Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 10:55 AM

Spokane City Council will remain silent on a pair of controversial trade agreements the United States is currently negotiating.

Last night, the council voted to table a resolution brought by Councilman Mike Fagan that would express opposition to legislation in Congress that would hasten the approv
Opponents of the Trans Pacific Partnership wanted Spokane City Council to come out against the trade agreement. - JAKE THOMAS
Jake Thomas
Opponents of the Trans Pacific Partnership wanted Spokane City Council to come out against the trade agreement.
al of the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Critics of the agreements say they've been written in secret, give corporations too much power at the expense of democratically controlled governments, and will hurt U.S. industries that have already been battered by existing trade agreements.

After hearing from a parade of people with perspectives from across the political spectrum speaking in support of the resolution, Council President Ben Stuckart, in response to a question from Councilwoman Candace Mumm, said that a council rule prohibited it from passing any resolution or ordinance not directly related to local affairs or municipal business.

Fagan said that he drafted the resolution after hearing from a broad range of constituents from various political stripes who had concerns about the trade agreements. He said that while he was aware of the rule, he pointed out that the council recently passed a resolution in favor of federal legislation regulating oil trains, many of which pass through the city.

“Now, trade agreements are very relevant here in the City of Spokane even though this is being looked at the federal level or will be,” Fagan said.

However, Councilman Jon Snyder, who said there were valid concerns about the agreements, disagreed.

“It's really hard for me to hear those words from Councilman Fagan after he used the same arguments against voting for the resolution we had here with the Citizens United Decision,” he said. “It's the same argument he used against voting and tabling the marriage equality resolution.”

Snyder made a motion to table the resolution indefinitely, meaning it would not be considered by council, which passed with Fagan casting the only no vote.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 11:02 AM

In our current issue, we wrote about how New Approach Idaho, a group of pro-pot activists, is attempting to sidestep the legislature in the Gem State with an initiative that would legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize possession of the drug.

Although New Approach Idaho has a high bar to clear, it’s probably the only way the state’s pot laws will change because elected officials don’t want anything to do with marijuana.

Idaho is a conservative state to be sure. A Democrat hasn’t held the governor's office since 1995, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won 65 percent of the vote in 2012 and both houses of the legislature are dominated by the GOP. But in other states where the GOP is the prevailing party, elected officials have been a bit groovier with marijuana.

Consider this: On April 16, Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed a medical marijuana bill passed by the Republican-dominated legislature. On the very same day, Idaho Republican Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a significantly narrower bill that would allow for the use of cannabinol oil, which contains virtually no THC, to be used to treat children and others experiencing severe seizures. Both Utah, which has a sizable Mormon population, and Alabama allow medical use of CBD oil.

State Rep. Tom Loertscher, R- Iona, says after hearing “heart-wrenching” stories from families with severely epileptic children desperate for a therapy that would stop their debilitating seizures, he sponsored a bill allowing the therapy.

Lawmakers (who almost killed the bill) and the governor heard the same stories. But they also heard from law enforcement who said they would be burdened trying to differentiate CBD oil from other marijuana byproducts and from the state Office of Drug Policy, which called the therapy “unproven.”

“They think it’s the slippery-slope argument, that it’s the gateway to legalizing it in the state,” says Loertscher, who is also dead-set against medical marijuana, of the bill’s opponents.

State Rep.Vito Barbieri, R- Dalton Gardens, voted for the bill and was disappointed to see it vetoed. He says that medical marijuana is unlikely to become a reality in the state. In 2013, the legislature passed a resolution expressing that marijuana would never become legal for any reason.

“I think that it’s just been illegal for so long,” he says. “It’s a psychotropic and most of the members of the Legislature just don’t want to go there.”

Bill Esbensen, spokesperson for New Approach Idaho, attributes resistance among lawmakers and the governor to “ignorance and bigotry.”

“Prohibition has been thrust upon us for so long and so hard that it’s harder for these older legislative people, and they are older, to believe anything good about cannabis,” he says.

This blog has been updated to reflect the accurate date of when Idaho last had a Democratic governor. 

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2015 at 5:11 PM

When it came to medical school plans, Washington State University looks to be getting exactly what it wanted from the Legislature. Both the House and the Senate budget proposals give the school the $2.5 million it needs to begin 
click to enlarge Sen. Michael Baumgartner pushed hard for a WSU med school in Spokane, but UW med students worry the Senate's budget could imperil their own program. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak Photo
Sen. Michael Baumgartner pushed hard for a WSU med school in Spokane, but UW med students worry the Senate's budget could imperil their own program.
to create a new medical school in Spokane

Not the case for the University of Washington. The Senate budget gives UW $2.5 million for medical education in Spokane over the next biennium, but that's a big cut from the $9.4 million that the UW program had been receiving. While the House budget would continue to provide enough to expand the UW class from 40 to 60 students in Spokane, UW argues the Senate budget would put the future of the medical program in jeopardy.

In the past, Sen. Michael Baumgartner has suggested that UW could find the additional funds needed to continue in Spokane elsewhere in the school's $6.4 billion budget.

But UW suggests that there's no slack to make up the difference.

"We got $4.7 million [per year] appropriated by the legislature. That’s what we use to educate our students there. If that goes away, there’s no other source replace it," UW spokesman Norm Arkans says. "What are we going to do? Cut English majors? Cut computer science majors? ... We’re a very tightly budgeted institution. We either have the money or we don’t."

And if UW medical education disappears in the Spokane, what happens to the students who're already counting on it?

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 9:39 AM

Last night, Spokane City Council took initial steps toward passing a paid sick leave ordinance and also voted to put a measure on the August ballot intended to curb rises in the mayor's salary.

The council voted to form a working group to get feedback from stakeholders on a future ordinance that would mandate that employers offer their workers paid time off to deal with illness or domestic violence. The 12-member working group would be comprised of representatives from businesses, ranging from food service to healthcare, unions, the Spokane Regional Health District and the Spokane Human Rights Commission.

Spokane is likely to join cities like Portland and Seattle, which already have paid sick leave policies. Several representatives from business associations showed up to to express their opposition to the whole idea.

Michael Cathcart, government affairs director for the Spokane Homebuilders Association, told the council that a survey sent out to his association's members revealed that many worried the policy would be burdensome. According to Cathcart, 84 percent responded that a sick leave policy would increase costs to consumers, 70 percent said they'd have to reduce employees and 33 percent said they'd reduce employee hours.

“I hope that this work groups take into account whether or not we actually need a sick leave policy,” he told council.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

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

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

click to enlarge 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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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

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

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

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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American Inheritance: Unpacking World War II @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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