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Obamacare deadlines, new medical pot rules and a look at Washington's public records

Uncertain Future

With the next state legislative session less than a month away and legal recreational marijuana on the horizon, a group of state agencies has passed along its recommendations for how lawmakers should reform the state's medical marijuana system. The state departments of health and revenue, along with the Liquor Control Board, which has been overseeing the creation of Washington's new recreational marijuana market, released their final recommendations this month as part of a push to revamp the state's largely unregulated medical market in hopes of preventing recreational users from buying medical pot instead of from the new recreational market. In a reversal from an earlier draft, the groups now say home grows should be kept legal for medical patients, though they propose allowing six plants, down from the current 15.

Among their other recommendations, the groups suggest:

• creating a patient and provider registry.

• eliminating collective gardens in favor of using state-licensed stores to sell both recreational and medical marijuana.

• using the same tax structure applied to recreational marijuana, but exempting medical users from the state and local retail sales and use taxes recreational customers will pay.

Read the full recommendations at Inlander.com.

— HEIDI GROOVER

It's Coming

Washington residents who missed the Dec. 23 deadline to enroll in health care coverage through the state insurance exchange can still receive health benefits on New Year's Day — as long as they started the application process before midnight on the cut-off date.

Due to technical issues plaguing the Washington Healthplanfinder website — the site was down Monday morning until nearly 9 am — health exchange officials announced last week that people who were unable to complete their applications before the 23rd could enroll retroactively and receive coverage on Jan. 1. Payments for these late enrollees are due Jan. 15.

People who submit applications after Dec. 23 can receive coverage as early as Feb. 1. Open enrollment in private health insurance ends on March 31, 2014. There is no open enrollment period for Medicaid recipients.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration announced Monday that consumers shopping on the federal government's Healthcare.gov had an extra day to complete their enrollments for Jan. 1 coverage. — DEANNA PAN

State of Records

In a new assessment of Washington's public records law, policy analysts outlined several recommendations for improving the fairness and function of the state's public disclosure process. Popular recommendations included establishing a third-party system to review disclosure disagreements, streamlining or clarifying exemptions and collecting comprehensive data on the amount of records being processed by local governments.

The William D. Ruckelshaus Center, a joint research group with Washington State University and the University of Washington, recently interviewed 35 public officials, judges, journalists and citizens on their views of the current records system. Many agreed the Public Records Act serves a vital role, but argued local officials often failed to keep up with an increasing number of requests.

Several public officials complained that large or unnecessary requests took time away from government work, while open records advocates argued providing records is government work. Many believed a third-party arbitration process should be created to resolve record disputes out of court. "This alternative should be independent, inexpensive and swift in its resolution of disputes," the center's Dec. 13 report states.

In conclusion, researchers recommended additional data collection on the frequency and volume of records requests statewide as well as workshops between stakeholders to discuss potential amendments to state law. — JACOB JONES


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