Monica Spain

Tech Policy Lab, University of Washington

Artificial intelligence has come a long way since the term was coined in the 1950s, but computers still don’t think and feel in quite the same way humans do. Yet rapid progress has the federal government, and others, thinking about new legal and policy issues.

Common Threads Farm; Bellingham, WA

Candy bars and cookie dough are some of the traditional fundraising offerings for school kids. But with concerns about childhood obesity, selling sweet stuff sends a mixed message. Now, some schools are taking a healthier tack.

By this time of year, lots of families with school-age children are experiencing fundraising fatigue.

Illustration by Olson Kundig Architects/Stephanie Bower Architectural Illustration

From mastodon bones to special baskets used just for clamming, the Burke Museum houses vast numbers of objects from the natural and cultural world. There are so many pieces, in fact, that unless you’re with a curator, there are many items you might never have the opportunity to see. But that’s going to be changing when the Burke moves to a new building in 2019.

Parents use all kinds of tricks to get their kids to peacefully put down devices or turn off the TV. It turns out, one of the most popular tactics – the “two-minute warning” – is also one of the least effective.

It usually goes something like this, “You have two minutes left, and then we’re really going to shut it off.” Three quarters of the parents surveyed by the University of Washington used this exact warning with their one to five year olds.

Felipe Dana / AP Photo

The first case of the Zika virus has been reported in King County. It's the third case of Zika in Washington state. Officials are not concerned about an outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, but more cases are expected.

The King County case involved a man in his forties who recently traveled to the country of Colombia. That's one of the countries where Zika is actively spreading, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For 10 years, neighbors in Seattle’s Rainier Valley have wanted a Trader Joe’s. That’s the mid-sized grocery chain, known for lower prices on specialty items. Now there’s a unique campaign to lure the store to South Seattle.

You know how stores pull in customers with ads and commercials? Well, what if it was the other way around – what if customers advertised their community to attract a store?

A new web commercial serves as a love letter of sorts. It’s asking Trader Joe’s to move to Rainier Beach.

When the weather turns balmy and the sun goes down, there’s nothing like the coziness of a backyard fire. At least that’s how some people see it. But if your neighbors don’t agree, the law is on their side. 

U.S. Postal Service

Mount Rainier will appear on a U.S. postage stamp, as part of a series commemorating the centennial of the National Park Service. The photo used on the "forever" stamp was snapped by an amateur photographer who was working for a short stint as an interpretive ranger last year.

Harvey Barrison / Flickr via Creative Commons

Washington continues to pave the way for regulation of toxic chemicals with a new state law. It bans five flame retardants used in furniture and children’s products and pushes manufacturers to change their practices.

The Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act knocks out five of the worst flame retardants and sets up a process for the Departments of Health and Ecology to make recommendations on six others. Flame retardants are used in everything from baby bouncers to sofa cushions.

Monica Spain / KPLU

It can be hard to know when to call 9-1-1. And once you're on the line, it can be even harder to stay calm, cool and collected. Eight-year-old Austin Holdt did just that -- and helped save his grandmother's life. 

Mark Woods Photography

Two eagerly-awaited light rail stations open in Seattle on Saturday: one on Capitol Hill and the other at the University of Washington. This is the biggest game-changer in Seattle transportation for quite some time.

One of the first things you notice about the new stations is the art. At the UW Station, the art is intended to help get you acclimated on your journey underground.

Monica Spain / KPLU

Neighbors in the Greenwoood area of Seattle spent the day in shock after Wednesday morning’s natural gas explosion. As of Wednesday evening, the area remains closed for business as fire investigators try to figure out what went wrong.

Sarah Cohn stood with her umbrella, a baby on her back and her toddler in a stroller.

“He’s wearing his little firefighter uniform because he wants to help,” she said. “He’s really concerned that the coffee shop is not there. He’s such a little Seattle kid – he’s like, ‘The coffee shop is gone!’”

Elaine Thompson / AP

Wood Smoke Photovoice Environmental Justice Project

In much of Pierce County — including Tacoma — special efforts are being made to reduce wood smoke, which is a significant cause of air pollution on an average winter day.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

When you bring it up with your neighbors, it can feel like a conversation about religion or politics —topics many people only wade into after careful consideration. But it’s exactly these sorts of conversations the city of Seattle wants people to have around Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.

Courtesy of Dr. Quintard Taylor

More than 10 years ago, a New Zealand high school student came across a University of Washington website. It was meant for an
 African-American studies course. That discovery — from the other side of the world — revealed a demand for black history beyond the college campus.

When Professor Quintard Taylor got an email from New Zealand, he realized he was onto something big.

John Taylor via Creative Commons / Flickr

What’s known as “conversion therapy” — designed to turn gay kids 
straight — is legal in most states, including Washington. U.S. Senator Patty Murray is calling for a nationwide ban on the practice.

Elaine Thompson / AP

Ask any parent about their biggest challenge — it’s all about the logistics. How to get Suzy to ballet when Johnny has soccer? And your teenager won’t be caught dead in the car you’re driving. But there’s a tempting solution.

Moms of even very young kids find themselves joking about it, but some parents of older kids are actually doing it. They’re relying on rideshare companies — like Uber — to get their kids home from that party Friday night.

Tina Fineberg / AP

Pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. have been on the rise over the past 30 years. Lawmakers in Washington state are concerned that maternal deaths have gone unchecked in recent years. In Washington, the rate of women dying is 12 moms for every 100,000 live births.

Experts say up to 60 percent of those deaths are preventable. For that reason, state legislators want to reinstate a review panel of doctors to take a closer look at each case.

David Nogueras / KPLU

If you’ve been putting off buying health insurance to meet the terms of the Affordable Care Act, you have until Sunday night to select a plan.

Even if you have coverage, experts say open enrollment is the golden opportunity to make sure you have the best plan for your situation.

Dean Rutz / AP Photo

Seattle Police are searching for at least two people in connection with the shooting at a homeless camp south of downtown. Five people were shot Tuesday night in the unauthorized encampment known as “The Jungle.”

Seattle Police say they have leads and are interviewing witnesses in the shooting that left two people dead and three others wounded. But the perpetrators are still at large.

At a news conference, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said authorities believe the shooting was related to low-level drug dealing.

Washington Toxics Coalition

In 2007, the State Legislature banned certain chemicals used to fire-proof things like mattresses and children’s car seats. But a study from an advocacy group suggests the replacements may be more harmful than previously believed.

The study found the new generation of flame retardants are floating around in the air we breathe. They’re easy to inhale, unlike the now-banned substances which were primarily ingested through household dust. The findings could inform an important conversation this week – as legislators explore a bill on toxic flame retardants. The bill would shift responsibility for monitoring these chemicals to the Department of Health.

Monica Spain / KPLU

Seattle is gearing up to open two “safe lots” – places where homeless people who live out of their cars can park overnight. There’s hope that the city-sanctioned lots will ease some of the problems for both the homeless and neighborhoods.

From the Salty Dog Studio in the Ballard neighborhood, Artist Robert Williamson has watched as increasing numbers of RVs appear on the street, often moving a matter of blocks to avoid parking tickets.

Ted S. Warren / AP

Marijuana laws in Washington are evolving. And pot is still illegal at the federal level, creating more uncertainty for businesses in states where it is legal.

Some University of Washington law students want to stay on top of all the changes.

After recreational pot was approved by voters, it was clear to UW law professor Sean O’Connor that there would be questions about how to run a business.

Paul Sakuma / AP

Consolidation in the grocery business has workers uneasy about their jobs. Finding a new job isn’t straightforward either, as store chains compete and dwindle.

Congressman Derek Kilmer is home in Gig Harbor talking with grocery workers about new legislation that would do away with non-compete clauses. Kilmer got involved earlier this year when Haggen stores were slated to close, putting the workers’ jobs at risk.

Ted S. Warren / AP

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency in response to severe storms which have caused widespread flooding and mudslides across the state.

“There are people in need across Southwest Washington and the rest of the state and we’re here to provide whatever assistance the local communities require,” Inslee said in a press release. “We’re in this together.”

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

State educators want to know more about why certain kids get trapped in a cycle of discipline at school. They’re hoping new data out Monday will help cut down on suspensions and expulsions.

Statewide, discipline rates have gone down the past few years. But for some groups of students, that’s not the case. State officials won’t get specific, but they’re trying to figure out how principals and teachers think about different groups of rule breakers when they mete out punishment.

Monica Spain / KPLU

Brightly painted streetcars are running up and down Seattle’s First Hill. Though they aren’t carrying any passengers yet, it’s an indication that the next trolley line is close to going live.

Stepping onto a shiny new streetcar, it’s hard to believe that in the late 1930s Seattle scrapped an entire trolley system. People called it tired and decrepit; plus, it was in bankruptcy.

Elaine Thompson / AP

Recreational pot is legal in Washington, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to procure. New legislation could change that by making it legal to “grow your own.”

In Oregon, you can grow four plants. In Alaska, Colorado and D.C. the number is six. But here, that number is zero.

Ted S. Warren / AP

Transportation network companies Uber and Lyft have made it easier to catch a ride in Seattle. It’s also changed the landscape for drivers of traditional taxis. In fact, the competition has become so fierce that drivers see a need to organize.