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May 2020

News In Brief

May 6, 2020

  • The Washington Supreme Court says people are not entitled to make minimum wage for jury duty. Three citizens who reported for jury duty or who served on juries filed a class-action lawsuit against King County, challenging their $10-a-day pay. In an 8-1 decision Thursday, the court found that because of the civic obligations involved jury duty is not traditional employment subject to the Minimum Wage Act. The court acknowledged that the failure to pay adequately could make it more difficult for low-income workers to participate in jury duty and that it is one of the reasons people often skip jury duty, but the majority said those are issues for the Legislature.


  • Pierce County Superior Court Judge G. Helen Whitener was appointed last month by Gov. Jay Inslee to the Washington Supreme Court. Whitener has served on the superior court since being appointed by Inslee in 2015, and previously served as a judge on the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. Before becoming a judge, she worked as both a prosecutor and defense attorney. She replaces Justice Charles Wiggins, who retired from the court at the end of last month. She will have to run in the November general election to maintain the seat, and then again in 2022, when Wiggins' term would have ended. Whitener, 55, was born in Trinidad and moved to the U.S. to attend college, earning her bachelor's degree from Baruch College in New York and her law degree from Seattle University School of Law. She's the second recent appointment by Inslee. Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis, who was sworn in Jan. 6, is the first Native American justice to serve on the state's highest court. The other members of the court are: Chief Justice Debra Stephens, Justices Barbara Madsen, Charles Johnson, Susan Owens, Steven Gonzalez, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, and Mary Yu.


  • The first round of stimulus checks was expected to reach Americans on mid-April, and consumers are already making plans for how they plan to use the funds. More than one in four-or 28%-of about 1,000 Americans surveyed said they'll use their check to cover rent and mortgage costs, according to a survey from Creditful, a personal finance resource. Millennials are the most likely to use their checks for housing, the survey finds. They plan to use 54% of their checks for essential purchases like housing and utility costs. They were also more likely to use stimulus checks on stocks and investments and student loan debt. Baby boomers, on the other hand, are planning to spend less than half-46%--of their checks on essential expenses like housing and utilities. Instead, they're more likely to use their stimulus check on groceries, health and medical supplies, and clothing. Gen Xers are the most likely to use their stimulus check on bills and utilities, savings, credit card debt, and toiletries and hygiene products, the survey finds. Overall, the majority of respondents say they plan to spend the bulk of their stimulus on groceries or bills and utilities.


  • Dana Ralph, the mayor of Kent, is warning residents that state coronavirus restrictions and closures will soon result in massive layoffs and budget cuts far beyond anything the city experienced during the Great Recession. Kent, like most cities in Washington, relies on a mix of business and sales taxes to fund city payroll and public services. With shops closed and consumers cutting costs, Ralph said the city was expecting revenue losses of up to $15 million between now and the end of the year. To close that gap, Ralph said "everything is on the table," including job layoffs, program cutbacks, and construction and maintenance freezes. Ralph said she is asking department heads to propose cuts ranging from 5% of their budgets up to 20%. Ralph said so far, the federal government has declined to provide funding for cities with populations under 500,000 people.
    University of Washington economist Jacob Vigdor said the city of Kent is not alone in its financial struggles.


  • A vast majority of likely voters in Washington surveyed in a new poll want more protections for renters including statewide limits on rent increases. The poll, commissioned by the Washington Community Action Network, found 71% of voters want the state to limit rent increases and put into place restrictions on evictions that require landlords to have a "good cause" to evict tenants. This represents a majority of both Democrats, 88%, and Republicans, 58%, who said they would support these protections. Nearly 80% of young voters were in support of statewide limits on rent increases and 63% of seniors. The poll also found more than three-quarters of respondents think the cost of housing and lack of affordable housing is a crisis or a major problem in the state. The poll was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner among 800 likely voters in Washington from March 15 to 22. In a news release, the Washington Community Action Network called for the state Legislature to implement policies on evictions and rent increases in the next session, saying the need for them will only increase due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The organization also said candidates running for office must make these issues part of their campaigns "if they want to win an election."