Monthly Archives: April 2019

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    Legislature funds study of state production of generic drugs

Legislature funds study of state production of generic drugs

April 28th, 2019|

The operating budget passed late today by the Legislature includes $20,000 to fund a study of the feasibility of the state producing certain generic drugs.

“The rising cost of prescription drugs is a strain on many households, even for longtime drugs like insulin that haven’t changed over the years,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who inserted the proviso in the budget. “If the state can produce a generic version of insulin and other drugs, the lower cost would be a boon to those who need them.”

Van De Wege’s proviso directs the state Department of Health to research the feasibility of the state’s ability to produce generic drugs, with a priority on insulin, and report its findings to the Legislature by Dec. 1. Insulin is prioritized because there is no generic version of the widely used drug and prices have tripled in the past decade even though there have been no significant improvements to the drug.

“Whether it’s because there’s no generic substitute or because too few companies produce a particular drug, the prices for many drugs are far higher than they need to be,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), who helped draft the proviso. “If the state can fill this need, we could bring relief to untold numbers of households. Frankly, just the presence of another drug producer might pressure other companies to lower their prices in response to increased competition.”

A state program would not face the shareholder pressure to produce steep profits that pharmaceutical companies face, Van De Wege said, and could keep prices more in line with the actual cost of production.

“Insulin has been around for nearly 100 years, but instead of getting less expensive, prices keep going up at a rate higher than inflation,” he said. “That makes no sense. If the state is able to provide essential everyday drugs like these at more reasonable prices, we owe it to the public to do so.” In 2016, Washington State Attorney Gen. Bob Ferguson joined several other states in filing a lawsuit against the generic drug industry over anti-competitive behavior including price fixing and market rigging. The lawsuit has since grown to cover 16 companies and 300 drugs. In 2016, the Government Accountability Office reported to Congress that the prices of 300 generic drugs had increased by more than 100 percent in the year 2015 alone.

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    New laws designed to reduce wildfires, improve firefighter safety

New laws designed to reduce wildfires, improve firefighter safety

April 19th, 2019|

A pair of bills signed into law today by Gov. Jay Inslee focus on preventing wildfires near electric utilities and increasing firefighter safety.

Senate Bill 5305, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), directs the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to create a task force to identify and recommend better methods for preventing wildfires in the vicinity of electric utilities. Several such fires last year in California cost dozens of lives, destroyed thousands of homes, and threatened the stability of investor-owned utilities and power rates.

Utility-linked fires are responsible for approximately $30 billion in damages over the past two years in California, where utilities have been criticized for failing to trim trees along power lines and take other actions to reduce the potential for wildfires.

“Adopting best practices here in Washington could enable us to avoid the kinds of fires that ravaged California,” Van De Wege said. “We’re already seeing wildfires that are more severe and more frequent, especially in Western Washington. Every fire we prevent reduces the threat to lives, property and money.”

Van De Wege’s bill directs the task force to focus on ways to improve communications protocols, management of trees and other vegetation around utilities, and wildfire investigations. DNR would be required to submit a preliminary report to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2019, and a final report by Dec. 1, 2020.

The other bill, SB 5175, which Van De Wege cosponsored, directs the state Department of Labor & Industries to establish best practices to improve firefighter safety and health. The best practices will focus on a proactive health and safety risk management system, developed jointly by L&I and private employers, to reduce firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens and risk of injuries and illnesses.

Employers of firefighters who implement the best practices might qualify for discounts in premiums, based on collaborative decision-making between L&I, private employers, and firefighters.

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    Senate passes legislation that could pursue dredging of Satsop River

Senate passes legislation that could pursue dredging of Satsop River

April 11th, 2019|

Several state agencies would work jointly to assess and recommend strategies to improve environmental health and reduce the threat of flooding along the Satsop River, under legislation passed late Wednesday by the Senate.

“This is a chance to address a growing flood threat while increasing the health of our salmon population,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim). “Right now, the river doesn’t work well for salmon or for area property and infrastructure. If we’re going to reshape the river to address one problem, it only makes sense to address the other at the same time.”

Van De Wege amended House Bill 1579 in committee to broaden its goals. As amended, the bill calls for the development of flood plain management strategies to better protect agricultural lands, restore and enhance fish runs, and protect public infrastructure such as roads and bridges from flooding.

Because the Senate amended the bill before passing it, the legislation now goes back to the House for consideration in its amended form.

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    Senate budget funds study of state production of generic drugs

Senate budget funds study of state production of generic drugs

April 4th, 2019|

The operating budget passed today by the Senate includes $20,000 to fund a study of the feasibility of the state producing certain generic drugs.

“One of the biggest concerns in many households today is the high cost of prescription drugs,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who inserted the proviso in the budget. “This is an opportunity to lower the cost of some essential drugs significantly.”

Van De Wege’s proviso would enable the state Department of Health to research the feasibility of the state’s ability to produce generic drugs, and report its finding to the Legislature by Dec. 1.

“This could have a huge impact on prescription drug prices, while also addressing shortages of a number of critical drugs,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), who helped draft the proviso. “Many generic drugs are expensive because of the limited number of companies that produce a particular drug. Production by the state might lead to lower prices simply by increasing competition and options for consumers.”

Insulin is a good example, Van De Wege said, because there is still no generic version available even though there have been no significant improvements to the drug, yet prices have tripled over the past decade.

“Not only would a generic version cost less, a generic version produced by the state would cost even less than that because, unlike pharmaceutical companies, the state doesn’t have to turn a profit,” Van De Wege said. “Insulin has been around for nearly 100 years, but instead of getting less expensive, prices keep going up at a rate higher than inflation. That is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”

In 2016, Washington State Attorney Gen. Bob Ferguson joined several other states in filing a lawsuit against the generic drug industry over anti-competitive behavior including price fixing and market rigging. The lawsuit has since grown to cover 16 companies and 300 drugs.

“The Government Accountability Office reported to Congress in 2016 that the prices of 300 generic drugs were increased by more than 100 percent in the year 2015 alone,” Keiser said. “We can stand pat and just keep paying higher and higher prices, or we can take things into our own hands at the state level.”

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    Historic sailing vessel fully restored, ready for year-round operation

Historic sailing vessel fully restored, ready for year-round operation

April 3rd, 2019|

The completed, 10-year restoration of the only active National Historic Landmark sailing vessel in Puget Sound will be celebrated at 8:30 a.m. Friday with a public launch at the Port Townsend Boat Haven.

Like much of the earlier restoration projects, the final phase of restoration — the full replacement of the Adventuress’ deck — was made possible through a mix of state, federal and local grants as well as private donations.

“More than 50,000 kids around Puget Sound have acquired maritime knowledge and experience through sailings on the Adventuress,” said Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend), who as chair of the capital budget helped secure state funds for the restoration. “The restoration of this century-old tall ship to a 50-year standard ensures that this invaluable education can continue for decades.”

Prior projects, in phases, restored the ship’s hull and replaced its WWII-era diesel engine with a state-of-the-art, Tier 3 John Deere engine that can nearly double the vessel’s speed when necessary, to 12 knots. The restorations were performed during the Adventuress’ November-to-February off-season, in between sailings seasons. The completion of the restorations means the ship can shift from a dual education-and-restoration focus to full-time education.

“We’ve had to manage intense winter restoration windows,” said Catherine Collins, executive director of Sound Experience, the nonprofit behind the Adventuress. “Now we’ll be open for business year-round to work with schools and skill centers to spread our state’s maritime history and heritage to even more kids.”

As an example, Collins said the organization has applied for a second No Child Left Inside grant that would enable it to expand its reach to at-risk youth around the region.

“The Adventuress is well known for the unique opportunities it provides to thousands of kids from all around Puget Sound, and rightly so,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who helped shepherd grants through the Senate. “What you don’t hear about, and which is so vital to our rural communities, are the local jobs that the restoration work makes possible.”

One such job went to Rowan Schatz, a student at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock, which has also benefited from state grants that expanded its faculty and curriculum. Hired by Sound Experience to work alongside the team of shipwrights that restored the Adventuress’ deck, Schatz acquired the additional skills he needed to be fully qualified for a shipwright’s position of his own.

“There’s a strong synergy between the ship and the school, and it makes for a terrific blend of education and employment opportunities,” said Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles), who also worked to provide the grants. “Kids are learning trades they might never have known existed, and getting access to all kinds of good jobs in today’s maritime industry.”

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    Senate anti-flooding proposal would explore dredging of Satsop River

Senate anti-flooding proposal would explore dredging of Satsop River

April 3rd, 2019|

Several state agencies would work jointly to assess and recommend strategies to reduce the threat of flooding along the Satsop River, under legislation recommended Tuesday by the Senate Water, Agriculture, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

“The Satsop had a long history of dredging but, since the dredging stopped, the buildup of sediment has clogged the river’s main channel,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), the committee chair. “As a result, flooding has become an increasing threat to area homes, farms and businesses.”

House Bill 1579, as amended in committee, calls for the development of flood plain management strategies to better protect agricultural lands, restore and enhance fish runs, and protect public infrastructure such as roads and bridges from flooding.

“Every year, people along the Satsop face the risk of severe flooding,” said Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview). “This could lead to a way to restore their security and stability.”

Terry Willis, whose 100-year-old family farm sits at the mouth of the Satsop River, said the flooding is destroying farmland and threatening area homes.

“We’re getting more of what looks like a flash flood,” she said. “We’re seeing massive erosion, which is exasperated by how quickly the flood waters are getting to us and how huge the gravel bars have gotten. The buildup of gravel in the river system is forcing the river out of its banks and into people’s homes and fields and businesses.”

HB 1579 directs the state departments of Ecology, Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife, and Natural Resources to work with the Washington Conservation Commission to propose pilot projects in Grays Harbor, Whatcom and Snohomish counties. The agencies would be expected to provide recommendations for timetables and funding to the Legislature by December of 2020.

“If done correctly,” said Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), “this project could enhance salmon habitat, reduce flood damage, and protect public infrastructure.”