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Issue #132

King County

Seattle Police Officers’ Guild endorses Murray for mayor

Seattle Police Officers Guild President Rich O'Neill

The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) said Thursday it is endorsing Sen. Ed Murray for mayor, snubbing Mayor Mike McGinn, who appeared to represent the interests of the rank and file when he fought the Department of Justice over the extent of police reform. Guild President Sgt. Rich O’Neill said in a statement, “Many view Seattle government as broken and dysfunctional. SPOG believes that in order to work on all the problems facing the city we need Ed Murray and his ability to unite all of the different groups for the common good.” The union cited Murray’s legislative experience and expertise on civil rights, transportation, budgetary problems, and public safety. It noted Murray received the 2013 Legislator of the Year Award from the Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs and the same award in 2009 from the Washington State Council of Police & Sheriffs for his work supporting public safety. Seattle Times, 9-19-13.

Is Seattle heading for a grocery store strike?

QFC, Safeway, Fred Meyer, and Albertsons are in the middle of contentious bargaining with about 30,000 workers
QFC, Safeway, Fred Meyer, and Albertsons are in the middle of contentious bargaining with about 30,000 workers

About 30,000 grocery store workers in the Puget Sound region will be voting next week on whether to authorize a strike. That’s after the bargaining team decided to recommend a strike vote, saying they made no progress in bargaining earlier this week. The contracts being negotiated cover workers at Fred Meyer, QFC, Albertsons, and Safeway. They’re represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Teamsters. The unions had long ago set next week as the date to vote on a proposal, but this week they added the strike authorization vote. UFCW spokesman Tom Geiger said the supermarkets want to offer health insurance only to people who work 30 hours a week. That compares with 16 hours a week under the old contracts for individual coverage, 20 hours a week to qualify for family coverage. And he says the companies have offered no wage increases. KPLU, 9-19-13.

The “small business” face of a campaign to oppose a higher minimum wage for SeaTac hotel and airport workers

Cedarbrook Lodge
Cedarbrook Lodge

It is hard to put a sympathetic face on a political campaign to continue to pay workers a poverty-level minimum wage, but Scott Ostrander, the general manager of Cedarbrook Lodge, is doing his darndest. “I’m shaking here tonight because I’m going to be forced to lay people off for something that’s not their fault,” a woeful Ostrander told the SeaTac City Council. If SeaTac’s Proposition 1 passes—mandating a $15 an hour minimum wage and other benefits for airport, car rental, and hospitality workers—the consequences, says Ostrander, will be beyond his control. As the co-chair of Common Sense SeaTac, the industry-backed PAC opposing Proposition 1, Ostrander claims his 117-employee Cedarbrook Lodge is “a very small business.” At a July 16 town hall, he said, “We represent the working, the retired, the taxpayers…” But you know who else Ostrander represents? Members of Seattle’s wealthy Wright family—owners of the Space Needle and the adjacent Chihuly museum, Wright Hotels, which operates 40 hotels in 15 states, including the Seattle Sheraton, the Marriott Waterfront, and Ostrander’s “very small” Cedarbrook Lodge. The Space Needle is in the midst of its own ugly labor dispute, resulting in unfair labor practice charges from the National Labor Relations Board. The Stranger, 9-19-13.

A startling disconnect—even with a safety net in place

Last year the city of Seattle shut off water to about 4,000 households for unpaid water bills. Only 165 of those households were signed up for a discount water rate program that would have cut their rates in half, or better. The rest were paying full price for their water, sewer, and garbage, despite a paper trail of unpaid bills suggesting they were unable to do so. When it comes to electricity, it’s the same story. In 2012, Seattle City Light cut power to about 7,000 households for nonpayment, twice as many as in 2011. That is in spite of a 30-year-old program entirely funded by ratepayers that is designed to prevent such shutoffs from occurring. At West Seattle Help Line, about 75 percent of the clients seeking help for utilities are unaware that the city offers a discount to customers who make three-quarters of the area median income, said executive director Tara Luckie. Real Change, 9-18-13.

The State

Supreme Court allows ‘medical necessity’ defense in Olympia pot-growing case

Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Madsen

A divided Washington state Supreme Court has agreed that a necessity defense should have been allowed in a marijuana manufacturing case against an Olympia-area man fined $4,000 three years ago for possessing 42 marijuana plants and other packaged marijuana. The narrow 5-4 majority ruling sends the case back to Thurston County Superior Court for further action. The case involves William Kurtz, who is wheelchair bound due to a medical condition that causes him chronic pain. He was fined but not sent to jail by Judge Carol Murphy in October 2010, according to a report in the Olympian at the time. Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, who wrote the majority opinion, contended that the state’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act “does not abrogate the common law” allowing a medical necessity defense. Olympian, 9-19-13.

Public officials, others voice support for state road work

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson

A simmering debate on a proposed multibillion-dollar transportation funding plan touched down in Everett Wednesday where people urged a panel of lawmakers to settle their differences to make it happen. Speaker after speaker said money is needed to fix roads, bridges, and highways, and expand bus service. The longer the state goes without making an investment, the worse the situation will become, they said. “The time to act is now,” Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson told the eight Democratic and Republican lawmakers taking part in the forum. Wednesday marked the second of 10 stops on a “listening tour” conceived by the Republican-controlled Majority Coalition Caucus in the state Senate. The event drew an overflow crowd of about 150 people to the Snohomish County Administration Building. Everett Herald, 9-19-13.

Census survey paints grim picture of Clark County’s recovery

Income and home ownership fell in Clark County between 2008 and 2012, according to estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau today. The bureau’s American Community Survey paints a grim picture of Clark County’s recovery from the Great Recession. “We took a nasty hit,” said Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department. The housing crash took a heavy toll on Clark County, as well. Home ownership in Clark County dropped from a high of 71.6 percent in 2007, the year house prices hit their peak, to 64.1 percent in 2012. Housing costs stressed renters’ budgets. About 55 percent of renters spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing in 2012, up from 44 percent in 2008. (And yet Clark County Republicans—elected officials and rank-and-file party members—continue to oppose the Columbia River Crossing, which would provide jobs and help kick-start the local economy.) Vancouver Columbian, 9-19-13.

Insurer’s letters to consumers raise red flag with state

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler

The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) says it has received dozens of phone calls and e-mails from Washington residents upset by letters from their health-insurance carriers that inform them their current health plan will be discontinued at year’s end because of the federal Affordable Care Act. The number of calls and e-mails is striking, given that health insurers have only just sent out the discontinuation letters, said OIC spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis. The letters inform recipients that their health plans will be discontinued at the end of 2013, and suggest an alternative health plan for 2014 that is most comparable to each person’s current plan. In some cases, the suggested health plan appears to be far less appealing than the current plan, which is raising the ire of consumers. The letter fails to mention that customers will be able to choose from a range of health plans – and not just those offered by LifeWise – when the state’s new health-insurance exchange opens for enrollment Oct. 1. The exchange, called Washington Healthplanfinder, will allow residents to choose from dozens of health plans for coverage in 2014. Seattle Times, 9-19-13.

Union vote begins for some PLU faculty members

Pacific Lutheran University
Pacific Lutheran University

Faculty members at Pacific Lutheran University begin voting Thursday on whether to unionize. It’s the result of a monthslong fight that has pitted PLU’s lecturers, adjunct professors, and other non-tenure track instructors against the administration. A group of faculty members has been pushing for this vote since spring, saying they say they get too little money and too little say over their working conditions. The university has opposed it all along, and it took a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board to break the logjam. KPLU, 9-19-13.

The Nation

Three WA House Republicans vote to slash food stamps

Republican Rep. Dave Reichert: Votes to cut food stamps by $40 billion over next decade.
Republican Rep. Dave Reichert: Votes to cut food stamps by $40 billion over next decade.

The U.S. House of Representatives, by a narrow 217-210 margin, voted Thursday to slash $40 billion from the federal food stamps program over the next 10 years, which will knock 3.8 million people off the program in 2014, with Republicans supplying every single vote for the deep cuts. U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Doc Hastings, (R-WA), all voted in favor of the cuts.  The state’s six Democratic House members voted no.  Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) did not vote. Hastings presided over the House during the debate. The cuts will now go to a Senate-House conference committee on the Farm Bill.  The U.S. Senate earlier this year passed, on a 66-27 bipartisan vote, a Farm Bill that cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by only $2 billion. Seattle P-I, 9-19-13.

Cantwell grills NOAA nominee on ocean acidification funding

Cantwell says Washington's $270 million shellfish industry is at risk without adequate funding for monitoring of ocean acidification.
Cantwell says Washington’s $270 million shellfish industry is at risk without adequate funding for monitoring of ocean acidification.

Ocean health is at stake as Congress decides whether to confirm the next head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The nominee faced tough questions from Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, about funding for research of and adaptation to ocean acidification. It’s sometimes called global warming’s “evil twin.” Ocean acidification is caused by carbon emissions that are absorbed by the ocean. It’s threatening to dramatically alter the chemistry of marine ecosystems and could devastate shellfish industries in the Pacific Northwest. In the confirmation hearing, Senator Cantwell grilled the nominee, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, about proposed cuts to a monitoring program. Cantwell asked, would Sullivan continue to support research, adaptive breeding programs, and sensors on buoys? Sullivan said yes. KPLU, 9-19-13.

Republicans struggling to find challenger for DelBene in 2014

US Rep. Suzan DeBene (D-1)

Washington’s 1st Congressional District is supposed to be swing-voter territory, but so far it looks as though Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene has little reason to fear a major Republican challenge in 2014. While Republicans are well on their way to targeting vulnerable Democratic incumbents in other parts of the country, the GOP has no obvious prospects in the 1st District. A few names tossed around by local GOP leaders have not panned out. And national political analysts are starting to write the race off. Susan Hutchison, newly elected chairman of the state Republican Party, said “we think it’s a Republican district” and vowed the GOP will find a viable candidate. “We’re going to mount a serious challenge, I can tell you that,” she said. “There are some exciting people who are talking about it.” But Hutchison declined to name any of the party’s prospects and those mentioned by other GOP leaders as possible candidates have not stepped forward. Seattle Times, 9-19-13.

Agency shuts down Highway 12 stretch to megaloads

In this Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 photo, a megaload is parked between the Clearwater River and U.S. Highway 12 at Kooskia, Idaho.
In this Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 photo, a megaload is parked between the Clearwater River and U.S. Highway 12 at Kooskia, Idaho.

Federal forest administrators issued a closure order Wednesday for a section of U.S. Highway 12 through north-central Idaho that for now suspends all future trucking of big and wide loads. The order, signed by Faye Krueger, regional forester of the northern region, targets a 100-mile stretch of the roadway that passes through the Lochsa-Clearwater Wild and Scenic River corridor. The order also comes days after a federal judge in Boise blocked a second shipment of oil-field equipment that was scheduled to begin its journey across the state Wednesday, into Montana en route to Canada’s tar sands. Oregon-based hauler Omega Morgan trucked a 225-foot-long, 640,000-pound water evaporator along the route earlier this year, amid protests from Nez Perce tribal members and others opposed to using the scenic highway for a megaload shipping route. Associated Press (Idaho Statesman), 9-18-13.

Elizabeth Warren’s consumer watchdog forces JPMorgan Chase to pay depositors $329 million

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

During last year’s Massachusetts Senate race, the banking giant JPMorgan Chase heaped more than $80,000 on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s opponent Scott Brown. And for good reason. The consumer watchdog agency that she conceived of and helped get running announced Thursday that it has ordered JPMorgan Chase to pay $309 million to more than 2.1 million Americans it scammed, plus a penalty of $20 million. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that between 2005 and 2012, Chase charged customers monthly fees ranging from $8 to $12 for services they didn’t ask for and didn’t receive. The bank collected money from customers for credit card products such as “identity theft protection” and “fraud monitoring,” even when the consumer hadn’t given consent. The refund the CFPB ordered the bank to issue includes the total fraudulent fees charged, plus interest, and amounts to about $147 a person. Mother Jones, 9-19-13.

Obama nominates Native American woman to Federal Court

Diane J. Humetewa has been nominated by President Barack Obama for the U.S. District Court for Arizona.

Responding to widespread requests from tribal leaders and Indian legal advocates, President Barack Obama has nominated a Native American to serve on the federal bench. The president announced September 19 that Diane J. Humetewa is a nominee for the U.S. District Court for Arizona. She is a Hopi citizen, and from 2002 to 2007 she served as an appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court. If Humetewa can pass muster with the Senate Judicial Committee and Arizona’s senators, then she will have the distinction of being the first Native American appointed and confirmed to the federal bench by Obama. It is already known that she has a strong ally in U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who previously recommended her for a U.S. attorney position during George W. Bush’s second term. Indian affairs experts had been pressuring the president to make another Native American federal judgeship appointment – several more, in fact – citing the large number of Indian law cases heard in federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court’s tendency not to understand tribal law. Indian Country Today, 9-19-13.

To Think About

Are governments incentivizing longer prison terms?

CCA's Bent County facility in Las Animas CO
CCA’s Bent County facility in Las Animas CO

Prisoners cost money. They’re expensive to house and feed, and while they’re behind bars, most don’t contribute to the economy. Once they’re out of jail, their economic productivity is significantly below that of non-offenders. That’s why public policy goals on incarceration focus on avoiding crime altogether or, at the least, keeping inmates in jail only until they’re rehabilitated and can rejoin society. But stated goals and the actual incentives that prison policy promote turn out to be two very different things. A new report finds that states are giving themselves an incentive to keep inmates in prison longer and to crowd those prisoners into smaller spaces, too. The report from In the Public Interest, a transparency watchdog group, finds many state, county and local governments that outsource prisons to private corporations frequently sign contracts that guarantee a certain occupancy rate in prison beds. If governments don’t meet those quotas, the contracts require them to pay the firms for unoccupied beds. Washington Post, 9-19-13.

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