Friday, February 16, 2018

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart floats Seattle-style proposal: Tax gun purchases to pay for gun violence prevention

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 5:56 PM

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart raises the possibility of taxing gun sales, similar to Seattle. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
  • Daniel Walters photo
  • Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart raises the possibility of taxing gun sales, similar to Seattle.

The night before starting a nine-day, no-work vacation, City Council President Ben Stuckart floated a potential bombshell on Facebook. He was looking at taxing guns.

"I have the ordinance ready to increases taxes on gun purchases in the city," Stuckart wrote on Facebook. "We could put the money towards mental health services. If not now, when?"

But for Stuckart, the idea isn't new. In fact, he says, by text message, that he's had an ordinance on the issue written since January 2016.

Stuckart says that several citizens, including an Eastern Washington University professor and applied social and community psychologist Olga Lucia Herrera, had been floating the initial stages of a proposal a few years ago. But the citizens abandoned the proposal due to busyness, the possibility of a competing state proposal and — in particular — the desire to avoid inadvertently stigmatizing mental illness.

"I don’t want to be the author of a solution that creates more problems,” Herrera says.

For her, details matter. 

But now, in the aftermath of yet another mass slaughter of yet another public school, Stuckart has resurrected the proposal.

The proposed Gun Violence Prevention Ordinance (as currently written) would charge a $20 fee per firearm purchase, $0.01 per small rounds of ammunition and $0.03 for ammunition above a .22 caliber.

The money, according to the 2016 framework of the ordinance, would only go to programs that "prevent gun accessibility to children and those suffering from mental illness, prevent gun violence ... promote recreational gun safety," and address the public health costs associated with gun violence.

It would not apply to those who only sell one gun per quarter or to licensed dealers simply facilitating gun sales between unlicensed sellers for the purpose of conducting background checks.

While Stuckart was not available by phone — as he was packing for vacation — he did answer a few questions with The Inlander by text message.

"I think that is a reasonable amount for people to pay for safety education and suicide prevention work. And mental health services," Stuckart wrote in a text about the $20 charge. "Guns cause issues and those that buy them can pay for some solutions."

Reaction to his Facebook post varied.

"Great move," wrote the Center for Justice's Rick Eichstaedt.

"We knew it was coming eventually," the 8th Man Facebook page posted. "Stuckart wants to punish gun owners in the city of Spokane with more taxes."

Herrera says that her support depends on the fine print, for how the proposal is worded and where it directs the funds.

The proposal, however, isn't a new idea. Seattle passed a similar ordinance in 2015 — intending to put the revenue toward gun research at Harborview Medical Center — and ended up getting sued by the National Rifle Association because of it.

While the NRA argued that the tax violated a state law preventing local gun regulations, the Supreme Court overwhelmingly ruled last year that it didn't — the tax was a fee, not a regulation.

Tim Burgess, former Seattle councilman and (briefly) the former mayor of Seattle, says the proposal came out of an effort in Seattle to try to answer very basic questions about gun
Former Seattle Councilman Tim Burgess
  • Former Seattle Councilman Tim Burgess

"We were meeting and talking to police and community folks," Burgess says. "We realized we had very little research information about what happens to victims of gun violence."

As the city and the University of Washington began researching common traits victims of gun violence who came to the hospital, they realized that past victims of gun violence were far more likely to become victims of gun violence in the future.

In the 1990s, Burgess says, the Harborview Medical Center successfully cut reoccurrences of alcohol-related injuries by more than half by giving them short counseling sessions before they were released from the hospital.

"Let’s do the same thing with gunshot victims and see if we can have the same impacts," Burgess says. "How do we pay for that? Let's tax guns."

But was it effective? 

"Yes," Burgess says. "It is raising money that covers the city’s contribution to the Harborview intervention [program.]"

It did not, however, raise as much money as the city hoped it would. According to the Seattle Times, the city expected to raise $300,000 to $500,000 a year. In its first year, it raised less than $200,000.

And gun violence didn't drop in Seattle last year either. Gun violence rose slightly in 2017.  In King County, 54 of 75 homicide victims in 2017 died from gunshots — and 11 died from officer-involved shootings.

But Burgess says the goal wasn't necessarily to reduce the number of guns. The goal was to raise money for research into gun violence.

"Our focus was, let's begin to treat this as a public health crisis and do the research,"  Burgess says. Whether the interventions — which includes a case manager who works with the gunshot victim for a year — helps prevent shootings in the long term remain to be seen.

For now, it has seemed to impact the gun-selling business though. Outdoor Emporium, which sells about 80 percent of the guns in Seattle, threatened to move outside the city limits, noting the tax has cost them more than $2 million in its first year. (So far the company appears to have stayed put.)

In last year's Seattle City Council elections, two candidates suggested looking at doubling the city's gun tax — to $50 a purchase — in order to raise more revenue.

Burgess supports Stuckart's proposal — which would spend the money on mental health and suicide prevention. He notes that firearm injuries and death by suicide attempts are far more common than criminal assaults with firearms, and that suicide rates are higher in Eastern Washington.

"It sounds like Ben’s doing it well," Burgess says.

But ultimately, because of laws limiting local gun regulations in the state of Washington, cities' hands are largely tied. Burgess and Stuckart have been frustrated with the lack of state and national action on gun regulations.

"It’s just very frustrating to people that really, simple common sense measures cannot seem to get past the legislature or Congress," Burgess says.

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Spokane Valley deputies arrest 11-year-old for threatening East Valley elementary students on social media

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 4:14 PM

An 11-year-old boy was arrested this morning for alleged threats he made on Instagram yesterday that targeted two elementary school students, according to the Spokane County Sheriff's Office.

Spokane Valley deputies learned of the threats last night. According to a news release, the kids were on an Instagram Live broadcast when the 11-year-old started threatening the other two, saying he knew where the victims lived and where they attended school.

The victims "were very scared the suspect may carry these threats out, especially due to the recent school shootings," the news release says.

Mark Gregory, the public information officer for the Sheriff's Office, says he can't provide further detail on what was said specifically. But he said the victims felt the suspect could possibly carry the threats out.

"In today's world, with what the suspect was saying, they felt there was a possibility," Gregory says.

The victims attend Trentwood Elementary and South Pines Elementary in the East Valley School District. East Valley Superintendent Kelly Shea announced this morning that the 11-year-old was "angry at someone who has a relative at Trentwood," so Trentwood and nearby East Valley Middle School were placed on modified lockdown.

"We are taking this very seriously," Shea wrote. "We are striving to find the balance between taking action to ensure the safety of our students and our staff while ensuring the normalcy of life."

The 11-year-old suspect was located at 9 am this morning and taken into juvenile detention for threats to bomb or injure property and for two felony counts of harassment.

The Sheriff's Office urges parents to tell children to immediately report all threats and to caution them about what they post on social media.

"The school districts, Spokane Valley Police Department and the Spokane County Sheriff's Office take these threats very seriously," the Sheriff's Office says.
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New deets on the Carrousel, FBI failed to investigate tips about the Florida school shooter and other morning headlines

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 10:27 AM

Mayor David Condon talks about the ongoing Riverfront Park construction - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
  • Daniel Walters photo
  • Mayor David Condon talks about the ongoing Riverfront Park construction


Food's good too

Yet another Spokane chef has been named a James Beard semifinalist — this time, Italia Trattoria's Anna Vogel.

Planned Parenthood hits back

Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho is suing the federal government for cutting off its teen pregnancy prevention program grant two years early. 

Closing down death row
We get Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell's take on the Washington State Senate's decision to end the death penalty.


A true NIMBY opposes even the richest developments

Citing traffic concerns, Eagle Ridge neighbors don't want a proposed 240-home development to be built nearby.  (Spokesman-Review)

Around and around we go
Get the latest on the city's plans for the Looff Carrousel. (Spokesman-Review)

They were warned

The FBI admits it screwed up in not investigating tips about this week's school shooting in Florida. (Washington Post)

Total hack job

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is indicting 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for interference in the 2016 presidential elections. (NBC)

Mental problems
Trying to take away guns from the mentally ill is a challenging prospect. (New York Times)

By the power of Zuckerberg!

Remember that piece we wrote on how Facebook's new algorithm was destroying journalism? Here's how to harness the power of that algorithm to torture your friends.

A man after God's own heart
Donald Trump had a whole system for concealing affairs during his first (1st) year of marriage to his third (3rd) wife. (New Yorker)
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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Washington Senate votes to end the death penalty; Spokane County's prosecutor believes voters should decide

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 4:24 PM

Washington state senators narrowly passed a bill yesterday that would put an end to capital punishment in the state. Following a passionate debate, the bill passed by a vote of 26-22 and now awaits consideration in the House.

Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell
  • Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell
Senators opposed to the bill tried to amend it by carving out exemptions for people who kill corrections officers and by letting voters, rather than the legislature, decide — a path that Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell says he prefers.

"Since the death penalty was brought forward by the people of this state via an initiative (albeit quite some time ago), it would be best for the people to speak to the issue via the referendum process," Haskell writes via email. "I am in support of that."

During this legislative session, lawyers, researchers, victims, family members and advocates have given compelling testimony for and against capital punishment.

Washington's Attorney General Bob Ferguson testified before the Senate Law and Justice Committee in January that 75 percent of death penalty cases in the state get overturned on appeal.

"Where else in government are we satisfied with a 25 percent success rate for a program that costs taxpayers millions of dollars?" Ferguson asked.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has been an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, arguing in part that it's too expensive. In smaller counties, for example, prosecutors may not have the budget to pursue the death penalty, which means it is unevenly applied across the state, Satterberg wrote in an op-ed for the Seattle Times.

A 2015 study out of Seattle University found that death-penalty cases costs taxpayers an average of $1 million more than cases where prosecutors seek a life sentence.

Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe, however, testified in January that he believes the debate should not focus on economics, but rather on moral objection or support for capital punishment.

Haskell has declined to say whether he morally supports or opposes the death penalty. But says he believes execution should never be held over the head of a defendant as a tactic to elicit a guilty plea to a lesser sentence.

"However, if death is charged and a plea to [life without parole] is offered, I would give great deference to family members in reaching my decision of how to go forward," he writes via email.

Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) voted in support of the bill. Republican senators Mike Padden, Mark Schoesler and Shelly Short voted against. Sen. Michael Baumgartner was excused from the vote due to a family emergency.

There are currently eight men on death row in Washington. Gov. Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2014, which means no executions will be carried out while he is in office. But inmates continue to appeal their cases.

"If a referendum were to go to the people and they were to affirm their belief that the death penalty should remain, I would ask for it in only the most egregious cases," Haskell writes. "Also, if the bill to eliminate the death penalty as a charging option becomes state law, as always, we will follow the law."

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Planned Parenthood sues Trump administration for prematurely pulling out of Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 4:05 PM

In complaints filed simultaneously around the country this morning, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho joined other organizations in suing the federal government for dropping Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs two years before their grants were set to end.

The action stems from last June, when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) abruptly announced in routine annual award letters that 5-year grants would be cancelled starting in June 2018.

The money has been funding sexual education for teenagers most at risk. Importantly, the plaintiffs say, it's paying for the research and data analysis of those programs, which is meant to ensure they are measurably preventing pregnancy and improving teens' sexual health. The analysis can be used to improve and target programs to specific groups.

Cutting the funding short will mean no education for some of the estimated 1.2 million young people the programs were expected to serve across the country and can jeopardize the ongoing research, effectively wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane, alleges. 

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ENTRÉE: Spokane chef Anna Vogel a James Beard semifinalist, and more local food news

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 11:33 AM

Italia Trattoria chef and co-owner Anna Vogel is a 2018 James Beard Award semifinalist. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Italia Trattoria chef and co-owner Anna Vogel is a 2018 James Beard Award semifinalist.


For the fourth year in a row, a Spokane chef has been named as a semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Awards, an annual honor bestowed by the NYC-based James Beard Foundation.

Chef Anna Vogel, who co-owns the Browne's Addition restaurant Italia Trattoria with Bethe Bowman, was named a semifinalist for the Beard Awards' Best Chef: Northwest category, one perennially dominated by chefs based in Portland and Seattle.

Vogel's culinary resume includes past stints in major global cities: Sydney, Boston, New York and Seattle. She opened Italia Trattoria, which offers seasonal dishes rooted in Italian cuisine and features Northwest flavors and ingredients, with Bowman back in 2010. Since then, the restaurant has established a respectable local following and a reputation as one of the best fine-dining spots in the area.

Subsequently over the past three years, Inland Northwest chefs who've been named James Beard Award semifinalists for the Best Chef: Northwest category include Jeremy Hansen, in 2015; Adam Hegsted, in 2016; and Laurent Zirotti, in 2017.

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Florida school shooting, Washington Senate votes to kill capital punishment and morning headlines

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 9:13 AM


Knock down drag out
On the cover this week: We compiled some of the biggest and weirdest fights, riots, scuffles and brew-ha-has in the Inland Northwest.

Shattered ceilings
Paulette Jordan would be the first woman elected governor of Idaho, the first Democrat to hold the office since 1995 and the first Native American governor in the country. But that's not why she's running.

The Power 2 The Poetry group came together through a love of words, dedication to social justice. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
  • Young Kwak Photo
  • The Power 2 The Poetry group came together through a love of words, dedication to social justice.

Speak up

A new grassroots spoken-word poetry movement aims to give voice to the voiceless in Spokane.


'If I don't make it, I love you and I appreciate everything you did for me'

A student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School texted that to her mother as a man fired rounds into her classmates and teachers. (New York Times)

A football coach reportedly jumped in front of the bullets to save students. He later died of gunshot wounds. (Miami Herald)

A total of 17 people are dead, other are wounded, and police have arrested the suspected gunman, a 19-year-old former student at the school, Nikolas Cruz. He is charged with 17 counts of murder and will appear in court later today. (Sun Sentinel)

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Bartlett's BASE songwriting workshop provides aspiring musicians advice, guidance

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 4:11 PM

Natalie Schepman of the folk trio Joseph will host the Bartlett's BASE Songwriter Workshop on Thursday.
  • Natalie Schepman of the folk trio Joseph will host the Bartlett's BASE Songwriter Workshop on Thursday.

Ever thought about writing your own music, but didn't have any idea where to start?

For the last few weeks, the Bartlett has been hosting the BASE songwriting workshop, a short series that's bringing in established musicians to explain inspiration and craft to a small group of enrolled students. Those courses are then followed by intimate, acoustic concerts that are open to the public.

Think of it as a TED Talk by way of MTV Unplugged.

"Our guest artists have been coming in and sharing during the class portion of things," says musician Scott Ingersoll, who got the series off the ground. "We do an interview back and forth, talking about how they got started ... then they break down one or two of their songs. The evening portion is a behind-the-scenes storyteller showcase."

"They’re able to get more into the nitty gritty of the process than at a regular show."

Ingersoll, who performs around town as Scott Ryan, says he first tried out this concept a few summers ago, and it generated some interest. But having since been awarded a grant from Spokane Arts, he opened enrollment earlier this year, and the three classes quickly reached capacity. Ingersoll says about 35 participants signed up for all three workshops, and they range from high school students to adults.

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Gonzaga student combines dance, positive body talk for people with Parkinson's

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 1:55 PM

Gonzaga students and Spokane community members participate in a Dance for Parkinson's class at Gonzaga's dance studio Saturday, Feb. 10. - SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL PHOTO
  • Samantha Wohlfeil photo
  • Gonzaga students and Spokane community members participate in a Dance for Parkinson's class at Gonzaga's dance studio Saturday, Feb. 10.

They salute the sun. They pass an imaginary ball of energy to each other, first with their hands, then with their feet. They shush the room.
Gonzaga students and Spokane community members participate in a Dance for Parkinson's class at Gonzaga's dance studio Saturday, Feb. 10. - SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL PHOTO
  • Samantha Wohlfeil photo
  • Gonzaga students and Spokane community members participate in a Dance for Parkinson's class at Gonzaga's dance studio Saturday, Feb. 10.

For more than an hour Saturday morning, community members with Parkinson's danced with their loved ones, friends, and students, as they do every week as part of the Dance for Parkinson's class at Gonzaga's dance studio.

Parkinson's Disease is an incurable disorder that affects the central nervous system, but it can be helped with medication, and more research is showing dance and music can help reduce the effects of common symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, freezing, or loss of balance.

The accessible class eases participants through movements targeted at each part of the body, with participants spending much of the class in chairs, then moving to standing routines by the end of the hour.

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Spokane County voters support school levies, new high school in Central Valley

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 12:16 PM

Spokane voters overwhelmingly supported schools last night - SPOKANE PUBLIC SCHOOLS/FACEBOOK
  • Spokane Public Schools/Facebook
  • Spokane voters overwhelmingly supported schools last night

By a wide margin, voters in the city of Spokane approved a Spokane Public Schools levy that supports basic education and activities. Voters also approved bond projects in Central Valley and Mead that will pay for new schools.

According to results from yesterday's special election, just under 73 percent of voters approved the Spokane Public Schools levy, which only needed more than 50 percent to pass. The levy will tack on $1.50 per 1,000 of assessed property value to property taxes 2019. It's a much lower rate than the rate of $3.77 per 1,000 of the previous levy.

That's because the Washington state legislature boosted state funding last year for basic education while capping the amount school districts can raise in levies. Essentially, it meant property taxes for levies at local school districts decrease, while state property taxes increase — though, combined, taxpayers in Spokane will pay less than before.

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