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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: legislature

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September 20, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Conversation starter: What would you ask state candidates?

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Get ready for the barrage of candidates and campaign information heading toward your doorstep.

Since May, throughout the state, legislative candidates have been doorbelling, speaking at rallies, riding in parades, glad-handing at fairs, meeting with newspaper editorial boards. The Seattle Times editorial board continues to publish its recommendations for voters to consider when they cast their ballots.

But voters themselves can find plenty of opportunity to ask candidates about important topics. The Times editorial board has published its suggestions voters can ask, along with explanations of why they are important.

What would you ask candidates, given the chance? What would you say they need to focus on? Why? Leave your comment in the form below and it might be featured in print and online in the next week.

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Comments | More in Discussion | Topics: candidates, Conversation Starter, legislature

June 16, 2014 at 6:09 AM

Influencing lawmakers with free food and booze

Hey taxpayers, are you aware that Washington state lawmakers can each claim a daily allowance of up to $120 when they are in a legislative session? That allotment is supposed to cover three meals, lodging and transportation costs. Chances are pretty slim anyone is getting filthy rich off the practice, and The Associated Press reports it’s still below the $155 per diem allowed for state employees traveling to Thurston County.

The problem is lawmakers don’t have to disclose when they are treated to free meals by outside groups. They get their daily allowance regardless and are permitted to enjoy as much fine dining from lobbyists as they please, so long as those occasions are “infrequent.” Only gifts that exceed $50 are supposed to be reported.

A citizen complaint last summer led the Legislative Ethics Board to take a closer look at the legislative branch’s policies on complimentary food. (Read The Seattle Times’ July 29, 2013 editorial.) The panel advised lawmakers to clarify their own rules. That nudge didn’t lead to action, so the board is taking matters into its own hands.

On Tuesday, June 17, the board will meet in Olympia to consider more defined parameters and seek public comments. Board Counsel Mike O’Connell emailed a PDF file listing the four options under consideration. See the spreadsheet below:

Source: Legislative Ethics Board

Source: Legislative Ethics Board

To avoid the appearance of being influenced by lobbyists with deep pockets and fine dining tastes, lawmakers absolutely should track and reveal when they accept free meals, and lobbyists should do the same.

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Comments | Topics: disclosure, legislature, lobbying

June 9, 2014 at 6:25 AM

How to prevent the next SPU shooting

The picture emerging of Aaron Rey Ybarra is crushingly familiar.YbarraCourt

A young man with documented mental health problems (he was twice evaluated for involuntary psychiatric hospitalization) who’d said he “wanted to hurt himself and others“; who hadn’t seen a mental health provider for months and appeared to be taking his medications sporadically; yet was striving for stability, with a new job and sessions at Alcoholics Anonymous.

The picture still needs to be filled out, and the policies to spin out of this tragedy should include a review of state gun laws. But I read Ybarra’s story as a call for an important mental health reform, largely neglected here in Washington.

Ybarra may have been a good candidate for what’s known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment. It involves court-ordered outpatient therapy, with intensive supervision of a treatment plan that can include housing and other help. Patients have to have a serious illness, including hospitalizations, and often have a history of noncompliance with treatment.

New York has a program, known as “Kendra’s Law,” with about 2,500 people, at a cost of $32 million, according to a New York Times story, but it is estimated by Duke University researchers to save about 50 percent per-patient off state Medicaid costs because patients didn’t go to expensive hospitals nearly as often.

From the Duke study, which included New York and surrounding counties:

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Comments | Topics: assisted outpatient treatment, gun culture, legislature

June 2, 2014 at 6:07 AM

At least some are asking right questions in Insurance Commissioner case

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler

At least some Olympians seem to be asking the right questions about a rather nasty allegation of misconduct in the Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner.  Among them is state Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, who plans a hearing June 16 that will put the matter on center stage.

A former Spokane County District Court judge, Padden says he is disturbed at the accusation that has been leveled by administrative law judge Patricia Petersen. She claims her boss in the office threatened her job in order to obtain favorable rulings.

“I just know, from 12 years as a district court judge, that independence is a bedrock principle the entire judiciary should embrace,” Padden says.

Padden is a Republican and Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is a Democrat, but the Senate committee’s inquiry is precisely what Olympia should be doing – poking, prodding, exposing facts and dealing with the central issue of the case. If only those who are more directly responsible felt the same way.

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Comments | Topics: insurance commissioner, legislature, mike kreidler

March 17, 2014 at 6:28 AM

Washington transportation committee co-chairs, allies turn against each other

An experiment in bipartisanship that began with so much promise a year ago totally crumbled in the final hours of this year’s legislative session.

State Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair the Transportation Committee (2013 Instagram photo by Thanh Tan)

State Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair the Transportation Committee (2013 Instagram photo by Thanh Tan)

Let’s turn the clock back to March 27, 2013. On that day, I wrote a column, “State Senate Transportation co-chairs break new ground as political foes — and allies.” I’d gone down to Olympia to learn more about one of the rare political partnerships that emerged from the formation of the Majority Coalition Caucus. The buzz in the capitol at that time was that state Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, were showing it was possible for a Republican and a Democrat to co-chair a committee and get things done.

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Though other Democrats rejected the coalition’s offers to lead committees, Eide surprised her colleagues by accepting the co-chairmanship with King.

“I trust him explicitly,” she said, citing their experience together crafting budgets and serving on committees. 

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Comments | Topics: curtis king, legislature, tracey eide

March 12, 2014 at 6:20 AM

Another important mental health reform… gets delayed

Doug Reuter is most likely leaving Olympia Wednesday morning a frustrated man.

Doug and Nancy Reuter (Bettina Hansen / Seattle Times)

Nancy and Doug Reuter (Bettina Hansen / Seattle Times)

He and his wife Nancy moved to Olympia from Texas this winter to lobby the Legislature on a mental-health reform bill they believe would’ve saved their son’s life. The Joel Reuter bill, as it’s become known, passed the House 96-0, due in large part to their amazing advocacy.

It simply would allow family members to seek judicial review if a mentally ill loved one is denied emergency psychiatric hospitalization. Right now, there is no means to contest a denial by the gatekeepers of involuntary commitments. As Doug Reuter points out, supposedly progressive Washington ranks 49th in the nation for community psychiatric beds, and is an outlier on this issue too. Forty-five other states already allow judicial review, which the Reuters used to get their son help in Arizona.

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Comments | Topics: legislature, mental health

March 11, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Legislature passes bills to fight sex trafficking

With just two more days left in the legislative session, state lawmakers have found the political will to unanimously pass three bills to help combat sex trafficking. One other foster-care bill is still in play and deserves consideration before Thursday’s adjournment.

As mentioned in previous Opinion Northwest blog posts and Seattle Times editorials, legislative action is necessary because hundreds of children are forced to sell their bodies every night. Some get caught up in the life for years before they are able to find help. Foster kids without a permanent home are especially susceptible to pimps and their false promises of clothing, shelter and love.

Here’s the status of several trafficking-related bills measures as of Tuesday morning: (Note: The status of each bill is subject to change.)

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Comments | Topics: foster care, legislature, sex trafficking

March 6, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Updated: Time running out for state Legislature to pass anti-sex trafficking bills

Updated 3:31 p.m. on March 7:

Bills are moving through the Legislature quickly. I’ve revised information throughout this post, which was originally published Thursday morning. Check back after the weekend for more updates.

Original:

As the Washington Legislature nears its March 13 deadline, now is the time to track and review efforts to end sex trafficking.

Yes, this is a statewide crisis. In the Seattle-King County area alone, the most recent studies suggest hundreds of children as young as 11 years old are being sexually exploited for commercial purposes. Organizations such as the Center for Child & Youth Justice and YouthCare are building new models to identify and treat these sex workers as victims, not criminals.

Below, watch video of StolenYouth’s Jan. 29 forum at Town Hall to understand how advocates are responding to the problem.

This year in Olympia, lawmakers took up several measures to strengthen the state’s laws against trafficking. So far, two bills outlined below have passed both houses. Lawmakers should make sure several other measures get to the governor’s desk before time runs out. They must maintain the state’s position as a leader in combating sex trafficking through strong legislation.

Here’s a rundown of several bills related to sex trafficking and their status as of Wednesday:

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Comments | Topics: legislature, prostitution, sex trafficking

February 11, 2014 at 6:25 AM

How to get bankers to pay to reduce prison recidivism

The notion of inviting venture capitalists into the state human services system sounds, I’ll admit, a bit creepy. When I heard that notion was floating around the 2014 Legislature, my thoughts went to the private prison industry and its dismal race-to-the-bottom practices.

MA pay for success

Pay For Success project (Source: Commonwealth of Massachusetts)

But as Tuesday’s Seattle Times editorial suggests, the notion, in HB 2337, deserves a second look. So-called “social impact bonds” are racing around public-policy circles, embraced by the left (the Center for American Progress write-up) and from the libertarian right (Reason Foundation’s write up).

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Comments | Topics: legislature, nonprofits, prison

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