Friday, January 13, 2012

2012 STEM schools to receive cash grants

Rep. Tina Orwall
Last April we reported that employers in our state are looking for professionals in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (known as STEM fields), and we cited some of the steps taken in recent years to increase advanced degree production in Washington state.

One of those steps was the Enhanced STEM instruction measure (HB 2621) sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, which passed the Legislature unanimously in 2010.

That law required the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to designate a number of schools to serve as “lighthouses” that offer technical assistance and advice to school districts and communities regarding best practices in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics instruction. STEM schools are effective in helping a wide range of students excel in math and sciences in preparation for college, as well as providing them with the skills to compete for high-tech job opportunities. 

An OSPI release earlier this week announced that this year five schools and an entire district will be serving as lighthouse or STEM schools:
  • Eastmont Junior High School (Eastmont School District)
  • Secondary Academy for Success (Northshore)
  • Science and Math Institute (Tacoma)
  • Stewart Middle School (Tacoma)
  • Toppenish High School (Toppenish)
  • Odessa School District

Each of the five schools and one district will receive $20,000 grants to promote and develop STEM education, including technical assistance and advice for other middle schools and high schools that are creating their own STEM environments, in compliance with HB 2621.

Orwall said that she applauds “the great work being done throughout our state to prepare students for careers in STEM fields, which are essential to strengthen our workforce.”

Two schools and one district were awarded Lighthouse grants in 2011; you can read about it here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Get paid for helping injured workers keep their jobs

Good things come to those who keep injured workers on the job under the new Stay at Work program launched this week.

If you’re an employer and you keep injured workers doing safe, light-duties until they fully recover and can go back to their regular activities, you may be entitled to a partial reimbursement from the state Department of Labor & Industries.

The Stay at Work program was part of the Workers’ Compensation System legislation sponsored by Rep. Tami Green and passed by the Legislature last year.

“This is a win-win for both workers and employers,” said Green. “Workers recover more quickly and are less affected by lost wages. Employers save on worker’s comp premiums and the expense of hiring someone to backfill the injured worker.”

In addition to the Stay at Work program, these other reforms in the Workers’ Comp package aimed at reducing costs for employers and improving workers’ health will be launched by L&I this year: a Workers’ Compensation Provider Network, expansion of the successful Centers for Occupational Health and Education (COHE), and Structured Settlement Agreements.

Read the L&I press release here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Need a tow? That’ll cost you! Or will it?

The newest member of the HDC is wasting no time getting to work this legislative session!
Rep. Gerry Pollet has introduced an important consumer protection measure in House Bill 2372.

HB 2372 would authorize the Utilities and Transportation Commission to place a $250 cap on towing fees for those who find themselves in the unfortunate circumstance of having their vehicle impounded. The bill does stipulate that the owner must reclaim their vehicle within 24 hours of the tow.

Adding another layer of protection, Rep. Pollet’s bill requires that towing companies disclose their rates in writing for those requesting a lift. 

In a series of pieces last month, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat highlighted the problem of excessive towing charges in the Seattle area. Danny found examples of towing companies charging upwards of $1,400 per impound. Take a look at his columns here, here and here!

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Paper or Plastic?

We’ve all been asked the question. But if Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of Burien has his way, there will be a new question for shoppers in Washington state.

Paper or reusable plastic?

Or no plastic at all?

Rep. Fitzgibbon and representatives from Environment Washington and Fred Meyer held a press conference today introducing House Bill 2404 banning single-use plastic bags from grocery stores.

Four cities in Washington – Bellingham, Edmonds, Mukilteo, and Seattle - have all passed single-use plastic bag bans. If this legislation is approved, a similar ban would be imposed on stores state-wide.

“We know that we have a plastic problem in Puget Sound, and we know that it threatens our wildlife every day,” said Rep. Fitzgibbon. “It is time for Washington to phase out single-use plastic bags.”

A similar bill in the Senate, SB 5779, was heard in the Senate Environment Committee yesterday. Representing the Washington Northwest Grocery Association, Holly Chisa expressed her support for the bag ban.

“We are not opposed to moving away from plastic bags. My grocery stores, which are the larger grocery stores, believe that a bag is a bag and it is time to make the move,” said Chisa.

You can watch that hearing here on and read other stories about the ban here, here, and here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Remembering “the forgotten war”

Korean War Memorial - photo courtesy WSDOT
In the end, House Bill 2138 just may be overshadowed by, say, the budget.  But if one function of government is simply shining a light on things that should be noticed, Rep. Timm Ormsby’s bill recognizing our state’s Korean War veterans is good government in action.  The Spokane Democrat’s legislation declares that July 27 – the anniversary of the official end of hostilities in the Korean War – is specifically recognized in Washington as Korean War Veterans Armistice Day.  >The day won’t be a legal holiday, but it will be marked by the flying of the POW/MIA flag, along with the American and Washington flags, by all public entities in the state.
“They call Korea ‘the forgotten war,’” Ormsby said, “but it shouldn’t be.  More than 120,000 Washingtonians fought in the war, 532 died there, and far more than that were wounded.  The number of surviving Korean War vets in our state is dwindling almost daily, and I think they deserve every bit of added recognition and gratitude that we can give.”
In addition to formally establishing Korean War Veterans Armistice Day as an annual observance, the bill also clarifies that the third Friday in September each year is POW/MIA day throughout the state, directing that the POW/MIA flags be flown alongside the national and state banners on that day as well.  HB 2138 received a unanimous thumbs-up from members of the House State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee this week and could be one of the first bills OK’d by the full House during the 2012 session.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Lawmakers take aim at more toxic toys

Doctors, moms, lawmakers and the Washington Toxics Coalition joined forces at a press conference this morning to announce good news and bad news on infant and children’s products.
The bad news is that a new study of Hidden Hazards in the Nursery found high levels of toxic flame retardants in a jaw-dropping 85 percent of 20 popular children’s products that were tested recently—including nursing pillows, car seats, and changing pads.
The worst culprit was “chlorinated tris,” a carcinogen that has also been linked to DNA mutation, hormone disruption and other health problems. Even though this toxic threat was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970’s, it was found in high concentrations in 80 percent of the products tested in the new study!
As a mom of a 4-year-old in Olympia put it, “It’s frustrating to find out the products my kids use contain harmful chemicals and that the government allows it.
But there is also good news:  Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson and Sen. Sharon Nelson announced at the press conference that they are proposing the Toxic-Free Kids Act (HB 2266 and SB 6120) to ban toxic tris flame retardants from children’s products sold in Washington. After all, safe alternatives are readily available. Their bills would also prevent manufacturers from substituting untested and potentially dangerous alternatives to tris in their products.
As Dickerson said at the press conference, “Parents shouldn’t have to be chemists to know their children are safe from dangerous chemicals in children’s products.” That’s the philosophy that made Washington a national leader in protecting kids from toxic toys, and it is the reason why Washington’s leadership is needed to protect children again.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tonight: Live tele town hall in the 3rd Legislative District

Rep. Timm Ormsby
Spokane residents, your 3rd District legislators are hosting a town hall via phone tonight, and they want to make sure you have a chance to join the conversation.
Representatives Timm Ormsby and Andy Billig,together with Senator Lisa Brown, will be calling households in the district this evening, beginning at around 6:00 p.m.  The purpose of the call is to reach out and give constituents an opportunity to ask them questions or share their concerns about the 2012 legislative session, which began on Monday.
Rep. Andy Billig
Here’s how it works:  Most people won’t have to do anything except answer the phone when it rings tonight, and stay on the line to be connected to the town hall.  To ask a question, simply press STAR 3 on the phone.  If you live in the 3rd Legislative District and do not receive a phone call, here are instructions for how you can still participate. The town hall will last approximately one hour.
Tonight’s tele town hall is another way for the legislators to be accessible.  Last fall, they held a series of mobile office events around the district, and last March they held two in-person town hall events.  Rep. Ormsby previously hosted a tele town hall in 2010.  You can see a transcript from that event here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Putting the “gay” back in marriage?

Photo: Lapham's Quarterly
Marriage equality was a topic of both House Speaker Frank Chopp’s opening day speech and Governor Gregoire’s State of the State address this week.

In this article from Lapham’s Quarterly, a philosophy professor suggests that same-sex marriage could revitalize matrimony, which has changed dramatically over the centuries and has taken its lumps in recent decades: The institution could be revived as a happy state – rather than, as the therapists say, something you have to work at.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Rx meds program will save lives in our state

The number of people dying due to prescription drug overdoses in our state has grown dramatically: from 2003 to 2008 the state death rate increased 90 percent.  In fact, currently, more people die from unintentional drug overdoses than in car accidents.

To crack down on this statewide overdose problem, in 2007 the legislature passed a bill that created the Washington State Prescription Monitoring Program (WA PMP), which was rolled out on October 7, 2011.

The state has since been collecting, and storing in a database, information regarding purchases of pain meds and other controlled substances (Schedule II, III, IV and V). So far the most dispensed drug—at 44 million pills to fill more than 800,000 prescriptions—was Hydrocodone / Acetaminophen (Vicodin).  That’s a lot of pills and it makes sense to know where they’re going and how they’re used so that they are not misused or abused.

The WA PMP promotes public health and safety and helps improve patient care because physicians and pharmacists will be able to use the database to identify dangerous drug interactions, recognize undermanaged pain or see the need for substance-abuse treatment.

With the WA PMP, Washington joins another 47 states that have laws authorizing monitoring programs.

To learn more visit the program’s website here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Concierge Care Advisors group salutes Moeller's work for senior citizens

Guarding safety and security for senior citizens and other vulnerable people should always be Mission No. 1. That undertaking is followed in terms of importance very closely by the writing of strong reporting and accountability standards for agencies and caregivers.

Admirable goals and objectives, both of these missions. In fact, state Rep. Jim Moeller for many years has led House Democrats in championing these very goals and objectives for communities all across the Evergreen State. Just recently, the elder placement and referral agency Concierge Care Advisors (CCA) saluted Moeller's work and commitment with a "Best of 2011 Award."

“Representative Moeller is truly remarkable in his ability to reach out to all stakeholders, including opponents of active legislation,” said Marc Lilly, who is the CCA CEO and co-founder. “(He) innovatively listens, but also remains true to his goal of security and safety for senior citizens."

Moeller is Speaker Pro-Tempore of the Washington State House of Representatives and a member of the House Health Care & Wellness Committee. He prime-sponsored legislation last session that, among other important new directions, calls for higher standards in recordkeeping, disclosure statements, and intake forms. In its press release touting the 49th District lawmaker's Olympian exertion, the CCA emphasized that Moeller "worked with stakeholders, including opponents, to gain passage of the first-in-the-nation legislation that regulated placement and referral agencies.

"A health-care professional himself," the CCA release continues, "Representative Moeller aggressively pursues long-term-care issues, particularly those that impact the safety and security of vulnerable adults. He was instrumental in pursuing solutions to slow or
inadequate investigations of abuse and neglect by various state departments, as well as seeking greater accountability and reporting."

"I'm grateful and honored to receive this recognition from people who themselves truly care, truly go out of their way to emphasize health and safety in the lives of all-too-often-forgotten citizens," Moeller said. “The majority of referral agencies do a good job matching senior citizens with appropriate services. Fortunately most of the time, there’s no problem at all. But yes, there are those agencies that fall short of meeting their responsibilities. And all too frequently, their shortcomings endanger the health and well-being of folks who can't fend for themselves very well, if at all.”

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Western cities most favorable

According to an unscientific survey by an urban-centric web site affiliated with The Atlantic magazine, the U.S. city that generates the most favorable impression nationwide is Seattle. Coastal cities generally rated high, while the Midwest fared poorly as a region.

Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, and Portland, Oregon rounded out the top five most favorable cities.

Click here to read the entire story from the Atlantic Cities. 
Image source:
To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

2012 Legislative Session is open

Speaker Frank Chopp gaveled the session to order at noon today, laying out the House Democratic Caucus agenda for the upcoming year:
  • Create jobs now
  • Fund basic education
  • Save the safety net
  • Ensure equality
  • Provide opportunity
You can ready his opening comments here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.