By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Peninsula Daily News
OLYMPIA — A bill that would establish a joint House and Senate committee to study the needs of a growing 65-and-older population has been passed by the state House of Representatives.
State Rep. Steve Tharinger, the bill's prime sponsor and a North Olympic Peninsula legislator, has pushed for it, he said, because U.S. Census figures estimate that more than a third of the state's population will be 65 and older in less than a decade.
Tharinger, a Sequim Democrat, said, “There's been quite a bit of work on [the issue of an aging population], but we really haven't focused the Legislature on what we need to do to address this.”
Older population growing
In past interviews, Tharinger has said one reason he is sponsoring the bill is because of the 65-and-older populations in Clallam and Jefferson counties — which, along with part of Grays Harbor County, constitute the 24th District he represents — are growing faster than the overall state figure.
According to Census figures, the 65-and-older population has risen from 21.1 percent of Clallam County's total population in 2000 to 24 percent in 2010.
In Jefferson County, that demographic rose from 21.1 percent of the total population in 2000 to 26.3 percent in 2010.
That means that Jefferson County's 65-and-old population increased from 5,476 of 25,953 in 2000 to 7,856 of 29,872 in 2010.
In Clallam County, the increase was from 13,679 out of 64,525 in 2000 to 17,136 out of 71,404 in 2010.
About 12 percent of the statewide population was older than 65 in 2010, up from 11.2 percent in 2000.
Tharinger, along with state Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, S-Sequim, and State Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, represent the 24th Legislative District.
Tharinger's bill will be heard before the Senate Health Care Committee in the coming weeks, according to the state Legislature's website.
If passed into law, Tharinger's bill would create a nine-member committee made up of legislators from both houses and of appointees that would establish an inventory of the state's existing programs and services for those older than 65.
The committee then would develop a picture of what the state's elderly and disabled population will look like in 2025 and produce a list of the anticipated future support services these populations will need by then.
The committee would have until Dec. 10, 2014, to deliver its research and recommendations to the Governor's Office and the appropriate legislative committees.
Tharinger said the committee would be designed to tackle numerous aging population issues, though the ones most important , to his mind, are long-term and family-provided health care, and transportation.
“[The committee would address} how do we provide transportation so [the elderly] can get to their doctors' appointments, or get them out to do what they want to do and need to do,” he said.
The committee would be composed of six state legislators — with equal representation from Democrats and Republicans — as well as one member appointed by the state Department of Social and Health Services, one member appointed by the the state Health Care Authority and one member appointed by the governor.
The setup of the committee is far from decided, but Tharinger said he could potentially throw his name in for one of the committee spots.
“I think there's a chance that I would serve on the committee,” Tharinger said.
Both Tharinger and Van De Wege serve on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, which heard and passed Tharinger's bill in February.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.