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All Washingtonians 16 and up now eligible for COVID vaccine
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The wait is over; starting today COVID vaccines are available for all Washingtonians 16 and older.

Statewide that means about 1.5 million additional people are eligible, joining the 4 to 5 million already eligible, according to the state Department of Health.

“As we move into the next tier, it may be more difficult to find an appointment,” the department said in a Wednesday news release. “We ask that people please be patient and know that while you may not get the vaccine today, you will get it soon.”

Availability has not been an issue locally since the federal mass vaccination site opened at State Fair Park on March 31. But that could change as more and more people are eligible, said Nathan Johnson, local emergency response coordinator with the Yakima Health District. The vaccination center has the capacity to vaccinate roughly 1,200 people per day, with 1,000 of those doses allocated by the federal government.

“The best time to get the vaccine is now,” Johnson said in a news release. “Get your vaccine at the location most convenient to you. We are seeing appointments beginning on April 15, 2021, quickly filling up and want to make sure all of our community members get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

The Yakima Health District’s health officer, Dr. Larry Jecha, underlined that message, saying vaccination is for the good of the community. This despite the federal government’s recent decision to pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of extremely rare potential side effects. Of the approximately 7 million people who have received the single-dose vaccine, six women have developed serious blood clots.

People should not take the pause to mean the other vaccines are unsafe, Jecha said in the news release. During the pause only Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be used.

“We encourage individuals to continue getting vaccinated,” he said. “The decision to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was out of an abundance of caution. We have available vaccines now that are extremely effective against COVID-19. We encourage you to get vaccinated and build immunity for our community.”

The vaccination center at State Fair Park, 1301 S. Fair Ave., is open daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m. On April 25 those hours will change to noon-8 p.m. Appointments are available at prepmod.doh.wa.gov or by calling 800-525-0127 and pressing #. Walkups are welcome, but appointments are strongly encouraged.

In addition to the site at State Fair Park, vaccinations also are available at hospitals, clinics and pharmacies around the county. Businesses and community organizations also are putting together their own vaccine clinics. People interested in scheduling a mobile vaccine clinic can email yakimavaccinemobileteam@gmail.com.

Vaccines are offered at no cost.

Washington state governor OKs bill banning for-profit jails

OLYMPIA — One of the country’s largest for-profit, privately run immigration jails would be shut down by 2025 under a bill signed Wednesday by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The measure approved by the Washington Legislature bans for-profit detention centers in the state. The only facility that meets that definition is the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, a 1,575-bed immigration jail operated by the GEO Group under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Washington has not supported use of private prisons, and this bill continues that policy by prohibiting private detention facilities from operating in the state,” Inslee said before signing the bill.

Washington joins several states, including California, Nevada, New York and Illinois, that have passed legislation aiming to reduce, limit or ban private prison companies from operating. But Washington is only the third — following Illinois and California — to include immigration facilities as part of that ban.

“Widespread civil immigration detention is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice that currently exists in our political system,” Matt Adams, legal director at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said in an email. “The enactment of this bill is an important step towards rejecting the privatization and profiteering model of immigration detention centers that has pushed the massive expansion of immigration detention. ”

The new law in Washington state, which is likely to face a legal challenge, would allow GEO to continue operating the jail until its contract with ICE expires in 2025.

GEO sued over a similar 2019 measure in California, and that lawsuit was later consolidated with a Trump administration lawsuit that followed. A federal judge there largely sided with the state, but the case was appealed. It is now before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is set for oral arguments in June. Last month, the Biden administration filed a brief with the court adopting the arguments of the previous administration, challenging California’s law on constitutional grounds.

In a emailed statement, Alexandra Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the Day 1 Alliance, a trade association of GEO and other private detention companies, wrote that the legislation is “a misguided, politically-motivated effort to ‘Abolish ICE’ by targeting longtime government contractors who have zero role in deciding federal immigration policy.”

She wrote that the consequences of the center closing could result in migrants being transferred to local jails or “moved far from family and friends.”

The Tacoma immigration lockup has long been a target of immigrant rights activists. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing to force GEO to pay the state minimum wage to detainees who perform janitorial and other tasks at the jail.

The Northwest Detention Center currently houses fewer than 200 detainees because of pandemic-related precautions. Supporters of the new law argued that the severe drop in immigration detention during the pandemic proved it’s not necessary to keep so many immigrants locked up, and they criticized minimum-bed quotas that are written into contracts with private detention facilities.

President Joe Biden has instructed the Justice Department not to renew contracts with private prisons, but that order doesn’t apply to the immigration detention system under the Department of Homeland Security.


Associated Press writer Gene Johnson contributed from Seattle and AP correspondent Rebecca Boone contributed from Boise, Idaho.

Decision on controversial Yakima health board rules tabled again
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New rules governing the Yakima Health District’s Board of Health remain in limbo.

During a special meeting Wednesday night, the health board tabled any decision on the controversial rules pending the fate of House Bill 1152, which could impact the composition of health boards statewide.

This is the second time issues over the new rules have been tabled.

However, the board did decide on a process of hiring the health district’s new health officer. The entire seven-member health board and health district staff will participate in candidate interviews.

There are six applicants for the health officer, including recently appointed health board member Dr. Dave Atteberry. He left the meeting during the discussions about how the hiring process would be conducted.

At issue are new rules Yakima County commissioners approved that give them more power on the health board. The health board has yet to adopt a resolution to incorporate the new rules.

Commissioners approved the new rules in an ordinance in early January. They set term limits on the health board and require it to be chaired by a commissioner who would be afforded two votes on matters. The new rules also designate commissioners as the nominating committees for appointments to the board and the hiring of the district’s health officer and executive director.

The health board is composed of the three county commissioners, two elected officials from area cities and two citizen members.

Commissioners said they approved the new rules because the health board wasn’t following proper procedures when dealing with expired terms. In December, three health board members whose terms had expired were allowed to vote to extend their terms for another month.

But the new rules have sparked controversy in the community and the health district. At a previous meeting, more than two dozen letters from residents criticizing the new rules were read.

The health district’s attorney, James Elliott, said commissioners have overstepped their authority with some of the rules, namely requiring the health board be chaired by a commissioner and that commissioners make up the nominating committee to hire health district officers.

Yakima County Prosecutor Joe Brusic disagreed in a previous meeting, arguing that commissioners are the originating body of health boards, and that several health boards across the state are solely composed of commissioners.

Some members of the health board want written clarification from commissioners on their intent behind affording the chairperson two votes.

Commissioners have said the two votes would only be exercised in the event of a tie on the seven-member board.

Now the health board is awaiting the fate of HB 1152 before making any decision on the new rules. The bill, which supports measures to create comprehensive public health districts, has undergone changes. It could limit the composition of health boards to six members, which would increase the likelihood of a tie when voting on issues.

Health board members said they’d rather wait and finalize any ordinance and resolution once rather than having to make changes that HB 1152 potentially could foster.

Slew of police reform bills headed to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk

SEATTLE — As Washington lawmakers began wrapping up their work on an ambitious package of police accountability legislation in the past week, reminders of the cause were not hard to come by.

In Minneapolis, prosecutors were concluding their murder case against former officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, the Black man who died after Chauvin pressed a knee to his neck for about nine minutes. A few miles away, a white officer shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, after he was pulled over reportedly for having expired license plates. In Virginia, a police officer was fired for pepper-spraying a uniformed Black Army medic after a traffic stop.

“I am angry, I am sad, I am hurt,” Rep. Debra Entenman, a Black Democratic lawmaker from Kent, said Tuesday. “We are trying to do this work, and it seems like we take one step forward and two steps back.”

But Entenman and other Democratic lawmakers and activists say the slate of bills the Legislature is sending to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk do indeed represent many steps forward when it comes to police accountability and public safety in Washington.

There are bills that curb police tactics and equipment, restricting the use of tear gas, chokeholds and neck restraints and banning no-knock warrants; that create an independent office to review the use of deadly force by police; that require officers to intervene if their colleagues engage in excessive force; and that make it easier to decertify officers for bad acts. Lawmakers in several states have taken aim at no-knock warrants since the March 2020 death of Breonna Taylor during a botched police raid in her Kentucky home.

Of 16 law enforcement reform and accountability bills sponsored by Democrats, 11 passed the House and Senate in some form. Some just await a final vote after lawmakers made changes to versions passed by the opposite house. Inslee, a Democrat, has already signed one measure reforming the private arbitration system by which officers can appeal discipline imposed by their departments. It had passed with bipartisan support.

Other bills headed to Inslee include a bill authorizing the state auditor’s office to review whether deadly force investigations followed procedures, requiring reasonable care when officers use force — including exhausting de-escalation techniques, and requiring the collection of data on police uses of force so the state can better understand how and when officers do so.

“These measures are about deinstitutionalizing our lives, and institutionalizing our power,” Sakara Remmu, lead strategist for the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance, said in a written statement. “When Gov. Inslee signs them into law, they will have real impacts on Black Lives, as well as the lives of Indigenous and other People of Color.”

The measures were driven by Democrats, who control both houses in Olympia, but some, including the arbitration and data-collection bills, had bipartisan backing, and a number were drafted in consultation with policing groups as well as community representatives in the months since the deaths of Floyd and others killed by police sent protesters into the streets last year.

A coalition of Washington state law enforcement unions, representing more than 14,000 officers, said it could accept some of the bills, including the arbitration reform and duty-to-intervene bills. But it expressed concern that the decertification bill threatened the due-process rights of officers. The Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs opposed the bill restricting police tactics and the measure requiring “reasonable care” in using force.

Many Republicans joined them.

“This series of bills, the way they’re written, do feel like we’re beating up on the police officers who are trying to protect us,” Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, said during one debate last week. “We’re handcuffing the police. We’re making it so they’re afraid to do anything.”

Rep. Jesse Johnson, a first-term Federal Way Democrat, said he saw it differently: “Our system of law enforcement can be a greater system as a result of policies like the ones before us,” he responded. “We can actually encourage more people in our communities to want to be law enforcement officers if we pass bills like this, because they see the ability for our system to adjust, to adapt and to improve.”

Entenman, who saw her bill establishing the independent investigations office approved, said she intends to continue pushing a companion measure next session that would authorize the Attorney General’s Office to handle all prosecutions of officers who use deadly force unlawfully.

Johnson hopes to see the Legislature end qualified immunity for officers, which would allow them to be sued in state court, and to see it authorize community oversight boards that could have input on local policies and receive complaints about officers.

Johnson characterized the package of passed bills as “the biggest shift in police accountability and reform we’ve had in our state.”

But, he added: “There is so much more we can do. This is just a start.”