Here's your daily roundup of all the latest local and national news. Before we get to today's big discussion on potatoes and gender, let's check in with some news that matters...
GOOD NEWS for our* fellow LGBTs: The House of Representatives has successfully passed the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity in such areas as housing, jobs, education, public accommodations, and more! Now it goes to the Senate, where it will need at least 60 votes to avoid a filibuster—Democrats could also just nuke the filibuster off the face of the earth.
9 Republican votes for the Equality Act in 2019 and 3 Republican votes for the Equality Act in 2020 is a pretty good summary of how things are going in the Republican Party.
— John Hagner (@JHagner) February 25, 2021
*Rich is straight.
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled RCW 69.50.4013 unconstitutional: That law made it a felony to possess drugs even when you didn't know they were in your possession, often called "simple possession." "As a result of the court’s decision, Washington joins 49 other states and the federal government in recognizing that the unknowing possession of drugs is not a crime," summarizes Mike Carter for the Seattle Times. "Attaching the harsh penalties of felony conviction, lengthy imprisonment, stigma, and the many collateral consequences that accompany every felony drug conviction to entirely innocent and passive conduct exceeds the legislature’s powers," wrote Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, who was joined by Justices Mary Yu, Raquel Montoya-Lewis, G. Helen Whitener and Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez in building a five-member majority. Expect lots of hand-wringing on the right over this.
On to some COVID updates...
Due to dropping COVID-19 case numbers, Inslee "paused" the possibility of moving backward in phases: Before today, failure to meet three of four metrics in the state's regional reopening plan would have resulted in a region automatically returning to Phase 1 restrictions. But now, Inslee said, "they," which we assume to mean the Department of Health, have "told us we don't need this hair trigger circuit breaker any longer."
Regions could move forward in "the next several weeks," Inslee said. The state will decide what future phases will look like and which regions might move into them after "listening" to local politicians and health officials. The Governor said regions might move forward "earlier than that if we get some clarity on the variants, if we get further clarity on the ability of the vaccines to knock out the variants."
Vaccine supply to Washington is increasing: Officials at the Department of Health today said the Centers for Disease Control told them the feds will send along nearly 61,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine toward the end of next week if all the federal and regional authorities approve. In the meantime, however, vaccine is still in short supply. This week providers asked for more than 430,000 doses, and the feds will only send 260,000. By mid-March, the DOH expects we'll start getting a little over 300,000 doses.
The private sector has been kinda helping out with some tech stuff: Dan Laster, a longtime lawyer for a medical device company and WA DOH's private sector liaison, said private sector partners organized under the state's Vaccine Command and Coordination System (VACCS) did some "under the hood work" involving some technical aspects of the state's vaccine allocation systems. He also said they added a better map to the state website showing where you can get the vaccine. They’re also talking to the volunteers who set up a site to help people find and schedule vaccines.
Safely reopening schools depends on two things, according to state health chief Dr. Umair Shah's analysis of the latest report on the subject from the Institute for Disease Modeling. 1) Low community transmission rates, because those rates are proportional to school-based transmission rates. 2) Religiously following safety protocols, including wearing well-fitting masks, keeping distance, washing hands, and testing often. So there you have it. The people screaming for schools to reopen shoot themselves (and everyone else) in the foot when they also refuse to wear masks, demand indoor dining, and do other stuff that contributes to community spread as new variants begin to take hold.
Speaking of health care: Senate Bill 5399, which would codify into state law a promise to design and implement "a publicly financed and privately and publicly delivered health care system" by 2026, will soon see a vote on the Senate floor. If the Governor ends up signing the bill, it would be a big step toward establishing a state-based single-payer system in Washington. Advocates for the legislation note that Washington implemented its Cover All Kids Program, which guaranteed health care coverage to all children in the state, only after passing a law promising to do so.
Pivoting away from health care for a moment...
Someone stole Lady Gaga's dogs and shot her dog walker: This is a real story. The singer "is offering half-a-million dollars to anyone who has her two dogs, no questions asked. Anyone who has the dogs can use this email, KojiandGustav@gmail.com to retrieve the reward." The dog walker shot is in stable condition, according to LAPD.
Twitter announces paid features, essentially becoming Substack and OnlyFans and Facebook Groups: The significant upcoming features will allow users to charge their followers to access additional content and create and join groups based on specific interests. Details on the so-called "Super Follow" subscriptions are scarce. Twitter will presumably take a cut.
Hours after a former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach was charged with two dozen crimes, including sexual assault and human trafficking, he was found dead at a Michigan rest stop after apparently committing suicide.
Seattle's Henry Art Gallery prepares to reopen: The gallery, which will admit the public for free through June 2021, opens on March 6 and announced its 2021 exhibition line-up today. The programming includes work from New York-based choreographer and performer Will Rawls and American-Syrian artist Diana Al-Hadid. We're excited to check out Plural Possibilities & the Female Body. FYI: "Safety protocols include timed entry, reduced capacity, as well as mask and social distancing requirements."
Let the 65-and-Older-Seattleites in your life know:
Residents who are 65 and older, live in ZIP codes most impacted by COVID-19, and have NOT yet received their first dose of the vaccine are eligible to sign up for the standby list. You also must be able to meet the @SeattleFire team quickly. https://t.co/ZTBNOskHWy
— SEA Mayor's Office (@OfficeofMayor) February 25, 2021
Is Mr. Potato Head nonbinary or what? Earlier today, AP published a report announcing Hasbro was de-gendering Mr. Potato Head, a move that created predictable drama from predictable people. Over at Fast Company, a Hasbro executive explained that "Mr." and "Mrs." are "limiting" when it comes to gender and family structure. But then this afternoon, Hasbro stepped in to clarify: Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads are sticking around; the brand is just switching to the neutral "Potato Head." (AP's original story now leads to a 404.)
Hold that Tot – your main spud, MR. POTATO HEAD isn’t going anywhere! While it was announced today that the POTATO HEAD brand name & logo are dropping the ‘MR.’ I yam proud to confirm that MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD pic.twitter.com/6I84KrxOLQ
— Hasbro (@Hasbro) February 25, 2021
The right may not have won the LGBT battle in the House today: But we hope they can find solace in the fact that their beloved potatoes still have two genders, just like God intended?
After setting off a social media firestorm in announcing that it removed the gender from its Mr. Potato Head brand, Hasbro has clarified that the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters will still exist. The branding on the box will say “Potato Head.” https://t.co/yUAO4bVYG0 https://t.co/aw8ruySWLx
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 25, 2021
At the risk of wrongfully conflating sex with gender, it's worth noting that in life potatoes exist on a spectrum: Regular potatoes reproduce sexually via pollinations, but they can also reproduce asexually by just being planted in the ground. Yams produce male and female flowers, while sweet potatoes produce hermaphroditic flowers. This is all to say that Hasbro imposed the gender binary on these toy potatoes in the first place, and so Mr. Potato “going gender-neutral" simply represents a return to form from the perspective of the plants themselves.
Let's end the night with Seattle's Robert Eagle Staff Middle School Marching Band: They've got a new virtual band performance out on their YouTube. Singer Kevin Ross (who is not a middle-schooler, if you couldn't tell by the beard) joins the band to sing the Black National Anthem for Black History Month. You might recognize some of these kids from their virtual performance of Lizzo's "Juice" last May. (Side note: You need to see these band bubbles if you haven't yet. Zoom band > bubble band.)