Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘State Governments’ Category

State wants public comment on pocket gopher recovery plan

by Matt Rosenberg 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.

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

by Matt Rosenberg 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.

House bill would ease high school graduation requirements

by Matt Rosenberg January 31st, 2013

The Washington State House Education Committee this week took initial testimony on a bill that would lighten the state academic assessment testing load for students, and ease related high school graduation requirements. Since 2008, to graduate from a public high school Washington state students have had to pass High School Proficiency Exams, or HSPEs, in reading and writing, with a math End-of-Course (EOC) state assessment to be added to the mix for 2013. By 2015, under current state law, they will also have to pass a second state math EOC each year and a biology EOC to qualify for graduation. But the sponsor of House Bill 1015, Rep. John McCoy, (D-38), and array of educators who testified in support of it this week, believe all this gobbles up too much time and money, provokes too much anxiety for students, and accomplishes little else.

73 percent of commutes in Washington by solo drivers

by Matt Rosenberg January 29th, 2013

Each weekday about three million Washingtonians travel to work. A detailed performance metrics report presented last week to the Washington State Senate’s Transportation Committee finds that nearly three-quarters of those trips are by solo drivers. About 2.2 million or 73 percent drove alone to work in 2010, up slightly in percentage terms though not in raw numbers from 2008. More than 10 percent of Washington work trips were via carpool in 2010. Another 5.4 percent were by transit; 5.6 percent were classified as taxi/motorcycle/bike/walk/other; and 5.3 percent of workers, or telecommuters, travelled only down the hall to their home office to start the work day.

The report says that one objective for the state is to “reduce the percentage of commuters who drive alone to work.” That measure has become an increasingly central baseline indicator of transportation impact on the environment. Compared to solo commutes, carpooling, biking, walking and transit use are considered greener alternatives because there are typically fewer greenhouse gas emissions per passenger. As more and more jobs move away from downtown cores, it becomes more difficult for regions to reduce solo work commutes. However, improving vehicle mileage and continued market penetration of electric vehicles can also help limit the environmental effects of solo work commuting, as can increased telecommuting.

The “mode split” data on commuting are among a range of indicators on mobility, safety, and environmental impacts in the “2012 Biennial Transportation Attainment Report” from the Washington State Office of Financial Management.

Figures are for Washington state. Via 2012 Biennial Transportation Attainment Report, Washington State Office of Financial Management - from American Community Survey data, U.S. Census Bureau

According to the OFM report, walking accounted for 3.49 percent of trips to work by Washingtonians in 2010 and biking for 0.91 percent. This is versus 3.42 percent and 0.69 percent, respectively, in 2007.

Figures are for Washington state. Via 2012 Biennial Transportation Attainment Report, Washington State Office of Financial Management

The report also looks at transit ridership in the four counties of Central Puget Sound, King, Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish. The overall five year-trend is a 13.3 percent increase, but “with job losses and depressed economic activity between 2008 and 2010, transit ridership dropped 3.3 percent,” the report says.

Via 2012 Biennial Transportation Attainment Report, Washington State Office of Financial Management

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.

WA state jobs database lists 500-plus open positions

by Matt Rosenberg January 25th, 2013

Maybe you’d like to be the new media director for Washington’s new Governor Jay Inslee. Or his speechwriter, a state tolling auditor, or to serve on the Helitack crew fighting forest fires out of Ellensburg. Riding in whirlybirds rattle you? Maybe you can drive the Helitack fuel support truck instead. These are just a few of the 629 openings listed now in a state of Washington public database which can be searched by job type, salary level, job location, or employing agency or office. Several dozen of the listed jobs are actually to be internal transfers.

If you’re an under-employed ex-journalist and fancy yourself expert on public education, the Washington Student Achievement Council is looking for a communications director at $80,000 to $95,000 per year. But beware – like some other state positions, especially communications posts – it’s “exempt” from civil service hiring regulations. So getting hired is as much about who you know as how qualified you are.

A wide range of other state jobs are available in fields including nursing, corrections, social services, information technology, human resources, administration, epidemiology, and law. The state needs mechanics, psychiatrists, psychologists and a good man or woman to pull dents from Washington State Patrol vehicles. Maybe you see yourself as a gambling special agent in training or an auditor trainee.

From just click on “Look For Jobs” to get to the Washington state government jobs customizable search tool.

Happy hunting.

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.

Data viz: WA fertility up, abortion down, 1997 to 2011

by Mike Klaczynski January 15th, 2013

From 1997 through 2011 in Washington, abortions are down and fertility is up. Drawn from state Department of Health data, an interactive visualization below that was prepared for Public Data Ferret by Tableau Software of Seattle reveals that within Washington over the 15 years the abortion ratio has been highest in five western counties and lowest in five eastern counties. From 1997 through 2011 the abortion ratio – or abortions per 1,000 live births – was greatest in the counties of King, Pierce, San Juan, Thurston and Jefferson; and lowest in the counties of Garfield, Adams, Grant, Lincoln and Douglas. The state geographic data on abortions is based on county of residence of the woman, not location of the procedure.

Factoring in all 39 Washington counties and all abortions for which the home county of the patient was known (nearly all), the abortion ratio declined markedly from 346.16 abortions per 1,000 live births in 1997 to 230 abortions per 1,000 live births in 2011. On the other hand, the fertility rate, or live births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, grew slightly when counting all 39 Washington counties together, from 61.47 in 1997 to 64.17 in 2011. Across the 15 years in Washington, fertility rates were highest in the eastern or central counties of Adams, Franklin, Grant, Yakima and Okanagan; and lowest in a mix of eastern, central, and western counties. Those were Whitman, Kittitas, San Juan, Garfield and Whatcom.

You can use the data visualization below to reveal abortion ratios, abortion rates and fertility rates for any and all Washington counties in any year from 1997 to 2011 and for all years combined. Using the pull-down menus on the right, below the state map, select the year and statistic to display. For any year and statistic selected, you can scan the comparative results by county in a ranked table under the pull-down menus. You can also hover over a county on the map above for requested data. Additionally, you can single-click on any county on the map for a 15-year line chart below on the left, which will show the general trend and, when hovering directly over the large pinpoints, specific yearly data. Click on that same county once more, on the map above, to go back to the previous view. To get embed code for the viz, click on “share” at bottom left.

The most recent nationwide abortion ratio available is 227 for 2009, according to a Centers For Disease Control report in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. That compares to a statewide total of 253.7 in 2009 for Washington. Though Washington’s fertility rate has bumped up slightly overall since 1997, it nonetheless tracks closely with the U.S. rate, which is in record decline. According to a National Vital Statistics Report issued by the CDC, the preliminary 2011 U.S. fertility rate of 63.2 is the “lowest rate ever reported for the United States.”

Additional reporting contributed by Matt Rosenberg. 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.