Paula Wissel

Law & Justice Reporter

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KPLU since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KPLU, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.

Paula's most memorable moment at KPLU: “Interviewing NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr about his ability to put current events in historical context. It’s something I aspire to.”

Ways To Connect

Erin Hennessey / KPLU

Seattle, Tacoma and Everett have activated their water shortage response plans. The hot, dry weather has increased demand for water just as river levels are at historic lows. Seattle Public Utilities, Tacoma Public Utilities and the city of Everett issued a joint  release announcing the implementation of the first stage of the response plans.

Paula Wissel

Seattle’s Central District has long been the hub of the city’s African American community -- in part because until the late 1960’s, racist housing covenants and redlining prevented most blacks from living elsewhere in the city.

Even after fair housing laws were passed, the area continued to have the largest percentage of African Americans. Now, long-time residents say they are being forced out by gentrification. And they worry about what is being lost. 

Mike McKenney

Imagine spending a year getting ready to open a new business only watch the business become illegal at the eleventh hour.

That’s the case for Seattle pot entrepreneur Mike McKenney.

McKenney had everything in place for his private cannabis club, including warehouse space in Seattle’s SODO district. He’d decided that the club, to be called ZERO, would be solely for marijuana use.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Gun shop owners in Seattle say a proposed tax on sales could force them to move or go out of business. The Seattle City Council is considering placing a $25 tax on every gun sold and a 5-cent tax on every round of ammunition purchased in the city.

The money from the guns and ammo tax would be used to pay for gun violence research and prevention, which would be conducted at Harborview Medical Center. 

City officials estimate the new tax would collect between $300,000 and $500,000 a year. But, at a city council hearing, bun shop customer Ken Stok, said the measure is unlikely to bring in much money at all.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

There won’t be private cannabis clubs in Washington anytime soon. State lawmakers outlawed the establishment of such clubs, places where people could go to legally use marijuana. The ban caught legal pot advocates by surprise.

In the waning days of the Washington legislative session,  an amendment  banning cannabis clubs was added to a bill, House Bill 2136, meant to tweak the laws regarding the state’s fledgling legal marijuana industry.

Among other things, House Bill 2136 simplified taxes on marijuana, moving to a single point of sale tax, and loosened the restrictions on the location of pot businesses.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he will contribute $30 million toward a nationwide program to hire low income 16-to-24-year olds. 

Paula Wissel

One year ago, Cannabis City owner James Lathrop stood outside his Seattle store, one of the first to sell legal recreational marijuana in Washington, and declared “free the weed.”

A year later, he says his pot business has had its highs and lows.

John Froschauer / AP Photo

It’s illegal to set off fireworks in Tacoma, Seattle and most other cities in the region. But, every 4th of July, so many people ignore the law there’s little police can do. They say calling 911 about violations just overwhelms the emergency system.

Paula Wissel

The state is cracking down on handicapped parking abuse. Beginning tomorrow, July 1st, you’ll need a doctor’s prescription in order to get a disabled parking placard. It was rampant misuse and abuse of disabled parking permits that prompted the Washington state legislature to act.

In Seattle, a 2013 auditor’s report showed a loss of $1.4 million a year in parking meter fees due to people cheating the system.

Under the new state law, according to Department of Licensing spokesman David Bennett, penalties for cheating are tougher. 

“Illegally obtaining  or selling a special parking placard is now a gross misdemeanor instead of an infraction,” Bennett said.

Meaning, you could face criminal charges and a fine of $250 dollars.

Paula Wissel

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the solution to disjointed planning in Seattle is to create a new city office to deal with the city's booming growth.  At a news conference, Murray signed an executive order creating a new Office of Planning and Community Development.

WA State Dept. of Corrections

A federal court said it’s OK for Washington state to require that only women be allowed to guard female prisoners in certain situations. Male correctional officers had sued the state saying denying them access to those jobs was a violation of their civil rights.

This story began back in 2007 when women prisoners at Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor and Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair sued the Washington Department of Corrections alleging a pattern of sexual abuse by male correctional officers. 

Team Totem

A long-lost treasure of Tacoma’s past will come bursting to life on the big screen this fall, if enough money can be raised to make it happen.

The silent film, “The Eyes of the Totem,” made in Tacoma between 1925 and 1928, was recently found. A Kickstarter campaign has been launched to bring the film, complete with newly composed music, to Tacoma’s Rialto Theater on September 18.

AP Images

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has launched a criminal investigation into state auditor Troy Kelley. Kelley is already under a federal indictment for tax evasion and fraudulent practices related to his former real estate business.

Now, the state is looking into his hiring practices in the auditor’s office.  The state is investigating Kelley's hiring and employment of Jason JeRue, a long time business associate.

Paula Wissel

They arrive at nearly every city or county council meeting. The regulars. The gadflies. The people who, no matter the topic, seize the microphone during the public comment period and say things like:

“You’re all criminals,” or “ I’m looking at you being an extraordinary, abusive, pathological liar,” or “I would think that this council would have some pretty high priced heads on spikes when all this clears.”

And so on.

While a member of the public has a right right to say such things – off-topic, on-point, sometimes insulting – that right isn’t unlimited.  In the interest of civility, some local governments have been tightening the rules for public comment speakers.

It becomes a balancing act between protecting people’s free speech rights and moving a meeting along.   

Matthew Brown/AP Photo

BNSF Railway and oil refineries in Washington are teaming up to better respond to accidents.  The railroad and BP Cherry Point, Phillips 66, Shell Oil Products US, Tesoro Companies and U.S. Oil Refining Company have all signed the agreement.

But, environmentalists say it doesn't address safety problems with oil trains.

John Froschauer / PLU

The Pacific Northwest has deep Norwegian roots and nowhere was that more evident than at Pacific Lutheran University on Saturday.

His Majesty King Harald V of Norway came for a visit to the school that was founded 125 years ago by Norwegian immigrants. The King was in the Northwest to speak at PLU's Commencement ceremony in the Tacoma Dome, but made a quick trip to the university first, where he was welcomed by hundreds of students and and  other well wishers from around the region.

LISTEN: A sound portrait of HM King Harald V's visit:


Paula Wissel

In addition to a book or movie, you can now take Internet access home from the Seattle Public Library.

The library has started checking out 150 mobile Wi-Fi devices. The SPL HotSpot devices will connect to borrowers laptops, tablets or smart phones and provide free Internet access anywhere 4G LTE or 3G service is available. The mobile online access will be limited to 90 minutes daily.

King County Sheriff's Department

Who speaks for the murder victim when there’s no family left to tell their story?  That's a question the Washington state legislature is considering.

A bill in the legislature, Senate Bill 6099, would make it possible for law enforcement officers to be appointed to speak on behalf of deceased victims.

The impetus is a 38 year old murder case and a  Washington Supreme Court ruling that came down in 2010.

CSL Plasma Kent Facebook page

A blood plasma bank in Kent, Washington is being sued by a transgender woman who was barred from donating because of her sexual identity. The lawsuit targets CSL Plasma Inc., a profit making company based in Florida that pays plasma donors as much as $200 a month and often offers gift cards as an added incentive.

When  Jasmine Kaiser, who was born male but now identifies as a woman, went to CSL Plasma in Kent in June of 2014 with the intent of donating plasma, she was turned away. According to the complaint filed in King County Superior Court, she was told she'd be banned for life because she is transgender.

And, Attorney David Ward, with the Seattle based women's rights group Legal Voice, says that's not all.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Seattle police could have been much more effective in how they handled May Day protesters when violence erupted on Capitol Hill Friday night, said the head of the Seattle City Council Public Safety Committee.

It was during a debrief before the Public Safety Committee that chair Bruce Harrell laid into incident commander Captain Chris Fowler.

Harrell went so far as to say it seemed like police provoked the riot. He referred to a video, that’s gone viral, of a cop on a bike ramming a protester from behind and knocking him down.

Paula Wissel

Local Somali immigrants are continuing to pressure the federal government to allow them to once again send money to relatives back home.

Now, the Seattle City Council has gotten behind their cause.

Kyle Stokes

Seattle Police say they’re prepared for whatever happens at protests tomorrow for May Day, the international day to celebrate workers that has become a rallying point locally for all sorts of activists.

In the past few years, there have been some arrests on May Day for property damage, although protest marches have been mostly peaceful. The biggest problem  this year could be traffic.

Pavan Vangipuram / One America

A bill to aimed at protecting voting rights in Washington isn’t dead but it’s barely breathing. And immigrant and civil rights organizations are scrambling to keep it alive.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

Paying off court fees and fines is a major hurdle for someone getting out of prison in Washington state. Some say these Legal Financial Obligations, or LFO’s as they’re called, create a sort of debtor’s prison and make it difficult for former inmates to turn their lives around.

The state legislature is considering changes to how such fees are assessed.

Paula Wissel / KPLU

We thought it was sacred. We thought it would be there forever. Then, the Borg came.

Plans are underway to "assimilate the Space Needle" with the construction of a mixed-use high-rise on the property the landmark currently occupies, according to a notice posted Wednesday.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The father of the teenager who killed four students and himself at Marysville-Pilchuck High School has been arrested. Raymond Lee Fryberg, 42, is charged with illegally purchasing the gun used in the mass shooting.

Pike Place Market

A major addition is coming to the Pike Place Market. The $65 million dollar project includes a pedestrian connection to the waterfront. Monday, the Seattle City Council approved selling $34 million in bonds to help pay for it.

John Mummert / USGA

Pierce County will step onto the national stage when it hosts one of the country’s premiere sporting events. In June, the U.S.Open golf championship will be held at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place.

It will be the first time in the event’s history that it will take place in the Pacific Northwest. The first ever U.S. Open was held in 1895.

There’s a lottery being held in Seattle. But, this one isn’t about winning big bucks. It’s about a chance at affordable housing.

The lottery is being run by the Seattle Housing Authority for slots on a wait list for the Section 8 voucher program.

Paula Wissel

Volunteers spread out around downtown Seattle today carrying buckets filled with daffodils. Handing out the flowers on the first day of spring is an 18 year tradition.

Pike Place Market spokesman Scott Davies says it's a way for the market to celebrate spring.

“We share the floral love with people downtown," said Davies.

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