Monthly Archives: February 2018

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    Curious about the Legislative Public Records Act? Click here for the full story

Curious about the Legislative Public Records Act? Click here for the full story

February 28th, 2018|

In recent days, the news media has devoted unusually heavy coverage to the Legislative Public Records Act that was passed Friday by the Legislature. Since then, my office has received a high number of calls and emails from constituents asking about this legislation.

The media is in fact the plaintiff in the legal case that led to the court ruling that is the impetus for this bill, and the vast majority of news coverage has emphasized the media’s arguments while minimizing the Legislature’s side of the story. To be clear, the court ruling is the first step in this case, not the last; it is being appealed to the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile, puzzled constituents are calling with lots of questions.

To learn more about this legislation and why it is needed, I encourage you to click here to read a summary, in simple but clear lay terms, that answers the most commonly asked questions. I believe this will give you a fuller picture, including a number of perspectives you will not find in news accounts and editorials on this matter. I urge you to weigh all sides and judge for yourself the merits of what this legislation does.

As your elected official, my door is always open to you and I encourage you to please contact my office if you have additional questions.

 

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    House passes Van De Wege legislation to prohibit deadly chemicals

House passes Van De Wege legislation to prohibit deadly chemicals

February 28th, 2018|

A Senate bill passed late Tuesday by the House will prohibit the sale of firefighting foam that contains chemicals deadly to people and destructive to the environment past July of 2020.

“This will limit contamination and exposure to these persistent chemicals, which build up in the environment and in our bodies,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim. “This is good news for pregnant women and young children, as these chemicals can disrupt the endocrine system and impede fetal development.”

The chemicals, known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS), are commonly used to help fight fires at airfields and other places — including during frequent firefighter training drills — where petroleum-based fires pose a risk. PFAS have been found in wells used for drinking water on Whidbey Island, Issaquah, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and Airway Heights near Fairchild Air Force Base. The chemicals also exist in equipment used by firefighters.

Studies in animals show that exposure to PFAS can affect liver function, reproductive hormones, development of offspring, and mortality. However, PFAS toxicity in humans is less understood, and exposure may be linked to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Van De Wege’s Senate Bill 6413 will:

  • Prohibit the sale, manufacture, and distribution of firefighting foam that has perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) intentionally added.
  • Require sellers of firefighting personal protective equipment (PPE) containing PFAS to notify purchasers of the equipment; and
  • Punish violations of the act with civil penalties up to $5,000 for a first offense and up to $10,000 for subsequent violations.

“The number-one cause of death of firefighters is cancer,” Van De Wege said. “By phasing out this foam, we can protect groundwater and the health of firefighters who regularly use this foam to suppress fires.”

Since the bill passed the Senate and was then amended in the House, the differences between the two versions must be reconciled before the bill can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.

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    Van De Wege: We can harvest more timber without endangering birds

Van De Wege: We can harvest more timber without endangering birds

February 23rd, 2018|

More state land would be opened to timber harvesting under a proviso Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, secured in the Senate’s proposed operating budget.

Since 1997, the state has restricted harvesting on 176,000 acres of state trust lands to protect the marbled murrelet pending long-term federal and state agreement on how to preserve the endangered species. After considerable study, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is about to complete its analysis of how many acres can be safely opened to harvesting without harming the marbled murrelet population.

With a DNR study offering several options that would satisfy that goal, Van De Wege’s proviso would direct the agency to choose Option B, which would free 166,000 acres for harvesting. Fees for the rights to harvest timber on state trust lands go to state and local governments, primarily for education.

“The studies show that we can harvest additional acreage, creating family-wage jobs and boosting our local economies, without endangering the marbled murrelet population,” Van De Wege said. “This option strikes a healthy balance between the preservation of this bird and the creation of good jobs in communities that desperately need them.”

The budget is scheduled to be voted on today by the full Senate.

This effort comes in addition to two bills Van De Wege has supported that would spur job growth on the Olympic Peninsula and in rural and coastal areas across the state by boosting the timber industry:

Senate Bill 6140 would create jobs in rural communities by directing DNR to evaluate state land, forestland, revenue streams and related management methods to make it easier to transact common-sense land swaps and help spur mill activity.

SB 5450 would add cross-laminated timber to the state building code, making it easier for businesses to incorporate timber dependent technology in residential and commercial construction. In addition to creating a stronger market for wood, the cross-laminated timber provides an environmental benefit by sequestering carbon.

Both bills passed the Senate and await action in the House.

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    Van De Wege: Residents might not want to prepay full property tax

Van De Wege: Residents might not want to prepay full property tax

February 21st, 2018|

Property owners might be wise to delay paying their full 2018 property taxes until after the close of the 2018 legislative session in March, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, said today.

“Democrats are working hard to protect homeowners from the worst impacts of the Republican property tax of 2017,” Van De Wege said. “One of the possibilities is to use the increase in revenues projected by the latest state forecast to transfer funds from the state’s extraordinary revenue growth to offset the size of the tax hikes.”

The proposal comes in response to the 2017 session, when Republicans used their majority control of the Senate to insist on meeting the state’s constitutional duty to fund K-12 education by passing the largest property tax increase in state history. Democrats sought other solutions, such as closing tax loopholes on corporations or imposing a capital gains tax on the wealthiest 1 percent of Washingtonians. Republicans refused to budge, taking the state to within hours of a government shutdown before Democrats relented to avoid the expense and chaos of a shutdown.

Having won majority control of the Senate this year, Democrats now seek ways to shield households from the tax increase. If people pay their property taxes in advance, Van De Wege said, the state has no mechanism to refund that money.

“I would caution people to consider waiting,” Van De Wege said. “We’ll finish our work in Olympia by March 8, and taxes aren’t due until April 30. If we succeed in cutting property taxes, everyone should benefit. But it’s impossible to refund taxes that have already been paid.”

Attend a meeting for an Elwha River Bridge update

February 19th, 2018|

For a few years, I have worked with my seatmates, Rep. Steve Tharinger and Rep. Mike Chapman— along with citizens and community leaders — to arrange funding to replace the Elwha River Bridge.

Now that we’ve secured funding in the last transportation budget, the state Department of Transportation is coming to our area this week to provide updates on the design progress of the Elwha River Bridge replacement project, share timelines for moving forward, and answer any questions you may have.

If you’re interested in the latest news, I encourage you to attend one of these three public meetings:

  • 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, at the Port Angeles City Council meeting at 321 East 5th St. in Port Angeles.
  • 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Forks Business and Professional Association at 411 Tillicum Lane (Department of Natural Resources building) in Forks.
  •  Noon Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Forks Chamber of Commerce meeting at Blakeslee’s Bar & Grill at 1222 South Forks Ave. in Forks.

 

For those who can’t attend, I can share some general updates:

  • The current Elwha River Bridge remains stable and open to all traffic, though motorists will need to be patient during the quarterly bridge inspections. Important progress has been made in the last 12 months on hydraulic and geotechnical reports, roadway alignment and plans for intersections. The first stage of bridge design is complete.
  • DOT continues to analyze the project’s effects on air and water quality, noise, wetlands, cultural resources and other environmental elements and expect to complete its analysis by December.
  • Once the federal government confirms that DOT has adequately reviewed, identified and mitigated for any environmental effects, DOT will apply for a Highway Easement Deed from Olympic National Parks to acquire the right to build the bridge on federal land. This will enable DOT to finalize all design and contract plans, acquire all permits needed for construction, and put the contract to build the bridge up for bid. The latest timeline anticipates construction between the summer of 2019 and the fall of 2020. That timeline is subject to change if the construction process runs into unexpected conditions or surprises.

As I learn more, I’ll continue to share updates on this important project for our district.

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    Senate passes bills to boost jobs on Olympic Peninsula and across state

Senate passes bills to boost jobs on Olympic Peninsula and across state

February 12th, 2018|

Two bipartisan bills passed today by the Senate could spur job growth on the Olympic Peninsula and in rural and coastal areas across the state by boosting the timber industry, said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim.
Senate Bill 6140, cosponsored by Van De Wege, could create jobs in rural communities by directing the Department of Natural Resources to evaluate state land, forestland, revenue streams and related management methods to make it easier to transact common-sense land swaps and help spur mill activity.
“In past years, the state and our timber businesses have lost revenue on trees that were supposed to be harvested and were not,” said Van De Wege, who voted for both bills. “That’s not only a waste of valuable resources, it squanders opportunities to create family-wage jobs our Olympic Peninsula communities desperately need.”
SB 5450 would add cross-laminated timber to the state building code, making it easier for businesses to incorporate timber dependent technology in residential and commercial construction. In addition to creating a stronger market for wood, the cross-laminated timber provides an environmental benefit by sequestering carbon.
Mass timber products include cross-laminated timber, nail-laminated timber, glue-laminated timber, laminated strand timber, dowel-laminated timber, laminated veneer lumber, structural composite lumber, and wood concrete composites.
“Both of these bills take advantage of lost opportunities to create good jobs in the communities that need them most,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood and the sponsor of SB 5450. “It’s important that we put people first as we work to grow rural and coastal economies across our state.”

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    Senate passes Van De Wege legislation to prohibit sale of deadly chemicals

Senate passes Van De Wege legislation to prohibit sale of deadly chemicals

February 10th, 2018|

Legislation passed today by the Senate would prohibit the sale of firefighting foam that contains chemicals deadly to people and destructive to the environment past July of 2020.

The chemicals, known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS), are commonly used to help fight fires at airfields and other places — including during frequent firefighter training drills — where petroleum-based fires pose a risk. PFAS have been found in wells used for drinking water on Whidbey Island, Issaquah, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and Airway Heights near Fairchild Air Force Base. The chemicals also exist in equipment used by firefighters.

Studies in animals show that exposure to PFAS can affect liver function, reproductive hormones, development of offspring, and mortality. However, PFAS toxicity in humans is less understood, and exposure may be linked to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

“It’s important we limit future contamination and exposure to these persistent chemicals, which can build up in the environment and in our bodies,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim. “These chemicals are a particular concern for pregnant women and young children, as they can disrupt the endocrine system and impede fetal development.”

Van De Wege’s Senate Bill 6413 would:

  • Prohibit the sale, manufacture, and distribution of firefighting foam that has perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) intentionally added.
  • Require sellers of firefighting personal protective equipment (PPE) containing PFAS to notify purchasers of the equipment; and
  • Punish violations of the act with civil penalties up to $5,000 for a first offense and up to $10,000 for subsequent violations.
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    Senate passes Van De Wege legislation to improve wildfire resistance

Senate passes Van De Wege legislation to improve wildfire resistance

February 9th, 2018|

Legislation passed late today by the Senate would reduce the spiraling cost of fighting wildfires and limit damages to homes in wildfire-prone areas.

Senate Bill 6109, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, would supplement local building codes for roofs, siding, porches and vehicle access for homes to make them more fire resistant and provide better egress for emergency vehicles.

“The modest investments required by this bill will save taxpayer dollars by reducing the state’s financial burden when it comes to containing wildfires,” Van De Wege said. “We’re talking about simple, common-sense actions homeowners can take to help protect their homes and prevent the spread of fires.”

The legislation is supported by the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, the Washington State Fire Chiefs, and the Building Industry Association of Washington.

“This will reduce the loss of life and property,” Van De Wege said. “It will prevent wildfires and limit damages when wildfires occur.”

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    Van De Wege: Area residents ‘can’t afford to be without a hospital’

Van De Wege: Area residents ‘can’t afford to be without a hospital’

February 6th, 2018|

Area lawmakers hope to provide temporary funding to ease a financial crisis at Grays Harbor Community Hospital.

“People can’t afford to be without a hospital,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim. “We’ve intervened before and, now, once again we’re trying to preserve the sole community hospital for area residents.”

Van De Wege’s Senate Bill 6601 would increase the reimbursements to patients eligible for Medicaid at the state’s three sole community hospitals.

“There is plenty that we’re unhappy with concerning the management of the hospital and the precarious position in which they have put their institution and the health needs of the communities who rely their services,” said Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview and a cosponsor of the bill. “But regardless of how we got here, people must have a hospital within a reasonable distance.”

Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, whose legislative district contains one of the two other sole community hospitals in the state, also cosponsored the bill. The third sole community hospital is in Port Angeles.

“The hospital did not communicate their dire situation in a timely fashion, so our only hope at this late time is to shift to a budget proviso for temporary funding,” Van De Wege said. “With the legislative cutoff deadline only hours away, the logistics of hearing and passing a new bill out of committee are daunting.”

Van De Wege said the effort has the support of area lawmakers in the House as well, including Reps. Steve Tharinger, Mike Chapman and Brian Blake.