Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for February, 2013

Washington near top, again, in prescription pain pill misuse

by February 12th, 2013

For the second time in a row, Washington ranks in the top five among 50 U.S. states in the percent of people aged 12 and older who reported having misused prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet or codeine in the last year by taking them without a prescription or “simply for the experience or feeling the drug caused.” That’s according to newly published findings for 2010-2011 from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an ongoing gauge of various concerns which also revealed last fall that from 2008 through 2010 Seattle ranked second out of 33 U.S. metropolitan regions in suicide attempts.

State wants public comment on pocket gopher recovery plan

by February 12th, 2013

Some 6,000 years ago in what became Oregon, volcanic Mount Mazama erupted. That carved out Crater Lake, from around where later originated Thomomys mazama, or the Mazama pocket gopher. It thrived in western Oregon, western Washington and northern California. But the advance of man has spelled trouble for this five-and-a-half-inch long, prominently-incisored rodent – which helps wildflowers grow and provides shelter for salamanders and Western Toads. By year’s end the U.S. government may designate four of its subspecies as officially threatened in Washington. The state has already listed it as threatened, in 2006, and recently released a draft recovery plan upon which public comment can be submitted through April 19.

Washington state’s “sunshine committee” battles doctors, hospitals, insurers on medical malpractice data disclosure

by February 7th, 2013

The Washington state legislature’s “Sunshine Committee” is advocating for House Bill 1299 to open up data on settled medical malpractice claims but public hospitals, doctors and insurers are voicing strong opposition. A preview of the looming battle came earlier this week in testimony to the House Government Operations and Elections Committee; TVW video is below. The bone of contention is 1299’s provision to remove from current state law an exemption to the Open Public Records Act which bars disclosure of information on “the identity of a claimant, health care provider, health care provider, health care facility, insuring entity or self-insurer” in settled medical malpractice claims. Such information could be important to consumers and the media, and increase pressure for improved standards of care where needed – but opponents are warning of privacy issues and potential conflicts with federal law.

Data viz: bank failures by state rates; & mapped with docs

by February 7th, 2013

The rate of failure for Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-insured U.S. banks continued to drop in 2012 from its 2010 peak of 2.09 percent. The failure rate was .71 percent in 2012, down from 1.24 percent in 2011. Bank failures eased sharply in 2012 in Washington, to zero, compared to a failure rate in 2011 that was fourth highest in the nation, 4.17 percent; and a rate of 13.92 percent in 2010 that was second highest nationally, after Puerto Rico. These and other data points can be found in the following data visualizations for U.S. states and the nation, based on FDIC open data from 2000 to 2012. To explore: hover your mouse over map dots and dot clusters, graph points, bar tips, and bank names, and use the vertical slider. Following the first, three-part viz is another, which reveals ranked bank failure rates by state each year. There were no recorded bank failures for the years 2005 and 2006.

In this second part of the viz, the map gives average annual bank failure rates for U.S. states. You can scroll down to the chart and mouse over the colored squares for more info. To arrange the states in ranked order of bank failure rates, mouse over the year and click on the small box which contains blue horizontal bars and a downward arrow. Make sure to use the vertical scroll tool on the right to get a full view of the rankings, from top to bottom.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

King County pays $10.5 mil in 4th quarter negligence cases

by February 5th, 2013

A woman run over by a bus in West Seattle. A man who had already won a large settlement for police excessive force but whose attorney was denied key records in the process. A woman attacked and injured by a neighbor’s two pit bulls, about which she had already made complaints. Three different people injured by the same King County bus that rounded a bend on Interstate 5 and smacked into stalled traffic, at 30 miles per hour. These are a few of the 13 “tort,” or negligence lawsuits King County settled before trial with claimants for $100,000 or more in the fourth quarter of 2012, for a total of $10,535,500. The information comes in a new report to the King County Council from Jennifer Hillis, Director of the Office of Risk Management, Department of Executive Services.

The last quarter results bring to $15,785,500 the total of $100,000-plus tort claim settlements by the county in 2012, compared to $23.1 million in 2011 and $10.3 million in 2010, according to earlier county records reported on by Public Data Ferret. The percentage of dollars paid out in such settlements that stemmed from errors attributed to King County Metro transit employees was almost 73 percent in 2012 versus 27 percent in 2011 and 64 percent in 2010.

AG warns of more “McCleary-esque” suits by county judges

by February 1st, 2013

Washington could increasingly bear the costs of suing itself, having to pay for suits by state-funded public employees such as county superior court judges aggrieved at budget cuts imposed by county officials who may themselves then turn around and sue the state in response. That was the warning from the state’s Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Moran in Olympia this week to lawmakers on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government. (See TVW video below).

Moran said a current lawsuit against Grays Harbor County commissioners by the county’s superior court judges has so far cost the state $340,000 for outside counsel it is legally required to provide to the judges, who are state employees and have no funds of their own to sue. Moran, who was accompanied by new Attorney General Bob Ferguson, told the subcommittee the AG’s office will need another $600,000 to pay for the judges’ outside counsel in the 2013-15 state budget, although a settlement may occur before a scheduled trial this June.

Moran added that a similar standoff between superior court judges and county commissioners is looming in Cowlitz County, and that given similar county court funding problems across the state, such lawsuits at state expense could grow. “I would be astounded if the two counties didn’t become three” and then more, Moran told the subcommittee this week. County courts in many instances across the state are badly overcrowded and run-down.

The county has already spent another roughly $200,000 of its own to date with attorney Thomas Fitzpatrick and his partner, former State Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge of West Seattle, to defend itself against the judges and to in turn sue the state – claiming that it has been the real culprit by shirking its responsibility to adequately fund county court facilities. Beyond paying for the judges to sue the county, the state is also bearing additional costs for its own defense by the AG’s Office in the third-party action by the county board. The case is Grays Harbor Superior Court Judges v. Grays Harbor v. State of Washington.

The Grays Harbor judges sued the county in December, 2011 in neighboring Thurston County Superior Court, after their county’s commissioners had made cumulative cuts to the court’s budget over 10 years totaling five percent. The final straw was a planned 8.3 percent cut of $59,020 for the court in 2012 from the 2011 budget of $704,838; plus additional cuts to the budget of the juvenile justice center, The Daily World reported. The judges wanted a promised third courtroom, more court administrative staff to handle a pressing caseload, and basic security. They got the latter after a violent incident in the courthouse last March when an armed intruder shot a deputy and stabbed a judge. Both survived.

As explained in a backgrounder from Ferguson’s Office, the AG would have been able to represent the judges without paying outside counsel to do, except that the AG’s first obligation in the case was to defend the state against the county board’s lawsuit stemming from the judges’ suit against the county. Representing both sides would have posed a conflict.

Parallels to landmark education funding decision
Moran suggested that in calling attention to basic funding problems for which the state holds ultimate responsibility, the Grays Harbor case is “McCleary-esque.” This refers to the landmark McCleary v. State of Washington suit in which the state’s Supreme Court agreed with claims the state isn’t adequately funding K-12 public education, and ordered the legislature to come up with billions more for that in coming years.

Cowlitz County dispute could add to state costs for court funding controversies
There is a March 1 deadline for resolving the situation in Cowlitz; if that does not occur the superior court judges expect to file suit, and have already been granted funding by the county board (whom they would sue) to hire Scott Missall, the same Seattle attorney now representing the Grays Harbor judges. The county board on January 29 approved a proposal in a January 9 letter from Missall to pay him $390 per hour and when needed, another attorney at $280 an hour for representing the judges in negotiations. If the judges file suit against the county and it like Grays Harbor County then sues the state, the AG’s office would again be forced to pay for outside counsel for the judges.

Lawmakers, AG’s office ponder fixes
In the backgrounder, the AG’s office says under current state law its “‘duty to sue’ could extend to prosecuting attorneys and any other ‘state official’ wishing to sue the state, county, and any other official or party.” In the subcommittee hearing, Moran said policy options range from a potentially costly laissez-faire approach to giving the AG more say-so on what “suits it jumps into” on behalf of public employees. State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a member of the subcommittee, responded that another option would for the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the county superior courts, to have to approve such suits by court employees, and bear the expense.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.