The Morning Press: Obamacare, county's economy, Benton chat, Laird's goodbye

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Weekend's top stories and news you may have missed:

Affordable Care Act is here; we answer key questions

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Ready or not, health care reform is here.

While some are already seeing changes as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the state is preparing to launch the piece of reform that will directly impact hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians: the health insurance marketplace.

In just over two months, Washington residents who need to purchase insurance for themselves or their families will begin exploring the new state-based marketplace. There, they'll compare benefits and prices and enroll in health plans in order to meet the most controversial component of health care reform: the individual mandate requiring Americans to have insurance.

Millions of Americans are expected to purchase coverage from state-based or federal insurance marketplaces, yet 45 percent of Americans say they haven't heard anything about the exchanges, according to a June survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Read the full story here.

CRC's collapse leaves behind shock and awe

The worlds of business and politics were deeply intertwined in this year's second quarter.

The quarter's biggest story, economically and politically, came on a late Saturday night in the last weekend of June. That's when the Washington Senate adjourned without taking action on funding of the gargantuan Columbia River Crossing project that had bitterly divided Clark County residents.

The county's business booster groups and major employers saw the project's collapse as a tragic loss of a once-in-a-lifetime public works project that would have fed countless payrolls. But some downtown businesses welcomed an end to years of uncertainty. Political opponents of the project and its light-rail component immediately began launching new ideas for transportation improvements other than rail, despite a lack of funding for any of the suggested alternatives.

Read about the county's economic updates and downs this quarter here.

Sheriff's Office: Disturbance led to intentional crash in Sifton area

photoA victim from an apparent traffic accident and shooting is loaded into an ambulance at the intersection of Northeast 73rd Streetand 147th Avenue shortly after noon today.

(/The Columbian)

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A brazen act of vandalism and a hit-and-run crash that police said was intentional rattled a suburban street in east of Orchards late Friday morning. Police fruitlessly searched for the driver while neighbors wondered what happened.

Even for Brenda Kent, who witnessed the crash, it’s still confusing.

Kent was weeding in her front yard shortly before noon when she heard a popping noise, swearing and name-calling. She looked up and saw people across the street smashing out the windows of two vehicles parked in the driveway of a home a few doors down at 7012 N.E. 147th Ave. in the Sifton area. The people breaking windows then got into a green sedan and drove northbound past her.

Someone in the sedan yelled, “They’re coming!” Seconds later, a Chevrolet Suburban eastbound on Northeast 73rd Street slammed into the front driver’s side of the sedan, pinning it against a curb. Everyone in the Suburban got out and ran away. They were long gone before sheriff’s deputies rolled up to the intersection.

Three people were significantly injured in the crash and transported to area hospitals.

Read the full story here.

Governor calls Benton, Rivers a brick wall to economic progress and CRC

A group of Clark County business leaders told Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday that they weren’t ready to surrender just yet on the Columbia River Crossing project.

Inslee told them he will do everything in his power to try to move the CRC forward before a crucial Sept. 30 federal deadline for the project, but apparently nothing has changed since the Legislature’s second special session ended June 29. The legislature, which was asked to commit $450 million to the project, has adjourned without doing so, and the CRC offices have already begun shutting down.

Inslee, a Democrat, called state Sens. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and Ann Rivers, R-La Center, a brick wall to economic progress in the state, because of their efforts this year to block money for the CRC.

Read the full story here.

Benton discusses new county job

Washington state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, found himself in a tough spot during his first few days on the job as Clark County’s new director of environmental service.

Benton, who sent an email to County Commissioner David Madore in April saying he’d like to apply for the open job, was hired in a county board time meeting May 1 under the blessing of Madore and Commissioner Tom Mielke, both Republicans.

The hiring was controversial from the start. Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat, furiously opposed the hiring and left the meeting under protest — shouting an expletive to describe the scenario.

In Benton’s first week, angry county residents packed into a commissioners’ meeting to air their grievances with Benton’s hiring.

And for weeks after, often as Benton sat in the room for commissioner hearings, residents continued to state that he was the wrong man for the job.

Read the full story here.

Oregon Zoo's beloved elephants getting more room to roam

A few of the biggest local celebrities are getting a new home as the Oregon Zoo elephant enclosure is set for expansion.

The zoo is in the midst of its most significant construction project since it opened at its current location in 1959. Projects scheduled over the coming years aim to upgrade outdated facilities and improve the zoo experience for visitors.

One project at the heart of the construction effort is the 6.25 acre Elephant Lands. Construction on the $53 million project started in early June and is scheduled to be completed by 2015.

"It was state of the art at the time, but we've learned so much since then," said Hova Najarian, media and public relations officer.

Read the full story here.

John Laird: Last call, and the piano player wants to thank the band

After years of planning and months of preparation, I'd like to think of myself as somewhat of an expert on retirement.

But the daunting truth is, next Friday evening I will nervously attempt something for the first time: I'll walk the plank and execute a proud cannonball into the shark-infested sea of retirement. As many of you have done in your retirement, I'll bob back up to the surface, groping for my new life with far fewer deadlines.

When I announced my decision to retire six months ago, a chorus of harrumphs rose among some readers who ghoulishly wished the milestone had been reached much sooner. To them, I offer comfort. Unlike the very dead but still terrorizing Columbia River Crossing (first time I've ever seen people use a corpse as a piñata), I'm no zombie. No, sir, I ain't comin' back. You can keep fighting the return of the crime train if you choose, but I'm moving on to grandkids, golf and hiking.

Read John's goodbye to readers here.