YAY: HOUSE BUDGET
In a year when political logjams are predicted if not assured, the state House showed that it can get smaller things done quickly at the Capitol. Last Thursday, the House passed a $299 million supplemental spending bill for the budget cycle that ends in June. The strongly bipartisan vote was 83-to-15 to approve $21 million for mental health treatment, including reopening 45 beds at Western State Hospital. Substitute House Bill 1105 also pays costs related to the Oso slide and costs of fighting summer wildfires.
BOO: MENTAL HEALTH GAP
Two more criminal sentences last week sent bloody reminders that closing gaps in Washington’s mental health system is a life or death matter.
A defense attorney said Alexander Althauser, who has schizophrenia and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for stabbing his girlfriend in 2013, had “fallen through the cracks” of the system. In the other case, Lia Y. Tricomo was given more than 29 years behind bars for the stabbing death of her former mental health counselor and roommate.
YAY: CONNIE LORENZ
Connie Lorenz was named “Person of the Year” by the Olympia Downtown Association, but she might as well have been christened person of the decade, as one merchant said. The association’s longtime executive director retired last year after 16 years at the helm.
She left as the downtown core began seeing flickers of a housing revival, including a 138-unit apartment complex that’s now under construction along Fourth Avenue.
BOO: DIVIDED STATE
House Bill 1818, obviously a “message” bill, would divide Washington once and for all into two states – one presumably liberal, wet, and wealthier; the other presumably conservative, drier, and poorer.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, wants a bipartisan task force to examine the economic and financial implications of hewing a border along the Cascade Curtain.
Careful what you ask for: Such a study is likely to show Shea’s part of the world relies on the Puget Sound economic engine for tax subsidies in transportation and other programs.
YAY: GRADUATION RATE GAINED
High school graduation rates went up by 1.2 percent last year, and that’s always good news – if taken in moderation. But measurements for the class of 2014 showed only 77.2 percent graduated in four years, and gains were less than the 2 percent per year goal set by Gov. Jay Inslee’s Results Washington initiative.
But importantly, foster kids, English-language learners, African-American, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander students, and kids with disabilities and from low-income homes improved more than average.
BOO: KEYSTONE PIPELINE
U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, Democrats from Washington, took principled votes – based on environmental concerns – against the Keystone XL Pipeline that would carry tar-sand oil from Canada to Gulf state refiners. The Senate approved it by a 62-36 vote on Thursday. The questionable Canadian project may still fail for economic reasons if President Obama does not veto it, as Cantwell is hoping.
Cantwell co-authored a failed amendment intended to close a tax loophole that lets tar sands oil producers avoid paying 8 cents per barrel into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to help fund cleanups.