YAY: HEALTH COSTS
Health-insurance premiums for most state employees are holding steady or will drop a bit in 2016. Premiums for two Group Health plans are going up by a few percentage points, but rates in the most-utilized plan, Uniform Medical, remain at 2015 levels, and rates for three consumer-driven plans (health savings accounts) are going down.
This premium stability appears to buck national trends, and South Sound’s state-government workforce ought to be thankful. The Public Employees Benefits Board adopted the new rates Thursday.
An evacuation order for the 300-resident town of Roosevelt ended last week but not the fire peril facing our dry state. The grass fire near the Columbia River town grew to 26 square miles. Another major wildfire continued to move along Lake Chelan, forcing evacuations in Holden Village and four other towns. Closer to home, a fire that destroyed five homes in the Matlock area of Mason County was finally brought under control last week with help from outside agencies and new blazes were reported last week in Thurston County.
YAY: THE IVERSONS
Sometimes things just end well, and it’s grounds for celebration. Such as the birth of Everleigh Iverson who joined our world a month early on July 10 while father Shane Iverson was driving mother Melissa Iverson to the hospital. The infant spent 13 days in Providence St. Peter Hospital’s Special Care Nursery while her lungs continued to develop. All’s well.
YAY: TEACHER INCENTIVES
The Teacher Loan Repayment Act would reward teachers who take on assignments in poorer schools by giving them $250 to $400 a month to put toward student loans. A bipartisan group of lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Derek Klimer, D-Gig Harbor, sponsored the measure in Congress. The proposal would consolidate many existing loan programs, which are seen as complicated, into a single streamlined one with less red tape.
That goal is worthy, and lawmakers are right to give it a try.
BOO: SOCKEYE DEATHS
Drought and heat waves are warming the Columbia River, wiping out returning sockeye salmon this year. More than half are dead or dying, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 80 percent of the fish could perish.
Cold water releases from reservoirs are being used to pull river temperatures below 68 degrees, the point at which the fish are distressed. Other Northwest rivers are similarly warm, endangering fish across our region.
YAY: VOTING RIGHTS
Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the federal Voting Rights Act, which sought to remove impediments faced by black voters in the Deep South. But an effort to provide additional protections in Washington’s municipal elections failed during this year’s marathon legislative sessions.
The state measure, dubbed the Voting Rights Act for Washington, would have given local governments a way to level the playing field for minority candidates by allowing district elections instead of city-wide at-large races. Sen. Cyrus Habib and Rep. Luis Moscoso should try again in 2016. Backers say the act lets communities avoid prolonged court fights, which in the case of Yakima may exceed $3 million.