Friday, March 26, 2010

A needed prescription against frightening drug-abuse nightmares

Staggering. That’s the best and really the only way to describe the brutal data laid out in a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In 2008, says the report, well over four and a half million people used a variety of prescription medicines nonmedically for the first time. Our state of Washington is in fact a national leader in death by opioid.

Rep. Jim Moeller led the legislative response this year to that disquieting report. Moeller and others have worked toward defusing the explosion of opiate addictions. It’s an explosion manifested in the fact that across Washington and the rest of the nation opiate abuse rivals highway crashes in terms of the terrible death toll. The Evergreen State is near the top in two awful rankings: prescription-drug abuse and opiate deaths.

The Vancouver Democrat said his legislation recognizes that “this public-health emergency is mounting in the Pacific Northwest, very much including my own region in southwestern Washington.” Moeller’s House Bill 2876 requires health-care boards and commissions to adopt rules regarding pain management, including the prescribing of opioids. The measure passed the House, 96-1, and the Senate, 36-12, and it’s been signed by the governor.

An addictions counselor for more than 25 years, Moeller noted in his remarks supporting the bill that he’s seen a striking upswing in opiate addictions. Indeed, a regional crackdown on the illegal distribution of pain medications includes the investigation of a Vancouver clinic. This past December, an Oregon high-school student died after smoking an oxycodone pill that was prescribed by the clinic. “Although fewer and fewer people are using illegal, fundamentally bad stuff such as meth, heroin and cocaine,” Moeller said, “more and more folks are abusing ostensibly legal medications such as oxycodone and oxycontin.”

You don’t have to be a physician to prescribe these controlled substances in Washington; nurse practitioners and physician assistants can prescribe them, too. Moeller said that while people who live with chronic pain are often under-served, they also – paradoxically – are all-too-often the victims of the over-prescription of opiates. “There aren’t enough medical professionals who possess pain-management training. We should re-emphasize high-quality, up-to-date care for these folks living in pain – and a big part of that re-emphasis is focusing squarely on appropriate patient care,” Moeller pointed out.

Forestry-jobs measure all set for gubernatorial love

Yes, there’s still plenty of heavy lifting to do in the 2010 Legislature. There’s cumbersome iron to pump in these parts, for sure. The worldwide financial, uh, poop took years to really hit the fan, after all.

But at least one big economic-development task is about to be wiped clean from the must-do chalkboard. A key timber bill prime-sponsored by Rep. Dean Takko navigated the state-capital obstacle course sans a single opposing vote. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously passed Takko’s House Bill 2541 in this year’s regular session – and the governor is poised to sign it. Takko pointed out that his prime-sponsored legislation directs the state Department of Natural Resources to write landowner-conservation plans that support forest landowners. These proposals must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2011.

The bill will provide the kind of conservation incentives needed for defending timber jobs, public resources, and private, working forestland. Takko said the prime directive of the legislation is to fashion a collaborative approach that balances job-protection with protection for the environment.

“Our state has lost 16 pulp mills just in the past five years,” said the Longview Democrat, who represents southwestern Washington’s 19th Legislative District. “We’ve seen thousands of workers thrown out of a job. We need to help private foresters maintain land and continue to move wood products. This bill looks both to keep the timber industry economically viable and to explore opportunities for protecting the environment.”

Rep. Lynn Kessler, who joined Takko in co-sponsoring the bill, observed that many rural communities rely upon a healthy forest-products industry. Timber dollars support small businesses; they support local schools,” Kessler said. “When the industry is stable, these communities thrive.”

Mark Doumit, Executive Director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, said that “we greatly appreciate Representative Takko’s leadership on this legislation. He and other legislators recognize that in order for working forests to continue to protect our environment and provide tens of thousands of jobs in our state, we need to focus on ways to make owning forestland economically viable. The alternative is conversion and permanent loss of those lands.”

The forest-products industry is Washington's second largest manufacturing sector, providing nearly 45,000 direct jobs and almost 100,000 indirect jobs. The Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers also supported the bill in committee testimony.

Takko’s bill recognizes the importance of emerging ecosystem services markets and places emphasis on accessing capital to finance ecosystem services. The legislation also requires the Department of Natural Resources to develop a report on conservation incentives to protect, restore and maintain the ecological values that the public enjoys. We’re talking specifically about recreation, clean water, renewable energy, carbon storage and habitat for fish and wildlife.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Nothing to see here

You already know the Legislature is in a bit of a holding pattern right now. Your HDC bloggers would love to provide some juicy insight into what's happening, but really, we're awaiting news of a final revenue package agreement just like you are.

Our majority whip, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, sends a daily note to legislators and staff with the latest news which, as of yesterday's update, has been merely that negotiations continue and only pro forma session is planned (meaning no floor action and no need for members to be here).

So, in the absence of anything newsworthy to report, here's a short roundup of what local pundits, news folks and our House Majority Leader have to say about ongoing budget negotiations.

Everett Herald: Gregoire threatens broad cuts if Legislature can't agree
Olympia Newswire: Blame the Sales Tax
Publicola: Senate requesting special conference
House Majority Lynn Kessler on TVW: "We don't have enough votes for a sales tax"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Governor signs website transparency bill

Ever want to look up basic information about your legislator?

It's tough to do when your legislator's website is down for seven months , which is currently what happens every other year to House members.

Starting this summer, however, constituents will have full year-round access to information related to their legislators’ work thanks to HB 1761. Authored by Rep. Bob Hasegawa, the measure keeps official legislative websites up and running without alteration throughout the year, regardless of pending elections.

Since, rightfully, legislators may not use public resources to assist their campaigns, when the internet took off and state lawmakers began maintaining web pages, the Legislative Ethics Board ruled that those websites had to be stripped of all but very basic information during campaign season, which is every other year for House members and every four years for the Senate. This meant all material prepared by staff for legislators in the course of their duties, including legislative press releases and newsletters, had to be removed from the websites, leaving only contact information and bill sponsorship.

“In previous election years I’ve had people coming up to me or calling my office asking why there was nothing on my website, going as far as saying that we must be trying to hide something,” said Hasegawa. “This bill is about government transparency. Constituents deserve to know what we’ve been doing for the past two years.”

Untangling the mess of derelict gear

The smell or sight of a harmful spill in Puget Sound is easy to notice. But some environmental damage is less obvious, hiding underneath the water’s surface.

Derelict fishing gear and crab pots needlessly trap marine life and litter the waterways each year. An estimated 12,000 crab pots are left behind annually by fishers.

A new proposal spearheaded by Rep. Christine Rolfes is aimed at untangling this mess. Gov. Gregoire is set to approve Rolfes’ bill today.

“This is one piece of the huge effort needed to truly clean up Puget Sound,” said Rolfes. “We need to instill a better sense of accountability and responsibility so that this gear doesn’t get left behind in the first place.”

The bill puts in place greater cleanup and enforcement mechanisms, while charging the Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop recommendations on how to comprehensively address this issue. More information about Rolfes’ bill here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cody's child immunization bill signed into law

Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a new law -- House Bill 2551 -- by Rep. Eileen Cody that will save money and kids. The law protects a child immunization program that made cheap vaccines available statewide.

A non-profit group will take over the program, saving taxpayers more than $25 million while safeguarding the health of our children. For a few dollars per shot, vaccinations can protect children against diseases like polio that used to cripple and kill millions each year.

Rep. Santos selected for national financial literacy award

Since 2002, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) has given out the Desjardins Award for Youth Financial Education to one state lawmaker each year. The award honors leadership in helping youth become more financially literate, and past winners have included Illinois Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins and California Assembly Member Ted Lieu. This year, the 2009 Desjardins Award was presented to our very own Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos who was honored by CUNA at a special dinner on March 18.

Rep. Santos has long championed youth financial literacy, believing that learning basic banking and personal finance at a young age leads to better, more responsible choices in life and helps people steer clear of financial scams and predatory lenders.

In 2003, Rep. Santos introduced a bill to require that financial literacy be taught in public schools alongside the 3 R’s; however, the bill did not make it through the Legislature that year.

She persisted with her efforts, all along educating her legislative colleagues about the importance of financial education for kids. In 2006, a $50,000 appropriation was made by the Legislature to help fund the Financial Literacy Public Private Partnership (FLPPP), which brought together people from the public and private sector to draw up a financial education curriculum and help train teachers to teach kids about money.

As the economy began to show signs of downturn, Rep. Santos’ message took on new urgency and people began to take notice. In fact, that year the House passed legislation to expand the role of the FLPPP, which has since become the Financial Education Public Private Partnership (FEPPP), and is chaired by Rep. Santos.

The efforts of the FEPPP will continue, Rep. Santos vows. The work has only begun.

“A 2008 survey by the National JumpStart Coalition found that financial literacy among high school students has fallen to its lowest level ever,” she said. “These students are on the verge of making major financial decisions that will affect their ability to borrow money, balance a checkbook, and purchase a home. Without solid financial education skills, they cannot make informed choices.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cross-post: Reuven Carlyle on goverment reform

On his blog this weekend, Rep. Reuven Carlyle discussed how legislators are embracing certain government reforms in the face of financial crisis. He also shares his hopes that legislators act even more ambitiously for meaningful systemic transformation.


Legislature approves major jobs bill

The Senate today approved Rep. Tina Orwall's Washington Works Housing Act of 2010, legislation estimated to create about 5,500 jobs over the next several years.

Orwall authored the measure to make it easier for workers to find housing near their workplaces at affordable prices. The bill helps provide access to federal housing resources for non-profit and public agency housing developers and dedicates $1 billion of the Housing Finance Commission’s outstanding debt to implement the new Washington Works Housing Program.

We're getting closer

We were too brain-weary by Saturday afternoon to post details of the House revenue proposal so we apologize for the delay. But as you've probably heard, the House and Senate this weekend both passed updated revenue packages and are getting closer to an agreement.

The House actually voted to approve a compromise package offered by Governor Gregoire. Much of the package looks similar to the earlier package passed by the House. Differences include keeping the sales tax exemption for elective cosmetic surgery, a slightly higher increase on the temporary B&O tax for certain professional services, and removal of the candy and gum sales tax provision.

The Senate's newest proposal still includes a sales tax increase, though they scaled back the increase from 3/5 to 1/5 of a cent.

So for now, everyone agrees that $800 million is the target, and everyone agrees on 13 of the 17 pieces of the package. A certain House leader predicts agreement on the revenue package and budget will happen by mid-week. We'll see!