Birth parents fight to visit kids in foster system during pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has translated into severe unhappiness for parents of children taken into Washington State’s foster-care system who no longer are able in most cases to have in-person contact with their children. Court rulings from around the state are in conflict, and parents who lost their kids to the foster care system — most because they were simply too poor to adequately care for them — are bringing legal challenges to Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency stay-at-home proclamation’s effect on their ability to have regular in-person visits.

Coronavirus threatens response to wildfires; firefighter camps ‘ideal’ to spread disease

Coronavirus could seriously hamper Washington’s ability to fight wildfires as agencies focus on organizing a response to the global pandemic. Despite concerns that the 2020 wildfire season could be worse than 2019’s, agencies that usually plan for fires and recruit firefighters in early spring are instead helping organize Washington’s response to COVID-19. Social-distancing concerns could mean a lower turnout of firefighters.

Foster-care funding falls short of ending hotel-stay crisis

With Washington forcing a record number of traumatized foster youth into overnight hotel stays that further destabilize them — at a tremendous cost to taxpayers — lawmakers in Olympia have sent the governor a budget that seems unlikely to solve the problem. Legislators last week approved nearly $16 million in new funding to try to stem the hotel-overnight crisis. The new money has the potential to restore 26 spots for foster youth lost earlier this year at one Seattle facility, Ryther, and create perhaps more than 70 new ones. Yet, it might not be enough to fix the system: The department racked up more than 1,500 hotel overnights for almost 300 foster children in the most recent year measured, ending in August 2019. Ryther, a children’s mental-health agency, offers an example of how lawmakers’ efforts may come up short.

State will study bias in searches by Washington state troopers

Washington state lawmakers have just passed a budget that pays for a collaboration between the Washington
State Patrol and Washington State University to find out whether state troopers exercise racial bias when they decide to search motorists. Additional funding will aim to improve the diversity of the State Patrol workforce. Critics aren’t convinced that the steps the Legislature and the State Patrol are taking will be enough to address implicit bias.

Will state study bias revelations against state troopers?

Following revelations that Washington State Patrol troopers search people of color at rates much higher than whites, the Washington House of Representatives has proposed restarting bias studies, as well as launching a campaign to recruit more people of color into the State Patrol. Such efforts would improve transparency and help build trust with more diverse communities, proponents say.

Farming to help the climate: Two bills in Olympia promote “regenerative agriculture”

Bills in the Washington Legislature would help scientists learn about storing carbon in agricultural soils, as well as letting farmers invest in GPS-guided tractors and climate-friendly cattle feed. While both bills have bi-partisan support and reflect recognition that farm soil can play a key role in slowing the rise of greenhouse gases, but some fear that it won’t benefit all farmers.