What’s news in the Northwest today:
SEATTLE — Census figures show the number of same-sex households in Washington increased 53 percent in the past decade. An analysis by the Seattle Times shows that about 6,500 of the more than 24,000 same-sex households reported in 2010 are in Seattle. More than 5 percent of the couples in the city are homosexual. The number of female same-sex couples in Washington outnumbers the number of male same-sex couples by about 2,000 — 13,000 to 11,000. The paper also reports that 20 percent of the same-sex couples statewide are raising children.
Workers digging up some of Hanford’s worse waste
RICHLAND — Cleanup workers have started digging up some of the most hazardous radioactive waste that was buried at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation when it was helping make nuclear bombs. The Tri-City Herald reports work is under way at the 6-acre site known as the 618-10 Burial Ground, six miles north of Richland. The project was accelerated by $57 million in federal stimulus money. Washington Closure Hanford says it expects to find as many as 2,000 drums containing everything from mildly contaminated clothing to highly radioactive equipment and liquids. The burial ground was used from 1954 to 1963. The department faces a legal deadline to have the burial ground cleaned up by 2018.
Former GOP candidate pleads guilty to contempt
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell has wrapped up his jury tampering case by agreeing to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve nine months of probation. In a deal reached with the Bonneville County prosecutor, Rammell pleaded guilty Wednesday in Idaho Falls to criminal contempt, a misdemeanor. In return, prosecutors dropped a felony filed after Rammell was arrested for passing out fliers to potential jurors in his poaching case. Rammell believes his actions were innocent and that efforts to inform jurors are within his rights. But he says that’s a battle better fought another day. Last month, a jury convicted Rammell of unlawful possession of wildlife for killing an elk last November without a proper hunting tag. Rammell is appealing that conviction on grounds he didn’t get a fair trial.
Gay couple rights suit headed to high court
HELENA — The American Civil Liberties Union filed is asking the Montana Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s rejection of a lawsuit that sought to extend to gay couples the same legal protections as married couples. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the gay couples, arguing that the guarantees in the Montana Constitution of equal protection, privacy and dignity should require the state to afford the legal rights to the gay couples. A District Court judge earlier this year rejected the claim. The judge cited the state’s voter-approved constitutional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman as part of the reason. The attorney general’s office has argued the issue should be left to the Legislature, not the courts.
Moody’s affirms ratings for UW, Seattle, Bellevue
OLYMPIA — The University of Washington and the city of Seattle are no longer facing the threat of a credit ratings downgrade. Moody’s Investors Services said today that it was reaffirming the ratings because the federal government raised the debt ceiling and avoided a U.S. default. The agency had previously placed five states and more than 300 other public finance issuers on notice for possible downgrade, including Seattle, Bellevue, King County and school districts in King County. The agency says each entity will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis in the coming weeks. A credit downgrade would increase future borrowing costs.
Seattle Muslim man sues employer for beard firing
SEATTLE — A Seattle-area Muslim is suing his former employer, claiming he was fired as a security guard for refusing to shave his beard, which he wears for religious reasons. Abdulkadir Omar filed his federal lawsuit July 15 in California. He plans to speak publicly about it today along with representatives from the Seattle chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations. Omar says that in November 2009, a supervisor at American Patriot Security told him he had to shave his beard. Omar responded that his beard is part of his religious beliefs and refused. He was suspended the following spring. Omar filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found that Omar was wrongfully terminated. A representative from American Patriot Security declined to answer a media call.
3 die in when semi hits car, Jeep near Billings
BILLINGS — The Montana Highway Patrol says a semi tractor-trailer crossed the centerline of U.S. Highway 87 north of Billings leading to a fiery three-vehicle crash that killed three people and injured two others. The patrol says the semi was southbound pulling an empty tanker at about 8 p.m. Wednesday when it swerved into the oncoming lane and hit a car, killing the car’s driver. A woman and baby also in the car were taken to Billings hospitals and the infant was later flown to Denver. A Jeep Wrangler traveling behind the car couldn’t avoid a collision and caught fire, killing two men in their early 20s. The patrol says the Wyoming man driving the semi was distracted at the time of the crash. He was not injured. The victims’ names haven’t been released.
Thief who took 7 bikes has change of heart
BOISE — Someone who took seven bicycles from a relief agency that helps refugees from war-torn counties make new starts in Boise apparently had a change of heart. KBOI-TV reports that someone returned three of the bicycles to World Relief Boise with a handwritten note that said: “Sorry. Didn’t mean to steal from you guys.” World Relief director Larry Jones said the donated bicycles were stolen over the weekend. The brief note didn’t say what happened to the other four bikes, which were to be given to refugees so they could get around the city. In the meantime, officials at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Ore., saw the news report about the stolen bikes and brought 10 bicycles from the prison’s bike repair program to World Relief on Wednesday.
Ground broken for Horse Heaven Hills observatory
KENNEWICK — The Rattlesnake Mountain Observatory is moving away from the Tri-Cities and Hanford Nuclear Reservation to a new home among the wheat fields in Horse Heaven Hills. The Tri-City Herald reports ground was broken Wednesday for the Pacific Northwest Regional Observatory. It should reopen in 2012, welcoming students and community visitors. The nonprofit Alliance for the Advancement of Science Through Astronomy had been looking for a new home for the observatory since the Department of Energy ordered it taken down in 2008 from Rattlesnake Mountain. The new home for the telescope is the Braden Farm, owned by Whitman College in Walla Walla.
Southern Idaho police warn about counterfeit bills
TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Police in Twin Falls say there’s been a rash of counterfeit cash being passed in the region. The department said in a prepared statement that they’ve recovered about $400 in counterfeit money from various businesses since July 21. The bills range in denomination from $10 to $100. Police say that so far they’ve arrested one suspect in connection with the case and more arrests are pending. They’ve also confiscated several items that investigators believe were being used to create the phony money, including computers, printers, copiers and more than $1,400 in uncirculated and destroyed counterfeit bills. Police said people should try to check the authenticity of the cash they receive and those who think they may have received a counterfeit bill may call local law enforcement agencies.
Astoria woman’s fatal fall labeled ‘suspicious’
ASTORIA, Ore. — An Astoria woman’s fall from a balcony will be investigated as a suspicious death. The Daily Astorian reports 49-year-old Janice Crowley fell to her death early Wednesday morning. Crowley’s fall was reported by her husband. A search warrant was issued for the couple’s home. Crowley had a history of run-ins with the local police over mental-health issues.