Techies not the only ones moving to S. Lake Union
Probably not since the days of the Klondike has part of Seattle felt as boomy as South Lake Union right now. The sidewalks are crammed with blue-badged programmers, working the great tech gold rush. It’s one of the hottest real-estate markets in the country, as 12-story office or biotech complexes are rising on nearly every block. But the boom has an off-key echo. At abandoned and fenced-off relics of the old neighborhood, all awaiting their dates with the next available crane, there’s a different sort of rush going on. The homeless are moving in. Danny Westneat, Seattle Times, 1-25-14.
Is the Seattle School District squelching candid talk about race?
The Seattle Science Center’s recent exhibit “RACE: Why are we so different?” was so well-received, and moving, that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray brought his key people to view it on the day he was sworn into office. One hundred yards away, at Center School, the Seattle School District has pulled the plug on “courageous conversations” about race and gender in an acclaimed class for high school seniors, and sent teacher Jon Greenberg packing to a middle school. Squelching these conversations, which featured minority students’ personal experiences, set off prolonged protests. The involuntary transfer of Greenberg is going to arbitration, which the district is at least a 50-50 bet to lose. But the district, its 8,000 employees, and 50,000-odd students have already lost. As Seattle becomes more a multi-ethnic city, its students should—OK, must—engage in a constructive rap about race. Joel Connelly, Seattle P-I, 1-24-14.
Rideshare use picks up sharply in King County
Regulations could start tightening on rideshare companies in Seattle by the end of next month—but not in the rest of King County. That’s where phone app-powered passenger pickup businesses like Lyft, UberX, and Sidecar are spreading. Their popularity and availability are growing rapidly on the Eastside, where the Seattle City Council’s proposed regulations can’t touch the companies—not yet anyway. Lyft announced Thursday that the coverage area for its pink-mustachioed cars has expanded from the densest Seattle neighborhoods to almost the entire Eastside. Its new coverage area stretches farther south to SeaTac and Renton, north to Shoreline and Bothell, and east to Sammamish. Sidecar and UberX have been serving those areas for months as suburban demand continues to grow for services that use geo-locating smartphone apps for dispatch and cash-free transactions. Seattle Times, 1-26-14.
Federal Way to maintain current path on marijuana businesses, despite AG’s opinion
As the implementation of legalized marijuana continues throughout Washington, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a “formal opinion” on the matter on Jan. 16, indicating that local municipalities will continue to have the prerogative in choosing how their cities deal with such businesses. Ferguson’s opinion will have little effect on Federal Way’s approach to marijuana-related businesses, according to city spokesman Chris Carrel. The city enacted a one-year moratorium on such businesses last November, and still plans to use the time to construct its approach to this issue. “(The city) hasn’t discussed the authority the attorney general discussed regarding being able to ban marijuana sales,” Carrel said. “To date, the city’s focus has been putting in place policies to successfully implement the legalization, as called for under the people’s initiative.” Federal Way Mirror, 1-25-14.
Harbor Paper employees left with thousands in medical bills when insurance unexpectedly lapsed
Jeff Thomas has been through five mill closures in his 55 years. But none of them, he said, were as bad as last year’s Harbor Paper closure. Nearly a year later his family is managing to say afloat, surviving on wages earned by his wife Susan Thomas, a bar manager who makes $13 per hour. They have a roof over their head in Ocean Shores and the cars are paid off, so on the surface, the family is doing just fine. The reality is more stark. Susan Thomas has ovarian cancer and they’re on the verge of medical bankruptcy. And they’re still uninsured. Several Harbor Paper employees are in similar situations, according to Ed Mustard, another former millworker. He said that when the mill closed, employees were told they would have medical insurance through the end of May. In fact, coverage stopped in March, leaving several families with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills. Mustard said the company had every opportunity to inform him of the lapse. He visited Harbor Paper’s human resources office every month to pay for additional medical coverage. Management accepted his checks — even after insurance coverage had stopped. “They basically stole our money,” Mustard said. Aberdeen Daily World, 1-25-14.
Medical advocates decry insurance rules in WA on waiting period for transplants
Newly insured consumers in Washington state who purchased health plans through the online exchange might find a surprise when they comb through the fine print in their policies: They’ll have to wait 90 days from when their insurance begins before coverage for transplants will kick in. The waiting period, a holdover from the days when insurers were able to impose restrictions on coverage for all sorts of preexisting conditions, has become the latest flash point in the often tense negotiations between insurers, regulators, doctors, and consumers over the design of the new individual and small-group health plans that went into effect Jan 1. Specialists who treat patients with cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses are outraged by the requirement and say there is no medical basis for it. They accuse insurers of violating Affordable Care Act provisions that prohibit discrimination against those with specific diseases. The waiting-period rule, which is in effect for policies sold by Premera Blue Cross, BridgeSpan Health, Moda Health and Group Health, applies to the entire transplant process. Washington Post, 1-26-14.
Insurer ordered to cover therapy for autistic kids
For the last three years, two Seattle lawyers have been working to force health insurers in Washington to improve coverage of therapies for autistic children. Their latest success is against Regence BlueShield, in a court case brought by Disability Rights Washington and the family of a 9-year-old boy with autism who was denied coverage for speech and occupational therapy. Friday, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones ruled that Regence’s blanket exclusion for treatments of medically necessary neurodevelopmental therapies, including speech and occupational therapy, for children over the age of 6, violates Washington’s Mental Health Parity Act of 2006. Ele Hamburger and Rick Spoonemore of the Sirianni Youtz Spoonemore law firm have filed eight similar class-action lawsuits in state and federal courts against insurers, including Group Health Cooperative, Molina Healthcare, Premera Blue Cross and state programs such as Medicaid and the Uniform Medical Plan, which provides health coverage to public employees. Seattle Times, 1-25-14.
Spokane delegation makes its annual trek west
A delegation of more than 80 Spokane-area folks arrived in Olympia last week with their annual “agenda”–some might call it a wish list–of things the Legislature could do to make life better for the state in general and the center of the Inland Empire in particular. This annual trek to the capital sponsored by Greater Spokane, Inc., herds well-briefed leaders of business, political, education, and civic groups through the marbled rooms and committee rooms and is the envy of many other cities and counties around Washington. It has prompted the sincerest form of flattery—imitation—from other communities, but many legislators still say Spokane’s full-court press lobbying remains the best. Jim Camden, Spokesman-Review, 1-25-14.
Is Steve Stuart out forever?
Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart is out. Or he will be, that is, by this time next year. He’s opted not to run for re-election this fall. But Stuart—in my humble opinion—needed to stick around. At least a little longer. Why? Well, we have this thing going on with the other two commissioners, David Madore and Tom Mielke. You know them better as the M&M boys. They’ve created a bit of a mess in the county. As an example, they can’t seem to shake their back-door hiring of their buddy state Sen. Don Benton as the county’s environmental services director. They sneaked him in the $100,000-a-year job before any sane person could say, “What the … ” I mean, Benton couldn’t tell the difference between air pollution and au gratin. Still, he got the environmental job. So, it was Stuart who brought a measure of mothering to the M&M boys. Sure, it wasn’t easy, and, frankly, it was a losing battle. But someone had to do it. And that was Stuart. He will be missed. Lou Brancaccio, Columbian, 1-25-14.
Hastings calls for
reforms to gutting Endangered Species Act
From spotted owls to salmon, the Pacific Northwest has been ground zero for the impacts—good and bad—of the Endangered Species Act for 40 years. That’s the view of U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA-4), who heads the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is considering significant changes to the landmark 1973 legislation. Hastings believes the law takes too much of an economic toll, leaves too much room for litigation by environmental groups, and lacks an emphasis on getting species recovered and off the list. He called legislation to reform the act a priority for the year. Proponents of the Endangered Species Act, say that it’s working well and that calls for reform are actually a move to weaken protections. Yakima Herald-Republic, 1-26-14.
Justice Department inquiry takes aim at banks’ business with payday lenders
Federal prosecutors are trying to thwart the easy access that predatory lenders and dubious online merchants have to Americans’ bank accounts by going after banks that fail to meet their obligations as gatekeepers to the United States financial system. The Justice Department is weighing civil and criminal actions against dozens of banks, sending out subpoenas to more than 50 payment processors and the banks that do business with them, according to government officials. In the new initiative, called “Operation Choke Point,” the agency is scrutinizing banks both big and small over whether they, in exchange for handsome fees, enable businesses to illegally siphon billions of dollars from consumers’ checking accounts, according to state and federal officials briefed on the investigation. New York Times, 1-26-14.
New York teachers turn on Common Core
The board of the New York state teachers union this weekend unanimously withdrew its support for the Common Core standards as they have been implemented—a major blow for Common Core advocates who have been touting support from teachers as proof that the standards will succeed in classrooms nationwide. “We’ll have to be the first to say it’s failed,” said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers. Iannuzzi said he has talked with union leaders in other states who may follow suit. “We’ve been in conversations where we’re all saying our members don’t see this going down a path that improves teaching and learning. We’re struggling with how to deal with it,” he said. The board also unanimously voted no confidence in New York Education Commissioner John King Jr. and urged the state’s Board of Regents to remove him from office. Politico, 1-26-14.
Why won’t Obama go after criminal bankers?
On 24 September 2013, Syracuse University’s “TRAC Reports,” the only organization that tabulates the federal government’s prosecutions of elite financial crimes, headlined “Slump in FBI White Collar Crime Prosecutions,” and reported that “prosecutions of white collar criminals recommended by the FBI are substantially down during the first ten months of Fiscal Year 2013.” This was especially so in the Wall Street area: “In the last year, the judicial District Court recording the largest projected drop in the rate of white collar crime prosecutions—27.8 percent—was the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).” Thus, President Obama has kept the promise that he had made in secret to the assembled Wall Street CEOs inside the White House on 27 March 2009 (but that was leaked out),”My administration … is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” There were certainly numerous prosecutable crimes, but no White House interest in pursuing them. Huffington Post, 1-24-14.
To Think About
Who backs the TPP and a ‘NAFTA on steroids’? ALEC
If President Obama uses his State of the Union address to launch a major push for “fast-track” authority to bypass congressional input and oversight on a sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, he will need new allies to generate support around the country. The president won’t be able to look to organized labor. Unions are overwhelmingly opposed to a deal that Communications Workers of America posters refer to as “NAFTA on Steroids.” He won’t be able to look to major environmental organizations. The Sierra Club,Friends of the Earth, and other green groups are outspoken in their opposition. If the president does go all in for the TPP, he will find himself in strange company—with one group that maintains an extensive network of political connections in states across the country and is enthusiastically on board for “the expedited conclusions and approval of the TPP.” That group is the American Legislative Exchange Council. The Nation, 1-24-14.