Monthly Archives: March 2020

Van De Wege bill to boost regional wineries becomes law

March 27th, 2020|

A new law signed today by Gov. Inslee will increase the ability of regional organizations to host events that promote local wineries and draw tourists to a wide variety of local businesses.

“Groups like the Olympic Peninsula Winery Association pay excessively redundant and exorbitant fees every single time they host an event to showcase our terrific local wineries,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim). “This law creates a single license that eliminates duplicative fees and excess administration.”

The special occasion license currently required for each winery participating in a local event — at a cost of $60 per event, per day, per winery — can cost a winery association more than $2,400 in total licensing fees for a single event. Senate Bill 6392 allows local wine industry associations to purchase a single, $700 license that will cover up to 12 events in a year — a considerable savings that should increase the ability of the state’s regional wine associations to host events that promote local wines and wineries.

Amy Harksell, executive director of the Olympic Peninsula Winery Association, said the events not only promote local wines but draw attendees who frequent local restaurants, hotels and other industries reliant on tourist dollars. “Over 54 percent of attendees at our events last year were from out of the area,” Harksell said.

Don Corson of Camaraderie Cellars in Port Angeles said the streamlined license will benefit more than 1,000 wineries across the state in addition to his.

“Due to our current guidelines for self-isolation from coronavirus, the benefits of this law won’t be seen right away,” Van De Wege said. “But once we get through the pandemic, this change will help our local wineries right when they need it most — when they’re scrambling to rebound from the economic impacts of the pandemic.”

Coronavirus update — Adjusting to the new normal

March 26th, 2020|

As our state continues to respond to the evolving coronavirus pandemic, here are some updates and tips I hope you and your loved ones will find helpful.

Please do what our health experts advise

  • Maintain a distance of six feet or more from others.
  • If you are 60 years old or older, or have an underlying medical condition, you should self-isolate.
  • Re-think all daily routines and eliminate interaction that is not essential. As inconvenient as it might feel, your behavior could mean a life-and-death difference for someone else.
  • Be there for each other. Call, text or email family, friends, neighbors and anyone else you think might need help or reassurance. We can keep our distance physically and still be there for each other emotionally.

Where to find the most useful information and updates

As the scope and nature of the pandemic evolves from day to day, so does the available information and advice. You can sign up for email updates from the state Department of Health here, and you can also check the links below for updates.

Resources across the state have been mobilized

The Legislature responded to the emerging crisis by making sure our state and local health departments have the full resources they need to respond to the pandemic, and my colleagues and I stand ready to take further action as necessary. So far, we have added $200 million to the state operating budget to:

  • support monitoring, testing and local public health response;
  • expand unemployment insurance for people who are quarantined;
  • increase access to health care coverage by opening enrollment for anyone who does not currently have health insurance; and
  • mitigate catastrophic losses at local businesses, for employees as well as employers.

In addition, we took measures to:

  • ensure that people receiving unemployment insurance can continue to do so even if they cannot meet the work search requirements due to quarantine;
  • support businesses that rehire employees who had to go on unemployment insurance because of the coronavirus emergency;
  • reimburse nursing homes that aid in the coronavirus response;
  • allow school employees to maintain health insurance eligibility for the rest of the school year even if they come up short of required work hours due to this emergency;
  • adopt a 30-day statewide moratorium on evictions;
  • encourage utilities to suspend shut-offs and waive late fees for out-of-work customers;
  • authorize flexibility on state tax collections and waive late fees on licensing renewals; and
  • provide flexibility to allow high school seniors to graduate this year if they were on track for graduation before the emergency declaration.

The state Department of Health, in particular, is responding to increased demands for health care workers by registering licensed volunteer health practitioners as allowed by the Volunteer Emergency Health Practitioner Act. We passed this act in 2018 for exactly the sort of challenges we’re face now.

If you suspect you may have coronavirus

  • Call your doctor – do not go to the hospital. Your doctor will make an assessment about next steps, and many are using telehealth options. If you require a COVID-19 test, your doctor will contact public health officials to arrange a test.
  • If you have symptoms and do not have a doctor to call, you can call the state Department of Health call center at 800-525-0127. You can also call this number if you have general questions about COVID-19 or the state’s response. Phone lines are staffed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, with interpreters available.

Health care options have been expanded

  • Recognizing the serious threat of coronavirus, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange has opened a special enrollment period for health insurance through April 8. Call 1-855-923-4633 between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • The state Insurance Commissioner has required all insurance plans to cover coronavirus tests with no cost-sharing and no prior authorization requirement for people who meet the CDC criteria for testing. The commissioner has also required insurance plans to allow enrollees to refill their prescriptions early one time in order to maintain an adequate supply. You can find more insurance updates at this link.

Know your unemployment options

The state offers a range of unemployment assistance to employers and employees, such as reduced or subsidized work schedules and benefits, but not everyone knows about them.

If an employer has had to temporarily shut down operations, for example, workers may be eligible for unemployment benefits and the employer may receive relief of benefit costs. If workers are asked to isolate or quarantine by a doctor or health official, they may receive unemployment benefits while they are temporarily away from work. And the Legislature has waived the requirement that people in this situation must be actively searching for work.

You can see the range of options offered by the state Employment Security Department, as well as answers to common questions, here.

In addition, other state agencies are also taking action to help people and businesses disrupted by the pandemic, adjusting resources to address our current extraordinary circumstances. You can access a broader list of resources here.

Meanwhile, this chart offers a short list of options for different scenarios:

I know these are challenging times, but I am confident we are up to the challenge. If we stay strong as individuals, as households and as a community, we will see this through.

  • Permalink Gallery

    Senate passes bill to align timber industry with state carbon goals

Senate passes bill to align timber industry with state carbon goals

March 5th, 2020|

State agencies would recognize and support efforts by timber companies to reduce carbon emissions through reforestation, afforestation, timber harvesting, and the planting of forested buffers in riparian areas, under a House bill passed on a 46-3 vote today by the Senate.

“There’s a longstanding presumption that timber harvesting and environmental protection are mutually exclusive, but the truth is just the opposite,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who sponsored similar legislation in the Senate. “By aligning timber practices and cycles with the state’s carbon reduction goals, we can boost our rural economies and improve our environmental health at the same time.”

House Bill 2528 recognizes the role of forest products in carbon sequestration and directs the state Department of Commerce to promote markets for the state’s forest products.

Carbon sequestration is the process by which trees and other plants absorb carbon from the air through photosynthesis and store it in trunks, foliage and soils. Recent studies suggest that young forests sequester more carbon than mature forests.

“We can reduce carbon emissions and enable our private timber forest owners to stay competitive at the same time,” Van De Wege said. “Clean air and a robust local timber industry can be, and should be, natural partners.”

Having been amended in the Senate, HB 2528 must return to the House to reconcile differences in the two versions before it can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.

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    Senate passes Van De Wege bill to update nursing home Medicaid rates

Senate passes Van De Wege bill to update nursing home Medicaid rates

March 4th, 2020|

Legislation passed unanimously today by the Senate would help stem closures of nursing homes by accelerating the schedule for increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates.

“The rate of Medicaid reimbursements has not kept up with actual costs in nursing homes,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), the bill’s sponsor. “This short-term action should help prevent nursing home closures and the resulting relocation of those homes’ residents to facilities outside their communities.”

Senate Bill 6515 would require rate adjustments annually, instead of every other year, and adjust the methodology to factor in inflation using the most recent calendar year’s nursing consumer price index. In addition, the bill would provide immediate help in the form of a one-time rate adjustment based on the most recent data available.

Nursing homes have been closing at an escalating rate, Van De Wege noted, as more than 960 out of 20,535 skilled nursing beds statewide have gone offline and the number of licensed skilled nursing facilities in Washington has dropped to 215.

“We know the closings are due to multiple factors, and the factors can vary from facility to facility,” Van De Wege said. “This addresses a clear, immediate need and should ensure stability for some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.”

Having passed the Senate, SB 6515 now goes to the House for consideration.

What’s going on with coronavirus and what you should know

March 4th, 2020|

Dear friends and neighbors,

As your state senator and a career first responder, I want you to know the Legislature is taking swift and sure action to make sure our public health organizations have the support they need to address the spread of coronavirus.

With more cases confirmed in Washington state, including the nation’s first known fatalities, the Senate passed an operating budget last week that dramatically increased funding for coronavirus response. Even more funding could be on the way, given the rapidly evolving situation and Monday’s request from Washington’s Secretary of Health John Wiesman to increase funding to $100 million.

The spread of coronavirus was the last thing anyone wanted to hear, but we prepared for it all the same — and we stand ready to provide additional funding as needed. The good news is we have a phenomenal public health system in our state, and we have been making sure they have the resources to do everything possible to keep the public safe.

While we need to protect the public first and foremost, we also need to help our local businesses weather the economic impacts of the virus. Businesses that rely heavily on trade with Asia, such as Cosmo Technologies in Cosmopolis, have been severely disrupted by quarantines that have shut down Asian ports. For Cosmo, which ships more than 97 percent of its products to Asia, the impact is staggering. To that end, my colleague Sen. Dean Takko of Longview sponsored, and I cosponsored, an amendment to add $5 million to the operating budget for loans and other assistance to businesses blindsided by the pandemic.

In the meantime, I urge everyone to observe best practices to prevent the spread of the virus. The short list includes:

  • Washing your hands often, coughing into a tissue or elbow, and avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Staying home if you’re sick.
  • If you have symptoms like cough, fever or other respiratory problems, call your healthcare provider before you go to a clinic or emergency room.

For more information on coronavirus and ways to stay healthy, you can watch this work session where health officials briefed the Senate Ways & Means Committee or go to this webpage from the state Department of Health, which also has a call center to answer questions on how the virus is spread and what to do if you have symptoms. If you have a question, just call 1-800-525-0127 and press #.

For now, it’s important to remember that we have the best health experts in the country working on this, backed by the full support of the Legislature. And I say that as a first responder whose job is public safety.

Let’s all be smart and do our part to contain this threat.

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    Bill to simplify prosecution of wildlife abuses passes Legislature

Bill to simplify prosecution of wildlife abuses passes Legislature

March 3rd, 2020|

Legislation passed today by the Senate will reclassify most minor fish and wildlife crimes as civil infractions, simplifying prosecution and reducing court costs, while also enabling the suspension of hunting and fishing privileges for egregious violations.

Having already passed the House, House Bill 2571 now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

“Civil infractions cost our system less, are much easier to prosecute, and still allow a person to have their day in court if they so choose,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who sponsored an identical measure, Senate Bill 6071. “This will protect the natural resources that we all enjoy and which shape our regional character and quality of life.”

The bill adds certain additional violations of the Fish and Wildlife code that may be cited as natural resource infractions. Examples range from not possessing a required license, to violating the terms of certain permits issued by the state Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (DFW). DFW would be required to suspend someone’s recreational hunting and fishing privileges in cases that show a willful and wanton disregard for conservation of fish and wildlife.

“Authorities are seeing a disturbing rise in poaching incidents, both by individual poachers and by an apparent poaching ring, in communities from Clallam and Jefferson counties to Oregon,” Van De Wege said. “This gives DFW the teeth necessary to protect our natural resources from criminal abuses.”

If someone is convicted of an infraction twice within 10 years for violating rules involving big game, or violates recreational hunting or fishing laws three or more times in a 10-year period, their hunting and fishing privileges would be suspended for at least two years and could be suspended for up to 10 years. Someone found to have committed willful or wanton disregard for conservation of fish or wildlife would lose hunting and fishing privileges for life.