GOP state senator joins race for WA 6th Congressional District

Republican State Sen. Drew MacEwen has officially joined the race for the 6th Congressional District seat that will be vacated by outgoing U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

Washington State Sen. Drew MacEwen (R-Shelton) (Washington State Senate)
Drew MacEwen (Washington State Senate)

MacEwen, of Shelton, is the first Republican to register a campaign for this seat with the Federal Election Commission, which oversees federal campaign finance laws. Three Democrats – Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, State Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, and Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean – also have launched campaigns for the seat.

MacEwen, a U.S. Navy veteran, has been in the state Senate since January 2023 after he was elected to replace retiring State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Shelton. Before being elected to the state Senate, MacEwen represented the 35th District in the state House of Representatives between 2013 and 2022.

Washington’s 6th Congressional District covers the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas and stretches into parts of Tacoma. The next elections for the U.S. House of Representatives will be in 2024, and the newly elected representative will start a two-year term in January 2025.

 

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WA bill to offer unemployment pay to striking workers falls short

A person marches with a snare drum and picket sign, leading a handful of workers on strike.

A group of Homegrown workers walk the picket line outside the Westfield Southcenter mall in late January. (Lizz Giordano/Cascade PBS)

A bill to extend unemployment benefits to striking workers failed to pass the Washington Legislature before a key deadline last week. The House approved House Bill 1893 in mid-February, but the legislation hit a roadblock in the Senate and never made it to the floor for a vote.   

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, who chairs the Labor and Commerce Committee, told the Washington State Standard the bill had come really close to passing. 

“It was a big, new idea and it was a short session,” Keiser said. “I think there was a caution and a reluctance. A lot of people were just not comfortable taking on a big, new idea in a short session.”

Supporters of the bill said it would help level the playing field between workers and employers who refuse to negotiate fairly with their workforce. Opponents said the legislation could increase business costs or prolong work stoppages.

The state’s Employment Security Department projected the bill would increase unemployment benefit payouts, on the high end, by less than 1%.

Cascade PBS to record live podcast at Seattle Town Hall on Friday

Lana Ikelan and Noga Bar Oz

Lana Ikelan is a Palestinian journalist, and Noga Bar Oz is an Israeli musician who conducts an orchestra for Arab and Jewish children. (Tomorrow’s Women)

This Friday, Cascade PBS will take part in an event highlighting the voices of two young women from Palestine and Israel travelling together to share stories of war, strength and hope.  

Lana Ikelan and Noga Bar Oz from Tomorrow’s Women met at a camp in New Mexico in 2016 organized by the 20-year-old nonprofit organization. Tomorrow’s Women aims to train “women from Palestine, Israel and the United States to be strong, compassionate leaders who partner to resolve conflicts and inspire action that promotes equality, peace, and justice for all.” 

They have left their deeply divided homelands for a series of events in the U.S., including a program this week at Town Hall Seattle at 7:30 p.m. on March 8. They will both share parts of their stories, and afterward, Cascade PBS podcast producer Sara Bernard will host a Q&A that will be broadcast as a future episode of Northwest Reports (formerly Crosscut Reports). 

Ikelan and Bar Oz will also participate in an event on Sunday morning March 10 at Seattle First Baptist Church. 

The Seattle events are part of a short tour that includes similar events at UCLA and a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles later this month. 

WA lawmakers pass bill to curb seizures of child support payments

family in living room

Amy Roark, center, and two of her children, GracieLynn Rich (left) and Kayden Wake (right), at her home in Vancouver, Wash., on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. For several years, while Roark was on TANF, the state intercepted thousands in child support payments meant for her children. Now she’s off TANF but still struggling after the loss of that money. (Kristina Barker for Cascade PBS)

A bill to curtail the state’s practice of intercepting child support payments from families who receive cash benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is slated to become law after receiving final approval from Washington’s state Legislature on Tuesday.

Washington took $41 million intended for the parents of impoverished children in 2022, under a long-standing but little-known practice authorized by federal law. Cascade PBS recently found broad bipartisan opposition to the policy, which some officials described as a tax on poor families. 

“Families receiving child support and state benefits such as TANF need every dollar to meet their basic needs,” bill sponsor Rep. Jamila Taylor, D-Federal Way, wrote in an email to Cascade PBS.

Under current policy, parents on welfare can receive just $50 per month of the payments meant to support their children, or up to $100 if they have multiple children. The new policy will “pass through” the entirety of those monthly payments to families, although the state can still seize back-owed debt.

HB 1652 will not take effect until 2026, due to an amendment introduced by a Senate committee at the request of the Department of Social and Health Services, which manages both child support and TANF. A DSHS spokesperson wrote in an email to lawmakers that the agency needed extra time to perform IT upgrades.

The bill unanimously cleared the Senate last week and now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk after the House accepted the Senate’s amended timeframe. Taylor initially pushed back on that delay request, but told Cascade PBS on Friday that she would urge her House colleagues to vote yes.

“While my wish would be to start giving families relief as soon as possible, I will be accepting the Senate’s amendment to ensure that this bill makes it to the Governor for signature this session,” Taylor wrote.

Washington currently splits the proceeds from child support collections with the federal government. A fiscal note attached to the bill estimates that stopping much of those collections will cost the state about $15 million per year.

Updated with concurrence approval in the House at 3:20 p.m. on March 5, 2024.

WA Legislature OKs 3 initiatives, leaving tax measures for ballot

Voters in November will decide on initiatives to repeal the capital gains tax and the cap-and-invest program and to change the long-term care insurance payroll tax.

Washington State Capitol Building

The Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia, in a 2020 photo. (Jovelle Tamayo for Cascade PBS)

The Washington Legislature approved loosening police-pursuit restrictions and passing two other initiatives submitted by public petitions. That leaves three initiatives to be addressed in the November election.

The Senate approved removing some police-pursuit restrictions 36-13, with the opposing votes all coming from Democrats.The House passed the measure 77-20. 

The Senate also passed the initiative forbidding a state income tax 38-11, and unanimously declared parents had rights to medical, academic and disciplinary information on their children. The House passed the income tax initiatives by 76-21 and the parental rights measure by a vote of 82-15. All votes against the three initiatives were from Democrats.

The police-pursuit initiative was the most controversial. It repeals a 2021 law that raised the standard for vehicular police pursuits from “reasonable suspicion” to “probable cause” — the standard typically required for a warrant or arrest – for pursuits involving all but a narrow list of crimes. That list of crimes was expanded in 2023 following an unsuccessful Republican attempt to repeal the entire 2021 law. 

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said, “Police and law enforcement have been handcuffed in the number of crimes they are allowed to pursue. … off [criminals] go, thumbing their noses at law enforcement.” He added that vehicle thefts have significantly increased since 2021 because police pursuits were restricted.

In voting against the initiative, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, worried that a broken taillight or loud music could trigger a police pursuit. Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma, cited innocent bystanders being injured over the small theft or drug possession charge. 

The two other initiatives sparked only token discussions Monday because the measures do not change the status quo. Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said the parental-rights initiative merely codifies rules already set in state education regulations. Meanwhile, there has not been a serious attempt at establishing a state income tax in more than a decade.

Conservative organization Let’s Go Washington, funded by Redmond hedge fund manager Brian Heywood, gathered enough signatures to send six initiatives to the Legislature. The Legislature had the choice to adopt those initiatives or send them to a public vote on the November ballot. Monday’s action removed three from that lineup.

The three remaining initiatives — including one to repeal the new cap-and-invest program that puts a price on carbon pollution — all have complicated fiscal ramifications that do not lend themselves to easy “yes” or “no” votes, without amendments. The Legislature is not allowed to amend initiatives.

Another initiative asks voters to repeal Washington’s new capital gains tax on people earning $250,000 or more on capital gains. The sixth proposal would repeal a 2023 law that taxes paychecks to provide for long-term health care.

Environmental justice group Washington Conservation Action is accepting applications for the annual $100,000 Bullitt Prize through June 1, 2024. 

The award is meant to support new environmental justice leaders (under age 35) from across the Pacific Northwest. The eligibility criteria have expanded from academic leaders and now include individual and group professional and grassroots pioneers. 

According the group, ideal applicants would be those who connect their community to environmental justice. Their goal is to broaden, strengthen and diversify environmental justice leaders in the Pacific Northwest. 

Washington Conservation Action board members and current environmental justice community leaders will review applications in June and July. Interviews will take place in August, and the winner will be announced in December. 

The Bullitt Foundation started the program in 2007 as the Environmental Fellowship. One past winner used the award money to develop affordable housing that reduces greenhouse-gas emissions. Since the Bullitt Foundation is sunsetting this year after 33 years of philanthropy, it handed off this program to the Washington Conservation Action Fund, which will continue to administer the Prize in the future.

AI task force will advise the WA Legislature on the emerging tech

man sitting at a computer showing a new artificial intelligence tool for generating images

At a September 2023 company event in New York, Jared Andersen, director of product marketing for Bing Chat at Microsoft, shows a new artificial intelligence tool for generating images on Microsoft’s Bing Chat Enterprise. (AP Photo/Cora Lewis)

The Washington House has greenlighted the creation of a task force to study artificial intelligence issues for the Legislature.

Senate Bill 5838, sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, passed late Thursday 68-28 and will go back to the Senate for a vote on the House’s minor tweaks.

The bill calls for the creation of a 42-person task force, to begin meeting this year, to come up with recommendations on how the Legislature and state government should address AI issues. Preliminary recommendations on future legislation and regulations would be due to the governor’s office and to the Legislature by Dec. 31, 2024 and Dec. 1, 2025, with a final report due July 1, 2026.

Participants in the task force would include state government officials and representatives of universities, technology associations, business groups, labor and community advocate organizations. The task force must meet at least twice annually. The Washington Attorney General’s Office will coordinate its work.

“I believe the rapid development of artificial intelligence will bring about one  of the most momentous developments in technology. It will alter the world and we will see massive changes in society,” said Rep. Clyde Shavers, D-Oak Harbor, on the House floor. “We often forget or ignore the enormous challenges that come with these great technological advances. … Right now, companies are either self-regulating or not subject to adequate oversight, and we need both now.”  

Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn, added: “People don’t realize artificial intelligence touches their lives. … There are risks and opportunities.”

Couture acknowledged some GOP representatives opposed the bill because they object to the attorney general’s office being in charge.

It’s a new era for Seattle’s news and original productions landscape. What we once knew as Crosscut and KCTS 9 are evolving into Cascade PBS starting today. 

What will this mean for readers of Crosscut.com and those who have followed our original programs like Mossback’s Northwest or our podcasts such as Crosscut Reports? Simply, you’ll soon have one place to find all of our award-winning independent news coverage as well as our award-winning local original production work. 

The move away from the Crosscut name does not mean a move away from impactful journalism. Important stories by our political team and investigations team, in addition to our original production work that you’ve come to know and depend on, will remain at the forefront of what we do. It’s the work that has continued ever since Crosscut joined KCTS 9 in 2015

When the company made the initial announcement of our new transition last year, we made it clear that bringing KCTS 9 and Crosscut under one banner “reflects two important things: the regional community we serve, and the quality PBS programming and local news you rely on.” 

For now, you’ll still be able to find our work here at Crosscut.com, but later this year we’ll be launching a new site, CascadePBS.org, the new digital home for our local news and original productions. 

This is an exciting move, and we are ready to embrace change to help us continue to serve our community with the thoughtful and impactful local coverage you’ve come to expect from our editorial team. 

WA moves toward partnership with CA, Quebec cap-and-trade systems

filling up a vehicle with gas

In a 2023 photo, a motorist fills a tank at a Shell station in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Washington Legislature has voted along party lines to adjust its carbon pricing system to make it compatible with the cap-and-trade systems in California and Quebec.

House approved Senate Bill 6058, on a vote of 57-39 Thursday. The Senate passed the measure on Feb. 12. Now the two houses will have to reconcile minor differences in the bills they passed before it can be sent to the governor's desk.

Washington is negotiating with California and Quebec on meshing their three carbon markets. Supporters of the move expect a bigger market would bring down carbon emission auction prices, which would lead to lower fuel costs.

The earliest that the proposed alliance could take place is 2025. Lurking in the background is a November referendum on whether to repeal Washington’s cap-and-invest program, which is blamed for some gas price increases.

Washington’s carbon polluters, including oil companies, bid every three months on the amounts of carbon emissions they can release. The volume of allowances is limited, which has driven up auction bids. Washington’s carbon auction prices have been higher than those in California. This past year, however, California’s gas prices have been frequently, but not always, higher than Washington’s.

The cap-and-invest system is one of numerous factors affecting the rise and fall in Washington’s gas prices. 

Republicans opposed the bill Thursday, spending the majority of a more than four hour debate slamming the program and its association with gas prices. Republicans also said they did not like tying Washington’s program with a much larger California economy and its own unique ups and downs. They also voiced skepticism about claims that a larger market would decrease gas prices in the Evergreen State.

“We’re going into an agreement without a clear understanding of the partners we want a relationship with,” said Rep. Keith Goehner, R-Dryden.

“Fools rush in. We should not rush into any linkage,” said Rep Jim Walsh, R-Abderdeen, who is also one of the leaders of the initiative to repeal Washington’s cap-and-invest program.

Majority Leader Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle, noted that a common argument against Washington’s efforts to combat climate change is that one state’s efforts won’t have an effect on global warming. He said a Washington-California-Quebec market would have a greater impact on reducing carbon emissions.

Fitzgibbon also noted New York, Massachusetts and Maryland are watching Washington and this potential alliance with thoughts about creating their own cap-and-trade programs to eventually join this bigger market.

The biggest change from SB 6058 would be allowing a single bidder in a quarterly auction to obtain up to 25 percent of the allowances for sale. Currently, the limit for a single auction is 10 percent. However, a single corporation would still be limited to obtaining no more than 10 percent of allowances offered in a calendar year.

WA bill would make it harder to shut down public libraries

A library shelf's tag for LGBTQ+ books is prominently displayed.

A library tag shows where the books about LGBTQ+ topics are shelved at the Olympia Timberland Library on February 26, 2024. (Scarlet Hansen/Crosscut) 

State lawmakers are considering making it harder to shut down public libraries, after at least one attempt last year to close a rural library district in Eastern Washington. Senate Bill 5824 aims to address growing censorship and book bannings by requiring a larger percentage of voters to call for the dissolution of a library district and ensuring that all voters served by the library can weigh in.

In 2023, a group in Columbia County tried to close a rural library district after it refused to remove LGBTQ+ books.

A library district, which generally provides library services to areas outside incorporated towns and cities, can currently be shut down if a petition to put this proposal on a ballot is signed by at least 10% of voters outside of unincorporated cities and towns, and if the majority of voters pass the measure. In Columbia County’s case, the library district also provided service to the people within the city limits of Dayton, where the library was located. 

Elise Severe, the Chair of Neighbors United for Progress, which challenged the petition to dissolve the Columbia County Rural Library District, told a Senate State Government and Elections public hearing earlier this year that two-thirds of the Columbia County library taxpayers wouldn’t have been able to vote on the matter because they lived in incorporated cities and thus were excluded. Severe said her organization went to court and convinced a judge to block the ballot measure.

State Rep. Leonard Christian, R-Spokane Valley, made a similar point. “I think we had a tea party a few hundred years ago about taxation without representation and I think we’re in the same situation here,” Christian said in support of the bill at a House State Government and Tribal Relations executive session on Feb. 21.

The bill would increase the percentage of voter signatures needed to file a petition to dissolve a library district from 10% of voters outside of incorporated towns and cities to 25% of all eligible voters served by the library district. Proponents say this will ensure that those who use libraries can have a voice when it comes to dissolution.

The bill would also make it harder to shut down city, county and town libraries by changing the number of signatures required to file a petition to dissolve a library from 100 taxpayers to 25% of qualified voters.

“We don’t want to be a leader in closing down libraries and banning books,” said prime sponsor Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia. 

The bill overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the Legislature, but heads back to the Senate for another vote because of an amendment made in the House. If the amendment is approved, the bill would head to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk to be signed into law.

A watchdog group reports that Washington’s public agencies are making it harder for the public to gain access to information, eroding the state’s Public Records Act. 

The Washington Coalition for Open Government, a group that pushes for public access to government information, released its report this week, revealing several key findings, including longer wait times for records than in previous years and an increase in exemptions in public records law.

The Coalition found that public officials and agencies often obstruct people requesting public information — for example, creating long administrative appeals for denials and imposing deadlines to pay fees before a requester can access records. Sometimes agencies take a lengthy time to respond to requests, or simply fail to respond altogether. 

Data from the report shows that requesters are waiting longer than in previous years to receive information: In 2019, people waited an average of 15 days, which increased to 23 days in 2022. 

Public officials are also becoming creative with ways to withhold public information, like using “legislative privilege” or releasing redacted and blacked-out documents in response to requests. None of the officials that violated the act were held accountable by the public records act. 

From 2012 to 2022, the list of exemptions for disclosing public records has increased more than 30%. 

The report also found that agencies also fail at maintaining and organizing records. The Coalition said agencies spend more time and money searching for documents due to this disorganization.

Not only is their document organization inadequate, but the Coalition found that staff members of these agencies are often improperly trained on how to handle public records. The training that public employees receive from the Office of the Attorney General creates bias and tilts them to favor nondisclosure over transparency, according to the report.

Recommendations from the study include making data accessible to people in a timely manner. They also ask for the government to act transparently and implement pro-transparency recommendations from the Attorney General’s Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee.