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What the national debate means for Washington’s GMO initiative; plus, WSU reins in tuition

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The Other Washington

As the local effort to label genetically modified foods heats up — supporters have raised nearly $1 million as the opposition nears $2,400 — the movement is getting mixed reactions on the national stage.

Last week, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly shot down an amendment to its farm bill, which covers most agricultural and food policy, that would have affirmed states’ rights to require GMO labeling. (The amendment came after discussion in the House about prohibiting states from banning certain farming tools or techniques that are legal in other states, potentially affecting farmers’ ability to sell their products across the country.) When he introduced the amendment, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders cited national polls about labeling and the more than 300,000 signatures that leaders of Washington state’s labeling initiative — I-522 — turned in to get the measure on the ballot this year. Opposing senators said bioengineered crops will help feed the world’s growing population and the amendment could encourage a mismatched patchwork of labeling rules across the country.

I-522 leaders urged their supporters to email federal lawmakers in favor of the amendment and the national labeling bills, but continue to push for state-level action.

“It’s just reality,” says Yes On 522 spokesperson Elizabeth Larter. “Congress is slow to get things done. There are many issues that had to be passed on state level because Congress refused to act.”

— HEIDI GROOVER

Pausing Tuition

Last fall, Washington State University President Elson Floyd floated a radical plan: stop tuition from climbing faster than the rate of inflation. But his plan was conditional. He would wait to see how the state budget shook out before making any promises.

But as the Legislature continues to battle over the budget, Floyd decided just to go ahead with his tuition plan anyway. On May 24, WSU’s Board of Regents approved a mere 2 percent tuition increase for the upcoming fall.

WSU hasn’t yet determined how it will manage its budget this year, but in the past five years, the university has reduced general education requirements and eliminated 581 positions, three majors, multiple degrees and 1,080 courses. Despite all that, last year, WSU tuition increased by more than 15 percent.

To WSU students, the lack of a big increase this year comes as a relief. “It’s been a little bit of a reassurance for students and their families,” says Taylor Hennessey, president of the Associated Students of Washington State University. “Obviously, our end goal is to have a year we don’t see an increase in tuition. What students would really like is a year where students actually get funding back from the state.”

— DANIEL WALTERS

Hiring the Disabled 

Advocates for people with developmental disabilities are praising a new executive order encouraging public sector employers to hire more disabled people.

Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order, effective immediately, that includes several directives to improve employment opportunities for the disabled in Washington. One of the directives is a “Disability Employment Challenge,” which urges state-run employers to make 5 percent of their workforce comprised of people with disabilities by June 30, 2017. The order also creates a Disability Employment Task Force to help state agencies recruit disabled candidates.

“The fact that the governor is willing to recognize that people with disabilities can be a productive and valuable part of the workplace is a fantastic step toward greater employment not only in public service, but in business and industry too,” says Brian Holloway, communications director of the Arc of Spokane, a local advocacy organization for people with developmental disabilities.

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Washington is about 36 percent, compared to 33 percent nationally. For people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, experts estimate the unemployment rate is much higher at 70 percent.

“There tends to be a default setting that someone with a developmental disability can’t contribute to the workplace,” he says. “That’s not true.”

— DEANNA PAN

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