OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee’s bid for the presidency will bring attention to both the state and the critical issue of climate change, said local legislators.
“He’s got a signature issue on climate change,” said Rep. Steve Tharinger, a Democrat from Port Townsend, after Inslee kicked off his campaign in Seattle on Friday.
“He’s been a champion. He’s been very consistent on that issue. We’ll see how that plays out nationally.
“That’s why he’s running,” Tharinger added. “No one else knows that issue or champions that issue of climate change more or better than he does.”
Rep. Mike Chapman, a Democrat from Port Angeles, said he wished Inslee “all the best.”
“It’s great for Washington. It will highlight our strong economy, our quality of life. I think it’s great for a state like ours to be on the national stage.”
“I don’t see any down side.”
Chapman enthusiastically combined the attention the state could get from Inslee’s run for president with the possibility that it will move its primary election from May to March.
“How many times in recent presidential campaigns, by the time Washington has voted it’s been a fait accompli,” Chapman said.
By moving the primary up, “we could get eight to 10 presidential candidates in our state talking about issues they care about.”
A bill to move the primary election date — Senate Bill 5273 — has been passed by the Senate — with largely Democratic support and mostly Republican opposition — and is headed for a House floor vote.
“We could have all candidates come to Washington to compete for our votes,” Chapman said.
Sen. Kevin Van De Wege said Inslee’s candidacy would be good for the state, but he added that his campaign could slow legislative work.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a credible presidential candidate from Washington,” said Van De Wege, a Sequim Democrat. “It also is impactful to the state.”
Van De Wege said that whenever the governor is out of the state, the lieutenant governor — currently Cyrus Habib — serves as governor and therefore does not preside over the Senate. The President Pro Tempore — currently Sen. Karen Keiser, who represents the 33rd Legislative District — fulfills that function but, said Van De Wege, ‘Things don’t run as smoothly. It impacts us like that.”
Tharinger, Chapman and Van De Wege represent Legislative District 24, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
All three favor a bill moving through the Legislature that would establish the Long Term Care Trust Act — a long-term care insurance program for Washington workers funded by a 58-cent premium on every $100 in wages.
It would provide $100 per day for one year as a lifetime benefit for the cost of long-term care in a person’s home, a residential community-based setting or a skilled nursing facility.
House Bill 1087 passed the House on Feb. 21 while the Senate companion bill SB 5331 is in the Senate Committee on Ways & Means.
Tharinger co-sponsored the bill and Chapman voted in favor of it. Van De Wege also supports the measure and said that he expects the proposal to be approved by the Legislature.
All three also support bills pertaining to orca protection.
Van De Wege’s bill concerning oil spills in Puget Sound is dead this session but others are moving forward, such as one dealing with buffer zones for whale-watching boat tours and permitting requirements that can help create habitat for the salmon that the endangered Southern Resident orcas eat, the senator said.
Tharinger, the chair of the House Capital Budget Committee, said orca protection appears in the capital budget as funds for replacing culverts that block fish passage, hatcheries and habitat, especially estuaries “giving more room for fish.”
Chapman is in favor of increasing the spill from the Snake River dams rather than breaching them to increase the amount of salmon available for orcas.
Chapman said he is excited about the bipartisan support his bill, HB 1324, has received.
The bill, which he introduced, creates state incentives for investment in newly created federal opportunity zones. It has been passed out of three committees with unanimous votes.
“Not many bills come out of three separate committees unanimously,” Chapman said.
The legislation would create a program to develop rural and opportunity zone areas, creates a tax preference for taxpayers making capital contributions to a Rural Development and Opportunity Zone Fund and would extend a reduced Business and Occupation Tax rate on certain timber-related activity.
“It would create funds through tax credits and private capital” so that $100 million would be available to be invested in rural economies in the next five years, Chapman said.
Because private investors would be responsible for the funds, “the taxpayer is not on the hook,” he said.
“It’s a good piece of legislation for a region like the North Olympic Peninsula,” Chapman said, mentioning in particular paper mills in Port Angeles and Port Townsend.
Van De Wege said he worked last week on a measure — SB 5279 — that would enable the state Department of Natural Resources to allow controlled burns during non-summer months to decrease the likelihood of wildfires during dry summer months.
He also is working on changing condo law to create more affordable housing, he said.
Tharinger said that legislators are looking at investments in community mental health facilities.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to make some of those investments on [the North Olympic] Peninsula and down in Grays Harbor,” he said.
Instead of relying on Western State Hospital, “we need better facilities, better care in the communities themselves. I think you’ll see an integrating of capital budget and operational budget for those facilities,” Tharinger said.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].