Archive for May, 2009

Fitting 114 pages onto one readable page … the initiative process

By | May 26, 2009 | 0 Comments

The always-interesting Office of the Secretary of State’s blog, From Our Corner, has checked out the requirements for initiatives and found a conundrum for the initiative to prevent expansion of domestic partnership: The 114-page bill must be printed — in a way that’s readable — on one sheet of paper.

“… no multiple page stapled petitions, and no teeny, tiny type font that nobody could actually read.

So what to do? Well, the law doesn’t say how BIG the single sheet can be, nor how many times it can be folded. So a large double-truck size newspaper broadsheet, folded several times might work, especially if you use a fairly small type font, like 6 point.”

Read the whole thing here.

Have a problem with traffic tickets? The clock is ticking…

By | May 26, 2009 | 0 Comments

If you have a heap of outstanding traffic fines and tickets, this may be your lucky week: More than 100 district and municipal courts in Washington are participating in a program to help people pay off their fines and get their licenses back. The program ends at the end of the month (though some courts are extending it into June).

Here’s how it works: First, check here for a list of participating courts. If you have an outstanding ticket — even if it’s been sent to a collection agency — from one of those courts, you should immediately contact that court.

You must still pay your ticket, of course. But not all the extra fees — details vary, so you’ll want to find out from your home court.

From the site: “Once tickets are paid in full and reported to the court, the court will notify the Washington State Department of Licensing to clear the driving record. The driver may be able to obtain a valid driver’s license 48 hours later if no other offense on the driving record prevents it.”

Confirm your driving privileges here.

If you’re one of the upstanding citizens who either don’t get tickets or pay them on time, you may be wondering what the payoff is for the state — and taxpayers. Well, in October 2002, the courts web site says a similar program helped close 10,000 cases and collected nearly $2 million in revenue.

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State will update swine flu site once per week now — cases are widespread

By | May 26, 2009 | 0 Comments

Instead of monitoring every case of swine flu, the state Department of Health has announced they’ll focus on hospitalized patients and those who die from the disease. In a release, the Department of Health said the flu strain is “widespread in the state and around the nation” and that they’ll reduce reporting to once per week to focus on high-risk cases.

Reports will be issued on their web site on Fridays after 3 p.m. The report will only include hospitalizations and deaths.

“We expect to see more cases of this new flu strain. It’s here, and it’s in most of our communities, so it’s time to start looking for trends in high risk populations,” Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said.

Since the outbreak began, the department has received about 1,700 samples of suspected swine flu. About a quarter of those tested positive for swine flu, the department said. Most of those cases have been mild. As of Monday at 11 a.m. (the latest update), Washington had 517 confirmed and probably cases of swine flu and one death, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

But the mostly mild strain of flu doesn’t mean you should be more relaxed about personal hygiene, said Dr. Maxine Hayes, a state health officer. “It’s important to wash your hands often whether you’re sick or not, cover your cough and sneeze, and stay home if you’re sick.” She said seasonal flu kills nearly 40,000 people per year across the country, “so take this advice seriously.”

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On tolling: “How are we going to do tolling in the state of Washington?”

By | May 26, 2009 | 0 Comments

Right now, the Joint Transportation Committee (which you can watch live on TVW or at tvw.org) is talking about tolling. The state is commissioning a study on tolling — how it should work, how much it will cost to implement, etc. — that is scheduled to be done in July.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, chair of the Transportation Committee, just said the study needs to be broad. This isn’t just about I-90 tolling, she said, but about how the state should and will implement tolling across the state, like the Columbia Crossing in the south.

Surprised? Lawmakers have talked about the future need of tolling since signing the transportation budget, which called for early tolling on I-90. Supporters say that it will allow the project to be built sooner and with less debt.

As for the Portland-Vancouver connection, at the beginning of today’s conversation, Vancouver Rep. Jim Moeller specifically requested that Columbia Crossing be a part of the conversation for the sake of fairness and continuity. Haugen was also in favor: She said a unilateral policy will prevent tolling policy from becoming so confusing that it requires a new agency.

The joint committee just voted unanimously to start the study. It’s scheduled to be ready in July.

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A few outside-the-state issues

By | May 26, 2009 | 0 Comments

Today, California’s Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, which bars same-sex couples from getting married, and President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court — drawing comment from some in state government here.

Sen. Ed Murray released a statement about the former, saying he was disappointed. He also said California’s history with same-sex marriage has taught him that changes require “public involvement and input, one step at a time.”

“In Washington, we remain dedicated to continuing our conversation with the public and steadily building upon our domestic partnership progress. I’m confident that Washington state will soon be ready to accept – once and for all – full marriage equality for all.

As for the Sotomayor pick, Brad Shannon at The Olympian reports that Uriel Iniguez, director of the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs, supports the pick and says the nomination of a Hispanic is overdue, considering, for example, that 15 percent of public school students in Washington are Hispanic.

“I think it is about time we had some representation in the highest court of the land,” he told Shannon.

Tolling, I-90 and ferries: Watch the Joint Transportation Committee live now

By | May 26, 2009 | 0 Comments

Go here to watch the Joint Transportation Committee meeting here. Right now, Don Billen of Sound Transit is speaking.

On the agenda: Independent analysis of I-90, toll operations costs, tolling workshop, methods for funding alternative transportation and a ferry study.

Check back — I’ll update you on what they discuss for those who aren’t watching live.

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First Washingtonian dies under new assisted suicide law

By | May 26, 2009 | 0 Comments

Linda Fleming, a 66-year-old with late stage pancreatic cancer, became the first Washingtonian to die under the state’s “Death with Dignity” act on Thursday. She had been diagnosed a month before.

According to a press release sent out by Compassion & Choices of Washington, Fleming said the pain of her disease had become “unbearable, and it was only going to get worse.” She took medicine to end her life on Thursday evening with her family, dog and doctor by her side.

Fleming said in the press release that she was grateful for the “Death with Dignity” act because the pain medicine she was taking was negatively affecting her life. “I am a very spiritual person and it was very important to me to be conscious, clear-minded and alert at the time of my death. The powerful pain medications were making it difficult to maintain the state of mind I wanted to have at my death. And I knew I would have to increase them. I am grateful that the Death with Dignity law provides me the choice of a death that fits my own personal beliefs.

But Dan Kennedy from HumanLife, a group that opposed the act, sent out a note calling it a “sad day” for the state. “We knew this was inevitable. Nonetheless, it is a very sad day for Washington State. Having volunteered for 8 years on a suicide help line, it turns my stomach. Given that she just received the diagnoses last month, and given the ‘waiting period’ between the required two requests, one has to wonder; was she even treated for the inevitable onset of fear and depression?”

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Reimbursements rates for pharmacies will drop in new fiscal year, DSHS says

By | May 22, 2009 | 0 Comments

Starting July 1 — the beginning of the 2009-2011 biennium — the Department of Social and Health Services will give pharmacies less money for brand name prescription drugs for plans it covers.

Currently, DSHS pays 14 percent below what’s called the Average Wholesale Price — or AWP. The change will drop state reimbursement rates to 16 percent below AWP, saving about $12 million for the state.

DSHS had originally planned to cut it to 20 percent below AWP, but the Legislature set the limit at 16 percent below.

Other plans — like private insurance — determine the percent they’ll pay, too. DSHS said according to their research, Medicaid is overpaying and could go even further — by a bit.

“We completed an analysis of the prescription drug market, and it concludes that the Medicaid reimbursement discount could be justified at even a bigger discount – all the way to 17 percent below AWP,” Assistant Secretary Doug Porter said in a press release, adding that they’re sticking to the limit set by the Legislature.

The drug reimbursement change is one of several initiatives that the state thinks could save about $183 million in the two-year budget period. The secondary goal is to change prescribing behaviors, so that doctors only prescribe Medicaid patients brand-name (meaning more expensive) drugs when medically necessary.

Other initiatives, according to the department, include:

* Using generic medications, not brand-name drugs, as DSHS’ first choice whenever they are available and fully equivalent from a therapeutic standpoint.
* Modifying some of the ground rules on the state’s Preferred Drug List to give the state more flexibility to steer selections to other less expensive drugs that are therapeutic or generic equivalents of more expensive brand products.
* Several additional clinical initiatives, including tightened controls on narcotic prescriptions and certain specific medications.

88 percent of unemployment claims paid correctly

By | May 22, 2009 | 0 Comments

The Employment Security Department — charged with handling all the unemployment claims in the state — announced today that the results of an internal audit. As claims rose unexpectedly last year, they paid 88 percent of unemployed workers correctly.

In 2008, a total of 319,440 claims were filed. The audit sampled 480 of those and found that excess benefits were paid 11.4 percent of the time, but the remainder were paid correctly. Currently, about 170,000 people receive benefits.

The department says most of the overpayments can be traced to inaccurate information from those filing claims — someone filing a claim without doing a search for work, for example. Or collecting benefits after they’ve accepted a paying job. Think someone may be cheating? The Employment Security Department urges you to call 866-266-1987 to report it.

Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee said in an announcement that the sample is small, but large enough “to show us where we’re doing well and where we might be able to achieve additional improvements.”

Lee said it’s important to detect fraud — and that the agency has increased efforts by cross-referencing their databases to those from the federal government.

The audit is part of federal requirements. A full report on all 50 states will be issued by the federal government in August.

If you’re unemployed and need to receive benefits, find information on the process here.

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Watch Gregoire announce the “landmark” greenhouse gas initiative here

By | May 21, 2009 | 0 Comments

It will also air tonight at 9:15 on TVW.