Daily News editorial

Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and The Seattle Times. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Spring of 2018 that opened the doors for each sate to establish its own sports-gambling laws, we urged the Washington state Legislature to take a thoughtful, measured approach. To this point, the lawmakers are still thinking — and thinking.

The slow pace has the executive director of the state Gambling Commission pondering the future of sports betting.

“Historically speaking, as activities become tolerated, they become more prevalent. When they become more prevalent, they become more accepted and people will then conduct their own games or activities outside of regulated and taxable structures,” Executive Director Dave Trujillo told The News Tribune of Tacoma in a recent interview. It’s a point well made. In fact, that social acceptability of sports gambling started long before the Supreme Court weighed in.

The Super Bowl pool, for example, started in the 1960s by at least the third Super Bowl.

Still, it makes sense for the state to establish reasonable regulations to keep state residents from getting swindled by crooks.

The trick is for the state to keep its distance from the innocent office or neighborhood pools, while overseeing more serious wagering.

The five-member Gambling Commission voted unanimously in January that it should be the primary regulatory agency if the Legislature authorizes a major expansion of sports gambling. That’s reasonable.

Trujillo told The News Tribune he anticipates legislative committees to discuss gambling bills during the 60-day session in 2020 but he does not anticipate any action being taken until the longer 105-day session in 2021. Meanwhile, Trujillo and his staff are watching what’s being done in other states.

This, too, makes sense.

To this point, eight states have joined Nevada in betting legally on sports.

Chris Stearns, a member of the Gambling Commission, said the state can learn from the good and the bad as other states roll out legal sports gambling.

“It’s pretty remarkable how quickly other states have jumped into sports betting. To me at least, there’s a lot to be learned by seeing what others do, borrowing from the success of others and learning from the mistakes of others. That can take some time,” Stearns said.

In the meantime, the state has to make certain sports gambling doesn’t get out of hand — particularly from the many offshore internet gaming sites.

The Commission will be taking public input through this year. The public’s insights should help the Commission come up with a plan that serves the best interests of the state and its residents.

Reform state’s Department of Corrections

The cycle of failures at the state Department of Corrections remains unacceptably alive.

The DOC found six Monroe Correctional Complex inmates, three of whom died, suffered under negligent care by the center’s head doctor, as The Times’ Jim Brunner reported. While Dr. Julia Barnett has been fired for misconduct and investigators are working to determine if she bears responsibility for four additional inmate deaths there, the agency must undertake broader reforms.

The waves of dysfunction that have roiled DOC under Gov. Jay Inslee’s watch are too much to tolerate.

Within the last four years, the DOC has disclosed two separate failures at tracking inmate sentences have set thousands of prisoners free early. This past spring, DOC leaders abruptly banned book donations to prisoners under the pretext contraband was coming in via books. This was later proven false by The Times’ reporting, and the ban was reversed.

Now the tragic consequences of Barnett’s failures at the Monroe prison must be added to that list. DOC’s failures there began when Barnett was hired. She lacked two stated qualifications for the job: a DOC-approved medical residency and board certification. Yet the agency — unable, officials said, to attract better candidates — brought her onboard for a $260,000-a-year role supervising doctors and nurses who care for 2,400 inmates.

Prison health care is a notoriously difficult endeavor, but it is an absolute necessity for the human rights of the captive population. The DOC justified Barnett’s hire in March 2017 by counting her experience for an Arizona prison health-care contractor as a substitute for credentials. Prison medicine is too critical for inadequate qualifications to be papered over. The personnel department should be required to hold fast to job requirements instead of risking inmate lives by hastily filling a position.

Even worse was the DOC’s long-running failure to keep close watch on conditions in the Monroe prison health system. Although alleged patterns of poor treatment within Monroe predate Barnett’s tenure, the excruciating and sometimes fatal ordeals sick inmates faced under her 19-month tenure are intolerable. Written records from the prison point toward a callous disregard for inmate health.

DOC administrators now promise to keep closer watch on each prison’s medical conditions and review deaths more closely, but that commitment is mightily overdue. The seven questionable deaths under Barnett’s watch require a public accounting for why inexcusable conditions were allowed to persist so long and for why Washington’s prisons keep failing to perform adequately.

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