July 3, 2008 in Voices

Not too late for teens to get a job

Richard Roesler The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – OK, so your kid put off trying to find a summer job, and now it looks like it’s too late.

Take heart, says the state Employment Security Department, which says its “Worksource” offices can help. More and more teens, the agency says, simply aren’t looking for work.

“We have a lot of online job postings that would be suitable for teens and other entry-level workers,” department commissioner Karen Lee said in a press release last week.

The offices also help people – teens or not – write a resume and prepare for job interviews. To look at job listings or find a local office, go to www.go2worksource.com.

It’s true that summer jobs are harder to find, according to employment data. Department economist Scott Bailey said teens tend to work in restaurants, retail stores, farming and construction, all of which have seen declines in jobs recently. One teen-heavy sector that hasn’t shrunk, he said, is the hospitality industry.

Most teens who work have the job year-round, he said. But he said that both nationwide and in Washington, there’s a strong trend “toward teens not working at all.”

New TVW host

Now that veteran Associated Press reporter Dave Ammons has gone to the dark side – i.e. taken a job as a state-paid spokesman – he’s also gone from his role as the longtime host of “Inside Olympia,” a weekly interview show on the TVW public-affairs network. (In Spokane, it’s Comcast channel 25.)

In Ammons’ place: Austin Jenkins, a public radio Capitol correspondent whose mild-mannered delivery camouflages a knack for asking probing questions.

The interview-style show isn’t likely to replace prime time. But it’s a rare long-form look at the minds, motivations and goals of elected officials, from obscure agencies to the governor and top lawmakers. It typically airs Thursday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

State to pay to help low-income people quit smoking

Starting this week, Washington smokers covered by Medicaid can get more help quitting, including things like nicotine-replacement patches or gum.

Although smoking rates have declined sharply, the percentage of smokers remains high among low-income people, according to the state Department of Social and Health Service.

“The new benefit will make a real difference in the lives of people who can least afford to get help quitting smoking,” state Health Secretary Mary Selecky, a Colville native, said when the change was announced last week.

The smoking rate in Washington has dropped 24 percent since 2000, when the state launched a tobacco-prevention program and began ramping up tobacco taxes. That works out to about 235,000 fewer smokers in Washington.

And since smokers tend to have more health problems – and the state is a health provider for thousands of primarily low-income people – fewer smokers tend to mean lower costs to taxpayers. (The federal Centers for Disease Control estimate that an average of 14 percent of Medicaid costs are related to smoking.) The smoking decline in just the past eight years, DSHS estimates, will mean $2.1 billion in future health-cost savings.

Even for those not on Medicaid, Washington provides a free “Tobacco Quit Line” – 1-800-QUIT-NOW or I-800-2NO-FUME in Spanish – for information, advice and “quit kits.” Since 2000, DSHS says, more than 100,000 people have called.

Cell phone poll: Make it tougher

As Washington’s cell-phone ban takes effect this week, an insurance company said its poll indicates that Washingtonians want a tougher ban. But not, it seems, for themselves.

Seattle-based PEMCO Insurance says that 60 percent of the people it polled think that gabbing on a cell phone while piloting a car down the street should, by itself, be enough to get a person pulled over and cited.

The new law takes a softer approach. Talking or texting is banned unless you’re not using your hands, but it’s a “secondary offense,” meaning police can only pull you over if you’re also breaking some other law. This is how the mandatory seatbelt law started out, before the tougher “click it or ticket” law.

Nearly three quarters of the people polled, PEMCO said, think the Jan. 1, 2008, ban on text-messaging-while-driving should become a primary offense.

But here’s the rub: The same poll indicates that the same people calling for tougher cell-phone laws are the same ones who say they’re using theirs more on the road.

“Despite these increases, drivers maintain that their biggest safety concern while driving relates to cell phone usage,” the company said.

Pierce County launches ‘instant runoff voting’

The state’s new Aug. 19 Top Two primary isn’t the only big change in elections under way. In November, voters in Pierce County will elect county officials with so-called “Ranked Choice Voting,” a complex system that advocates say will iron out some of the major drawbacks in how people are elected. State election officials certified the county’s voting equipment for the new system last month.

Under the system, also known as instant runoff voting, Pierce County voters list their top three choices for each office, from favorite to least. The results will be tallied, with the lowest vote-getters subtracted, until some candidate gets a majority of votes.

Proponents say the system guarantees broad support for whoever wins and also allows people to support minor candidates without feeling that they’re throwing their vote away.

Pierce County is so far the only county that votes this way.

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