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    Van De Wege bill to stabilize nursing home residency becomes law

Van De Wege bill to stabilize nursing home residency becomes law

April 1st, 2020|

Legislation signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Inslee will protect residents in nursing homes from being displaced in the middle of the coronavirus crisis by enacting measures to stem the closures of struggling homes.

“The rate of Medicaid reimbursements has not kept up with actual costs in nursing homes, and that’s a problem for a lot of nursing homes and the many people who live in them,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim). “It’s important we help keep homes from closing, and all the more so with the pandemic.

“We’re talking about the most vulnerable people in our community having to try to find a new place to live in a high-demand market while their health is at extreme risk. If ever these folks needed to be in a skilled nursing facility, this is the time.”

Senate Bill 6515, sponsored by Van De Wege, accelerates the schedule for rate adjustments to annually, instead of every other year, and updates the methodology to factor in inflation using the most recent calendar year’s nursing consumer price index. The bill also provides immediate help in the form of a one-time rate adjustment based on more recent data.

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.

“This isn’t the only problem nursing homes are facing, and factors vary from facility to facility, but this is one we can address immediately,” Van De Wege said. “The important thing is to ensure stability and safety for the most vulnerable members of our communities.”

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.”

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    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.

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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.

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    Senate budget adds $5 million to help rural exporters hurt by coronavirus

Senate budget adds $5 million to help rural exporters hurt by coronavirus

February 27th, 2020|

The operating budget passed today by the Senate would add $5 million in assistance for local businesses whose trade has been decimated by international reactions to the coronavirus pandemic, at the request of state lawmakers representing the 19th and 24th legislative districts.

Though the funds may be requested by a number of disrupted businesses, the urgent need for help was highlighted by the example of Cosmo Specialty Fibers, a Cosmopolis textile producer that does more than 97 percent of its business with companies in Asia. With ports there closed for fear of spreading coronavirus, and with much of the countries’ workforces under quarantine, businesses there are unable to accept products or operate plants that would use the products.

“This is a local business that has thrived despite disruptive tariff and trade wars, pays its employees strong wages, and has robust potential to expand, but it’s been thrown for a loop,” said Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview), who sponsored an amendment to increase the funding pot by $3 million. “They’ve done all the right things, but through no fault of their own they haven’t received a single order in more than seven weeks, and their vessels are stranded at sea loaded with products they cannot deliver.”

The assistance will come from the state’s strategic reserve account to promote economic development, which is funded by a third of all unclaimed lottery money. The account is allocated through the state’s 39 county associate development organizations.

“Local businesses like Cosmo are the lifeblood and future in rural communities in regions like ours,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who cosponsored Takko’s amendment. “Cosmo is a very well-run company that makes environmentally friendly products and is considering a major expansion in the area of biofuel — but the stoppage of trade could mean the end of all of that.”

The operating budget had already provided $2 million for the account, much of which was already spoken for. Budget writers added $2 million in new funds on top of that, and the $3 million in Takko’s amendment means a total of $5 million in new funds.

Takko and Van De Wege and the four other area lawmakers in the Coastal Caucus plan to seek additional assistance, beyond the operating budget funds, and are in discussions with the governor’s office and the state Commerce Department to explore grants and low-interest loans.

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    Van De Wege bill would align timber industry with state carbon goals

Van De Wege bill would align timber industry with state carbon goals

February 7th, 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 legislation passed Thursday by the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

“There’s a presumption out there that timber harvesting and environmental protection are mutually exclusive, but we’re learning that the opposite is true,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who chairs the committee. “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.”

Van De Wege’s Senate Bill 6355 would create a Forest Carbon Reforestation and Afforestation Account to provide grants to landowners that advance the state’s carbon sequestration goals and would direct the state Department of Commerce to promote markets for the state’s forest products.

“This is a mutually beneficial partnership that can enable our private timber forest owners to stay competitive and thrive,” Van De Wege said. “Timber is a sustainable, renewable product that is superior to competing products that cause harm to the environment.”

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, such as one published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate trees sequester the most carbon during their first 40 years of their lifespan.

“It’s time to recognize the importance of trees in sequestering carbon, and the critical role our forest products industry can play in reducing emissions,” said Mark Doumit, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association. “As we think long term, we can enable rural resource-based communities to prosper while helping meet our carbon reduction goals.”

“Washington’s forested and rural areas provide a steady, natural mechanism for offsetting the state’s overall carbon emissions,” said Jason Callahan, director of governmental relations for the Washington Forest Protection Association. “This bill recognizes the value of this role and provides appropriate support for it.”