King County Charter Amendment No. 5 – Establishing Forecast Council and Office of Economic and Financial Analysis

Shall the King County Charter be amended to require the establishment of a forecast council and an office of economic analysis, as provided in Ordinance No. 162077?

Sounds good to me. Any government could use good economic analysis in its decision-making. I wonder about a couple of things though. First, could this be pooled with other governments so it’s not duplicating something Washington State or Seattle or Bellevue are doing? Second, why is this part of the charter? Seems pretty procedural to me and should just be voted on by the county council. But I’ll vote yes.

King County Charter Amendment No. 4 – Additional Qualifications for Elected Officials

Shall Section 630 of the King County Charter be amended to authorize the county council to establish additional qualifications for separately elected officials who head executive departments, as provided in Ordinance No. 16206?

Officials that meet the definition for this are the sheriff and assessor, and if amendment no. 1 passes, the elections director. Right now the county council can add additional qualifications only on the sheriff position.

As I noted above, I don’t think any of these positions should be elected. However, if they are going to be elected, I think it’s up to the voters to decide if their are qualified or not. I don’t want the county council to game the system. If the council wants to add additional qualifications, let them be advisory. They decide the qualification, then publicize how well candidates meet it. But if voters want to have someone in the job who doesn’t hold up well to this qualification, it’s their own neck. But don’t hamstring people voting.

King County Charter Amendment No. 3 – Regional Committees

Shall Sections 230.10, 270.20 and 270.30 of the King County Charter be amended to reduce the number of county council members on regional committees, establish a vice-chair position on regional committees, authorize the regional policy committee to adopt its own work program, add authority for regional committees to initiate legislation, modify regional committee procedures, and authorize the addition of nonvoting members to the water quality committee, as provided by Ordinance No. 16205?

Sounds good to me. We reduce the number of county council members, so things like this have to be done. I know very little about these committees though. Which brings me to a different point that isn’t covered by the measure. Why are we voting on this? This is the sort of thing that really shouldn’t be part of the Charter. Instead it should be a regular ordinance or just county council procedures. In other words, something that the council could enact on its own. We don’t need ballot measures for basic procedural stuff like this.

King County Charter Amendment No. 2 – Prohibiting Discrimination

Shall Section 840 of the King County Charter be amended to add disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expresion to the prohibited grounds for discrimination in county employment and county contracting, and to limit the prohibition against discrimination in county contracting to contracts with non-governmental entities, as provided in Ordinance No. 16204?

This one is a big duh!

It should obviously be enacted. I know the libertarians and bigots will not be happy (and no they aren’t the same group generally). For the libertarians, this is the difference between theory and reality. To the bigots, I don’t care what you think.

King County Charter Amendment No. 1 – Elected Elections Director

Shall the King County Charter be amended to provide that the position of a county director of elections be created as a nonpartisan elected office.

The push behind this charter amendment comes from anger over the 2004 gubernatorial election and continued elections problems since then.

The theory is that an elected elections director will improve elections. For the moment, I’ll take that at face value.

However, how it will improve elections is dubious. In fact, I think it will make it worse. Elections directors who haven’t been able to get elections procedures right have resigned or been pushed out. If elected, I can’t see that being the case. An election is not a referendum on technocrat qualifications. It’s a popularity contest. (Though it could also be viewed as a contest of groups as well.) Rather than being accountable for quality, it becomes accountability to the interests of the dominant popular group.

And that’s really what I think is the reason why this is being pushed. An appointed elections director doesn’t have to kow tow to what Republicans want, so they need a way to get control.

Plus, do we need the costs associated with another election? We don’t need all the elected positions we have in the country. Frankly, I think we should make the sheriff position appointed as well. We don’t need more than an elected executive an council.

Dino Rossi deposition

Quick summary, mostly for my own later recollection. Two (former?) judges are suing the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) and possibly it’s affiliates for illegally operating as an unregistered campaign committee. There’s also a lawsuit by the state attorney general’s office against the BIAW for a similar issue, that I believe is prompted by a referral from the state Public Disclosure Committee. Records from the BIAW indicate that Dino Rossi called several BIAW affiliates at the behest of the main BIAW organization. If the substance of those calls was to support a then unannounced candidacy by Dino Rossi for governor, he would have been participating illegally. Rossi’s position is that he not only hadn’t announced, he was 75% sure that he wouldn’t be running. He was just helping to mend a rift between the affiliates and the main BIAW.

Today the lawyers for the two judges got to depose Dino Rossi. Present as far as I can remember were those two lawyers, Withey and Lowney. (Pardon me if I get some of the names wrong.) Patterson represents Rossi. Maguire represents the BIAW. And Dino Rossi was there, obviously. I may be missing someone important. Here is a draft record of the Dino Rossi deposition.

So here’s my commentary on it.

No smoking gun, obviously. Not sure why there really was a need to get this done before the election. Rossi isn’t dumb. He wasn’t going to admit to anything that would have cost him the election.

I want to whack most everyone in the transcript with a whiffle ball bat. Rossi frequently ranted about his opponents without answering questions. Withey asked awful non-factual questions. Patterson ranted himself, and interrupted to go on rants rather than just make objections. Lowney actually asked factual questions mostly, which was good. But he also got into machismo posturing and arguing with Patterson and Maguire for no purpose I can see whatsoever. Almost as bad as a 5th grader yelling you take that back!.

In the end, we know nothing important about anything. And for that, I blame everyone involved in the deposition.

Initiative 1029 increasing requirements to be a long term care provider

This measure would require long-term care workers to be certified as home care aides based on an examination, with exceptions; increase training and criminal background check requirements; and establish disciplinary standards and procedures.

Another initiative for which I have experience. However, I’m not nearly so sure about my choice in this case.

On behalf of my mom, I hired and had experience with seven different caregivers during the last four months of her life. In addition, I had a fair amount of contact with hospice workers who would be covered under the act. The initiative will also cover nursing home and care facility workers, and I didn’t have that experience with mom.

No one wants to put their loved ones in a nursing home or care facility only to have the facility cut corners, make ends meet, or increase profits by hiring unqualified help that’s cheaper than needed to do a job properly. But people also don’t want to pay a lot of money for this care.

The same problem exists for the situation mom was in. We wanted qualified people, but my mom also didn’t want to spend a lot of money. At the current going rates, she could actually afford a year+ of full time care, but she’s frugal. Other folks may not have the nest egg mom had, and so cost is a huge issue.

The problem is fairly simple economics. If you limit supply (by imposing a minimum level of quality), prices will rise.

It doesn’t take a lot of training to be able to do the job needed to care for my mother. Not minimally at least. By imposing legal minimums I suspect more folks will just go outside legal providers and use unlicensed providers. I couldn’t find a penalty in the law that would have applied to my family. They all seem to apply to businesses. Three of our seven caregivers were people we hired and put on our own payroll and paid taxes for and everything. Three were self-employed, and I believe they could be penalized, though I’m not sure how they could be caught if they avoided the requirements. But I digress a little. If I can’t afford to hire people who have the minimum legal qualifications through a licensed agency or similar, I would absolutely have to hire unlicensed workers directly. For people who need caregivers, there is little other option. We can’t just go without. Someone has to bathe mom, or brush her teeth, or wipe her bum, or move her so she doesn’t get a bedsore. Under the initiative, legally that could only be a licensed person, or a very close family member. Few families will have enough close family members to provide 24 hour care. They can pony up the extra money for licensed, but if you ain’t got it (and it’s expensive even for unlicensed folks currently) or you got a little but have to make it last, a lot of people will just hire unlicensed folks.

How bad was the caregiving we got? Not awful, but I hated the experience. I would have preferred to pay more and get better care (mom was “frugal” though). Physically, we had few issues. One caregiver was ditzy and mixed mom’s food wrong. And a couple were pretty locked in to their belief that pain medication was the right thing for all terminal patients. Nothing big. The real problem we experienced was that the caregivers all had personal issues that affected their readiness to work. Nothing that would come up in the required background check. Sick days that were called in 1/2 hour after their shift started. Mental health days because the work is stressful. People taking other jobs without telling us and not working for us, last minute. People overestimating how much they could handle. I think with the increased pay that would occur with the increased requirements, some of these issues would go away, because better adjusted people would be attracted by the higher pay.

So, is the initiative worth it? I’m inclined to say no. We could have paid more anyway and gotten higher quality. There’s nothing preventing people from hiring people right now who have 75 hours of training. Sucks for the people who can’t afford it and don’t get assistance (or enough assistance). They will be stuck with lower quality care. But I think that would be the case regardless.

I do like some aspects. I like the idea of a minimal license requiring a background check that could be revoked on misconduct.

I think most of the goals could be accomplished without pricing everyone out. Add an endorsement(s) on that license for additional training. Generous subsidies for people who hire trained folks. Rather than forbid people from working without training, make it worth their while to get it. It would cost a lot, but it would have a lot better chance of succeeding.

A couple of big negatives with the proposed initiative aside from economics. Legally, I wouldn’t be able to care for a family member unless they were a biological, step, or adopted parent or child. I could not care for a brother. My step-father might not legally qualify, since I was never adopted. Perhaps since he cared for me before I turned 18 he qualifies, but if mom re-married after I was an adult, would he be my legal step-father? What about cousins? I couldn’t care for my grandparents legally without yearly training and licensing. The definition of family is pretty narrow.

So I think I will vote NO on this initiative. I think it will only have limited success as currently structured. But I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t think it will hurt much either if passed. Some folks will just go the unlicensed route. Basically, the government would have to fork out some dough to accomplish the goals, and this doesn’t do it that way.

Initiative 1000 allowing terminally ill competent adults to obtain lethal prescriptions

This measure would permit terminally ill, competent, adult Washington residents, who are medically predicted to have six months or less to live, to request and self-administer lethal medication prescribed by a physician.

I just spent 19 months watching my mom slowly die of A.L.S.

I visited her daily. I took care of her. I was present for every doctor visit for the final year, and many before that. I am pretty damn familiar with Whatcom County hospice now. Mom’s decline was not pretty.

My mom would never make use of this law were it on the books. I’m pretty certain she would have voted no had she lived another few weeks (her absentee ballot arrived the day she died). Mom was a devout Catholic. She believed in the sanctity of life. I understand believing that it isn’t right to take one’s life. I think that’s perfectly legitimate, even for religious reasons.

But having seen what mom went through means I do not want to go through it, at least not the last couple of months. So I am voting YES. I don’t have mom’s religious convictions.

Unfortunately, if the initiative passes and I get the same form of A.L.S. mom had and progress similarly, it won’t help me. Mom did not have the use of her hands or mouth the last six months she was alive. I wouldn’t be able to self-administer a lethal prescription.

It’s still a good first step.

I write this even knowing that I would be pretty happy even in a paralyzed body. Give me a computer with an internet connection that I can operate and I would get by as far as intellectual stimulation. Once I was certain my breathing had taken it’s final turn for the worse though, I’d want to avoid the final weeks of pain and discomfort.

One of the arguments I’ve read against the initiative is that palliative care has advanced to the place where pain is no longer an issue. This is not true. Pain management comes with a cost that some people may find even more unpalatable: being mentally slowed. Even with the best morphine drip management around (and according to Whatcom County Hospice, pain management is accomplished essentially through morphine), a person’s intellectual and emotional well being is affected. Mom did not want to be drugged. I don’t think I would be so averse to it, but there are still limits to what I would accept. After that, my choice is still pain or early death.

One other argument is that it opens the door to pressure from family members and others to commit suicide. A terminal patient does not want to be a burden. According to this argument, while it might be acceptable (for the sake of argument) to commit suicide to avoid pain, it isn’t okay to avoid being a burden. The thing is, it’s not so black and white. On one end you could have family members actively trying to convince someone to off themselves so they’d get more money, and a vulnerable person might agree where they wouldn’t absent the pressure. And on the other end I think it’s perfectly legitimate for a person to factor being a burden into their decision, provided that the patient makes the decision without duress. There’s a big gray area where distinguishing discussions between family members from duress by people who have something to gain (time, money, other lovers, etc.) could be really tough. The only sure solution is to not enact the initiative. Which is, of course, the argument. However, that’s throwing out the good that giving the choice to people will accomplish. I think that outweighs the mostly theoretical bad. I’m pretty certain at some point someone will kill themselves under duress. We don’t decide to avoid war because one person dies. We weigh the gains against the losses. One life is not so precious as to be invaluable. I’m a pragmatist. Life is very valuable, but it’s not infinite. Plus, this doesn’t change the situation from the way it is right now. A person could kill themselves right now. They could do it under duress from a family member, under current law. The initiative doesn’t change that.

There’s also slippery slope arguments. If we do this, we are on the road to wanton euthanasia. I doubt it, but if it comes to that, we can reverse the law. All it takes is political will.

The law doesn’t give me as a terminally ill person additional options. I can already kill myself or choose extended palliative care. What it does is make it easier for me to make that painless, to assure that my family and doctors are protected, and to preserve my heirs insurance money.

I wish it allowed for a person to actually assist, but that can be done later if we have the will.

An emphatic, if regretful for the necessity, YES.

Initiative 985 concerning transportation

This measure would open high-occupancy vehicle lanes to all traffic during specified hours, require traffic light synchronization, increase roadside assistance funding, and dedicate certain taxes, fines, tolls and other revenues to traffic-flow purposes.

Yet another Tim Eyman initiative. While an ad hominem attack is generally not a good way to convince people of the rightness of one’s position, there’s truth to the proposition that a leopard doesn’t change it’s spots. All but one of Tim Eyman’s initiatives have been crappy unconstitutional initiatives. So the likelihood of his current one being the same is pretty high. So I’m not going to devote a lot of time to this one.

The obvious answer on this initiative is NO.

Opening up HOV lanes except for really small narrow hours is just dumb. It will prevent our already slow bus system from arriving on time at all. Which I suppose is fine with Mr. Eyman since he prefers to drive. One thing I heartily believe is that adding new miles of road doesn’t alleviate congestion. It will just fill up with additional drivers. Simple economics. If there isn’t a marginal cost to driving (and there isn’t with free roads), people will use the roads until the congestion builds up so much that they pay the cost in time. To increase capacity in a transportation system overall, a region needs to add capacity at an order of magnitude above the population growth. That can’t be done with roads. It can be done with rail (particularly subway or elevated), and possibly with buses (though I’m skeptical of that one).

The second objection I have is similar to the backing argument for the first objection. The dedication of funds to traffic-flow means taking money from mass transit and using it on road miles. Not a solution.

I think traffic cameras have the potential to be abused, so I don’t have huge problems with the initiative diverting revenues from them elsewhere, or for traffic light synchronization. But neither of those would would make a noticeable difference overall.

So, no.

My 2008 General Election Ballot

I wrote a few months ago that I would write a series of posts comparing and contrasting the positions held by Barack Obama and John McCain. I did not do this. For this I apologize. I’m sure everyone who has chanced on this blog has despaired of ever receiving my wisdom.

Fear not! For while you shall not read a series of posts comparing their positions, I am about to do a series of on each item on my ballot. Some may be grouped together.

Stay tuned…