Author Archive

New TVW documentary on Yakima Basin Integrated Plan premieres Thursday

By | December 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

TVW is premiering a new one-hour documentary on Thursday evening titled “Watershed Agreement: The Truce Ending Washington’s Water War.”

The piece explores the history of the $4 billion Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, designed to ensure that farms and fish in Central Washington will survive droughts. After decades of contentious battles and lawsuits over water rights, a diverse group of farmers, irrigators, Native Americans, conservationists and government officials set aside their self-interests to cooperate and develop one of the biggest water projects.

The documentary looks at the history of the water wars in Washington, what convinced the sides to finally come together, the projects each group will get in return, and why some believe the plan spends too much taxpayer money for too little payoff in the face of a changing climate.

Watch the documentary below:

Categories: Environment, TVW

Alleged Driver in Fatal Crash Mistakenly Released From Prison Early

By | December 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

There’s more fallout from the error that allowed Washington state prisoners to be mistakenly released early. After reviewing records, the Washington Department of Corrections says two offenders allegedly committed new crimes when they should have been incarcerated, including one who reportedly killed a woman in a car crash.

A computer calculation error allowed Robert Jackson to be released from prison on August 10, instead of his original sentence release date of December 6, 2015. While out of custody, investigators say Jackson lost control of a car and crashed, killing his girlfriend Lindsay Hill. The 35-year-old mother of two was thrown from the vehicle in front of her Bellevue apartment. Hill’s 13-year-old son heard the crash and later found his mother, after police say Jackson fled.

“Nothing I can say will bring back Ms. Hill. I deeply regret that this happened,” DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke said in a written statement. “On behalf of the Department of Corrections, I apologize.”

The DOC says Jackson is in custody and charged with vehicular homicide. He had been serving time for a 2010 robbery.

“Today’s news from DOC is absolutely gut-wrenching and heart-breaking,” said Governor Inslee in an emailed statement. “I spoke with Lindsay Hill’s family today and let them know that Washingtonians’ hearts are with them during these very difficult days.”

The Governor announced last week, since 2002 a programming error allowed 3,200 prisoners to mistakenly be released early for good behavior. The offenders all had enhanced sentences, which made them ineligible for early release.

Certain unnamed people within the DOC were aware of the problem in 2012 after a victim’s family voiced concerns, but the software fix was never implemented.

Governor Inslee learned of the problem last week and launched an immediate, independent investigation. He also ordered a halt to all releases that could be impacted until a hand calculation is done. The software update should be ready by early next month.

“There is nothing that can right this horrible wrong. We must make sure nothing like this happens again,” said Inslee.

In addition to Jackson, the DOC believes one other offender allegedly committed a crime while out of prison when they should not have been. That person is missing. The agency says it is continuing to review records to make sure there are no more.

As for other prisoners who need to be returned to state custody, five are back behind bars. The DOC identified an additional two dozen who need to return to complete their sentences, but the majority will not due to a court ruling that provides day-for-day credit while out in the community, as long as the offender hasn’t committed another crime.

Washington Prisoners Mistakenly Released Early

By | December 22, 2015 | 0 Comments

Some Washington felons may be headed back to prison after a computer error mistakenly allowed them to be released early.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that 3,200 Washington prisoners were let go before their sentences were complete. For the last 13 years, a Department of Corrections computer software program incorrectly calculated credit for “good time” served.  The error affects about three-percent of all state inmates during that time period.

The governor says he’s ordered immediate action to correct the long-standing problem, and ordered an external review to determine how this happened and why it took so long to address, even though the problem was discovered in 2012.

“These were serious errors with serious implications,” Gov. Inslee said. “When I learned of this I ordered DOC to fix this, fix it fast, and fix it right.” The Governor’s office says it was alerted to the mistake last week.

Department of Corrections new Secretary, Dan Pacholke, called the situation an “unforgivable error.”

During a press conference in the governor’s office he said, “I’ve apologized to the governor personally on behalf of the Department of Corrections. I want to offer the same apology to the public.”

State officials say the problem dates back to a July 2002 ruling by the Washington Supreme Court. It requires DOC apply “good time” credit earned in county jails. Offenders with sentencing enhancements are supposed to be exempt from that, but the DOC computer applied it anyway. 

The amount of days prisoners did not serve ranges from “a couple of days” to 600, but the governor’s chief legal counsel, Nick Brown, says the median number is 49.

The state is working with local law enforcement to identify those inmates who need to go back and complete their sentences, either in prison or work release. So far, that’s seven people.  Five are already in custody. Brown expects that number to increase, but says most of the offenders impacted will not be re-incarcerated because of a previous Supreme Court ruling. Their time back home in the community will count day for day.

DOC learned of the problem in 2012 when a crime victim’s family did their own calculations on their offender’s release. The state says the sequencing fix was launched at that time, but for reasons that will be investigated, it was repeatedly delayed. Only when DOC’s new chief information officer discovered the problem, was leadership notified.

Secretary Pacholke says he just learned of the error last week, and does not know if the previous administration had any knowledge of it.  “How that did not rise up in the agency to the highest levels is not clear to me,” Pacholke said.

“That this problem was allowed to continue for 13 years is deeply disappointing to me, totally unacceptable and, frankly, maddening,” Inslee said.

The software is expected to be updated and fixed by early January. Until then, Gov. Inslee halted all further releases of inmates with sentencing enhancements until a hand calculation is done, the numbers are verified, and the release is personally approved.

Two retired federal prosecutors, Robert Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone from the firm of Yarmuth Wilsdon PLLC, were hired to conduct an independent review.

“I have a lot of questions about how and why this happened, and I understand that members of the public will have those same questions,” Gov. Inslee said. “I expect the external investigation will bring the transparency and accountability we need to make sure this issue is resolved.”

Offenders with questions can call 360-725-8213.

Resources available on the DOC website:

Governor Inslee proposes new teacher pay raises paid for by closing tax breaks

By | December 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

New teachers in Washington would garner higher salaries under a proposal introduced Thursday by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

Governor Jay Inslee News Conference

Governor Jay Inslee unveils his 2016 supplemental budget proposal.

In his 2016 supplemental budget proposal, the governor would raise the starting salary for teachers to $40,000. The estimated cost is $80 million dollars next year, and $100 million every year after that.

To pay for the raises, Gov. Inslee wants to close or alter four “outdated” tax breaks.

Refund the state portion of sales tax to nonresidents: Shoppers from states with no sales tax, like Oregon, would have to apply for a state sales tax refund on purchases in Washington. No longer would the discount be applied instantly. Saved over three years = $79.3 million

-Repeal the sales tax break on bottled water: Saved over three years = $82.9 million

-Limit the real estate excise tax exemption (REET) for banks: Connected to foreclosed properties. Saved over three years = $106.7 million

-Repeal the use tax exemption for extracted fuel: Claimed by the state’s oil refineries. Saved over three years = $58.6 million

“Having a classroom teacher to teach algebra right now is more important than some oil industry tax break that ended up getting done 20 or 30 years ago that doesn’t even apply anymore,” Gov. Inslee said during a press conference.

Washington is struggling to find qualified teachers and substitutes, according to a recent survey by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Association of Washington School Principals. Of those responding, 45-percent say they could not fill all classroom teacher positions with fully certified teachers who met job qualifications.

Retirements, hiring freezes and economic uncertainties that have discouraged students from choosing a teaching career, and new teacher burnout are cited as reasons why. Research shows half of beginning teachers opt out of the profession in the first five years, many blame low pay and a lack of support. To address that, the governor’s plan allots $5 million for mentors.

The minimum teacher salary would be raised by $4,300 starting next school year. That increase is in addition to the 4.8% cost-of-living adjustment already worked into the current budget. Teachers with more experience, along with administrative and classified staff, would also get a raise of at least one-percent.

This proposal is only one part of the changes Gov. Inslee would like to make to the state’s current two-year $38 billion budget.  

Washington brought in another $245 million in new revenue since the budget passed, but the Governor says costs have gone up. Separate from the teacher salary plan, his proposal includes $700 million in additional spending to pay for increased Medicaid caseloads, urgent mental health care needs, and to cover the costs of fighting last summer’s wildfires. One million acres and hundreds of homes burned in what’s considered the worst fire season in state history, costing Washington nearly $180 million.

For mental health care, Governor Inslee proposes spending an additional $137 million, both in state and federal money. The money would be spent on new programs, hiring more doctors and nurses at state psychiatric hospitals, and community-based housing and recovery services.

“We know we have to do more for mental health in this state. We have urgent short-term needs, but we also need to take a long view on how to build a stronger mental health system,” Gov. Inslee said.

Governor Inslee’s supplemental budget sources that addition $700 million from fund transfers from the state’s Budget Stabilization Account, which would leave close to $1 billion remaining in reserves.

Republicans quickly responded to the Governor’s proposal. Senate Budget Chair Andy Hill sent an email saying it does not balance over four years. “Unfortunately, as has become a yearly tradition, the governor continues to offer plenty of ways to spend taxpayer dollars, but fails to provide a sustainable way to pay for it,” wrote Sen. Hill.

In the House, Republican budget writer Rep. Bruce Chandler wrote, “The 2015-17 biennial budget was signed into law less than six months ago. Significant policy additions – outside of emergency caseload adjustments – are better suited for the deliberation and scrutiny of a 105-day session during budget-writing years.”

Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Bill Bryant

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant criticizes Gov. Inslee’s 2016 supplemental budget proposal.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant appeared on the steps of the capitol to say while Washington does need to do more to recruit and retain teachers, it should be done in the existing budget. “This is the governor who said he would not do anything that would take the state in the wrong direction if elected, and that passing new taxes would take the state in the wrong direction, and yet for four out of four years he has continued to propose new taxes,” said Bryant.

When asked about critics who say he’s proposing “new taxes,” the governor argued this is a “modest” and “reasonable” proposal. “Our tax code is infested with the barnacles that are encrusted on our ship of state of these loopholes that corporate lobbyists have come down here year after year, decade after decade, and they have carved out these special little deals for their special little interest, and they never get reviewed. Even though the industry changes hugely and the needs of our state change hugely, they just remain,” said Gov. Inslee. “We have to realize as the needs of our state change and the industries change, this is the best way to finance the education of our children.”

The governor did receive support from House Democratic Majority Leader Representative Pat Sullivan. In a written statement he said, “The governor has given us a good starting point for discussion. While some legislators may have other ideas on how we reach these goals, his priorities are on target.”

The governor’s budget adjustment suggestions will be considered when the 2016 legislature convenes for a 60-day session starting January 11th.

To read the supplemental budget proposal and highlights: http://www.ofm.wa.gov/budget16/highlights/default.asp

Watch the Governor’s news conference here: http://hosted.invintusmedia.com/?clientID=9375922947&eventID=2015120001

Governor Inslee proposes capital gains tax to fill budget gap

By | December 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

 

Gov. Jay Inslee says it’s time to “buck up” and invest in the state of Washington. He’s recommending a new capital gains tax to help close a $2 billion dollar gap in the next two-year budget.

“It is time to reinvest in our state and this budget does that,” Gov. Inslee said.

The Governor released his 2015-17 budget proposal Thursday. The $39 billion plan is a combination of cuts to current programs and new revenue. The focus is on four key areas: stronger schools, healthier kids, cleaner air, and a fairer tax system.

“There is one simple fact: we cannot balance this budget and educate our children on cuts alone.”

In addition to the charge on carbon polluters unveiled earlier in the week, Gov. Inslee proposes a seven percent capital gains tax on money made from the sale of stocks and bonds above $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for joint filers. It would begin in 2016 and is estimated to raise $800 million dollars in the first biennium.

“This is a tax on fewer than one percent of Washingtonians,” the Governor explained.  “For those folks who have retirement accounts, stock in those accounts when they sell that stock, there will be zero capital gains on that.”

The Governor says Washington’s capital gains tax would be less than similar taxes in Idaho, Oregon and California.  Also exempt is money earned from the sale of homes, farms, and forestry.

“This is not intended to show any lack of respect for those who would pay under this proposal. We honor success in Washington. In fact, we treasure it, but we always have to push for fairness.” The Governor later explained why he believes a capital gains tax is a better option over a sales tax increase. “It would be unfair to working families in this tough economy, where you have such incredible income inequality, to put more tax burden on working families. I believe, in this circumstance where we’ve had such wealth creation in this state… That giving a beginning teacher, or a person who’s making $500,000 selling stocks and bonds, at this point we outta ask that wealthier person to step up to the plate.”

Among the other ideas on the list of new revenues, Gov. Inslee wants five tax breaks repealed, the state cigarette tax increased by 50 cents a pack, a new tax on e-cigarettes and vapor products, and a tax on bottled water.

Those new revenues add up to $1.4 billion dollars.

Given the size of the budget shortfall and the State Supreme Court mandate on McCleary, the Governor says statewide cuts are also needed. His budget proposal includes $211 million in General Fund spending cuts. Another $212 million was found by shifting General Fund costs to other fund sources and maximizing federal funds.

“The fact of the matter is we have made reductions of $12 billion dollars since the recession started. We have already slashed mental health way past the bone. We’re in the arteries.”  Governor Inslee said as a result the courts have held the state in contempt. “The point is this recession has put us $1 billion dollars in the hole, and we have slashed to the bone and now we’re looking into the cartilage to the tune of about $400 million dollars.”

The largest chunk of Gov. Inslee’s budget is dedicated to schools. He wants to spend $18.2 billion in order to meet McCleary. That would include money for smaller K-3 classes and full-day kindergarten for all students across the state.

Social and Health Services would get $6.4 billion. Washington colleges and universities would be allocated $3.4 billion, but in-state undergraduate tuition would be frozen.

When asked whether he changed his tune from the 2012 campaign when then-candidate Inslee vowed not to raise taxes: “The combination of the legislature not closing these loopholes… and increasing demands in education and mental health, we simply have not been able to generate the revenues necessary to provide vital services to Washingtonians. I have hoped to avoid this route. I have tried to avoid this route, but we now have an obligation to our children. They oughta have a first class education. It is a duty of ours and I intend to fulfill it.”

Immediately following the Governor’s news conference, the Senate Republican’s chief budget writer issued a statement. Sen. Andy Hill (R – Redmond) said, “Investing in student achievement and providing essential services should not depend on risky tax schemes that threaten our economy. Educating our children, caring for those in need and supporting our local economy demands thoughtful, bipartisan budget leadership. Tax increases should be the last resort, not the first response.”

You can see more of the details of the Governor’s 2015-17 budget proposal here.

You can also hear more from Governor Inslee’s budget director, David Schumacher.  He is the  guest on this week’s “Inside Olympia.”

Governor Jay Inslee to Release Entire Budget Proposal Thursday

By | December 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

Governor Jay Inslee will release the entirety of his proposed 2015–17 biennial budget on Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

TVW will carry the event live, both on TV and on our website.

Here’s the link to watch it live from your computer.

Washington Works to Protect Students From Natural Disasters

By | December 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Oso landslide and fierce summer wildfires show how natural disasters might impact Washington schools. And to help school districts plan ahead, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has released its final “K-12 Facilities Hazard Mitigation Plan.”

For three years, staff researched the natural dangers facing our schools, making us one of the first states in the country to tackle such a large study.

The six major natural disasters most likely to occur in Washington: earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, wildfires, volcanic events and landslides.

The hope is school districts will use the report to help plan renovations to old buildings, and safer designs for new ones that can be ready for the disasters pinpointed for their region.

The final report is available here.

It’s also one of the topics on “The Impact” this week which airs on TVW Wednesday at 7 & 10 p.m.

Also on the show this week: The Governor’s budget proposal, including a carbon pollution charge to raise money for schools and transportation, and the school district building an innovative new school to protect kids from an earthquake followed by a tsunami.

Categories: The Impact, Uncategorized

Inside Olympia: Paroles & Pardons

By | December 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

Deciding whether to parole or pardon prisoners is a difficult, politically dicey task. Austin Jenkins interviews Gov. Jay Inslee’s General Counsel Nick Brown, Clemency and Pardons Board Chair Jennifer Rancourt, and Indeterminate Sentence Review Board Chair Lynne DeLano.

Watch here:

Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony

By | December 11, 2014 | 0 Comments

It’s Officially Christmas at the Washington State Capitol. For the 26th year, the annual Holiday Kids’ Tree is lighting up the Capitol rotunda.

Photo: Courtesy AWB

It’s a noble fir grown in Olympia and donated by the Winkleworld Noble Fir Tree Farm. The tree is 35 feet tall and wrapped with five-thousand LED lights. The 200 decorations covering the tree fit the theme of Disney’s “Frozen.” Once the tree is taken down after Christmas, all the stuffed characters will be wrapped and given to patients at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital.

The Tree is sponsored by the Association of Washington Business and also helps raise money for rural families in need.

You can get in the holiday spirit and watch the Holiday Tree Lighting ceremony here.

Categories: Uncategorized

House Environment Leaders Talk About Priorities for the 2015 Legislative Session

By | December 11, 2014 | 0 Comments

Climate change legislation is just one of the many big topics Washington’s House Environment Committee will tackle during the 2015 legislative session.

Committee Chair, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D – Burien), and ranking minority member, Rep. Shelly Short (R – Addy), stopped by TVW this week to talk about that and another big priority, oil train safety.

Be sure to watch this week’s episode of The Impact.