Saturday, June 30, 2012

We're on vacation

Campaign season is here once again, which means our blog needs to hibernate for a while. The HDC Advance will be taking an extended vacation in order to comply with election-year restrictions.

You may still contact your representatives at their offices with any questions or requests for further information. For a list of representatives, click here.

In the meantime, we encourage you to check out a variety of resources that will help you stay informed over the next several months.
Have a great summer. We’ll be back after the election.

To read this story in Spanish, please cick here.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The 'state' of all too many of our Washington students? They're falling through the cracks

Rep. John McCoy
'Twas the season. Speechifying season, that is -- as in, another fine season's collection of May-June "Listen up, you futures of America" graduation homilies and commencement colloquies just recently tucked into the pages of history.
Call them academic ukases, these thousands of scholarly addresses that sent millions of young folk off to their post-secondary careers in college, trade school, or what have you. So yes, what better time than right now, what better place than right here to discuss another sort of education-related "address" defining all too well the state of all too many of their younger peers still plugging away in the K-12 scene: 1234 Falling Through the Cracks Blvd., Anytown, USA
Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos
An unacceptably large ratio of these falling, and failing, students comprise demographic groups who show up in other unfortunate measures. These students tend to be disproportionately disciplined, for one thing, and they are more likely than other kids to be enrolled in special-education classes and underperforming schools, to receive poor grades, and to drop out of school. They’re less likely either to take advanced-placement, honors and college-preparatory classes, or to go on to college even if they do finish high school. And they constitute what's called the "achievement gap" -- that dismal crevasse between the beautiful promise of American public education and the beastly reality for too many American students.
Which is exactly why it's such good and timely news that the House Education Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee is working hard to make sure that "No child is left behind" isn’t just another cute bumper sticker. State law (RCW 28A.300.136) calls on this relatively recently assembled committee to "… provide ongoing advice to education agencies and report annually to the (L)egislature and the governor." State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos chairs the Opportunity Gap Committee, and she also chairs the House Education Committee.   State Rep. John McCoy, who is an active member of Santos' Education Committee, was also lately appointed to her Opportunity Gap Committee.
In emphasizing his excitement at joining the new education panel, McCoy cited its statutory responsibility for "… closing the achievement gap (and affirming) the state's constitutional obligation to provide opportunities to learn for all students without distinction or preference on account of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender." He further noted that the statute also speaks to the fact that "(a) consistent and powerful theme throughout the achievement gap studies was the need for cultural competency in instruction, curriculum, assessment, and professional development. Cultural competency forms a foundation for efforts to address the achievement gap, and more work is needed to embed it into the public school system."

McCoy and several other legislators on the Opportunity Gap Committee are working with additional public officials and private citizens toward writing strategies for closing Washington's education chasm.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What does health care reform mean to people in Washington state?

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding national health-care reform (the Affordable Care Act) means that Washington state – already a national leader on health care – can continue moving forward on reforms.
Those reforms include innovations that Washington state has led the nation in implementing,including:
  • the health care Exchange, a marketplace to make it easier to shop for health coverage;
  • the Basic Health Plan, to offer affordable health care for people who can’t afford to buy health insurance on the individual market;
  • Apple Health for Kids, part of Washington state’s effort to make sure every child has health coverage;
  • evidence-based medicine; and
  • moving away from simply paying for medical services like doctor visits and surgeries and toward paying for results – better health.
The court ruling means national health-care reform will work hand-in-glove with Washington state’s ongoing efforts. For example, budget cuts had threatened the existence of the Basic Health Plan, but national health reform means the federal government will soon cover the state’s costs for the BHP.
Washington was also one of the first states in the nation to set up a health care Exchange, a marketplace where people can buy private health insurance in a much simpler way than they can today.
Right now, truly comparing health insurance would take a health care expert with a law degree, reading stacks of health care policies. The Exchange also allows individuals and businesses to buy more affordable health coverage with the advantage of federal premium tax credits.
The Exchange board and staff are working through the steps needed to begin open enrollment on October 1, 2013, for coverage beginning January 1, 2014.
Other steps that our state has already taken to implement the Affordable Care Act include:
  • extending health insurance to family members up to age 26, to cover college students and young adults, who typically do not have health insurance; 
  • no co-payments for preventative health care, such as immunization shots; and 
  • the elimination of lifetime caps on health benefits.
Related links:

Battery Recycling Day at Seattle Center today

They can be found in almost every household - unwanted, rechargeable batteries from cellphones, laptops, or other gadgets, taking up space in a drawer or closet.  We know they don’t belong in a landfill, but we're not exactly sure how to get rid of them responsibly.
Luckily, in Washington state it's pretty easy to recycle rechargeable batteries, so you can start cleaning out those drawers and closets today!  There are 700 drop-off locations throughout the state that participate in the Call2Recycle® program, a free rechargeable battery collection and recycling system.
Rep. Steve Tharinger
In order to call attention to the ease of rechargeable battery recycling, the City of Seattle is sponsoring Battery Recycling Day today at the Seattle Center.  From 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., residents can bring their unwanted rechargeable batteries and cell phones to the International Fountain at the Seattle Center.  If you happen to be there around the noon hour, you’ll likely see state Representative Steve Tharinger or Senator Sharon Nelson, or even a member of the Seattle Mariners who will be signing autographs in support of environmentally-responsible battery disposal.
In the 2012 regular session, a bill was sponsored by Rep. Tharinger that would have formalized a program for rechargeable battery recycling in our state.  It received a hearing in two separate committees, but didn’t quite make it to a vote on the House floor.  This is an issue the Legislature may take up again, because even our current voluntary system is doing a stellar job – keeping 230,000 pounds of waste batteries out of our state’s landfills in 2011 alone.

You can read the press release about today's event here.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Made in Japan

Photo credit:  NOAA
It may be an exaggeration to say that a tidal wave of debris from last year’s tsunami in Japan is headed our way (as well as too glib), but a heck of a lot of Japanese junk is expected to wash up on the West Coast of the United States over the next two years – and some bits of the flotsam and jetsam have reached Washington state beaches already. It’s enough of a concern that Gov. Chris Gregoire is marshaling state forces to cope with the unwanted invasion.
The governor met June 18 with state agency officials and Rep. Steve Tharinger in Ocean Shores to discuss the situation and announce an initial response plan. On June 25, the state Department of Ecology deployed three six-person crews at spots along the state’s coast where debris has reportedly washed up to assess the need for a cleanup.
If you find debris on the shore that could be hazardous or contain oil, call 1-800-OILS-911.
Read about the governor’s June 18 announcement by clicking here. Learn more about what the Department of Ecology is doing, and find links to lots more information, by clicking here.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Washington’s population, like its economy, showing slow but steady growth

Washington state flag
You couldn’t call it a population boom, or even a boomlet, but Office of Financial Management (OFM) number crunchers estimate Washington’s population grew by about 50,000 over the past year.  To put that in perspective for the baseball fans out there, that’s about equal to a sell-out crowd at Safeco Field.  And for our friends over east of the mountains, it’s a brand-new Richland.  And if you’re keeping track, those 49,400 new folks bring the state’s official population to 6,817,770.  For what it’s worth, that’s more than Oregon and Idaho combined. 

How does this increase compare with past years?  It’s tiny compared to the spikes we were experiencing between about 1988 and ‘98, when net growth of 100,000 a year was unremarkable and some years topped out at better than 150,000 new Washingtonians.  But lately, the growth rate of about 3/4 of a percent has been typical.  Not surprisingly, most of the growth last year occurred in the state’s metropolitan counties:  King (14,400), Pierce (6,050), Snohomish (5,900), Clark (3,250) and Spokane (2,950).

OFM came up with its figures by adding “natural increase” – the number of births minus deaths – and net migration.  This year’s natural increase of 35,500 is slightly less than last year’s, continuing a three-year trend.  Net migration was 14,400, a bump over the previous year but nowhere near the figures of a decade or two ago.

The effects of population change, large or small, are felt throughout government, in areas as diverse as revenue, transportation planning, school construction, and corrections.  Lawmakers and anyone else who wants to dig deeper into the OFM population data can get the whole story at

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

7,600 people in Washington state will get health care rebate

The federal government and Gov. Chris Gregoire stated that 7,600 individuals in Washington state will be getting health care rebates for an average amount of $185.

The rebates are the result of the new 80/20 Rule, which states that health insurance companies must spend 80 percent of premium dollars from consumers on health care rather than sales, marketing, administration and profit (20 percent).

Nationwide, the rebates amount to $1 billion for more than 12 million people.

"The 80/20 rule helps ensure consumers get fair value for their health care dollar," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement announcing the rebates.

Here are more details from the release by Secretary Sebelius:

Consumers owed a rebate will see their value reflected in one of the following ways:

  • a rebate check in the mail; 
  • a lump-sum reimbursement to the same account that they used to pay the premium if by credit card or debit card; 
  • a reduction in their future premiums; or 
  • their employer providing one of the above, or applying the rebate in a manner that benefits its employees. 
Insurance companies that do not meet the 80/20 standard will send their policyholders a rebate for the difference no later than Aug. 1, 2012. Consumers in every state will also receive a notice from their insurance company informing them of the 80/20 rule, whether their company met the standard, and, if not, how much of difference between what the insurer did or did not spend  on medical care and quality improvement will be returned to them. 

For the first time, all of this information will be publicly posted on this summer, allowing consumers to learn what value they are getting for their premium dollars in their health plan. 

For many consumers, the 80/20 rule motivated their plans to lower prices or improve their coverage to meet the standard.  This is one of the ways the 80/20 rule is bringing value to consumers for their health care dollars. 

For a detailed breakdown of these rebates by state and by market, please visit:

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Washington called 'enterprising': Folks in the know say we're gonna go 'Boom!'

Photo: Jeff McNeill via Wikimedia Commons 
A recent Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, Washington captures Top 10 ranking, trumpets news that our very own Evergreen State is one of "10 states that will [wait for it!] boom over the next five years."

That's right, folks: No sooner is the ink dry on an admiring certificate celebrating Washington's status as a Job Creator (see this recent HDC Advance blog: Who says Washington is a top state for producing jobs?), then along comes the National Chamber Foundation, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce think tank, with its Enterprising States Report hailing us at No. 6 on a most-laudable list -- indeed, it's a truly estimable cast and compilation of what these erudite think-tankers call "enterprising states." Yes!

No less a periodical than the redoubtable Forbes magazine says Washington's glowing marks owe to our robust aerospace and technology industries and our hearty standing in foreign trade. The widely quoted publication has previously ranked Washington among the five best states in the entire country to do business.

Go ahead, take a minute or two to check the Chamber Foundation's report linked up there a few lines back. You'll see for yourself these sterling qualities that captured the fancy of these observers long enough for them to single us out: productivity, livability, tax structure, trade, infrastructure, and an environment that encourages innovation. Only the most rebarbative of critics would dare question Washington's place among the top rank, the highest order of business-friendly states.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

On this day, well last Saturday, in history

Saturday marked the forty-year anniversary of President Nixon giving the executive thumbs-up to Title IX of the Equal Opportunity in Education Act. Title IX says that no activity or education program receiving federal assistance can discriminate on the basis of sex. Though the original language made no specific mention of sports or athletics, the law would ultimately change the playing field for women and girls across the country.

A few years later in 1975, the Washington state Legislature approved our very own version of Title IX. The law prohibited “inequality in the educational opportunities afforded women and girls at all levels of the public schools in Washington state.”

Over the past four decades we’ve seen girls’ participation rates explode at both the high school and collegiate levels:

  • Back in 1972, only 294,015 girls participated in high school athletics in our country. In 2008, that number had risen to 3,057,266. That’s an increase of 940%.
  • A similar pattern for college athletics: 29,972 women participated in NCAA varsity athletics in 1972. By 2005, that number had increased 456% to 166,728.

That’s all well and good, but what does this really mean for the ladies? Some pretty compelling research shows us that athletic participation leaves girls with much more than a few nostalgic memories from the field.

Long after they’ve hung up their bats and gloves, female athletes have an increased rate of employment and higher wages when compared with their peers.  Huffington Post blogger Claire Gordon reported on some of the reasons why female athletes are finding success later in life:

Some of the reasons are clear. Sports build up physical and emotional endurance, and demands that players be constantly aware of their weaknesses and strive to overcome them.

She goes on to write:
The team-bonding and intensive exercise, with the sense of strength, power and skill that it brings, fortifies girls' self-esteem. All that practice in self-assertion and strategic thinking can also translate from the pitch to the boardroom, unleashing a competitive drive that often isn't nurtured in girls.

It shouldn’t come as much surprise that Title IX has also meant both short-term and long-term health benefits for women. Teenage pregnancy is about half as likely in female athletes, and girls who participate in sports are less likely to use drugs. Athletes are more likely to have a positive body image than non-athletes, and research shows a lower risk of obesity for women since Title IX was enacted.

Yep, it’s hard to argue with the results of girls lacing up their cleats or pulling up their knee pads and getting in the game. And as it’s been said before: what’s good for women is also good for Washington.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.