Friday, October 30, 2009

Tolled express lanes on I-405 topic of public meetings next week

What could be more fun on a drizzly gray evening than talking about tolled express lanes?

An invitation from the Washington State Department of Transportation:
WSDOT invites residents and drivers to share their thoughts about the possibility of adding an additional lane on I-405 that, combined with the existing HOV lane, could operate as two express toll lanes...

The I-405 express toll lanes would connect with SR 167 HOT Lanes, creating a seamless “expressway within a freeway.” Carpools, vanpools and transit would be able to count on a more reliable toll-free trip, while solo drivers could choose to buy into the newly-expanded express toll lane system.

The express toll lanes would function similar to the 2008 SR 167 HOT Lanes Pilot Project now underway in south King County. Solo drivers can access the SR 167 high occupancy toll lanes for a fee, freeing up space in the general purpose lanes. In its first year, the SR 167 HOT Lanes Pilot Project increased travel speeds by 8 to 10 percent.
Tuesday, Nov. 3 at Kent-Meridian High School (10020 SE 256th St., Kent)

Thursday, Nov. 5 at Kirkland City Hall (123 5th Ave., Kirkland)

People can drop in to the meetings between 4 and 7 p.m.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rep. Jeff Morris on Boeing's 787 announcement

Rep. Jeff Morris serves on the Legislature's Aerospace Task Force. Read here for his take on Boeing's announcement to locate the second 787 assembly line in South Carolina.

His statement includes a
review of what the Legislature has done to support our aerospace industry during the past six years.

By the numbers: $10.4 million and 280,927 hours

September’s employment statistics from stimulus-funded transportation projects have just been released by Washington State Department of Transportation, and the news is good: the best month yet for Washington workers. Transportation workers logged 280,927 hours and earned $10.4 million in wages. These numbers are up 11 percent and 12 percent, respectively, over August.

Transportation officials have been working hard to make sure these projects are swiftly advertised and completed, in accordance with the goals of the stimulus funds. WSDOT reports that 59 transportation projects across the state are now complete. Another 107 projects are currently underway.

Want to learn more? Head on over to WSDOT’s stimulus newsletter, updated weekly with fresh statistics.

Tuition, technology and more at today's higher ed committee meeting

The House Higher Education Committee is meeting this morning and the agenda includes reviewing recent studies about our state's tuition structure, the higher ed system design and how we can increase use of technology.

For background, you can check out the Higher Education Coordinating Board's
draft report on tuition policy and check out our prior coverage on the issue.

Here's some information about HECB's
system design plan which will help lawmakers figure out the best investments for educating more students to higher levels. The process is already causing some (ahem) lively discussion among certain stakeholder groups.

And if you're interested in technology issues (and some legislators are
very very interested), here's a link to the Technology Transformation Taskforce site.

TVW is airing the meeting which just started.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lawmakers to discuss more flexibility for judges, more plea options for defendents

Should judges get more discretion when handing down sentences -- and should juries have another option aside from not guilty, guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity?

Lawmakers are considering both issues today when the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee meets at noon.

Giving j
udges more flexibility
One of the reasons the number of prisoners in Washington state have tripled -- despite crime dropping to historic lows -- is that laws passed in the early 1990s required judges to han
d down mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenses. Are those long mandatory sentences cost-effective? Or should we give judges more flexibility, to give shorter sentences or longer sentences, depending on the circumstances?

One example of disparity is in other states, the severity of your prison sentence for drug delivery depends upon how much illegal drug you were caught with. Two kilograms of cocaine will get you a much longer sentence than two grams of cocaine. That's not how Wa
shington state law is set up, and proponents of reform say that bigger dealers and small-timers shouldn't get the same long, one-size-fits-all sentence. Big dealers should do more time; small-timers should get less time.

Insanity defense
Here's some background on the insanity issue: Phillip Paul strangled and killed a 78-year-old woman, but he was found not guilty by reason of insanity – and instead of going to prison, he went to a mental hospital and a halfway house, where he fathered a child. While in the mental hospital, he escaped twice. The first time he escaped, Paul put a sheriff's deputy in the hospital.

Earlier this year, Paul escaped from a field trip to the Spokane County Fair and was captured 200 miles away, armed with a sharp weapon and captured by the sheriff deputy who Paul put in the hospital the last time he escaped.

Under Washington state law, a defendant may plead “not guilty by reason of insanity” by asserting that they suffer from a mental illness that either 1) caused them not to know the nature or quality of the criminal act they are accused of, or 2) they did not know right from wrong while they committed it.

When a defendant asserts this defense, the judge or jury is left with only two options; finding the defendant guilty of the crime charged, resulting in prison, or “not guilty by reason of insanity,” resulting in a hospital stay as a medical patient.

Proponents of reform say other states give juries another, smarter option for dealing with people like Phillip Paul: guilty but mentally ill. People convicted under this option aren't treated like regular inmates, nor are they treated like normal, non-criminal mental patients.

Interested in listening in on the hearing? TVW will be airing it live.

Health care town hall tonight in Ballard

As the folks in the other Washington get closer to an agreement on a federal health care bill, many questions remain about the impact of federal efforts to our state programs, particularly in the face of increasing budget challenges.

36th district legislators Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Reps. Mary Lou Dickerson and Reuven Carlyle are hosting a town hall so people can speak with Senator Karen Keiser and Rep. Eileen Cody who chair the Legislature's two health care committees.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Ballard Swedish Medical Center (5300 Tallman Ave NW), Room A on the first floor. Everyone interested in health care issues is welcome!