Seattle Council considers controversial rules for new police chief
The search for a new police chief will begin in earnest next year, and the City Council is proposing a rule change designed to attract stronger candidates. A bill from Council member Bruce Harrell, first heard in his public safety committee today, would allow a new chief to hire some of his senior command staff from outside the Seattle Police Department. That makes sense, right? The federal police monitor overseeing SPD’s compliance with a consent decree has said that at least some of the current command staff is actually contributing to the department’s problems. But the move doesn’t come without controversy—among cops and council members. Thanks to a rule passed by the council in the 1970s, anyone hired for a position above captain in the Seattle Police Department is currently required to be promoted from within. The Stranger, 12-4-13.
City Council to decide whether Seattle Indian Center must move
The Seattle City Council will decide the fate of the Leschi Center at a meeting at 2 p.m. Monday Dec. 9 at City Hall. The Leschi Center, a two-story tan-and-aqua adobe building at 611 12th Ave. S., has been home to the Seattle Indian Center and the Seattle Indian Health Board since the 1980s. The Seattle Indian Services Commission owns the building, but cannot afford to maintain it and has proposed selling the property to the Indian Health Board. However, the sale would require that the Seattle Indian Center leave the building. The city council has to approve the sale. The Indian Center operates a meal program, shelter for 60 people, and a hygiene center in the building. The Indian Health Board provides medical care for 7,000 people. Real Change, 12-4-13.
Railroads reverse course abruptly, say they will offer same-sex benefits in 2014, but gay couples’ lawsuit continues
A day after two gay engineers from Washington filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against BNSF Railway in US District Court in Seattle, a coalition representing the nation’s largest freight carriers announced big rail will begin providing health-care benefits to same-sex spouses of employees starting next year. The railroads’ statement added rail companies would provide the benefits, even though the conference doesn’t believe such coverage is required by law or existing collective bargaining agreements. Plaintiffs attorney Cleve Stockmeyer said neither he nor his clients have been contacted by BNSF about Wednesday’s announcement. He added his clients intend to pursue the suit to seek retroactive benefit payments and punitive damages for emotional distress. “And why isn’t this effective immediately?” Stockmeyer asked of the company’s sudden reversal. “BNSF shouldn’t get to break the law for another month until this kicks in.” Seattle Times, 12-4-13.
Lummi oppose coal terminal, but how hard will they fight it?
SSA Marine has its eye on Cherry Point for its proposed coal terminal because it’s surrounded by deep water with quick access to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. If the company has its way, up to 48 million tons of coal could move through these waters each year aboard more than 450 large ships bound for the Asian market. But if the Lummi and other tribes exercise their fishing rights, there may not be any coal ships servicing American terminals in these frigid Northwest waters. “I think they’re quite disgusting,” Lummi tribal member Jay Julius said when asked how he feels about the terminal backers’ efforts to make inroads with the Lummi. “It’s nothing new, the way they’re trying to infiltrate our nation, contaminate it, use people.” SSA Marine and Pacific International Terminals have lawyers and staff members working to negotiate with the Lummi to build the terminal. KUOW, 12-4-13.
Mount Vernon, Burlington routinely violated defendants’ constitutional rights, federal judge rules in ACLU suit
Two Washington cities have systematically violated the constitutional rights of poor defendants to effective legal representation, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, blaming city officials for being “willfully blind” to the effects of their cost-cutting. The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Skagit County towns of Mount Vernon and Burlington two years ago, alleging that public defenders there were so overworked that they amounted to little more than “a warm body with a law degree.” U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik agreed. His ruling Wednesday, following a two-week trial in June, could have broad ramifications for how cities provide legal help to the poor: “In the state of Washington, there are undoubtedly a number of municipalities whose public defense systems would, if put under a microscope, be found wanting,” he wrote. The judge ordered the cities to hire a part-time public defense supervisor to oversee whether poor defendants are receiving adequate legal counsel, saying “the court has grave doubts regarding the cities’ ability and political will to make the necessary changes on their own.” Lawyers involved said they believed it was the first time in the nation’s history a federal court had appointed such a supervisor to oversee a public defense agency. Associated Press (Bellingham Herald), 12-4-13.
Timber, enviro groups to try collaboration in Olympic Forest
Timber industry and environmental groups will make a stab at collaboration to boost both logging and habitat restoration in the Olympic National Forest. U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer (D-6), whose district includes the Olympic Peninsula, announced that effort Tuesday. It’s modeled on successful collaborations elsewhere in the Northwest, including the Colville and Siuslaw National Forests. The Olympic National Forest was ground zero for some of the hottest conflicts of the timber wars of the 1990s. Periodically, local environmental groups still file lawsuits. Current timber harvest rates are a fraction of historic levels. Now, Kilmer has convinced sometimes-antagonistic groups to focus on areas where they can agree. However, green activists said this announcement will not stop their controversial push for more wilderness set asides known as the Wild Olympics Campaign. KPLU, 12-4-13.
Ahern seeks futile recount in Spokane City Council race
A Spokane City Council candidate who lost big in his attempt to unseat incumbent Jon Snyder mistakenly believes he still may have a shot at winning. John Ahern, a former Republican state representative (R-6) defeated by a nearly 2-1 margin in the council race, is paying for a partial recount. But the request targets only about 1,600 ballots—too few to even potentially overcome Snyder’s nearly 5,700-vote margin—and it’s too late under state election laws to broaden it. Asked in an interview Tuesday if there could be counting errors or fraud found in a recount that could make up the deficit, Ahern said: “You never can tell. It’s worth at least a try.” “I look at it this way: Life is full of possibilities,” Ahern said. Spokesman-Review, 12-4-13.
Civil rights attorneys say systemic change, fueled by settlement with AT&T, is coming to the state prison system
In the fallout of a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit, Washington state’s prison system is about to receive an unprecedented infusion of cash with the potential to reform the Department of Corrections from criminal justice advocates on the outside. Earlier this year, in AT&T vs. Judd, the phone company settled a civil lawsuit filed by family and friends of a former inmate who accused AT&T of charging excessive rates for collect calls from Washington prisons between 1996 and 2000. AT&T coughed up $45 million into a settlement fund for an estimated 70,000 affected families. The residual funds from the settlement were awarded to social and legal service providers that work on behalf of prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. Last week, the remainder of the settlement’s residual funds, $6.5 million, was awarded to eight legal service organizations across the state. “There’s a new day coming for Washington’s prisons,” says David Carlson, director of legal advocacy at Disability Rights Washington. Carlson’s Seattle-based organization received $1.75 million, which will be used to continue its advocacy and legal work for prisoners with disabilities and mental illness. He hopes that with the new funding, organizations like his will inform the public and policymakers about “sensible” ways of dealing with prisoners and ex-prisoners. Pacific Northwest Inlander, 12-5-13.
She says she’s not running . . .
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pledged today she will not run for president in 2016 and when pressed added she will finish her six-year term. The Bay State senior senator has been mentioned in the preliminary talk about the presidential race, but fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton has generated the most buzz. “I’m not running for president and I plan to serve out my term,” Warren said at a press conference in Boston with Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh. When peppered about her intentions, she added: “I pledge to serve out my term. Boston Herald, 12-4-13.
. . . but she’s not running from a good scrap, either
As Elizabeth Warren waded in and a congresswoman running for Pennsylvania governor distanced herself, an escalating feud Wednesday between left-leaning and centrist groups highlighted a major fault line among Democrats over
entitlements earned benefits. It started with an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal. Two leaders of the center-left centrist think tank, Third Way, wrote that “economic populism is a dead end for Democrats.” Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler argued that plans to increase Social Security benefits, put off Medicare reform, and raise taxes on the rich espoused by liberals like Warren are irresponsible, substantively and politically. A chorus of groups aligned with the liberal wing of the party—from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee to Howard Dean’s Democracy for America and Russ Feingold’s Progressives United—responded by attacking Third Way as a Wall Street-funded front group. A chorus of groups aligned with the liberal wing of the party—from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee to Howard Dean’s Democracy for America and Russ Feingold’s Progressives United—responded by attacking Third Way as a Wall Street-funded front group. Politico, 12-4-13.
McDermott messes with Texas, raps state for refusing to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents
Physician-lawmaker Rep. Jim McDermott, (D-WA-7) delivered a stinging attack on states that have resisted expanded federal Medicaid coverage for their low-income citizens, saying actions by Republican politicians in such places as Texas are creating “two separate Americas.” “While half of our country moves ahead with affordable health insurance, the other half is being left behind. Places like Indiana, Georgia, and Florida have chosen not to expand Medicaid, leaving thousands of the nation’s most vulnerable uninsured with no help available,” McDermott said Wednesday at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing. “Texas has over 1 million people that could be insured at no cost to the state, if its governor chose to expand Medicaid. Instead, Texans who need the most — the working poor, families on minimum wage and veterans trying to get back on their feet — get nothing.” Seattle P-I, 12-4-13.
ALEC’s extreme legislative agenda for 2014
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meets in Washington, DC this week for its “States and Nation Policy Summit,” which is one of the ways ALEC crafts and pushes its legislative agenda for the coming year. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz —who helped push the country to the brink of financial default to thwart the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—headlines the conference Thursday. Failed vice-presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his Senator counterpart Ron Johnson (R-WI) will also address the crowd. But what will happen behind closed doors during the meeting? ALEC posted part of its legislative agendas for the meeting for the first time this month, while continuing to hide its funders and corporate authors of special interest legislation, as the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported. On ALEC’s agenda for 2014 are a long list of priorities and bills (which will become official ALEC “models” once passed by the task forces—with corporate lobbyists voting as equals alongside state legislators—and approved by the board of directors. PR Watch, 12-2-13.
To Think About
Republicans see one remedy for Obama: impeachment
History will record that on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary met to consider the impeachment of Barack Hussein Obama. They didn’t use that word, of course. Republican leaders frown on such labeling because it makes the House majority look, well, crazy. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), who has said there are enough votes in the House to impeach Obama, added: “We’ve also talked about the I-word, impeachment, which I don’t think would get past the Senate in the current climate. . . . Is there anything else we can do?” Why, yes, there is, congressman: You can hold hearings that accomplish nothing but allow you to sound fierce for your most rabid constituents. The Republicans in the House know there is no chance of throwing this president from office. Yet at least 13 of the 22 Republicans on the panel have threatened or hinted at impeachment of Obama, his appointees, or his allies in Congress. They’ve proposed this as the remedy to just about every dispute or political disagreement, from Syria to Obamacare. Dana Milbank, Washington Post, 12-3-13.