By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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“Eye on Congress” is published in the Peninsula Daily News every Monday when Congress is in session about activities, roll call votes and legislation in the House and Senate.
The North Olympic Peninsula’s legislators in Washington, D.C., are Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Mountlake Terrace), Sen. Patty Murray (D-Bothell) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor).
Contact information — The address for Cantwell and Murray is U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510; Kilmer, U.S. House, Washington, D.C. 20515.
Phone Cantwell at 202-224-3441 (fax, 202-228-0514); Murray, 202-224-2621 (fax, 202-224-0238); Kilmer, 202-225-5916.
Email via their websites: cantwell.senate.gov; murray.senate.gov; kilmer.house.gov.
Kilmer’s North Olympic Peninsula office is at 332 E. Fifth St., Port Angeles, WA 98362.
It is open from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays and by appointment.
It is staffed by Judith Morris, 360-452-3370 (fax: 360-452-3502).
Jefferson and Clallam counties are represented in the part-time state Legislature by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, the House majority whip; Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim; and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam.
Write Van De Wege and Tharinger at P.O. Box 40600 (Hargrove at P.O. Box 40424), Olympia, WA 98504; email them at firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or you can call the Legislative Hotline, 800-562-6000, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (closed on holidays and from noon to 1 p.m.) and leave a detailed message, which will be emailed to Van De Wege, Tharinger or Hargrove, or to all three.
Links to other state officials: secstate.wa.gov/
Websites following our state and national legislators:
■ Followthemoney.org — Campaign donors by industry, ZIP code and more
■ Vote-Smart.org — How special interest groups rate legislators on the issues.
Tharinger, a Sequim Democrat and one of three legislators serving the 24th District, said Friday that members of the House Finance Committee, which he vice chairs, held its first hearing of the session on a House bill — HB 1004 — that would give property owners more options for paying their property taxes.
Tharinger’s 24th District seat mate, State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, who is co-sponsoring HB 1004, said the proposed legislation would give county assessors the option of accepting delinquent property tax payments in installments rather than in a lump sum, which is how late taxes must be paid now.
The bill also would allow property owners to pay more county taxes and fees online, said Van De Wege, D-Sequim, who along with Tharinger and state Sen. Jim Hargrove represents Clallam and Jefferson counties and a third of Grays Harbor County in the state Legislature.
The Washington Association of County Officials estimates a cost per county of $50,000 to $60,000 for software upgrades if a given county’s tax collection system is not already capable of handling late property tax payments in installments.
Tharinger said Finance Committee members seemed to generally support HB 1004 but had some concerns over how it would be implemented.
“There was no real hard opposition for it, so I think it will probably move forward,” Tharinger said.
The bill would merely give county assessors the choice of accepting staggered late property tax payments, Van De Wege said, and would not force them to do so.
Van De Wege said a similar bill passed the House last session but stalled in the Senate, adding that it seemed to be one of several bills lost in last minute budget discussions.
Outside of the Finance Committee hearing, the 24th District’s three lawmakers agree that their respective committees were heavy on information but light on action as they heard numerous briefings on larger issues legislators will have to tackle this year.
“The first week or two of a long budget year, there’s a lot of briefings,” Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said last week.
Hargrove, who serves as the ranking minority member on the state-budget-developing Senate Ways and Means Committee, said committee members heard from staff what the estimated general fund expenditures and revenues will be for the 2013-2015 biennium.
“The projections are right now, without changing any laws [and the] obligations from those,” Hargrove said, “we’re about $900 million short.”
These projections, which legislators have been expecting, will be updated every three months as the state gets a clearer picture of this year’s tax revenues, Hargrove added.
Hargrove said the first Ways and Means Committee meeting of a legislative session is typically focused on general discussions on state budget issues so new committee members can get up to speed.
“The budget briefings were at a high level,” Hargrove said.
“But this week and the next, we’ll start getting into different [specific] areas.”
In the House, Tharinger said legislative staff also delivered briefings on statewide issues such as health care and energy use in the state House Healthcare and Wellness Committee and Environment Committee, on both of which Tharinger sits.
“It wasn’t really exciting, but [we got] a lot of information,” Tharinger said in a Friday phone interview.
Van De Wege also sits on the Health and Wellness Committee.
Tharinger said committee members heard information on the expansions of Medicaid coverage in Washington and the statewide health insurance exchange program, both of which have been mandated as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.
The insurance exchange program, set to go live this October, would serve as a marketplace for Washington residents to buy health insurance, Tharinger said, adding that the Legislature’s task for this year will be figuring out the logistics of the program.
Eye on Olympia appears Mondays while the part-time Legislature is in session.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsula