Friday, March 30, 2012

A great day for children and families...

Rep. Ruth Kagi
Amid the flurry of bills signed by Governor Gregoire today, three in particular are going to make a big difference in the child welfare arena.

Our state has been employing innovative and effective strategies to serve families in crisis for some time. We're focused on improving outcomes for these families, and that means keeping parents and children together if possible rather than breaking them apart.

But our success has hurt us.  Although we've seen an 18 percent decline in foster care placements since 2008, we've also had a reduction in state and federal child welfare dollars as a result.  That's because the funding formula for child welfare is based on the number of out-of-home placements.  Meanwhile, the innovative and effective strategies we use to try to avoid breaking families up are not adequately funded.  Rep. Ruth Kagi wrote about this problem in a Seattle Times guest editorial  in January.

That's one thing that's now going to change.  Today's package of child welfare reforms gives our state more flexibility in how we manage the limited dollars we have, and gives caseworkers new - and better - tools to help troubled families.  Two of the three bills signed were sponsored by Rep. Kagi, and the third is a Senate bill she helped champion in the House.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

New Washington state law helps people who help people who are vision-impaired or hearing-impaired

This one's all about helping folks who help other folks.

Very recently signed into new Washington law, a revised state policy limits a potential liability of charitable organizations (such as the Lions, for instance). The liability could possibly rear its head when groups provide previously owned eyeglasses or hearing instruments to people who could really use that helping hand. State Rep. Dean Takko sponsored this measure in this year's regular session. The goal here? It's simply to make sure these organizations can proceed with their good public service of recycling health-assistance devices that offer so many people a better, more rewarding quality of life.
Photo credit: Lonedoe

You see, here’s the thing: Previous Washington law (the "Good Samaritan Act") held that people who render care at an emergency (as long as these people don't expect any compensation for their “Good Samaritan” act) have immunity from liability in any lawsuits that might be considered against them. The law has been strengthened over the years. Specifically, immunity is assured for physicians and other health-care providers volunteering health-care services with nonprofit organizations or with for-profit groups that regularly provide services to uninsured people.

Services must be given without payment or expectation of payment in order for the immunity-protection to apply. These immunity provisions don't protect people from lawsuits brought against them for gross negligence.

Here's a little history lesson, good Blogsters. Back in 1925, Helen Keller delivered a stirring, inspiring keynote address at that year’s Lions International Convention. Among the points Keller hammered home that day, she challenged Lions "to become Knights of the Blind in the crusade against darkness.” Lions all over the world answered Helen Keller's challenge. In fact, upward of 200,000 pairs of used, good-quality eyeglasses are distributed every year around the nation to folks who are vision-impaired.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Drive hammered, get nailed

For years, that’s been the catch-phrase of the Washington State Patrol, sending a clear message to drunk drivers: we’re coming after you.

There’s a good reason to be vigilant about drunks behind the wheel. Though violent crime gets more headlines, the average person has a greater chance of being maimed or killed on the road than at the hands of violent criminals.

Now with the passage of House Bill 2216 by Rep. Christopher Hurst, drunk drivers who cause a crash that kills somebody will get nailed much harder.

Hurst wrote the bill in the context of his 25-year career as a police officer and detective. He responded to more crashes than he cares to remember.

“A vehicle operated under the influence of alcohol is a deadly weapon and it’s time our sentencing guidelines reflected that fact,” said Rep. Hurst. “Nothing can bring back the victims of these crimes, but I do hope this change brings some justice for the loved ones coping with an unimaginable loss.”

Under the new law, jail time for vehicular homicide by DUI more than doubles. Those found guilty will face 78 to 102 months behind bars, equivalent to the penalty for first-degree manslaughter.

Prosecuting attorneys across the state have long advocated for an increase in sentences for DUI vehicular homicide. Leading the charge: King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

"This increased penalty will feel more like justice to victim's families, friends and the community," Lindquist said. "Furthermore, this legislation is part of a larger effort to send a message that we don't tolerate drunk driving in Washington."

Tom McBride, with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said, "Driving drunk and causing the accident that kills another person is, in every sense of the word, criminally reckless. Drunk driving vehicular homicide should be treated as seriously as manslaughter, another recklessness based crime, - which is what this law does."

“With the leadership of Reps. Chris Hurst and Roger Goodman in the House and David Frockt, Adam Kline and Mike Padden in the Senate, we have given the families of loved ones lost to drunk drivers some sense of justice,” Satterberg said. “The increased sentences will not bring back their family members but will send a strong message to drunk drivers that their actions have consequences."

The bill was signed by Gov. Gregoire yesterday and goes into effect ninety days after the legislative session adjourned on March 8th, and those convicted after that date will face longer sentences behind bars. 

For people who like numbers and charts: this link to the Traffic Safety Commission has all sorts of data and color charts on drunk driving crashes. There is some jargon to translate. “VMT” stands for “Vehicle Miles Traveled,” so what they’re doing is adjusting crash figures for the growing population and number of cars on the road.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Does the Times know the difference between a phone survey and election day results?

This issue of authorizing charter schools in Washington state continues to be a contentious one. Passionate advocates on both sides want to provide the best education possible for our children.

When engaging in these debates, it’s important to have the correct facts so that people can form opinions based on solid information. Unfortunately, the op-ed written by the Friedman Foundation and the Freedom Foundation published in the Seattle Times this morning leaves out some pretty key facts.

Let’s start with the headline.

If voters favor charter schools, why can't state lawmakers?

FACT: Voters in Washington have rejected charter schools at the polls three times since 1996. The headline and the premise of the op-ed are based off a phone survey of registered voters conducted by the two conservative foundations. A phone survey of registered voters and actual election results are completely different things. As demonstrated multiple times at the polls on election day, voters do not favor charter schools.

Now let’s look at the survey itself, which you can read here. On the question regarding support for charter schools, the organizations boast “Washington voters favor charter schools by an overwhelming margin of 60 percent in support.” Let’s look at this claim with additional poll data they conveniently left out of the Times op-ed.

Respondents were asked how familiar they are with charter schools. The results:

•    11% - Very familiar
•    35% - Somewhat familiar
•    40% - Not that familiar
•    14% - Never heard of/don’t know

Over half of the respondents have very little or no knowledge at all about charter schools. And depending on the definition of “somewhat familiar,” an argument can be made that 9 of 10 respondents have limited or no knowledge on the topic. That’s a key observation given how the specific question about charter schools was phrased:
You don’t have to be a professional pollster to see the inherent bias and influence in this phrasing. Given that the majority of respondents are admittedly unfamiliar with charter schools, the first part of this question could influence the responses. Using phrases like “have more control” and “exempt from regulations” are loaded phrases purposely designed to influence the results, especially among those unfamiliar with the issue.

A pollster would get equally biased results in the other direction if the question was phrased:
A recent study by Stanford University found only 17 percent of charter students performed better than their peers in public schools while half performed the same and 37 percent of charter students received an education that was significantly worse than traditional public schools. In general, do you favor or oppose charter schools?
Pro-charter advocates want the best for their children. So do those who favor the traditional public school model. As the debate continues, let’s make sure we have the correct facts and unbiased information on the table.

On a side note, the Friedman/Freedom poll also found nearly half of all respondents favored raising state taxes to fund public schools, but that’s a topic for another day.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Opportunities for scholarships!

How do you encourage students to not only go to college, but to enter science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) programs? This was the question high-tech employers, such as Boeing and Microsoft, were asking themselves when faced with the reality of a rapidly shrinking potential-employee market.

So, to address the issue, Boeing and Microsoft teamed up with the Legislature in 2011 to create the Opportunity Scholarship Board in the hopes of encouraging more high school graduates to prepare for careers in certain high-tech fields.

Fast forward to this coming fall - the Opportunity Scholarship Board will be awarding a whopping 3,000 STEM scholarships worth $1,000 each!

Photo credit: BArch Bot
You’re probably thinking, “Great, but I need to write a groundbreaking essay and jump through 20 other hoops to be eligible, right?” Wrong!

In order to qualify for an opportunity scholarship, all a person needs to do is meet the following criteria:

  • Meet the income-level requirement – up to $102,000/year for a family of 4
  • Have at least a 2.75 GPA
  • Fill out the federal student aid paperwork and the scholarship application

That’s it! And better yet – since the scholarships are renewable for up to 5 years, they could potentially be worth $5,000 toward a STEM education.

The scholarship application is available here, and the deadline is April 16th.

Click here for more information, or check out this Seattle Times article.
To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Washington gets yet another high mark

We say keep them coming, we can make room on the mantel for another award!

Washington state has earned a perfect score for website transparency for the second year in a row. This means Access Washington is one of the most open and accessible state government sites in the entire nation.

The A+ grade was awarded by the Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit organization focused on government accountability.

Washington is one of just of 10 states to receive such a high mark.

To learn more about the reasons our state website got a perfect score, go here.

Want to check out the acclaimed website? Head on to where you can find answers to numerous questions such as where to go for suspected fraud reporting, to how to renew your license, and where to get employment assistance, but you’ll also find names and contact information of elected officials and lobbyists, easy access to contracts and tax information, and information on ethics policies as well as the Washington Public Records Act.

Since its initial launch in 1998, Access Washington has won multiple awards for service, innovation, communication, quality and excellence.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Washington among nationwide leaders in childcare safety

The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (NACCRRA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring quality and affordable childcare for families across the country. NACCRRA provides statistics, referrals, and other resources to parents in need of a safe place to take their children during the workday. Among those resources, is the “Leaving Children to Chance” report that ranks each of the fifty states, plus the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense, based on their childcare oversight and standards.

According to NACCRRA’s latest report, Washington ranks second in the nation for childcare standards and oversight. Using sixteen different benchmarks, Washington earned 119 points out of a possible 150. Our state is one of seven states that ranked in the top ten for both oversight and program standards, and is one of only nine states that conduct a comprehensive background check for childcare providers. These background checks include fingerprint and sex offender registry checks. Washington saw an improvement in their ranking from NACCRRA’s last report back in 2010.

Other states didn’t fare as well. Only four states, Washington included, earned above a seventy percent or higher on basic requirements for childcare safety. Eight states scored a zero because they allow for six children in a childcare home before requiring a license or don’t require a license for small operations at all. Eight additional states scored a zero because they don’t inspect childcare homes before licensing.
For more information on NACCRRA and the most recent “Leaving Children to Chance” report click here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

‘Swift and certain’ punishment would prevent crime, save taxpayer dollars

A new reform could save taxpayer money while doing a better job of preventing crime.

The success of “swift and certain” punishment in other states, and a Seattle pilot project involving released convicts under state supervision, convinced lawmakers to propose making Washington state the first in the nation to try it statewide with 16,000 released convicts under state supervision.

As this Associate Press story explains, ex-cons can face slow and uncertain punishment under today’s system. If they fail a drug test or otherwise violate their terms of release, the consequences range from a verbal reprimand to 60 days in jail.

While the current system is more expensive and can involve longer jail sentences, the experience of other states and the Seattle pilot program shows that swift and certain punishment works better.

Photo credit: Biswarup Ganguly

Any violation – from skipping a meeting with a corrections officer to flunking a drug test – gets a quick jail sentence of up to three days. More serious offenses can bring up to 30 days.

Switching to “swift and certain” punishment could keep ex-cons on the straight and narrow while saving taxpayers $15 million each year.

The idea started in a Hawaii courtroom when Judge Steven Alm got upset at watching ex-cons come to his courtroom only after they’d committed violation after violation. As a former prosecutor, he wanted to know why they weren’t coming to his courtroom on the first offense.

Probation officers told Judge Alm that each violation made officers choose between doing nothing and having an ex-con jailed for weeks – or months.
Judge Alm then started his “swift and certain” campaign, giving every violation, however minor, a short jail sentence. Ex-cons in the new HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) regime responded with an 80 percent drop in positive drug tests. The rate of re-arrests for new crimes also went down.
“Swift and certain” worked in Hawaii, and then Alaska, Arizona and the Seattle pilot project.

As Judge Alm told the Associated Press, “When you don’t have any consequences for failure, you’re going to get more failure. With HOPE, it’s swift, certain and proportionate.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 6204, which passed the Senate 45-2 and passed the House Ways and Committee before the start of special session.

To read the full AP story, click here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Live in the 24th LD? Join the Tharinger/Van De Wege telephone town hall on 3/28

Reps. Tharinger and Van De Wege in Montesano, 2/1/12
The 24th Legislative District is geographically one of the largest legislative districts in the state.  It includes all of Clallam and Jefferson counties, and parts of Grays Harbor County.

With that much ground to cover, it isn't always easy to reach every community with a live town hall during the legislative session, but Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege have been trying to host as many as possible.  Last month, they held town hall meetings in Montesano, Quilcene, Forks, and Port Angeles

Now they are hosting a telephone town hall that will enable constituents from every corner of the district to participate at the same time.  This Wednesday, March 28, starting at 6:00 p.m., households in the district will receive a phone call, and participants only need to stay on the line to be part of the conversation.  For one hour, Reps. Tharinger and Van De Wege will take questions and comments on topics related to issues before the legislature or about the special session.

More information about this upcoming event can be found here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Washington: a top 10 best state for women

Sen. Patty Murray
Sen. Maria Cantwell
“In Washington,” the iVillage web site says, “the ladies rule – literally.” The governor and both U.S. senators are women, the site notes, as are one-third of the members of the Legislature. Besides that, the state earns points for reproductive choice and access to birth control, as well as for health insurance policies, the fitness practices of its female residents and their income levels. Not so good are the high cost of child care and below-average rates of Pap smears and mammograms.

It all adds up to a No. 9 ranking for Washington on the best-for-women scale of iVillage, a women-centric NBC site that rates all 50 states. No. 1 is Connecticut; No. 50 is Mississippi.
What iVillage doesn’t tell you – but we will because, after all, we’re the House Democratic Caucus – is that 19 of the top 20 states are  “blue” states, based on their support for Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. The exception is Alaska, at No. 15.

To read the full report, click here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Sexual assault coalition honors Rep. Darneille

Rep. Jeannie Darneille
Rep. Jeannie Darneille of Tacoma has been named a legislator of the year by the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs because of her strong record of combating sexual assault, as well as supporting the victims of the crimes.

In announcing the award, coalition spokeswoman Lonnie Johns-Brown praised Rep. Darneille’s “longstanding commitment to working on and supporting public policies and funding for victims of sexual assault.”

The coalition specifically cited Rep. Darneille’s efforts to pass a bill that would mandate collection of a DNA sample from a felony suspect after the suspect’s arrest. The sample would then be checked against DNA evidence collected from unsolved-crime scenes. The bill was designed in large part to catch repeat offenders, effectively halting their patterns of sexual assault. For more about this bill, check out this blog post.

The bill won approval from a House committee but failed to advance, leaving in place the current law allowing DNA collection from felons only after they are found guilty in court.

“I’m very much honored by this award,” Darneille said. “I’ve become more and more convinced of the need to use whatever tools we have to protect women and children from these terrible crimes. DNA analysis is a great tool, and I won’t give up the fight.”

To read this story in Spanish, click here.