Sen. Van De Wege Newsroom

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    Legislature funds study of state production of generic drugs

Legislature funds study of state production of generic drugs

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.

April 28th, 2019|Uncategorized|
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    New laws designed to reduce wildfires, improve firefighter safety

New laws designed to reduce wildfires, improve firefighter safety

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.

April 19th, 2019|Uncategorized|
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    Senate passes legislation that could pursue dredging of Satsop River

Senate passes legislation that could pursue dredging of Satsop River

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.

April 11th, 2019|Uncategorized|
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    Senate budget funds study of state production of generic drugs

Senate budget funds study of state production of generic drugs

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.”

April 4th, 2019|Uncategorized|
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    Historic sailing vessel fully restored, ready for year-round operation

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

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.”

April 3rd, 2019|Uncategorized|
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    Senate anti-flooding proposal would explore dredging of Satsop River

Senate anti-flooding proposal would explore dredging of Satsop River

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.”

April 3rd, 2019|Uncategorized|
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    Van De Wege’s wildfire prevention bill awaits action in House

Van De Wege’s wildfire prevention bill awaits action in House

A task force would be created to identify and recommend better methods for preventing wildfires in the vicinity of electric utilities, under legislation that passed the Senate and awaits action in the House Committee on Rural Development.

Senate Bill 5305, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), directs the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to create such a committee to improve communications protocols, management of trees and other vegetation around utilities, and wildfire investigations.

“Climate change and development in remote areas have increased the risk of wildfires around electric utilities,” Van De Wege said. “By developing and adopting best practices now, we could avoid the kinds of fires in California last year that cost dozens of lives, destroyed thousands of homes, and threaten the stability of investor-owned utilities and power rates.”

The worst of those fires, the Camp Fire in the community of Paradise, killed at least 86 people. Utility-linked fires are responsible for approximately $30 billion in damages over the past two years in California. Utilities have been criticized for failing to trim trees along power lines and take other actions to reduce the potential for wildfires.

“This threat isn’t unique to California,” Van De Wege said. “We’re seeing the same evidence of climate change here in Washington in the form of wildfires that are more severe and more frequent. Just this week, DNR has responded to 50 wildfires, all but one in western Washington. The action we take now could save untold lives, property and money in the years to come.”

DNR would be required to submit a preliminary report to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2019, and a final report by Dec. 1, 2020.

March 22nd, 2019|Uncategorized|
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    Van De Wege supports legislation to address long-term care crisis

Van De Wege supports legislation to address long-term care crisis

The Legislature is expected to create an insurance program this year to help Washington households deal with the ballooning costs of long-term care, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) said today.

“The vast majority of people over 65 will need long-term care at some point but have no savings to pay for it,” Van De Wege said. “The need for this insurance is acute and growing, making it all the more urgent the Legislature address this need post haste.”

Senate Bill 5331 and companion legislation in the House would establish The Long Term Care Trust Act — a long-term care insurance program for Washington workers funded by a mere 58-cent premium on every $100 in wages. Though it remains to be determined which bill will be the vehicle for ultimate passage, Van De Wege said strong support in the Legislature makes it all but certain the legislation will pass during this session.

Van De Wege noted that he has supported efforts to improve long-term care options since his first year in the Legislature in 2007, when he voted for legislation that would have established a form of long-term care assistance that fell short of passage.

“If we’d done this in 2007, everyone who would have paid into that program would be vested by now and could be receiving benefits today,” he said. “The action we take this session will create that opportunity for people from this year forward.”

The bills currently before the Legislature would:

  • Establish a program of long-term services and supports for up to $36,500 in lifetime benefits that workers could apply to the cost of long-term care;
  • Assess a 58-cent premium on every $100 an employee earns, to fund the program; and
  • Require that the Health Care Authority, Department of Social and Health Services, Employment Security Department, and a newly established long-term-care commission jointly administer the program.

The Long-Term Care Trust Act has bipartisan support from family caregivers, aging and disability advocates, small business owners, long-term care providers, labor unions, and consumer rights organizations.

 “No one should have to spend their way down into poverty in order to be eligible for long-term care, which is the terrible reality facing many households today,” Van De Wege said. “This program can help households and also protect against the threat of the coming ‘silver tsunami’ to our communities and state resources.”

March 1st, 2019|Uncategorized|
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    Van De Wege urges vaccinations to protect against measles outbreak

Van De Wege urges vaccinations to protect against measles outbreak


Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) is strongly urging parents to make sure their children have been vaccinated in the face of a growing outbreak of measles in Southwest Washington.

“Just because the outbreak is primarily in Clark County doesn’t mean it isn’t a concern for other areas of the state,” Van De Wege said. “Measles is a highly contagious disease, and immunization rates have been dropping. We’re more at risk to this disease than we have been for generations.”

Jefferson County, one of three counties in the 24th Legislative District that Van De Wege represents, has the fourth highest rate of unvaccinated children in the state with only 67.3 percent of kindergartners vaccinated. The district’s other counties, Clallam and Grays Harbor, have vaccination rates of 86 and 81.6 percent respectively.

“Vaccinations don’t just protect the kids who are vaccinated, they protect others in the community who are at risk,” Van De Wege said. “People who cannot receive vaccinations, such as newborns or individuals with chronic illnesses, are very vulnerable.”

Measles can cause hearing loss, pneumonia, encephalitis and death, and can increase the potential for pregnant women to give birth prematurely or to a baby with low birth weight. The disease is also easily spread: One person with measles in an un-immunized population can infect 12 to 18 others.

Kindergartners are required to be immunized against polio, measles, chicken pox, pneumococcal disease and other illnesses, but state law allows for three exemptions. Senate Bill 5841, of which Van De Wege is a cosponsor, would retain the exemptions for religious and medical reasons but eliminate the most problematic: personal belief.

In Washington, for the 2017-18 school year, the percentage of kindergartners exempted for personal reasons was 3.7 percent, compared to only 0.2 percent for religion and 0.8 percent for medical necessity. Removing the personal belief exemption could have reduced the overall number of unvaccinated children by more than 75 percent, from 4.7 percent to 1 percent. In Jefferson County, the county with the second highest rate of personal belief exemptions in the state, the reduction could be even more dramatic.

“Because vaccinations have been so effective, the measles virus was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000,” Van De Wege said. “Now we’re seeing a resurgence, with statistics showing 90 percent of patients were not vaccinated or were of unknown vaccination status. This suggests the outbreaks are coming from the unvaccinated, and we need to take the necessary steps to safeguard public health.”

February 14th, 2019|Uncategorized|
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    Van De Wege works to ensure accurate purchases, fracking protections

Van De Wege works to ensure accurate purchases, fracking protections

OWashington consumers would continue to be protected from being overcharged for everyday products under legislation awaiting a hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee chaired by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim).

Senate Bill 5468 would update the fees the state charges for devices used to measure or weigh the vast range of products sold in Washington state, from household items like meat and produce to commercial items like gasoline and freight.

“The biggest thing this does is make sure a gallon of gas is a gallon of gas,” said Van De Wege, the bill’s sponsor. “No one should receive less than what they pay for, whether intentionally or unintentionally.”

Scales and other commercial measuring devices used across the state are regularly inspected by state and local government employees to ensure the weights and other measurements they provide are accurate. This service is funded through a system of fees paid by the businesses that rely on the devices. Van De Wege’s bill would maintain the effectiveness and integrity of this regulatory standard by updating those fees to reflect the modern cost of inspections.

“Day in and day out, we buy everything from salmon to gasoline with the assurance that we aren’t being overcharged or shortchanged,” Van De Wege said. “This legislation simply enables the state to continue to provide the inspections necessary to ensure the accuracy of these millions of transactions.”

Another bill in Van De Wege’s committee, SB 5145, would prohibit the use of hydraulic fracturing — more commonly known as fracking — in the exploration or production of oil or natural gas in Washington state.

“We know that fracking produces tremendous amounts of polluted water and poses serious threats to human health,” said Van De Wege, a cosponsor of the bill. “Given the threats to human and environmental health, as well as the absence of evidence that there is even any frackable oil in our state, it makes no sense to allow fracking anywhere in our state.”

He noted that a Princeton study, the largest ever conducted on health effects from fracking, found that pregnant women who live very close to a fracking well are more likely to give birth to a less healthy child with a low birth weight, which can result in poorer health throughout a person’s life.

“We have the great fortune to live in a region known for an abundance of impressive natural resources and environmental beauty,” Van De Wage said. “We should guard against any practices that would threaten these treasures, especially when we have better clean energy options available to us.”

SB 5145 was heard Tuesday and passed out of committee Thursday.

February 1st, 2019|Uncategorized|