EYE ON OLYMPIA: Jobs, timber harvest bills still eyed for Legislature

OLYMPIA — Three bills and a key budget proviso might improve prospects for job growth on the Olympic Peninsula and in rural and coastal areas across the state, a legislator says.

The proviso secured by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, mandates that the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cannot pursue policies that inhibit its fiduciary responsibility to manage state lands responsibly and in ways that generate revenue on state trust lands.

Those revenues, primarily dedicated to education, are critical to state and local governments but are limited by restrictions to protect endangered species such as the marbled murrelet.

Van De Wege represents the 24th District with Reps. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim. The 24th District includes all of Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

“We don’t want to do anything to threaten the sustainability of the marbled murrelet or any other endangered species, but we also don’t want to squander opportunities to create jobs in ways that won’t harm wildlife populations,” Van De Wege said.

Since 1997, the state has restricted harvesting on 176,000 acres of state trust lands to protect the marbled murrelet pending long-term conservation strategy.

DNR is currently determining how many thousands of acres can be opened to harvesting without harming the marbled murrelet population. The proviso reconciles aspects of an earlier proviso by Van De Wege that encountered opposition.

Meanwhile, House Bill 2282, a companion bill to legislation sponsored in the Senate by Van De Wege, passed the Senate on Friday and directs the department to annually assess the effects on state revenues from conservation strategies developed by the state Board of Natural Resources.

The House version is sponsored by Chapman and supported by Tharinger.

Another piece of legislation sponsored by Van De Wege, SB 6140, would create jobs in rural communities by directing DNR to evaluate state land, forestland, revenue streams and related management methods to make it easier to complete common-sense land swaps and help spur mill activity.

A third bill that Van De Wege voted for earlier for this session, SB 5450, would add cross-laminated timber to the state building code, making it easier for businesses to incorporate timber-dependent technology in residential and commercial construction.

SB 5450 and HB 2282 passed both chambers and await only the governor’s signature to become law; both have the support of Chapman and Tharinger in addition to Van De Wege.

SB 6140 passed the Senate, but awaits passage by the House.

Persistent chemicals

A Senate bill passed late Tuesday by the House will prohibit the sale of firefighting foam that contains chemicals deadly to people and destructive to the environment past July of 2020.

“This will limit contamination and exposure to these persistent chemicals, which build up in the environment and in our bodies,” said Van De Wege.

The chemicals, known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAs), are commonly used to help fight fires at airfields and other places — including during frequent firefighter training drills — where petroleum-based fires pose a risk.

Studies in animals show that exposure to PFAS can affect liver function, reproductive hormones, development of offspring and mortality. However, PFAS toxicity in humans is less understood and exposure might be linked to a number of illnesses.

Van De Wege is a firefighter in Clallam Fire District No. 3 in Sequim.

Since the bill passed the Senate and was then amended in the House, the differences between the two versions must be reconciled before the bill can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.

Supplemental budget

Still on the Legislature’s plate this week is a supplemental budget plan which is expected to provide an additional $1 billion required by the state Supreme Court under its McCleary education ruling last fall.

The 2017 school plan included $7.3 billion more in state spending over four years, mostly paid for by an 81 cent increase in property taxes. A planned cut in property tax levies won’t arrive until 2019, however, and many homeowners expect a spike this year.

Legislative leaders are hoping to soften that hike by using funds from a recent state revenue projection which showed collections will rise by $1.3 billion more than planned.

A House plan would use $995 million to drop the tax rate about 34 cents per $1,000 in 2019 and 6 cents more in 2019.

A similar Senate plan would drop property tax rates by 31 cents in 2019. Rates would be allowed to rise in 2020.

Van De Wege made waves last week by urging taxpayers to hold off on payment of their next property tax bills until after the end of the Legislature’s term. SB 6614, which he supports, would cut property tax rates by 35 cents per $1,000.

The bill was passed by the Rules Committee on Feb. 22.

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