Friday, February 8, 2013

It's National Guard Day at the state capitol today

Each year, the legislature honors the men and women of our state's National Guard with a resolution in both the House and Senate.  Today is that day, and members of our Guard can be spotted around the capitol campus in uniform today.

The newly-reappointed Adjutant General of the Washington State National Guard, Major General Bret Daugherty, is also on campus, and paid a visit to the House Democratic Caucus this morning.

Maj. Gen. Daugherty took over the position last summer from Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, who retired after serving for 13 years as our state's adjutant general.

While National Guard Day is a special celebration each year in the legislature, House Democrats are also striving to make sure that every day our state's servicemen and women have opportunities to succeed in education and in the transition to civilian life and employment.  Several higher education-related proposals are working their way through the House, including House Bill 1428, sponsored by Rep. Dave Upthegrove.

Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty
This bill would dedicate a portion of state lottery money to the Veterans Innovations Program (VIP), which was created by the legislature in 2006 to provide flexible small grants to individual veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The program struggles every year for funding and is set to expire in a few years.

Additionally, there are many veterans in our state who are trying to complete their education amid ever-rising tuition costs.  The federal G.I. bill provides educational benefits, but those benefits are based on the time of service a veteran has honorably completed.  This leaves out veterans who have also served honorably, but for less than the time required for full educational funding.

Under Rep. Upthegrove's proposal, the VIP would become permanent, have a steady source of funding, and a portion of those funds would be dedicated to help veterans attending community college.

Read this story in Spanish.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Meet the new member: Rep. Monica Stonier

Continuing with our "Meet the new member" series, we sat down with Rep. Monica Stonier this week. Monica was elected to the House of Representatives Pos. 1 seat last November, which was vacated by former representative Tim Probst.
Monica is a wife of 11 years, mother of two young children, and an educator at Pacific Middle School in Vancouver.
Borrowing from a great bit by James Lipton, we asked Monica ten questions that she'll likely never be asked again in a political setting.
What is your favorite word/phrase? Resonate
What is your least favorite word/phrase? "No offense, but…"
If you could spend 30 minutes with any famous person from history, who would that be? Billie Holiday
If we looked at your iPod, which song would have the most plays? The Ghost of Johnny Cash by Shawn Mullins
What song is your guilty pleasure? Bust A Move by Young MC
Who is your favorite TV character and why? Frasier Crane because he's quirky and internally conflicted
What job would you be doing if you weren't in politics or education? Probably running a community youth center
Which world leader do you admire most? Abraham Lincoln because he was a moderate in a swing state who put doing what was right before politics
In five words or less, how do you want to be remembered? Someone who makes hours count
After a few weeks as a lawmaker, name one part of this job that was completely unexpected? The incredibly high caliber of staff

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Caring for animals, we’re into that too

Five bills aimed at protecting and helping animals have been introduced in the House so far this session. Will every dog (and for that matter cat, horse, parakeet, etc…) have his day? Let's see where those bills are:
Making poisonous substances taste nasty
Antifreeze, or rather, Ethylene Glycol, one of its main components, is sweet and tasty to animals and humans but it can also be lethal. According to the Humane Society, anywhere from 10,000 to 90,000 cats and dogs are accidentally poisoned with antifreeze every year across the nation. To protect Washington's residents, both the two and the four-legged kinds, a few years ago the Legislature passed a measure requiring that antifreeze sold, produced or distributed in the state have an aversive agent to make it taste bad. But that law didn't cover wholesale containers of 55 gallons or more. This year Rep. Sherry Appleton is sponsoring HB 1010 to include those large containers. The bill was approved by the Business and Financial Services Committee a couple of weeks ago and is now in the Rules Committee for further consideration.
See something? Say something!
HB 1186 gives immunity to veterinarians who report suspected incidents of animal cruelty from legal liability in any action brought against them. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kathy Haigh, a vet herself, knows that sometimes veterinarians can tell, better than the average person, if an animal has been mistreated. The risk of liability keeps some veterinarians from reporting incidents they encounter in their practice. The protections under this bill should encourage veterinarians to report suspected cruelty to proper authorities. Haigh's measure was passed out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this week.
When buying a pet, let's make sure it's not a murky transaction
Say you see a guy selling lovely puppies out of his truck in a parking lot. You fall in love with one of them and want to buy it. But how much do you know about this seller? Is he licensed? Does he have a permit to sell animals in that location? What if you're dealing with a disreputable seller who does not provide safe and humane conditions for the puppies, and it turns out your puppy is sick? To prevent the sale of diseased animals to unsuspecting buyers, Rep. Mary Helen Roberts is sponsoring HB 1201, which already had a public hearing in the Judiciary Committee. Under this measure, legitimate and responsible sales of animals and adoption programs for animals are not affected.
Zero tolerance for animal cruelty
People who live or work with animals should treat them well; humans are supposed to care for their animals. Sadly, not everyone seems to be on board with that common-sense notion. Rep. Mary Helen Roberts sponsored another bill, HB 1202, which modifies animal cruelty provisions relating to the crimes of animal cruelty in the first and second degree, animal fighting, and leaving and/or confining an animal in a motor vehicle or certain enclosed spaces. This measure also had a public hearing in Judiciary a few weeks ago.
Spay/Neuter – it's the responsible thing to do!
Thousands of cats and dogs are put down every year in shelters because they can't find a home, or they are old and sickly and nobody wants to take care of them. The most effective and humane way to reduce the number of animals dying in shelters is a targeted, statewide spay/neuter effort. It is also the fiscally responsible solution. Rep. Kathy Haigh sponsored a legislation (HB 1229) that would provide financial assistance to support the costs of pet spay/neuter surgery. It would significantly reduce costs for animal care and control of homeless animals, and fewer animals would be euthanized in Washington shelters. This measure was heard before the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee yesterday. You can find footage of the hearing in TVW.

Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

We're No. 6!

​And that’s not bad at all: Forbes magazine ranks us –actually, the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolis – as the sixth fastest-growing city in the United States.
The magazine took a nationwide look at the 100 largest “metropolitan statistical areas” -- a federal definition that groups cities with their suburbs and other nearby urban centers – and ranked them by growth in population, employment and economic production, with some other measurements factored in.
Three Texas cities – Austin, Houston and Dallas –topped the list, and a fourth, San Antonio, ranked ninth. Behind Seattle, another Pacific Northwest city, Portland, rounded out the top 10, while Boise, Idaho, came in at No. 15.

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Washington Leads the Way in Peace Corps Volunteerism

From the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962 to current work of groups like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Washington has always had a strong tradition of volunteerism, generousity and mindfullness towards what is happening across the globe.
New figures from the 2013 Peace Corps volunteer class, however, demonstrate just how deeply that commitment to helping others runs.
Every year the Peace Corps tracks volunteer recruitment in three categories: large schools, medium schools, and small schools. This year, Washington universities lead the way in all three categories. The University of Washington tied for first place among large schools with the University of Florida, while Western Washington University and Gonzaga University swept the medium- and small-sized categories, respectively.
The University of Washington has held the top honor before, in both 2007 and 2010. Another Washington institution, Seattle University, took the fifth spot in the small category this year.
Although important in their own right, these numbers also underscore the strength of Washington’s higher education system and the importance of ensuring that our colleges and universities remain affordability for all students. House Democrats are committed to working towards a fully funded post-secondary education system, so that our students can continue to go on to great things in our state and around the globe. 
Via the Peace Corps website, here is the full list of top volunteer colleges:

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Homeless student population now over 27,000

As of yesterday, there are 1,397 more reasons the “fund education first” plan isn’t as great as it may sound.

Washington state now has 1,397 more homeless students bringing the total to 27,390.

Those numbers come from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), who says homeless students increased by 5.1% increase compared to the 2010-11 school year.

Why the increase? Job loss, unforeseen illness, increased housing prices and foreclosures.

Here’s an excerpt from the OSPI news release:

Districts cite many reasons for the increase. The overall job market is still struggling, in addition to local economic factors, such as the closing of a paper mill in Everett and the decline of the logging industry in Shelton and elsewhere. More students are living on their own. And funding for services that help prevent homelessness is being cut.

In the proposed Fund Education First plan, how much funding would go towards:
  • Job creation and worker retraining: $0
  • Health care for low and middle-income families: $0
  • Housing assistance: $0
Sick, hungry or homeless kids can’t learn.

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Meet the new member: Jake Fey

Rep. Jake Fey
They hail from all over the Evergreen State, these newly-sworn-in Democratic members of the state House. Today, The Advance continues its "Meet the New Member” series with a freshman representative from the Tacoma area.
Representative Jake Fey serves the 27th Legislative District, which is comprised of Ruston and a big portion of urban Tacoma (specifically, the city's North and West Ends, the Eastside, and the Northeast Tacoma and Pierce County neighborhoods). Jake is the Director of the Washington State University Energy Program. He has served on the boards of Sound Transit and Pierce Transit, and as vice chair of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. He also served on the Tacoma City Council for seven years, including a stint as deputy mayor. Jake has two children and two grandchildren.

The Advance:
What inspired you to run for the Legislature?
Jake Fey: My experience in the YMCA Youth Legislature really piqued my interest in politics as a high-school student. I also had a wonderful mentor -- Dr. Werner Quast -- who was a PDC Commissioner, county party chair, and city councilmember.

Is there a moment, or an image, that you'll remember from your first week here as a legislator?
Jake Fey: I would have to say the swearing-in ceremony on the first day of session was very emotional for me. Being on the House floor and soaking up all the institutional history from territorial days onward was very inspiring. I was struck by how lucky I was to serve in Olympia.

Recognizing that this place, and state government in general, has its own sort of separate language, what words or phrases baffled you until somebody explained them?
Jake Fey: For me, with my experience in public service, a lot of the language was familiar. But then, the whole state-legislative process of bill development, prime sponsorship, and blue sheets -- that was not something I expected.

If you could pass any piece of legislation, what would it be? In other words: What’s the most pressing problem, the question or quandary that you'd really like to crack?
Jake Fey: Actually, I have a couple of priorities, which involve two major public "systems": I want our state to fully fund a high-quality education system -- from early learning and K-12 and then on through higher education. And I want us to upgrade our transportation system -- at the state, regional and local levels.
Read this story in Spanish.

Monday, February 4, 2013

To drive, or not to drive? That is the question

Image courtesy vectorportal
How much is too much?
Voters just approved a new law (Initiative 502) making marijuana legal for adults 21 and over, and to regulate it and tax it just like alcohol.
Just like you can't drink and drive, you can't drive while intoxicated with marijuana.
Which brings us back to the question: how much is too much?
This Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., the House Public Safety Committee will dive into the issue.
There's accepted science involving alcohol to determine when you're driving under the influence (DUI). If your blood-alcohol level is .08 or above, that's a DUI.
I-502 puts forth a blood limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of the active drugs in marijuana. So is the science behind that number solid, or do lawmakers need to look at something else?
The Public Safety Committee is bringing in all kinds of experts – scientists, law enforcement and prosecutors – to talk it over.
Here's the lineup for Wednesday:
Overview of I-502: What is legal? What is still illegal?
  • Alison Holcomb, ACLU
  • Rick Garza, Liquor Control Board
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana: From the Roadside to the Courthouse
  • Officer Wylie, Olympia Police Department
  • Lieutenant Rob Sharpe (and DRE Program Manager), WSP Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, head of Impaired Driving Section
  • Fiona Couper, State Toxicologist, WSP
Enforcement Protocols and Prosecution of Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana:
  • Aaron Pelley, Defense Attorney
  • Patricia Fulton, Defense Attorney
  • Amy Freedheim, King County Prosecutor's Office
The Science of Cannabis and Impaired Driving
  • R. Andrew Sewell, Yale University (via Skype)
  • Paul Armantano, NORML
Read this story in Spanish.

ER best practices is music to state budget writers’ ears

Washington's Seven Best Practices initiative is improving care and reducing state Medicaid costs. The Washington State Health Care Authority reported that in its first six months, the initiative is saving the state more than 10 percent in Medicaid fee-for-service emergency care costs, which could result in as much as $31 million for the fiscal year. But these savings are just one of many achievements:
  • A 23-percent reduction in emergency visits by Medicaid patients.
  • Doubling the number of shared care plans to ensure patients receive coordinated care.
  • A 250-percent increase in the number of providers registered in the state's Prescription Monitoring Program
  • Increasing the number of hospitals exchanging emergency department information electronically from 17 to 85, and 10 more are in the process.
  • Patients have fewer emergencies since a primary care physician is implementing a cohesive care plan for them.
  • Prescription drug abuse has decreased.
The seven practices included in the 2012 Operating Budget are summarized below:

  1. Tracking frequent ER users and exchanging patient information electronically with other hospitals.
  2. Educating patients that the ER should only be used for true emergencies.
  3. Designating staff to receive and circulate information on Medicaid clients.
  4. Contacting primary care providers at the time of the emergency visit and relaying any issues regarding barriers to primary care.
  5. Implementing narcotic guidelines that direct patients to primary care or pain management services.
  6. Enrolling physicians in the state's Prescription Monitoring Program.
  7. Designating emergency physician and hospital staff to review and provide feedback reports— and taking appropriate action.
For more information, you can read the report: "Emergency Department Utilization: Assumed Savings From Best Practices Implementation".

Read this story in Spanish.