Dream Act dies; Tom blames — wait for it — the Democrats
The state Senate majority leader has quelled any speculation that a proposal known as the state Dream Act would pass the Senate this session. Sen. Rodney Tom (“D”-48) said HB 1817, which would make undocumented students eligible for need grants, would not be brought to the floor for a vote. Tom’s assertion came amid speculation that a rarely used parliamentary procedure called the 9th Order could be employed to pull the bill from the Senate Higher Education Committee, where it has languished. Committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-10) said in late March the bill would not receive a committee vote, effectively killing it until next session. Yakima Herald-Republic, 4-7-13.
Sen. Barbara Bailey: Denying the American Dream
At the end of her cheery voice mail message, Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-10) — the committee chair who refuses to allow a vote on the Washington Dream Act — urges her callers: “Go on out and make it a great day.” Xochitl Rojas, in the United States since age 3, would like to make it a great life for her family in a country she has learned to love. She could do so by getting a State Need Grant and completing her nursing education at South Seattle Community College. The Dream Act would easily pass the state Senate were a floor vote allowed. It mustered a bipartisan 77-20 majority in the House, including the votes of Republican Reps. Norma Smith and Dave Hayes from the 10th District. Bailey puts on a public face as a sweet-as-sugar Christian lady and paragon of public piety. But is it a Christian act to deny young people the opportunity to get an education, fulfill their dreams, and make a contribution to what is very much their country? Seattle P-I, 4-5-13.
Why state Senate Democrats voted for a budget they don’t like
State Senate Democrats are in the curious position of explaining why they helped pass a budget they don’t like. One Democrat after another rose Friday to blast the plan on the Senate floor, saying it hurt women, children and the poor. “I want to make it very clear this is not a bipartisan budget,” said Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34). “We will need more revenue, for (education) … and please, for the safety net. The poor are hurt in this budget and it’s painful for all of us.” Yet with all their distaste for the budget, this is also about strategy. Democrats are working to remain key players, given they are in the minority for the first time in eight years. Seattle Times, 4-6-13.
State mental health spending gains ground as problems mount
The social safety net became ground zero last week for a fierce debate in the Legislature over how to fund schools, but there was consensus among lawmakers on at least one social service: treating mental illness. “We had to put some resources there, or there would be no room at the inn for people who were in serious trouble,” Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-24), lead budget negotiator for the Democrats, said Friday night after senators approved the Republican-flavored plan. But major funding has yet to be secured for one of the most critical problems in the mental health system: Bottlenecks that have left patients languishing in emergency rooms and jails. House Democrats said their plan would do more. Tacoma News Tribune, 4-7-13.
Lakewood police charity scandal rooted in betrayal of trust
The money poured in after the Lakewood police massacre. The murders of Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, and Greg Richards in a Parkland coffee shop on Nov. 29, 2009, sent shock waves around Pierce County and across the country. Hearts were opened to the grieving families – and so were wallets. Sgt. John Unfred, the treasurer of the charity and the guild’s former treasurer, estimated it took in about $100,000 the day after the murders, as much as $1 million by the fourth day. All told, the charity accounted for nearly $3.2 million, he said. Into the deluge stepped officers Skeeter Manos and Brian Wurts, best friends and elected officers in the police guild. The two friends have emerged as key figures in the story of how the Lakewood Police Department’s biggest tragedy led to its biggest scandal. Tacoma News Tribune, 4-7-13.
Pensions, Part 1: State feels bite of workers’ ‘pension spiking’
By the end of 2009, three veteran managers at Lakewood Fire District 2 earned salaries that topped $175,000 annually — more than Seattle’s fire chief, who was overseeing a department roughly 10 times as large. Just four days before Michael McGovern and Greg Hull were set to retire, their annual salaries jumped by more than $17,000 each, in part due to a late contract addendum. Bob Bronoske got a similar increase just 13 weeks before he departed, putting each of their compensation rates around $200,000. The last-minute pay raises cost taxpayers in the Tacoma suburb for only a brief time. In the long run, however, they may end up draining a state-run pension plan of $1 million or more because the adjustments boosted each of the men’s lifetime retirement payments by more than $1,000 per month. Associated Press (Seattle Times), 4-6-13.
Pensions, Part 2: Washington medical plan for retirees imperils budgets
While local governments around the country have dealt with debilitating budget problems in recent years, a Washington state retirement system created decades ago for now-veteran public servants has added particularly daunting burdens for some jurisdictions. Those governments are struggling to manage costs for the most lavish medical plan possible, in which every expense is covered by taxpayers with no support from premiums, deductibles or even copays. And with the aid of obscure disability boards often staffed by friends or former colleagues of the retirees, public money has directly covered things like hot tubs, penile implants, and hypnotic treatments for weight loss, according to an AP investigation. Still, the worst is yet to come. Associated Press (Seattle Times), 4-7-13.
Neighbors dispute police account of shooting of native man in Seattle
Jack Keewatinawin, who turned 21 in early February, had mental issues, but no one in his Seattle neighborhood had ever had a problem with him. Neighbors say the poor boy was “always scared” of the demons and ghosts that haunted him, but was never a threat to his friends and neighbors. A little before 8 p.m. on the evening of February 26, just as darkness fell, Seattle police answered a report of domestic disturbance by Keewatinawin’s two older brothers, Hawk Firstrider and Montano Northwind. On the recording of that 911 call, one of them says, “My dad is being killed right now, please! My brother’s schizophrenic and he’s flipping out and he’s got a knife to him!” Officers confronted Keewatinawin outside his father’s house, on his front lawn; they shot him with Tasers twice in an attempt to subdue him, but he pulled the two probes out of his chest and ran into the front yard of the duplex next door. Officers chased him across the shared lawn of the two duplexes, and in a dimly lit area, the police say, one officer slipped and fell, and was lying on his back. At that point, the police report of the incident states, “The suspect withdrew a long piece of metal from his beltline and raised it over his head, and came toward the officer. “The three officers were forced to fire their weapons to defend themselves, striking the suspect.” This was the second controversial shooting of an American Indian in the last two years in Seattle, and comes after the Department of Justice had investigated how that city’s police deal with confrontational situations. Indian Country Today, 4-3-13.
FAA delays closing airport towers, including Renton’s, till June 15
The Federal Aviation Administration has delayed the closure of 149 air-traffic control towers in the country, including the one at Renton Municipal Airport, until June 15. The closure of the towers was scheduled to begin Sunday, April 7, but Friday the FAA indicated it needed more time to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closures. The tower at Renton Airport was scheduled to close April 21. The City of Renton Wednesday filed a petition for review in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the process by which the FAA decided to close the towers. Many other airports across the country have filed similar challenges. Renton Reporter, 4-5-13.
Pacific top cops still locked out by Mayor Cy Sun despite Civil Service Commission ruling
The acrimony between Pacific Mayor Cy Sun and the city’s police force ratcheted up a level this past week. The city’s Civil Service Commission reinstated Chief John Calkins and Lt. Edwin Massey Thursday, overturning their suspension and clearing them to return to work. Two weeks ago the officers were placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by Sun into “intimidation and harassment.” After Calkins and Massey appealed the suspensions, the Civil Service Commission ruled that Sun’s actions did not satisfy the “procedural requirements for any suspension, with or without pay…” and reinstated the officers to duty Friday. But Massey said he found himself locked out of his office when he reported to the police station Friday. “I just want to do my job,” Massey told KING 5 News. “He (Sun) told me that he did no approve my return and that he would not let me back in. Then he walked out.” Auburn Reporter, 4-6-13.
Immigration reform: The coming fight over the low-skilled worker visa
At the heart of a soon-to-be-released bipartisan compromise on immigration reform is a controversial proposal that would create several new government bureaus and offices to oversee a new generation of legal, low-skilled immigrants—up to 200,000 a year when the program gets up and running. Under the terms of a deal struck between the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the Gang of Eight over Easter weekend, the bill would create a new, low-skilled worker visa: the “W-visa”. After listing a low-skilled job and receiving no acceptable American applicants, an employer could register to recruit a foreign worker. What if a low-skilled worker decides to stay? Holders of the W-visa could get on a path for citizenship after one year. Time, 4-8-13.
No brownie points: Idaho Senate keeps tax on Girl Scout cookies
Who can resist a Girl Scout selling something, except perhaps the state of Idaho? Girl Scout troops for decades have lifted millions of dollars from adult wallets selling cookies to raise money for their programs. They’ve also been some of the nation’s best lobbyists, deploying their youthful charm to fight off so many tax writers that, today, just two states—Idaho and Hawaii—try to take a bite out of their cookie sales. During this year’s legislative session in Boise, a stream of Girl Scouts used boxes of Thin Mints, meetings with lawmakers, and hand-drawn appeals to handily win a sales-tax exemption from the Idaho House. It was all very sweet. Then came the proficiency badge in raw politics. A circle of senior senators blocked their next move, standing ground on the more fundamental but less winsome question about whether governments should be handing out more tax breaks. Wall Street Journal, 4-6-13.
To Think About
Insurance and freedom
Commentary is already flowing fast and furious about President Obama’s proposed budget. Progressives are angry (with good reason) over proposed cuts to Social Security; conservatives are denouncing the call for more revenues. But it’s all Kabuki. House Republicans will block anything Mr. Obama proposes, so his budget is best seen not as policy but as positioning, an attempt to gain praise from “centrist” pundits. No, the real policy action at this point is in the states, where the question is, How many Americans will be denied essential health care in the name of “freedom?” I’m referring, of course, to the question of how many Republican governors will reject the Medicaid expansion that is a key part of Obamacare. What does that have to do with freedom? In reality, nothing. But when it comes to politics, it’s a different story. Paul Krugman, New York Times, 4-7-13.