will be a source of contention in 2015, as it has been for years. Magendanz said the state should cover the cost of school improvements, as its paramount duty, before spending money on anything else, and only consider tax increases for other programs if what’s left of the existing revenue isn’t enough.

“We also have taxpayers to think about,” Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, said. 

Inslee looks for ways to cut carbon emissions

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee appointed a new task force to find ways for Washington to reduce carbon emissions as part of an executive order that attempts to find ways to fight climate change.

At a speech at Shoreline Community College Tuesday, Inslee outlined goals in an executive order that calls for less carbon pollution and more clean energy sources, including a reduction in electricity generated by coal-fired power plants and increased use of electric vehicles and mass transit.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Energy Committee accused Inslee of attempting to maneuver around the Legislature to impose a new gasoline tax. Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale also questioned Inslee's commitment to an open discussion of the issues, noting the Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force’s  first meeting occurred the day the group was announced, with no advance public notice… . 

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

Coming today: Climate change, school plan

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is scheduled to announce the next steps in his plans for Washington state to fight climate change during a speech this morning at Shoreline Community College.

A joint legislative committee is scheduled to adopt the official response to the state Supreme Court on how Legislature plans to meet its constitutional mandate that educating Washington children is the state's paramount duty.

Stay tuned for details on both.

Today’s fun video: Oliver slams Oregon for Healthcare site failure

 

People with low regard for the Oregon ethos will get the most laughs out of this segment from Sunday's “Last Week Tonight” show.

Warning: It's from HBO, where they feel no need to bleep out swear words.

Sunday Spin: Initiative fights continue after elections end

OLYMPIA – For a political reporter, state initiatives have become gifts that just keep on giving.

There have always been plenty of unusual ideas for ballot measures that crop up every spring, sort of like dandelions in the political lawn, and knock-down campaign battles over the few that collect enough signatures to make the ballot.

Some measures manage to remain controversial long after voters approve or reject them. . . 

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

 

GMO labeling group faces legal action for campaign violations

OLYMPIA — The attorney general will investigate possible legal action against an Iowa group that spent nearly $300,000 on last year's food labeling initiative but didn't report its donors until after the election.

The state Public Disclosure Commission referred a case against Food Democracy Action to the attorney general's office for possible legal action after members said the PDC doesn't have the authority to issue a stiff enough fine. The commission is limited to a fine of $10,000.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson is already suing Grocery Manufacturers Association, a group opposed to the initiative, for failing to follow state campaign disclosure laws.

Food Democracy Action, described by its attorney Greg Wong as a small non-profit based in Iowa, began raising money in July to support Initiative 522, a measure that would require most processed foods in Washington that contain genetically modified foods to note that on their label. Eventually it formed a political action committee for Washington and over the next five months, it spent more than $295,000 to support I-522. 

But it didn't register with the PDC until Oct. 25, and didn't file its first lists of contributors until Nov. 22, some two weeks after the election. Its expenditure reports weren't filed until Jan. 15. It faces multiple violations of failing to meet deadlines for reporting contributions and expenditures from July through January.

The group has limited staff and no experience with Washington election laws, Wong said. The yes campaign for I-522 spent some $8 million, and Food Democracy Action's contributions were a small percentage of that, he added.

But the contributions still amount to “very large dollars,” commission attorney Linda Dalton said before commissioners voted unanimously to send the complaint to the attorney general.

District 81 official fined for campaign activity

OLYMPIA — A top official from the Spokane School District was fined $500 today for improperly using the district's resources to support ballot measures in 2009 and 2012.

Mark Anderson, the district's associate superintendent for School Support Services, agreed to a settlement with the state Public Disclosure Commission of a complaint filed by Laurie Rogers, a frequent critic of the district and self-described education advocate. Commission investigators found repeated instances in which Anderson used district e-mail, computers or other resources to urge staff to attend campaign meetings and for Anderson to attend a conference explaining how to pass levies.

Anderson agreed he had violated the state statute that prohibits public employees from using government resources for political activity. The PDC board agreed to the staff recommendation of a $1,000 fine, with half of it suspended on the condition that he have no further violations for the next four years.

 

It’s really official: Fairchild not getting first new tankers

Anyone holding out hope that the first cohort of new air-refueling tankers would be located at Fairchild Air Force Base can give it up. Pegasus won’t be landing on the West Plains any time soon.

The Air Force confirmed Wednesday the first new KC-46As will go into regular service at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. McConnell was named the Air Force’s preferred choice for the first operational KC-46A tanker unit last May, with Fairchild as its backup.

But McConnell had to get through an environmental impact study with no unexpected barriers. On Wednesday the Pentagon said it completed studies for McConnell and Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, which will be the new training base. Both passed. . . 

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

Board likely to ban pot home-delivery

OLYMPIA — Recreational marijuana purchases in Washington will be take-out but not delivery, proposed new rules say.

The Liquor Control Board, which is overseeing the establishment of the state's legal marijuana system, appears likely to ban home-delivery of the drug along with several other tweaks to laws it has been writing and rewriting since voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012. Among the revisions are clarifications to what recreational marijuana stores can and cannot do.

The law already says customers can’t consume the drug in the store or any other public place. Proposed rule changes presented to the board Wednesday and likely to be approved at a future meeting say retailers can't sell over the internet and can't deliver to customers. . ,

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

Obama in Oso: Reports from the pool

Marine One flies over the site of the March 22 mudslide taking President Obama to Oso. AP PHOTO

President Obama stopped in Washington state on his way to Asia, landing in Everett and traveling to Oso to see the devastation of last month's mudslide and talk to some of the surviving families and the people who responded to the disaster.

As is typical for a presidential visit, the White House sent out a “pool report” from a small group of journalists assigned to travel to the remote locations, to avoid having the entire press horde showing up in some place like Oso. Spin Control provides the relevant pool reports, along with some tweets from Northwest reporters, to keep you updated on the visit.

Obama leaves for Asia

5:20 pm pool report: President Obama exited Marine One with Gov. Jay Inslee and headed for Air Force One. He shook hands with the governor, gave him a brief hug, and headed up the stairs to board the plane. The senior staffers who accompanied him from Washington DC then followed. We are rolling, headed for Tokyo.— Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post.

Arlington departure

5 p.m.: Obama and others left landing field in Arlington, headed for Paine Field in Everett where Air Force One is parked. 

In Oso

4:50 p.m. Pool report: Obama spoke to fire fighters and paramedics at the Oso firehouse, standing under a handmade banner that read “Oso Strong” next to a bright red Snohomish County fire truck. The walls of the firehouse were papered with signs thanking the search and rescue volunteers, including a twenty-foot yellow banner covered with the handprints of elementary school children. 
For several members of the crowd of 75, it was the first time they'd taken a break to do anything besides eat or sleep since the disaster took place. “We've been working together for weeks, but this is the first time I feel we've really come together,” said William Quistorf, chief pilot for the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, gesturing toward the Navy aviators sitting next to him. “It feels like part of a healing process”. . . 

To read more items, a transcript of the president's speech,  or to comment, continue inside the blog: 

Today’s fun video: Stewart weighs in on AZ cattle standoff

 

The Daily Show was off during the height of the standoff between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management. Last night, Jon Stewart made up for lost time.

There are two clips on the segment, although you'll have to wait through a commercial at the start of each one.

Earth Day, from 2 perspectives

At Spin Control, we get a wide range of suggestions from e-mail, Twitter and Facebook on a wide variety of topics most days. But seldom do we get something with such a sharp dichotomy on the topic of the day, which is Earth Day.

We got word of a contest from Press the President, a group which describes itself as “a worldwide forum for unfiltered debate about U.S. issues that affect the globe.” It's sponsoring a photo contest this month for people to show how they are helping the environment this spring, and even has some helpful tips, such as eat vegetarian one day a week, bring your own cup to the coffee stand rather than using one of their paper ones, or give somebody that Christmas present you don't like rather than throwing it out, or planting a garden. (Obviously their worldwide forum includes some real intellectual heavyweights and novel thinkers.)

Press the Prez, meet Clint Didier, Republican candidate for Congress in Washington's 4th Congressional District, who tweeted his favorite thing to do for Earth Day.

Just a hunch, but we're guessing Didier's photo wouldn't win anything in the photo contest.

McMorris Rodgers makes 2014 bid official

Cathy McMorris Rodgers made her re-election campaign official Monday, announcing she’ll seek a sixth term in the House of Representatives.

The announcement is primarily a formality because the Spokane-area Republican has been raising money almost since the 2012 election ended and already has collected some $1.3 million for the upcoming campaign.

Rival Democrats have recruited Joe Pakootas, chief executive officer of the Colville Tribal business operation to run against her. David Wilson, former head of Interface College, is running as an independent.

In her announcement. . . 

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

Pot store lottery begins

OLYMPIA — The lottery for Washington's limited supply of recreational marijuana shops began today and will continue through the beginning of next month. But don't expect any snappy video shots of bouncing balls in a cage, which the state's other Lottery features.

It's called a double-blind lottery. And, like it sounds, it won't be very visual.

The Liquor Control Board has sent a list of retail license applicants who met the qualifications and filled out their forms properly to a Seattle auditing firm, which will generate random lists of applicants in each of the state's 39 counties, plus all the cities, where a certain number of stores will be allowed.

Later this week, Washington State University's Social and Economic Sciences Research Center will generate random lists of “winning” numbers for all jurisdictions that have more applications than their allotted slots. That's likely to be most of them, but a board spokesman said this afternoon they don't yet have a full breakdown on jurisdictions and applicants who met the most recent demand for information from staff. 

The auditors will match up the two lists, send the finished product to the Liquor Control Board, which expects to have the selected applicants all notified by May 1. The board will post the list online on May 2, although word of some of the applicants will likely leak out before then.

One other caveat: Just because an applicant makes the list does not guarantee a license. They'll have to pass further inspections of their planned storefront before getting the final go-ahead. If an applicant drops out or fails an inspection, the next applicant on the random list will get a shot.

Sunday Spin: How to make freebie meals very infrequent

OLYMPIA – A special panel is struggling to tell legislators how often they can break bread – and drink various beverages – with lobbyists.

State law already carries the stricture that such activities should be “infrequent.” The task for Legislative Ethics Board – a group of legislators and citizens who set rules for the conduct of senators and representatives – is deciding when does one move beyond infrequent to frequent.

Is it one dinner a month? Lunch every third Thursday? One dinner, one lunch and two coffee dates a week?

This argument may seem to fall somewhere between medieval scholars debating how many angels fit on the point of a pin and Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography as “I know it when I see it” . . . 

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

On the web: State may have something valuable for you

OLYMPIA – Odds are that you or someone you know has money waiting at the state Department of Revenue, just a few computer key strokes away.

The department’s main job is taking in money from Washington residents and businesses. But every so often, it reminds people of its efforts to send money out. It’s unclaimed property program has some $1 billion in cash, securities and other things waiting for their rightful owner to step up, fill out the proper forms and get what’s coming to him or her.

That might be a rebate check for a few bucks that never found its way to your mail box.

But it could be much, much bigger, like some $2.2 million in stocks and unclaimed dividend checks a Puget Sound resident was able to claim in the last year. Erin Lopez, the unclaimed property operations manager, said the man’s parents apparently bought the stocks when he was a child but the securities firm lost track of them when they moved and dividend checks started getting returned. Eventually everything went to the state for safe keeping under a law passed in 1956 which requires the state to hold assets forever in a person’s name. . . 

To read the rest of this item or get links to unclaimed property websites in Washington and all the states, click here to continue inside the blog.

 

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. . .

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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.

Sunday Spin2: Initiative season brings a nuke proposal

With the signing of the supplemental operating budget and some other bills Friday, lawmaking by the Legislature officially ended for 2014. But the other kind of lawmaking, by the public, is just heating up. . .

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Sunday Spin: Getting a closer look at IT spending

OLYMPIA – Tucked inside the 291-page budget Gov. Jay Inslee signed last week is a paragraph that tells state agencies to ask for money for new-fangled tech gear a better way.

It’s what’s known as a proviso, sort of a marching order from the Legislature, somewhat akin to an earmark from Congress. . . 

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Inslee signs most of ‘disappointing’ budget

OLYMPIA – The ink from his signature wasn’t even dry on the Legislature's current budget before Gov. Jay Inslee was challenging lawmakers to do more on their next one.

Inslee signed the state’s supplemental operating budget, vetoing some elements such as a section that would have ended the Life Sciences Discovery Fund.

Overall, he called it a budget with “modest adjustments” in many programs and disappointing on education.

“It does not make sufficient progress on the state’s paramount duty to schools,” he said.

Legislators are also disappointed, but more with Inslee’s characterization of their final work product that passed the Senate 48-1 and the House 85-13. Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said the spending plan, as a supplement to last year’s two-year budget that added almost $1 billion to public schools, was supposed to make modest adjustments.

But it keeps the state in the black, financially, through this fiscal period and the next, Braun said.

“There were a lot of tough decisions that had to be made,” he said… .

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Drone bill vetoed

OLYMPIA — A proposal to regulate the use of drones by law enforcement and other agencies was vetoed Friday. Gov. Jay Inslee said the bill did not do enough to protect the public's right to privacy and raised questions about public records.

In its place, Inslee said he was issuing an executive order for a moratorium for the next 15 months on purchase or use of unmanned aircraft by state agencies for anything other than emergencies, such as forest fires. He said he hoped local police chiefs and sheriffs would issue similar orders, and the Legislature would take another run at the issue next year.

The proposal had broad, bipartisan support in the Legislature, with backing of both the ACLU and the law enforcement community. Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Mike Padden, who helped shepherd the bill through the final days of the session, said he was surprised by the veto.

“We had worked with so many different groups, getting their input,” Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said.

The bill set up standards for state and local government's use of unmanned aircraft or drones, with requirements for obtaining warrants for surveillance uses by law enforcement.

In striking down the House Bill 2789, Inslee called it “one of the most complex bills we've had to analyze”  and said the emerging technology of drones create difficult issues for government. The bill had some conflicting provisions on disclosure of personal information, he added 

“I'm very concerned about the effect of this new technology on our citizens' right to to privacy,” he said.”People have a desire not to see drones parked outside their kitchen window by any public agency.”

Sections of the bill dealing with exemptions to public record laws for some information gathered by drones could create a “major carve-out” to the state's public records laws, Inslee added. 

Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, called Inslee's veto disappointing and described the bill as “well-balanced and carefully considered.” His call for a  15-month moratorium will have little impact, she said in a prepared statement, because it still allows agencies to acquire drones and “includes no rules for their use after acquisition.”

Padden said legislators worked at balancing the rights of privacy with law enforcement's needs to gather information on criminal activity.

“We thought there were some safeguards in there with the warrants,” he said. The bill required police to obtain a warrant from a judge for using drones the same why they would need a warrant for other types of surveillance.

 

Education bill raises graduation requirements

OLYMPIA – Washington high school students will need 24 credits to earn a diploma, with an extra credit of math and science, starting in 2019.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Thursday that legislators said will help give students a “meaningful diploma” increasing both the number of credits and the overall hours of class for high school students.

The State Board of Education must adopt rules for the 24-credit graduation requirements with an eye toward the students going on to college or careers and school district must provide students with classes that allows them to complete those credits.

The state must provide the schools with enough money to help cover two laboratory science classes per student.

Senate Bill 6552 was one of a half-dozen education bills from the recent session signed into law Thursday.. . 

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Pot store lottery at the end of April

OLYMPIAWashington will announce the winners of licenses for its first legal recreational marijuana stores at the beginning of May, after a complicated “double-blind” lottery is held at the end of this month.

The first legal sales aren’t likely until the beginning of July, after the lottery winners complete construction, pass final inspection and get their products from state-licensed marijuana farms. . . 

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Today’s fun video: Do bags fly free to Mars?

 

For a fake newscast April Fool's joke, it's not bad.

Inslee to Energy Dept: Time’s up on Hanford delays

OLYMPIA – Northwest residents need more than vague plans and missed deadlines for the cleanup of nuclear waste at Hanford, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday.

If the federal government doesn’t come up with a more specific plan or agree to one proposed by the state over the next two months, Washington will go back to court to try to force the U.S. Department of Energy to act. . . 

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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.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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