Archive for March, 2012

Gov. Gregoire set to sign remaining bills, says budget progress is being made

By | March 30, 2012 | 0 Comments

After ending her moratorium of bill signings on Thursday, Gov. Chris Gregoire is set to sign all of the bills that remain on her desk today.

In remarks to the media this morning, Gregoire said there’s continued progress on a comprehensive budget package. Budget writers will continue working through the weekend, she said. But movement needs to happen early next week.

“If we don’t close this off on Tuesday, I don’t see how we get done,” said Gregoire, adding that she wants them done by Good Friday. Special session ends April 10th.

Among the bills she’s signing today:

  • SB 5978, cracking down on Medicaid fraud. The bill allows whistleblowers to collect a portion of legal settlements, called a “qi tam provision” — a provision that already exists at the federal level, but not state.
  • HB 2373, making changes to the Discover Pass program. The pass is required to visit state parks, and each annual $30 pass will now be transferable to two vehicles. It also creates a new $50 Family Discover Pass that will be transferable to any vehicle.

The complete list of bills she’s signing today is here.

On Thursday, Gregoire signed more than 100 bills after announcing that there has been significant progress on budget negotiations. She’s been refusing to sign bills into law for the past few weeks as a way to pressure lawmakers to get work done on the budget.

Categories: Budget, Governors Office

Watch the latest Inside Olympia right here

By | March 30, 2012 | 0 Comments

On this week’s edition of Inside Olympia, host Austin Jenkins talks with Dan Newhouse, director of the state’s Ag Department, Rep. Brian Blake and Sen. Mark Schoesler about agriculture, immigration and genetically modified food.

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Rumors about a third special session ‘abhorrent,’ Gov. Gregoire says

By | March 29, 2012 | 0 Comments

Budget writers are making progress on putting together an all-encompassing budget package, with about six major issues that remain to be resolved, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today at a news conference.

“Rather than piecemeal, I’m trying to put the whole agreement together,” so that party leaders can take it to their members and determine if it has enough votes to pass, Gregoire said.

Special session is now more than half over. Despite the closing window, Gregoire said she wanted to squash rumors that there would be a third special session, calling the idea “abhorrent.”

Her remarks came just before she was set to begin a marathon day of bill signing. Gregoire has been refusing to sign the vast majority of bills into law until lawmakers made progress on the budget.  That strategy worked, she said, and it forced legislators to come to the table.

“Their members were very upset,” she said. “We heard from them loud and clear.”

Categories: Budget, Governors Office
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Gov. Gregoire signing more than 100 bills today

By | March 29, 2012 | 0 Comments

Gov. Chris Gregoire has an epic day of bill signing ahead of her today. She has 112 bills on her schedule, starting at 1 p.m. and running well into the evening. The complete list of bills is here. TVW will be airing the bill signings live on the web.

Of note:

  • Twelve bills aimed at combating human trafficking, including one that will require online escort services such as Backpage.com to verify the ages of those depicted in ads. Backpage.com is owned by Seattle Weekly’s parent company, Village Voice Media.
  • SB 5539, extending a program that grants tax credits to filmmakers to 2017. It’s aimed at attracting more movie and TV production to Washington state.

It’s unclear if the flood of bill signings means that there’s movement on the budget. Last week, Gregoire issued a “no budget, no bills” threat — refusing to sign the vast majority of bills into law until lawmakers made significant progress on the budget.

Q&A: Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler on the health care exchange

By | March 28, 2012 | 0 Comments

I talked with Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler about the health care exchange bill that Gov. Chris Gregoire recently signed into law. It creates an online marketplace called an “exchange” where Washington residents will be able to shop for health insurance starting in January 2014, when federal health care reform comes into full effect.

Kreidler talked about what the exchange will look like for consumers, and what’s ahead if the U.S. Supreme Court rules to strike down all or part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

How will the health care exchange differ from the insurance market that’s in place now?

You’ll have ‘inside’ the exchange and ‘outside’ the exchange. Inside the exchange, it will operate like a marketplace where you can compare insurance companies in a way you that you can’t do today. There will be four levels of plans (bronze, silver, gold and platinum) that will vary depending on the cost consideration of the consumer. For example, the platinum level costs the least in out-of-pocket expenses, but it costs the most in premiums. There will be tiers outside the exchange, but it won’t be as easily comparable as within the exchange.

Can you describe what it will look like?

It’s a work in progress. It will be one where people can go to a screen, enter their income, and be able to see all of the plans that are available to them. They may chose to narrow it down and say ‘I want less out of pocket expense for what I have to pay when I go see a doctor’ or ‘I want to keep my premiums down.’ It is a comparison you can’t do in today’s market. It’s the Travelocity approach, where you can do a comparison of a particular flight and how much you want to pay for it.

In the exchange, you have the advantage of subsidies. Those will be offered to lower-income individuals all the way up to families of four with a household income of $92,000 a year. Up to that point, they could qualify from some sort of subsidy.

Will all residents be required to purchase health insurance through the exchange?

If they want a subsidy, it will be the only place they can get a subsidy. But it is open to anybody who wants to buy there. If they are paying for it themselves, they could go inside or outside the exchange. There are some advantages to buying within the exchange — you could do comparisons of plans for people who like to do their own research.

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On The Impact tonight: Health care reform – the people affected & Rob McKenna

By | March 28, 2012 | 0 Comments

On The Impact tonight, you’ll see updates from a couple people we interviewed just after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law.  The original interviews were part of our hour-long special report, Shock to the System: How national reform is changing your health care.  Tonight, we find out what’s happened to Liz Teisan, a woman who was denied insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions.  We also check in with Don Conant, a small business owner and skeptic of the law, who is now involved in the law’s implementation at the state level.  I also have a one-on-one interview with Attorney General Rob McKenna about Washington’s involvement in the legal challenge of the individual mandate and other provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  Due to time constraints, we had to cut short that interview on the show, so here it is in its entirety.

You can watch The Impact Wednesday nights at 7 & 10 p.m. on TVW.

Categories: Healthcare

McKenna responds to protesters who want him to drop out of the health care lawsuit

By | March 27, 2012 | 0 Comments

Jessica Gao, host of The Impact, interviewed state Attorney General Rob McKenna today about the lawsuit challenging the federal health care overhaul. The Republican gubernatorial candidate joined 25 other attorneys general in the lawsuit, and says he’s opposed to the law’s mandate that requires everyone to have health insurance.

This morning, protesters gathered outside of McKenna’s office and demanded that he drop out of the lawsuit, which is currently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Below is a short clip from the interview where McKenna offers his response to the protesters, saying they must be “perfectly content” with allowing the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether or not they have health insurance. Under the law, Americans must be covered by a basic health insurance plan or pay a tax penalty starting in 2014.

The full interview will air Wednesday at 7 & 10 p.m.

Categories: Healthcare, TVW
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State may rename Soap Lake, several other geographic features

By | March 27, 2012 | 0 Comments

Soap Lake, Steven PavlovA number of Soap Lake residents and city council members aren’t happy about a proposal to change the name of the lake to Lake Smokiam, saying they’ve spent years marketing Soap Lake’s unique mineral water, according to a story in today’s Colombia Basin Herald. The lake is known for its black mud, which visitors smear on themselves during the summer as a natural spa treatment.

The lake is one of ten geographic features — ranging from ponds to creeks to mountains — that the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names will consider at its meeting in May. Here’s the complete list of proposed name changes:

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Categories: Environment

Seven congressional hopefuls participate in Everett labor debate

By | March 26, 2012 | 0 Comments

Seven candidates who are vying to replace former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee in the 1st Congressional District race participated in a debate sponsored by the Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO on Friday night. Inslee, a Democrat, resigned the seat earlier this month to focus on his bid for governor.

The Democratic candidates who participated in the debate included state Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, state Rep. Roger Goodman of Kirkland, Darcy Burner of Carnation, Suzan DelBene of Medina, Darshan Rauniyar of Bothell and Laura Ruderman of Kirkland.

Independent Larry Ishmael of Redmond also participated in the debate, which was held the Machinists Union Hall in Everett. Republican John Koster declined to attend.

Jerry Cornfield of the The Herald has a story about the debate here. You can watch the full 2-hour event below.

Video: Gov. Gregoire signs Healthcare Exchange bill at Olympia clinic

By | March 23, 2012 | 0 Comments

Gov. Chris Gregoire marked the second anniversary of the federal Affordable Care Act by signing legislation today that will help the state comply with the new rules when they go into effect next year. It also comes days before the Supreme Court is due to hear arguments challenging the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care overhaul.

The bill lays out a process for creating a healthcare exchange — or a marketplace where state residents and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance. Supporters say people will be able to browse and select insurance plans based on reviews and price, much like an online shopping site.

Watch the video below for Gov. Gregoire’s remarks about the legislation, as well as Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and others.

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Gov. Gregoire signing Healthcare Exchange bill, dozens of others today

By | March 23, 2012 | 0 Comments

Gov. Chris Gregoire is scheduled to sign more than two dozen bills this morning, including one that will help the state implement President Obama’s federal healthcare reform. Gregoire has been refusing to sign the vast majority of bills into law as a way to pressure lawmakers to get the budget done. She eased up her position earlier this week, though, saying budget writers were making some progress.

A number of the bills are tied to the supplemental transportation budget, including:

HB 2660: Imposes a $100 annual fee on electric vehicles, which supporters say is a way to recoup lost revenue from gas taxes that the owners of electric vehicles don’t have to pay. General Motors opposed the fee in a letter to Gregoire, saying the electric vehicle market isn’t strong enough to support new taxes or fees yet.

SB 6150: Raises fees for a driver’s license from $25 to $54 starting in July 2013. The license will be good for six years instead of the current five, and it will use new facial recognition technology to identify drivers.

Later in the day, she’s signing the Heathcare Exchange bill at a Group Health clinic in Olympia. The bill prepares the state for compliance with federal rules when they go into effect in 2014, laying out the process for creating a healthcare exchange — or a marketplace where state residents and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance.

A complete list of bills she’s signing can be found here.

Watch the latest Inside Olympia right here

By | March 23, 2012 | 0 Comments

Host Austin Jenkins interviews Rogers Weed, Director of the state Department of Commerce, and other experts on efforts to attract business to Washington.

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Third alternative proposed to fix budget hole – could it break impasse?

By | March 22, 2012 | 0 Comments

Republicans and Democrats have been locked at an impasse in budget negotiations over two main sticking points: Republicans want to skip a pension payment, while Democrats would prefer to push back payments to school districts into the next budget cycle.

Jordan Schrader of The News Tribune has a story today about a proposed third alternative that could potentially break the logjam. The idea would keep $238 million in sales tax revenue collected from local governments in the state’s general fund longer, giving the state a boost in its cash flow every month. Read more about it here.

Although Gov. Chris Gregoire has said she put a third alternative on the table, she’s previously declined to say what it is. Earlier this week, Gregoire said the two ideas put forth by Republicans and Democrats had become so “toxic” that they needed a fresh proposal.

Categories: Budget
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Watch last night’s edition of The Impact

By | March 22, 2012 | 0 Comments

Host Jessica Gao takes a look at the liquor privatization initiative, and gets an update on the budget negotiations from Gov. Gregoire’s budget writer Marty Brown.

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Unemployment rate drops to 8.2 percent

By | March 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

February’s labor statistics came out today and things improving: The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.2 percent in February, down from 8.4 percent in January.  It’s the lowest unemployment rate since January 2009, when it was 7.7 percent.

The state added about 4,200 jobs last month. The biggest uptick was in the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 2,500 jobs. That was followed by the construction, retail and transportation sectors.

Still, about 288,000 people were unemployed and looking for work in February. And about 197,000 claimed unemployment benefits, according to the Employment Security Department.

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Gov. Gregoire says Washington state will appeal Plan B ruling

By | March 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday the state will appeal a judge’s ruling that Washington state cannot compel pharmacies to sell emergency contraceptives such as Plan B.

Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia and two other pharmacists first brought the suit in 2007, arguing that they should not have to dispense Plan B or other emergency contraceptives because it is against their religious beliefs. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton issued a ruling last month saying the state’s rules violate the constitutional rights of the pharmacists.

Gregoire said in a statement she fully supports the decision to appeal the ruling.

“Any decision that puts patients at risk by delaying or denying them lawful and lawfully prescribed medications should be carefully reviewed by a higher court,” Gregoire said.

Lawmakers call attention to ‘attack’ on women’s healthcare rights

By | March 20, 2012 | 0 Comments

Several legislators held a press conference today to draw attention to what they say is an attack on women’s healthcare rights in the budget proposed by Senate Republicans and three moderate Democrats.

“This budget moves us backwards,” said Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Seattle. The budget proposal includes a 27 percent cut in family planning grants, which help provide reproductive health education and services. It also reduces funding to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, Nelson said.

They called for the revival of a bill requiring insurers to cover abortion services. It passed the House with a 52-46 vote, but when Republicans took control of the Senate floor using a procedural maneuver earlier this month, the bill was essentially killed — along with other non-budget bills that hadn’t yet come up for a vote.

“We must shine the light on this attack on a woman’s right to chose, ” said Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma. Jinkins said she believes there are enough votes for the bill in the Senate, and she wants to see it called to the floor during special session.

The group also celebrated the two-year anniversary of President Obama’s federal healthcare reform, or the Affordable Care Act. The Legislature passed a bill during regular session that helps the state implement the act, which the governor is slated to sign on Friday,  said Sen. Karen Keiser.

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday that budget writers are making significant progress, and she may be open to signing more bills into law. Last week, Gregoire said she wouldn’t sign the vast majority of bills — or veto them altogether — if lawmakers didn’t make progress on budget negotiations. Since then, she’s slowed her bill signing ceremonies down to a trickle.

Categories: Budget, Healthcare
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Judge upholds liquor privatization initiative – watch the ruling here

By | March 19, 2012 | 0 Comments

A Cowlitz County judge reversed his previous ruling on a voter-approved liquor privatization initiative, allowing for implementation to continue.  Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning ruled the initiative had two subjects, rendering it unconstitutional.  On Monday, he changed his mind.

“While nobody likes to say that they are wrong, and I think judges least of all, I think I was previously,” said Warning.

Watch his entire ruling below.  Then, on Wednesday, tune into The Impact for my interview with the director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, who updates us on progress toward implementing I-1183, even as this Cowlitz County case is appealed to the State Supreme Court.

You can watch The Impact Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on TVW.

 

Governor: ‘No budget, no bills’

By | March 19, 2012 | 0 Comments

Gov. Chris Gregoire is continuing to pressure lawmakers to strike a budget deal by refusing to sign the vast majority of bills into law. Or, as she put it: “No budget, no bills.”

Gregoire said budget writers met this morning, but there doesn’t appear to be any movement on what have been the two biggest sticking points: Democrats want to delay about $340 million in payments to school districts by a day, pushing it into the next budget cycle. Republicans want to skip a $140 million pension payment.

Gregoire said those two issues have become so “toxic” that she’s put a third alternative on the table. She declined to say what her suggestion was.

Gregoire signed nearly a dozen bills Monday, saying she doesn’t want to hold up bills that citizens worked hard to pass. But the vast majority of bills will remain unsigned to send a message to legislators and lobbyists, Gregoire said.

Gov. Gregoire set to sign nearly a dozen bills today

By | March 19, 2012 | 0 Comments

Gov. Chris Gregoire is slated to sign nearly a dozen bills this afternoon at 1:30 p.m.  Among them is SB 6384, which allows people with developmental disabilities who are enrolled in employment training programs to get access to community services, like independent living and life skills training.

Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, criticized the governor for removing the bill from her schedule last week along with 50 others, saying the developmentally disabled community shouldn’t have “bills held hostage just because the governor hasn’t gotten her way on the budget.” Gov. Gregoire threatened last week to veto or hold off on signing bills until lawmakers struck a budget deal.

She’s also signing the collaborative schools bill, or HB 2799, which pairs six low-performing elementary schools with colleges of education. The colleges will create a teacher training lab for the school — similar to medical residency programs — under the bill, which was introduced to the Legislature at the request of the governor.

Also on the docket: SB 5991, which strengthens the state’s mandatory child abuse reporting laws. Spurred by the Penn State sex abuse scandal, the bill requires that all university employees report suspected child abuse to their supervisors. Administrative, academic and athletic department employees must report suspected abuse directly to law enforcement.