Commentary & Community

Western Forest Fires Spark Climate Debate

Devastating forest fires are burning across the West, especially in California and Oregon. In the wake of the destruction left by these fires, some activists are saying that they show the need for a greater focus on climate change. Others, however, contend that poor land management practices at the state and federal level are largely responsible for larger and more intense fires.


Throughout the West, a thick blanket of smoke has caused air quality to be listed as "hazardous" in many areas. This smoke is coming from a series of fires in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states. In Oregon, 10 deaths have been linked to these fires. 


The number of wildfires, which burn both forests and grasslands, have been declining, but their intensity has been increasing. Some scientists link this to a warming climate, which they contend lengthens fire season and provides more time when areas are so dry they burn easily. They argue that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will lessen the effects of these fires.


Others, however, note that land management practices contribute significantly to how fires burn. They say that if federal and state agencies used more prescribed burns to clear out fuel on a regular basis, fires would not be as intense. Some also argue that the reduction in logging and timber thinning has led to a buildup of flammable material across the West.


President Trump is on a campaign swing through the West, and today he stopped to visit firefighters in California.


What do you think should be done to reduce the danger of wildfires?

Judge Upholds Washington Gun Control Initiative

Yesterday, a federal judge rejected arguments of plaintiffs seeking to overturn a Washington initiative that imposed new laws on gun purchases.


In 2018, Washington voters approved Initiative 1639 to prohibit 18- and 19-year-olds from purchasing semi-automatic rifles and ban the sale of those guns to residents of other states, as well as require a stricter background check for in-state residents purchasing such guns. Opponents of the initiative, including the National Rifle Association, argued that it violated the Constitution.


U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton disagreed. He granted the State of Washington's request to dismiss the case, saying that the initiative was constitutionally permissible.


Washington's attorney general had defended the initiative in court, pointing out that the restrictions it imposed had not been struck down by the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs, however, argued that they infringed upon the Second Amendment rights of individuals.


The backers of Initiative 1639 said it is necessary to prevent people from accessing high-powered weapons. They say that semi-automatic rifles are more dangerous than other guns, and that there should be more restrictions on them. Opponents of this initiative pushed back against the idea that these rifles are any more dangerous than other guns, saying this assertion has no basis in fact. They also noted that these types of guns are used in very few crimes.


Do you think that there should be stricter laws governing the possession of semi-automatic rifles?

States, Counties Mandating Masks to Battle Coronavirus

From Washington to Florida, governments across the nation are mandating that residents wear masks in public to combat the spread of the coronavirus.


As governors ease shutdown requirements that were aimed at stopping coronavirus cases from climbing, they are considering other ways to stop the pandemic. In some states and counties with cases that are climbing, the answer they are settling on is mandatory mask wearing in public. With rising coronavirus infections in Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee this week mandated mask use statewide. Those refusing to wear masks in public could face a misdemeanor charge.


Officials say that as people return to more densely-packed places, social distancing and mask-wearing can help prevent the coronavirus’s spread. They point to studies indicating that widespread use of masks help keeps coronavirus cases at bay. While medical experts were mixed on the efficacy of masks early in the coronavirus crisis, most now embrace them as a useful way to be safe in public.


These mask mandates have met with opposition, however. Critics contend that it is government overreach to require masks. They say that people should be free to wear them, but not forced to do so by the government.


Some governors have considered a mask mandate but are so far refusing calls to impose one. Idaho has a lower coronavirus rate than many states, but with the relaxation of a shutdown imposed by Gov. Brad Little, cases are rising. Gov. Little is urging state residents to wear masks, but told reporters that he is unlikely to require their use.


Do you think wearing face masks in public should be mandatory?

Washington Bill Would Ban Bottled Water Production in the State

Under a bill being considered by the Washington legislature, companies could not extract groundwater from the state and use it to produce bottled water.


Some environmental groups are pushing this bill to ban bottled water production in Washington and other states, saying that groundwater is an “essential public resource.” According to these groups, water should not be used for corporate profit, but be left for the use of the state’s residents. Opponents counter that bottled water plants create jobs. They also note that there is enough groundwater for use in bottled water plants as well as for local residents.


This legislation is the first nationwide that would enact such a ban. However, other states are considering laws that could restrict the use of groundwater for bottled water. Other legislation would impose new taxes on the industry.


There have also been local efforts to fight bottled water companies that want to open plants. These are the result of residents who fear the impact on their water supplies. The companies point out that they have a positive economic impact in areas and contend they are not depleting springs or ground water.


It is unclear if the Washington bill has enough support to pass the legislature. Governor Jay Inslee has not yet taken a position on the legislation.


Do you support banning companies from extracting groundwater for sale as bottled water?

Term Limits for Washington Governor to be Discussed in 2020

Lawmakers in Washington State want voters to decide whether the governor can serve more than two terms.


Right now, Washington governors can serve as many terms as they want. The current governor, Jay Inslee, has said he will seek a third term. But legislation pre-filed for the 2020 session would prevent this in the future. Under that resolution, governors could only serve two terms. Any governor who came to office to serve out more than one year of a previous governor’s uncompleted term would be limited to one further term.


Thirty-six states have some form of term limits on governors. These states all limit governors to two consecutive terms, but some allow a former governor to run for that office again after being absent for four or eight years.


The proposal in Washington would be to amend the state constitution. This requires approval by a majority of voters. If approved by the legislature, Washington voters would decide the matter in the November 2020 election.


Only two Washington governors have served more than two terms.


Do you support limiting governors to two terms in office?

Washington State Fracking Ban Takes Effect

On Sunday, the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, became illegal in Washington State.


Supporters of the ban say it’s a victory for the environment. Opponents say that it’s a meaningless gesture that betrays a lack of knowledge about how fracking works.


During the past fifteen years, the use of hydraulic fracturing to access oil and natural gas has skyrocketed. This technique involves injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals far into the ground to break up rock and release natural gas or oil. It is largely responsible for the increased production of these energy sources in the U.S.


The technique has its critics, however. Some say that it pollutes groundwater and also diverts water from other sources. Others argue that by making it cheaper to access oil and natural gas, fracking is contributing to climate change.


Fracking has its supporters, however. They argue that fracking has reduce the price of natural gas, which has allowed gas to displace coal for energy production. That, they point out, has reduced U.S. carbon emissions. These supporters also point to studies that show that fracking does not pollute water sources.


This debate was largely symbolic in Washington, however. That state does not have a large oil and natural gas industry, and fracking was not used there. With the passage of the fracking ban, this process cannot be used in the future, either.


Do you think that fracking should be banned?

Washington May Tighten Up Measles Vaccination Requirement

Washington state is facing its worst measles outbreak in two decades. Some legislators think that the state’s lax requirement for measles vaccination is to blame. They are considering legislation that could close loopholes that have led to that state having one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation.


With 55 people in Washington and across the border in Oregon sick with measles, Governor Jay Inslee has declared a public health emergency. Most of those infected are unvaccinated children, with the epicenter of the outbreak in a county that has a large unvaccinated population.


Washington’s immunization law allows people to enroll their children in school without receiving a measles vaccination if they have a philosophical objection to it. The state also has a large anti-vaccination community that questions the safety of vaccines. Public health officials say that this is the exact scenario that will lead to a larger measles outbreak.


Those in the anti-vaccination community contend that vaccines are not safe and that measles is not much of a health threat. Experts counter that the safety of vaccinations has been well proven, and that studies questioning this safety are flawed or fraudulent. They also point out that measles is highly contagious and can be deadly to the unvaccinated, which can include infants and those with compromised immune systems.


A legislator has introduced a bill that would only allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for religious and medical reasons. Such legislation has failed in past years to advance in the legislature. In lightof the recent outbreak, advocates for the bill hope that they will see success in this year's legislative session.


Do you think that parents should be able to refuse vaccinations for their children based on philosophical objections? Or should they be allowed to skip vaccinations only if they have religious objections or there is a medical reason?

Washington May Ban Plastic Bags

If you go grocery shopping in Washington, you had better bring your reusable bags. At least, that is what some legislators in that state want to see begin happening next year.


Under a proposal unveiled by legislators this week, stores could no longer offer single-use bags to customers. Instead, customers who do not bring their own reusable bags would be required to pay ten cents for each bag they use at a store. Certain types of bags, such as those for produce or prescriptions, would not be subject to this ban.


This law is similar to a California law. Other local governments around the country have also enacted bans or fees on plastic bags. Twenty three local governments in Washington have some kind of restrictions on plastic bag use. This law would establish a statewide standard.


Supporters of this law argue that it is a good way to discourage the use of bags that end up in the ocean and harm marine wildlife. They say that banning stores from giving the bags out for free will lead to less litter and fewer bags in landfills. Opponents point out that plastic bags are a miniscule proportion of the waste that ends up in oceans. They contend that such bans hit poor shoppers harder than wealthier shoppers.


The Washington legislature convenes in January. It is unclear if this legislation has enough support to be approved by either chamber.


Do you think that states should ban stores from giving customers plastic bags?

Washington Court Prohibits Use of the Death Penalty

Today the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state’s death penalty violated the Washington constitution.


In a unanimous ruling the justices held that the death penalty is arbitrarily and disproportionately applied. The court concluded that the way in which the state used the death penalty violated the state constitutional guarantees.


There were eight people on Washington’s death row who were affected by this ruling. Their sentences were commuted to life in prison without parole. The case was brought by one of these inmates, Allen Gregory, who was sentenced to death for robbing and killing a woman in 1996.


Governor Jay Inslee had imposed a moratorium on the death penalty’s use in 2014, saying he would never permit an execution while he was governor. He hailed the decision as important for the fair application of justice. There have been legislative attempts to abolish capital punishment, but they have never made it all the way through both houses of the legislature.


The court did not say that capital punishment itself was unconstitutional, but did hold how it was currently applied in the state was unlawful. The legislature could reform the state’s laws in an attempt to meet the objections made by the court’s justices. Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he would ask the legislature to rewrite the state’s law governing capital punishment.


With this ruling, Washington joins 19 other states in prohibiting the death penalty.

Do you think the death penalty should be abolished?

Bloomberg Backs Washington Carbon Fee Initiative

Efforts to impose a fee on carbon emissions in Washington State received a big boost yesterday when Michael Bloomberg pledged $1 million to the effort.


An initiative, I-631, is on Washington’s ballot this year to impose a fee on each metric ton of carbon emitted. The fee would start at $15 a ton in the first year and increase by $2 a year every year until the state’s carbon emissions goals are met. The revenue from this fee would go to air quality programs, forest health projects, and community investment.


Supporters of this initiative say it is a good way to help transition Washington away from the use of fossil fuels. They contend that putting a price on carbon emissions will help reduce emissions that cause climate change and provide an incentive to use renewable fuels. Opponents say that this will increase the cost of fuel. They also contend that this increase in energy costs will hurt the state’s businesses, leading to job loss and lower economic growth.


Other states have considered a carbon tax, but none have passed one. If Washington voters approve I-631, that state will be the first in the nation to impose a tax or fee on large carbon emitters.


Do you support a tax or fee on carbon emissions?

Seattle Bans Plastic Straws


If you buy a latte in Seattle, don’t expect to receive a plastic straw with it. If you order carryout food there, you won’t be getting a plastic fork, either.


Seattle recently banned retailers from offering plastic straws and utensils to their customers. Previously, the city had enacted a law that mandated that any food containers or cups offered by retailers must be recyclable. Straws and utensils were originally exempt, but they are now being covered by the same mandate.


Advocates say this law is necessary to reduce plastic waste that ends up in the ocean. They contend that animals ingest plastic, shortening their lifespan. A plastic straw ban, according to them, will help reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste that enters the environment.


Opponents of the straw ban point out that straws make up a miniscule fraction of the plastic waste that reaches the oceans. They also note that biodegradable straws are much more costly than plastic straws and do not work as well. Many business owners oppose this law because they say it is expensive and complicated to comply with.


Under this ordinance, retailers cannot offer straws to customers. If a customer asks for one, then the straw must be both biodegradable and compostable. Business owners that violate this law could face fines up to $250.


Do you support banning plastic straws to help the environment? Or is a straw ban a feel-good gimmick that will have little effect on pollution?


Washington State Sues Feds over Child Separations at the Border


The federal policy of separating migrant children from their parents as they cross the U.S./Mexican border has upset many Americans. Two Washington state officials, Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, have directed their outrage towards this policy into a lawsuit against the Trump Administration. They say they are trying to stop an inhumane policy, while their critics see nothing more than a political stunt.


The lawsuit, filed in late June, alleges that the federal government is violating the due process rights of both parents and children by the separation policy. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the Trump Administration is violating federal law governing asylum applications by rejecting individuals who show up seeking asylum.


Washington is taking the lead on this lawsuit, but it is joined by 16 states and the District of Columbia.


Attorney General Ferguson said it was necessary to bring this lawsuit to stand up for the Constitution and human decency. Others point out that this is a good way for the attorney general and governor to insert themselves into news stories about a contentious political issue. They also point out that this is a pattern by the attorney general, who has filed 27 other suits against the Trump Administration.


President Trump has signed an executive order aimed at ending the separation practice, and there is also bipartisan movement in Congress to pass legislation to address this issue.


Do you think that states should sue the Trump Administration over family separations that occurred at the nation’s southern border?


Seattle Passes a Head Tax on Employees


The tech boom has been good to Seattle. Companies like Amazon have revitalized a city that was once in such a severe decline that it featured a billboard requesting, “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?” Now the city council has unanimously voted to mandate that large companies in the city to pay a new tax on every employee – an idea that many fear would hurt job growth there.


Under this tax plan, companies that have $20 million in annual gross receipts would be subject to a tax of $275 a year for every employee working at these companies. This tax would end in five years, with the council having the option of renewing it. The revenue from this tax is slated to be used for constructing affordable housing units and emergency services for the homeless.


Initially, the tax was $500 a year for every employee and it would have been replaced by a .7% payroll tax in 2021. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan pushed for a lower tax that did not transition to a payroll tax.


Advocates of this tax say it is needed because the companies being targeted have contributed to the high cost of housing in the city. These advocates contend that it is only fair to ask these companies to pay a special tax to help the city government provide affordable housing and homeless services.


Opponents of the tax include business owners and some unions. They say that it will penalize companies for creating jobs in Seattle. This will discourage companies from hiring new workers or locating their business in Seattle. These observers note that companies can set up their headquarters in suburbs and still enjoy many of the benefits of being located in the Seattle metropolitan area.


Amazon paused consideration an office building’s construction during the consideration of the tax and said that it would look at leasing some of its space to other companies. Tax supporters accused Amazon of trying to blackmail the city, while tax opponents said this was the natural reaction of a business being targeted by a punitive tax proposal.


Do you think that large companies should pay a special tax for every person they employ to fund government affordable housing programs and homeless services?


Copyright © 2018 Votespotter Inc. All rights reserved.