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About the Benjamins 

The budget battles begin. Plus, WSU and the FAA get together for sleepy pilots.

click to enlarge Sen. Lisa Brown
  • Sen. Lisa Brown
system.

OLYMPIA MAKES FIRST CUTS

The Washington State Legislature met in an emergency special session on Saturday to bridge a $1.1 billion gap in the state’s two-year budget, which covers Washington through June. In a surprising show of bipartisan negotiation, the lame-duck Legislature agreed on nearly $700 million in cuts and reapportionments and adjourned by 4 pm, earlier than some expected.

Legislators cut almost $51 million from state universities, including Eastern and Washington State University. They also eliminated funding that limited K-4 class sizes, closed the McNeil Island prison, cut $46 million out of corrections and cut the Disability Lifeline stipend by 20 percent, which affects the disabled poor (often homeless veterans).

State Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-Spokane) says she was especially pained by an adjustment to a program she helped enact that funneled child-support payments directly to families. The state will now take that money to pay back the federal government for welfare funds it has received.

“The governor made a case that we should make a down payment on getting this current fiscal-year deficit closed,” she says. “The negotiations were pretty intense over a two- or three-day period [in the run-up to Saturday], but every caucus agreed to support the package.”

Brown calls Saturday’s actions “the tip of the iceberg,” as legislators beginning the 2011 regular session on Jan. 10 will face a gap of about $5 billion as they construct the budget for the next two years.

WSU KEEPS PILOTS AWAKE

WSU-Spokane’s Sleep and Performance Research Center announced last week that it has been advising the FAA’s Aviation Rulemaking Committee as it examines its rules on how well rested pilots need to be. The committee heard WSU scientists Greg Belenky and Hans Van Dongen and has adjusted its rules based on their testimony — among other things, upping the required rest period before duty to nine hours (from eight) and increasing the required minimum off-duty time per week to 30 consecutive hours (from 24).

Belenky and Van Dongen say the revised rules are a step in the right direction, but their rigidity doesn’t really allow pilots to manage their own differing sleep needs.

“Fatigue — the interaction between sleep loss, circadian rhythm and workload,” says Belenky in a press release, “is a complex concept that is not easily handled with a one-sizefits-all prescriptive rule.”

We wrote about Van Dongen and the WSU sleep center in “Scholastic Fantastic,” a five-piece cover package we published in May. At that time, staff and students were breaking new ground on how sleeplessness affects the brain’s ability to process information and make decisions.

Read the full press release.

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