Friday, March 22, 2013

Fey to help steer our transportation system

Gridlock, traffic jams, freight immobility -- this is the stuff of road outrage. Drivers and passengers stuck in highway congestion aren't getting home to their families. Farm products and industrial goods snarled in traffic jams aren't getting off to their customers.

But changes are looming in Washington’s transportation system, including the ways Washingtonians pay the tab for it. And a newly-elected Tacoma lawmaker is joining a crucial panel charged with keeping a close eye on the whole thing.

State Rep. Jake Fey was recently selected by Washington State House of Representatives Speaker Frank Chopp to a seat on the state Transportation Commission steering committee   

"I'm honored and eager to join the important work of this panel," Fey said yesterday. "I know that before the commission makes any moves toward recommendation, we need to make sure Washington's six and a half million citizens know what's what in any current and proposed strategies for paying this transportation tab."

The entire press release is here.

Read this story in Spanish.

The Affordable Care Act turns three

Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of President Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. At President Obama's side was Seattle-native Marcelas Owens - a tireless advocate for health reform. Like thousands of Americans year, the 11-year-old boy’s mother died of a treatable disease.
Last year, Governor Gregoire signed into law House Bill 2319 – legislation to ensure that our state was ready to fully implement health care reform. The measure was introduced and championed by HealthCare and Wellness Chair Eileen Cody.
Speaking at the time of passage, Rep. Cody said “Health coverage for all has been a value of our state for years. So we have historically been in the lead – whether it’s covering all kids, establishing the Basic Health Plan or passing consumer protections for patients. This is the next step.”
Governor Gregoire signs HB 2319 into law. She is joined by House Democrats
Eileen Cody, Laurie Jinkins and Speaker Frank Chopp

The ACA has already made critical improvements to our health care system. However, the best is still yet to come.
Beginning next year, the ACA offers us the chance to cover 385,000 Washingtonians making less than $15,000/year through the expansion of the Medicaid program. Over the next two years, Medicaid Expansion is estimated to save our state about $275 million. The caveat being that the legislature has to accept the federal dollars to do this.
Speaking to Medicaid Expansion earlier this session, Rep. Dawn Morrell said "I think we have to get past the rhetoric and to the plain facts... It's the right thing to do."
Also coming in 2014, all Washingtonians will be able to utilize the health benefits exchange to shop for insurance. While shopping for coverage, you will have access to a web-based system and professional advisors trained to help you select the plan that is right for you.
A few additional ACA improvements already in effect or coming soon:
  • Young adults who may be looking for work during these tough economic times can stay on their parents’ plan until they find a job or reach the age of 26 – whichever comes first.
  • Our health care system finally incentivizes preventative care by doing away with out-of-pocket costs for preventative care. Treating folks before their condition worsens isn’t only the right thing to do, it saves us money.
  • Starting in 2014, no one can be denied health care coverage if they’re sick. The ACA also removes any caps on lifetime benefits that may have been in place – common sense safeguards that will prevent a Washingtonian from losing everything when they get sick.
  • Also coming in 2014, all health plans will be required to cover essential benefits. These essential benefits include maternity care, mental health treatment, prescriptions and pediatric care.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Walla Walla Community College Wins National Excellence Award

One of Washington’s many talented community colleges, Walla Walla, was honored on Tuesday with the prestigious Aspen Award – along with a $400,000 grant to grow their successful programs.

The national award recognizes a community college that does an exceptional job at graduating students and preparing them for careers or further education at a four year institution. Schools are judged on student learning outcomes, degree completion, labor market success in securing good jobs after college, and facilitating minority and low-income student success.

Traditionally the Aspen Award is presented to just one community college, but Walla Walla shared the top honors with Santa Barbara City College. The selection committee felt that both had excelled equally among the criteria.

WWCC was chosen for its success in predicting and meeting demand in new and growing industries. During the recession they were one of the few rural community colleges to grow, primarily because of their willingness to shrink or close programs and shift resources to more popular areas.

The college doubled enrollment in their nursing program when market research suggested an upcoming shortage, and they successfully anticipated the explosive growth of Washington’s wine industry with their viticulture program. Their efforts paid off for students as well: recent Walla Walla graduates earn nearly double annual amount of other new hires in the region.

Any mention of WWCC would be incomplete without an acknowledgement of the work of the late Representative Bill Grant. A consistent advocate and nine-year member of the Board of Trustees, his years spent pushing to expand and promote the school helped pave the road to this top honor.

House derelict vessel solution before Senate committee today

The Deep Sea. The New Star. The Davy Crockett. The Helena Star.

That’s a list of ship and barge names - one with ominous overtones because those are aging or rusting hulks that leaked pollutants or sank into state waters over the last two years, costing the state millions in cleanup costs.

There are lots more abandoned and derelict vessels in Washington waterways, and they pose a threat to navigation, seafood harvests, recreation and the environment - and to the state budget, which is often the last resort for money to remove the ships, boats and barges.

Rep. Drew Hansen wants to head off these disasters before they occur, and his House Bill 1245 is designed to do just that. It passed the House 96-1 earlier this month and goes before the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee  for a hearing today.

The bill would require an inspection before the sale of older, larger vessels, which would alert buyers to potential problems. It also acts to secure financing from ship and boat owners for the state’s derelict-vessel removal program, and sets up a voluntary turn-in program to get troubled vessels out of the water before they create hazards.

Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Going on a hike? There’s an app for that

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission turned 100 yesterday, and to celebrate the occasion, it launched a smartphone app with information on more than 100 state parks, historic sites and campgrounds.

The free Pocket Ranger ® Smartphone App is available for both iPhone and Android phones. It'll help outdoor enthusiasts plan their trips to any of the parks and also provides these useful features:
  • educational information, amenities, maps and directions
  • real-time calendar of events
  • news, advisories and weather alerts
  • social networking and photo sharing
  • potentially life-saving alert service
  • advanced GPS mapping
On March 19, 1913, the eighth governor of Washington, Ernest Lister, signed House Bill 509 into law, creating the State Board of Park Commissioners. The law gave the board authority to accept donations of lands for state parks purposes.
Click on the image for a larger picture
In 1919, State Parks had 26 acres, and by 1929, it had grown to 8,000 acres. The state park system currently includes 117 developed parks and other properties, altogether totaling more than 110,000 acres.

According to the Commission's news release, most Washingtonians live within a one-hour drive from a state park. The new app will make finding and visiting our state parks easier and will support our parks system by attracting more visitors:
The new app is part of a Commission strategy to expand the use of technology to provide   meaningful visitor services and to market the park system. Technology advancement is one component of a larger Transformation Strategy being considered by the Commission to guide the park system in the next few years. The strategy includes exploration of new revenue sources to respond to a dramatic, recession-driven change in State Parks funding. State Parks financing is shifting away from primary reliance on general fund and toward greater reliance on revenues from use fees such as the Discover Pass. The new app is an example of State Parks working to ensure people continue to choose state parks for their recreation. Meanwhile, the Commission also is advocating for the park system to receive a "right mix" of funding that includes use fees, donations and general tax dollars so that the park system can meet its broad mission and ensure a legacy of parks for the future.  
Honoring the centennial, the House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 4630 sponsored by Rep. Frank Chopp, the Speaker of the House.

Read this story in Spanish.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Want to know what's in your couch cushions?

We're not talking about spare change, though.

Today from noon to 1:00 p.m. the Washington Toxics Coalition will be conducting free testing for flame retardant chemicals in foam products like couch cushions, strollers or car seats. Just bring them to Senate Hearing Room 1 during that time and let the toxics analyzer check them out.

Beginning at 1:30 p.m., the Senate Environment committee will hold a hearing on House Bill 1294 in Senate Hearing Room 4.  This bill, which passed the House two weeks ago, would ban the toxic flame retardant chlorinated Tris in home furniture and children's products.  The chemical is a known carcinogen and was removed from children's pajamas way back in the 1970's over health concerns. But it is still being used today in many children's products and upholstered furniture.

A couple of legislators decided to have their own couches tested recently, and the results were alarming.

House Bill 1294 has been nicknamed the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, because the goal is not only to remove these harmful chemicals from products and protect people's health, but to make sure that equally toxic chemicals are not being substituted in their place.

Read this story in Spanish.

The leading innovation hotspot of the world?

The Washington Economic Development Commission (WEDC) says Washington can accelerate job growth and become a global leader in innovation. The WEDC's report, "Driving Washington's Prosperity – A Strategy for Job Creation and Competitiveness," released last week, identifies five key drivers for ensuring job creation and competitiveness:
  • Make talent a top priority
  • Invest in entrepreneurship
  • Connect through reliable infrastructure
  • Regulate in the smartest ways
  • Expand international business
The report also includes an analysis of the State's competitive strengths (research & development, patent production, technology jobs growth, venture capital investment, manufacturing and exports) and weaknesses (rate of jobs recovery, in-state production of scientists and engineers, workforce skills, household income, investment in transportation infrastructure and foreign direct investment).

Rep. Jeff Morris and Sen. Maralyn Chase serve in the WEDC, which provides the governor and the legislature with leadership and guidance on long-term economic development strategies to benefit all of Washington's citizens.

Read this story in Spanish.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Do you live in a food desert?

​Just what is a food desert?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is an area with limited access to supermarkets, grocery stores, small retailers, or other outlets where fresh, healthy, and affordable food can be purchased. They are a major public health concern, as overabundance of processed food and lack of fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats make it much harder for these communities to choose a healthy diet.

The USDA is out with a new interactive map of food deserts across the country, and Washington has its fair share. Each green spot on the map represents a food desert. A scalable map for denser communities can be found here.

House Democrats are already doing their part to help eliminate these food deserts and ensure Washingtonians have the option to lead healthy lifestyles.
House Bill 1276, sponsored by Rep. Chris Reykdal, would create a state pilot program for farm engagement projects in our K-12 system. The bill – which passed the House on a bipartisan 89-8 vote – was inspired by Olympia’s GRuB Program, which for years has been re-engaging underperforming students by allowing them to earn credit by learning and participating in local food system development.

Not only will these pilot projects help communities across the state create more local, fresh and sustainable food choices, they will also help reduce high-school dropout rates among at-risk youth. That’s what we call a win-win.

Read this story in Spanish.

Higher Ed Live Chat with Rep. Larry Seaquist