Thursday, March 26, 2015

Idaho Leg votes to kills historic horse race machines, possibly kills horse racing

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 4:38 PM

Greyhound Park Event Center manager Doug Okuniewicz testifies in a March 11 hearing on "historical horse racing."
  • Greyhound Park Event Center manager Doug Okuniewicz testifies in a March 11 hearing on "historical horse racing."

Today, the Idaho House of Representatives voted 49-21 to send a bill to the governor repealing the law that legalized "historical horse race" machines. 

By the end, Greyhound Park Event Center manager Doug Okuniewicz, after arguing that Idaho's "historical horse racing" machines were significantly different than casino slot machines, shifted tactics. 

Okuniewicz began arguing that the machines were so similar to the "tribal gaming" slot-style bingo machines on the Idaho's American Indian reservations, as for the state's ban on imitation slot-machines to apply to both types. 

“We’re either both OK or we’re both wrong,” he said. “The spinning reels have absolutely nothing to do with the game outcome. They’re simply there for entertainment.... The way our games work is in some respects, almost identical."

Tribal gaming, run by sovereign nations, are regulated through an entirely different set of regulations, such as the Indian Gaming Act and the state gaming contracts with the state, laid out in Idaho code. 

But ultimately, the opposition to historical horse racing was pretty overwhelming. Many legislators felt duped when they approved them in 2013. "What was represented to them then was not clearly what was represented now," Rep. Melissa Wintrow said in the hearing. 

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On Bergdahl, Rep. Raúl Labrador straddles a wide partisan divide

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 1:09 PM

Bowe Bergdahl, formerly of Hailey, Idaho, has become a lightning rod for conservative critics. But not for Rep. Raúl Labrador.
  • Bowe Bergdahl, formerly of Hailey, Idaho, has become a lightning rod for conservative critics. But not for Rep. Raúl Labrador.

Typically, the return of an American soldier from enemy captivity doesn't become a bitter partisan issue. 

But the tale of Bowe Bergdahl, former Hailey, Idaho, resident, is not a typical one. From the moment the terms of his release came out – five Taliban prisoners for one American soldier – the tone shifted dramatically. Complaints that Congress hadn’t been involved in the decision, criticism from fellow soldiers, and the recent decision by the Army to charge him with desertion and misbehavior in front of the enemy has created a serious divide.

Liberals are arguing that America’s commitment to its troops should be absolute, that it doesn’t matter how he fell into the hands of the enemy, we have a duty to bring them home. They point to the agony of his grieving family. And they show his brutal, stream-of-consciousness letter Bergdahl wrote detailing his captivity. He was kept in a cage, shackled, and in the dark, his hands oozing pus, and starved.

“During the five years, I unsuccessfully tried to escape approximately 12 times,” Bergdahl writes. To liberals, he’s already suffered enough.

But conservatives are furious. They feel Bergdahl betrayed his unit by deserting it, and blame him for the deaths of six of his fellow soldiers. Despite comments by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (a former Marine) and a military defense attorney suggesting that his captivity could count as “time served,” some conservatives pilloried even raising the question as biased idiocy.

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Washington fire chiefs to railroad company: We want more info on oil trains

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 11:15 AM

As we wrote in last week’s paper, the Washington State Legislature is currently considering two competing bills meant to address the safety concerns presented by the influx of oil trains passing through Washington in recent years. Spokane, which is the only urban center these trains pass through on their way to western Washington, faces particular risks if one these trains were to derail and explode.

Each bill would require varying degrees of transparency for rail companies that transport oil through the state so that first-responders would be better prepared in the event of a disaster.

The Washington Fire Chiefs, an association representing fire-fighting agencies across the state, isn’t waiting for a bill to become law and has directly asked BNSF, a rail company that moves large amounts of oil across the state every day, for more information.

The letter (obtained by OilCheckNW and shared with the Inlander) signed by Wayne Senter, the executive director of WFC, to BNSF cites several recent derailments of oil trains, including an infamous derailment in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Canada, that killed 47 people. The letter also mentions how in July of last year, three tanker cars derailed at a rail yard under Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge, which could have been disastrous.

“ The WFC is well aware that even if an infinite amount of foam was available, we can only provide defensive firefighting,” reads the letter, which goes on to state:
Normally we would be able to assess the hazard through right-to-know and other public documents; however, your industry has sought and gained exemptions to these sunshine laws. This exemption does not mean that your industry is exempt from taking reasonable steps to ensure catastrophic incidents do not occur. To that end, we are specifically requesting access to your information on what the US DOT calls High Hazard Flammable Trains operating most frequently with “unit trains” averaging 100 rail cars each, as well as on “manifest trains” with 10-20 cars of these cargoes that travel through the state of Washington. 
In the letter, WCF requests from BNSF the following:

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Envision Spokane files new Worker Bill of Rights initiative

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2015 at 1:49 PM

Envision Spokane, faced with a protracted legal battle over its most recent attempt to pass Community Bill of Rights initiative, has filed a new initiative for the November ballot that, if passed, would grant expansive rights to workers in Spokane.

Filed on Tuesday, the initiative would amend Spokane’s charter to include a Worker’s Bill of Rights that includes four key provisions:

- A guarantee to a “family wage,” to be calculated by the city.

- A right to equal pay regardless of gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, familial status, religion and other categories.

- Employers would be required to have a “just cause” to terminate an employee.

- Lastly, corporations would not have be considered “persons” for the purposes of challenging any provisions in the initiative.

“There’s momentum around the country for workers to get a decent family wage,” says Brad Read, president of Envision Spokane’s board.

In 2009 and 2011, Envision Spokane placed far-reaching initiatives on the ballot that would have given greater protections to the Spokane River, given greater protections to workers rights and granted neighborhood councils power over local development.

The first time around, the initiative was trounced. In 2011 it came close. In 2013, a coalition of business groups and public officials successfully filed a lawsuit to prevent the initiative from once again making the ballot.

In January, an appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling, allowing the initiative to move forward.

However, Read, says that opponents of the initiative have used legal maneuvers to delay the initiative from being placed on the November ballot. He says that opponents of the initiative could appeal all the way to the state Supreme Court, a process that could take months and not be resolved in time for the November ballot.

Instead of waiting, Envision Spokane has decided to move forward with an initiative that’s more narrowly focused on worker rights.

He also says that Envision Spokane has laid the groundwork in past campaigns that will allow this effort to finally succeed. Specifically, Read says the group has made inroads with low-income communities, who he says will help pass the initiative.

“We think this message resonates even more with those voters because they are the ones doing the jobs and not getting paid,” he says.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bikini barista initiative fails to make ballot

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 at 12:40 PM

A citizen-led initiative that would codify what body parts can be barred in public in Spokane won’t be on the November ballot after it failed to get the needed signatures.

The initiative was sponsored by Beth Solscheid, who along with other local moms concerned about bikini barista stands in town collected over 3,000 signatures to qualify it for the November ballot. Supporters of the initiative say they’re not against bikini barista stands, and their gripe is with stands that feature women wearing nothing or next to nothing, with some located in very public places.

If passed, the initiative would have specifically stated what body parts can be barred in public.

According to numbers from the County Auditor’s Office, only 53 percent of the signatures were valid. Nearly 18 percent of the signatures were deemed invalid because individuals who signed it lived outside of Spokane. The second most common reason, at 16 percent, was the person who signed wasn’t registered to vote.

Mike McLaughlin, Spokane County elections manager, says that sometimes a signature gatherer will collect signatures outside of a grocery store near the city limits. People who reside outside Spokane might shop at these stores, and, while they’re there, put an invalid signature on a petition, he says.

Supporters of the initiative collected more than the required 2,477 signatures to serve as a buffer against invalid signatures and had high hopes that the measure would easily pass scrutiny.

Solscheid couldn’t be reached for comment, but a long-winded post on the campaign’s Facebook page from Kimberly Curry expressed disappointment with the results and faulted the city council for taking action on the issue.

“At every grocery store we stood outside of collecting signatures over the last year, all the doors we knocked and luncheons we spoke at people asked why our City Council was not exerting leadership over city affairs by putting this issue on the ballot rather than five mothers standing outside, often times with their children, doing the job for them,” reads the post. 

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The State of the City meets Billy Joel

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 2:20 PM

In case you don't have time to watch all 44 minutes of Mayor David Condon's State of the City address, which he gave last week at Greater Spokane Incorporated on Friday and will give again at other locations, the musical introduction to the speech, set to the melody of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," covers a lot of what the city's top executive had to say about police reform, Riverfront Park and other highlights of the mayor's first term.

“It was just something to showcase in a fun way the highlights of city employees,” says Brian Coddington, spokesman for the mayor. 

The song was sung by David Wolff, who works in the city's IT services. Coddington says that Wolff has sung the national anthem at various events. 

Here it is:

2015 State of the City Intro from SpokaneCity on Vimeo.

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City council halts new cell towers

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 9:15 AM

Last night, Spokane City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance that places a six-month moratorium on the construction of new cell towers in residential areas of the city - and it’s expected to get the city sued.

The ordinance was crafted in response to concerns voiced by residents that new towers were popping up in their neighborhoods with little notice and even less recourse if they objected to the structures.

The newly passed ordinance halts the establishment, permitting and franchising of new cell towers in residential areas (on both public and private property) for a six-month period, during which city council will consider a more comprehensive approach to at Spokane’s technology infrastructure.

“What this really does is it gives us a six-month pause to say, hey, how do we want these to look? How do we want these to build? [How do] we want the placement and appearance to look like?” said Councilman Mike Allen, who introduced the ordinance.

Stuckart noted that he had been working on an ordinance that would give residents notice that potentially ugly and unwanted developments like cell phone towers would be sited close to their homes. The moratorium goes further by halting the development of the offending structures altogether.

Mike Piccolo, legal counsel for the city’s legislative body, warned that the ordinance will invite a lawsuit, but members of the city council seemed to think it was worth it.

“Oh, we will get sued,” said City Council President Ben Stuckart, who went on to add that, “I think it's important, and I think in this instance we should fight for our citizens.”

Allen, speaking after the meeting, said that under Washington state law, if a business follows development rules they are considered “vested” and would have grounds for a lawsuit if a government entity suddenly changed the rules midstream.

Under the ordinance, companies could still apply to build towers and any applications that are under six months old could still go forward.

During the public comment period, no representatives from telecommunications companies showed up to complain. Instead, residents spoke of how they got notices that a cell tower was going to be placed in close proximity to their home and they weren’t given adequate notice to object. Many praised the council’s actions.

“Rarely am I speechless,” said Patricia Hansen, a South Hill neighborhood activist. “Tonight I am speechless.”

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Nudists express concerns about bikini barista initiative

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 9:23 AM

Last night, Spokane City Council considered what to do with a citizen initiative that would specify what parts of the body can be bared in public. The initiative was spearheaded by a group of moms who want more restrictions on so-called “bikini baristas,” or coffee stands where scantily clad women (or women not clad in anything at all) serve drive-thru customers coffee, sometimes in plain view of children.

Guess who showed up during the public comment period to speak against the measure? If you guessed that the owners of Spokane’s bikini barista stands showed up to call the supporters of the measure a bunch of prudes who were afraid of lady parts and to denounce the initiative as a threat to their business, guess again.
Councilman Mike Fagan has been particularly outspoken about bikini barista. - JAKE THOMAS
  • Jake Thomas
  • Councilman Mike Fagan has been particularly outspoken about bikini barista.

Instead, it was nudists who turned out to tell the city's legislative body that the proposed initiative should be stopped in its tracks before it could rob Spokane residents of their freedom to romp around in the buff.

“The initiative is a broad brush fix for a specific problem, which is the bikini baristas,” local nudist Kathy Smith told the council, adding, “The initiative has unintended consequences and attacks nudists who do not engage in that practice.”

Dave Smith, another nudist who is involved in local nudist organizations, told the council that some of the behaviors the initiative targets are already covered by Spokane's municipal code, and he was concerned that all the nude events held at restaurants, bed and breakfasts and private homes in Spokane could be jeopardized if it became law.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Allen not running for city council re-election

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 4:53 PM

Councilman Mike Allen tells the Inlander that he will not seek reelection this fall.

Allen, often considered part of city council’s conservative minority, says that when he ran in 2011 he hoped to create an Office of the Police Ombudsman, find a permanent street-funding mechanism, restore Riverfront Park and other goals. He says that with those goals accomplished, he sees no reason to run.

Allen, who has a business background, considers himself more of a moderate than a conservative. 

“I’m always for balance,” he says.

Running for his seat is Lori Kinnear, legislative assistant for Councilwoman Amber Waldref, and downtown business owner John Waite. Both have left-leaning politics and if either of them prevail the council could have a 6-1 liberal majority.

Former Republican state Rep. John Ahern is also strongly considering running.

“I’m very dissatisfied with the city council,” he says. “It’s so left-leaning, I can’t believe it.”

If elected, Ahern says he would prioritize reversing an ordinance that prevent city workers from inquiring into people’s immigration status, which he says invites criminals and terrorist groups to Spokane. He also wants the city to put a moratorium on the growing, processing and selling of marijuana.

“What that council needs more than anything is adult supervision,” he says.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lawmakers support police-friendly body cameras bill

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 9:21 AM

As the Washington State Legislature prepares to conclude its current session, the future of police body cameras in the state could be coming into focus. Lawmakers have allowed a law enforcement-backed bill related to body cameras to clear a key legislative hurdle while letting perish a competing measure supported by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Police body cameras have been adopted by law enforcement agencies across the state, and elsewhere, as a way to bring more accountability and transparency to policing. However, the implementation of police body camera programs in Washington have collided with existing state laws governing privacy and public records that were never designed for the new realities presented by the proliferation of the surveillance devices.

Law enforcement agencies have expressed concern that the state’s public records law allows for broad and burdensome requests of footage of people in police encounters. Some of this footage, released under Washington’s public records law, depicting people in difficult positions has made its way onto the Internet for the whole world to gawk at. The situation is concerning to law enforcement agencies, and they want the law changed. The Spokane Police Department has encountered these issues as well and, because of them, has been slow to roll out its body camera program pending changes to state law.

One of the bills seeking to make Washington state law more congruent to police body cameras was written with heavy input from law enforcement and would make the state’s public records law less public.

“Law enforcement, they don’t want to be in a situation where people aren’t going to call 911 because they don’t want the police officers’ visit to their house to be on YouTube,” Rep. Drew Hansen, D- Bainbridge Island, said during a hearing on the legislation.

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