Sen. Van De Wege Newsroom

This website will be static until November

Due to election-year restrictions, I am not allowed to update my website from May 11 until after the November elections. However, I am still available to respond to your needs and concerns.

If you have a legislative matter to discuss, you may email me at kevin.vandewege@leg.wa.gov, or email my legislative assistant, Peter Steelquist, at peter.steelquist@leg.wa.gov, or call my cell at (360) 477-9661 or Peter at my district office phone number, 360-809-4054. Though the Capitol Campus is shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are teleworking and we check all email regularly.

This website will become active again after the election.

Until then, take care and stay safe,

May 7th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Get COVID-19 updates at coronavirus.wa.gov and esd.wa.gov

Since election-year restrictions prevent me from updating my website during the campaign season, I am unable to post updates on the coronavirus pandemic until after the November election.

If at any time you would like to check for updates on the pandemic and related matters, www.coronavirus.wa.gov is the best all-purpose resource and esd.wa.gov. is the best source for questions about employment options and business operations. These comprehensive sites have links to a wide range of topics and are updated regularly. In particular, people with work-related questions are likely to find answers far more quickly at esd.wa.gov than if they telephone the Employment Security Department, as their phone center has been receiving calls far beyond their capacity to respond.

May 7th, 2020|Uncategorized|
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    Van De Wege, Tharinger, Chapman request Clallam County reopening

Van De Wege, Tharinger, Chapman request Clallam County reopening

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) and Reps. Steve Tharinger (Port Townsend) and Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) today asked Gov. Jay Inslee to extend the same pandemic reopening opportunities to Clallam County that Grays Harbor and Jefferson counties have received.

The three 24th Legislative District lawmakers sent a letter to Inslee voicing appreciation for his leadership in prioritizing public safety and in developing a 4-tier plan for reopening businesses in communities across the state. Grays Harbor and Jefferson counties have been authorized to implement Phase 2 of that plan.

The lawmakers’ letter points out that Clallam County has seen comparatively few transmissions of COVID-19 and that its small businesses “are much better prepared to implement safe social distancing than big box retailers.”

Two of the county’s larger businesses employ 300 and 200 workers, respectively, accounting for 500 family-wage jobs that the community call ill afford to lose, and are among area businesses that “are ready to implement aggressive safety and health practices but need permission to return to some scale of production in order to stay in business,” the letter notes.

Clallam County has the second highest unemployment rate in the state, and further job losses “would have devastating long-term consequences to our area,” the lawmakers wrote.

May 5th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Until coronavirus hit, my focus was on rural jobs

A few short months ago, as we began a new legislative session, the landscape was very different. Few people had heard of coronavirus, and we could not have imagined the havoc it would unleash on our state. Within weeks, however, the pandemic hit and everything changed — in Olympia, throughout the 24th District, across our state and nation, and around the globe. The final weeks of the session focused heavily on the coronavirus, and that remains our priority as we continue to respond to the pandemic. 

While we were in Olympia, however, we still had to fulfill our legislative responsibilities — and we did. And my priority, as always, was on creating family-wage jobs in rural areas — one of the vital community needs that now face heightened jeopardy due to the pandemic. Working in collaboration with my seatmates, Rep. Steve Tharinger and Rep. Mike Chapman, we sponsored and passed bills in both the Senate and House to provide additional support for timber harvesting and local wineries. 

Senate Bill 6392 eliminates redundant and excessive licensing requirements when organizations like the Olympic Peninsula Winery Association host events to promote our terrific local wineries. This is no small change. The special occasion license that is currently required for each winery participating in a local event — with fees 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. This change in law 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 promote local wines and wineries. And this not only helps our wineries but other local businesses as well. According to Executive Director Amy Harksell, more than half the people who come to Olympic Peninsula Winery Association events are out-of-towners who frequent our restaurants, hotels and other local businesses reliant on tourist dollars.

House Bill 2528, which I sponsored in the Senate with companion legislation, supports the timber industry’s important role in reducing carbon emissions. I know a lot of people think timber harvesting and environmental protection are mutually exclusive, but the truth is just the opposite. 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. This new law recognizes the value of carbon sequestration by trees and directs the state Department of Commerce to promote markets for the state’s forest products.

Three other bills we helped pass will protect nursing home residents, public health, and wildlife.

My Senate Bill 6515 helps prevent residents in nursing homes from being displaced by enacting measures to stem the closures of struggling homes — a concern that’s all the more critical during this pandemic. The important thing is to ensure stability and safety for the most vulnerable members of our communities, and this bill helps by addressing Medicaid reimbursements that have fallen behind the actual costs of care. While this isn’t the only problem that’s led to an increase in nursing home closings, and though factors vary from facility to facility, this is one we can address immediately — and help seniors continue living in a safe setting with skilled nursing. The last thing nursing home residents need is to have to find a new place to live in a high-demand market while their health is at extraordinary risk.

House Bill 2265, another bill I sponsored with Senate companion legislation, addresses phasing out the use of a toxic chemical in firefighting foam and equipment that is known to contaminate natural water supplies and poses a heightened threat to pregnant women and small children as well as firefighters exposed to it in their work. Known to build up in the environment and in our bodies, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (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.

House Bill 2571, which I also sponsored in the Senate, protects wildlife areas by reclassifying minor fish and wildlife crimes as civil infractions. This will simplify prosecution and reduce court costs while also allowing for the suspension of hunting and fishing privileges for repeat violators and egregious violations. This provides the teeth necessary for our fish and wildlife officers to protect the natural resources that we all enjoy and which shape our regional character and quality of life.

April 6th, 2020|Uncategorized|
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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

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.”

April 1st, 2020|News Release, Uncategorized|

Van De Wege bill to boost regional wineries becomes law

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.”

March 27th, 2020|News Release, Uncategorized|

Coronavirus update — Adjusting to the new normal

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.

March 26th, 2020|Uncategorized|
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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

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.

March 5th, 2020|News Release, Uncategorized|
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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

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.

March 4th, 2020|News Release, Uncategorized|

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

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.

March 4th, 2020|Uncategorized|