State Legislature about to warm up after snow

Local lawmakers discuss plastic bags, jobs, death penalty

OLYMPIA — North Olympic Peninsula lawmakers crafted policy and worked on budgets last week while a series of snowstorms closed schools and offices in the state.

The Legislature canceled hearings last Monday but was back in session by Tuesday.

All three representatives of District 24, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, said the weather had some effect on the week’s proceedings.

“Because of the snow, not a lot of stuff happened,” said state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, who was in Olympia throughout the week.

State Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, said debates will become more focused after Friday’s cut-off for policy bills.

“We’ll know by the end of the week what bills are alive or dead, and we’ll be getting more serious,” Chapman said.

State Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, who chairs the House Capital Budget Committee, said the ongoing budget talks include Gov. Jay Inslee’s request for a 500-bed mental health hospital to replace the century-old Western State Hospital in Lakewood.

“Things are moving along, and we’re always working on the budget,” Tharinger said.

The three Peninsula lawmakers said they would support a bill that would prohibit many stores from providing non-compostable, single-use plastic bags.

Under House and Senate bills that have moved past initial hearings, stores would be required to collect a 10-cent charge for each recycled paper bag provided at checkout.

The cities of Port Angeles and Port Townsend have enacted similar laws — the Port Angeles City Council passed its ordinance by 4-3 vote last April — that require stores to charge 5 cents for a paper bag.

Van De Wege said the law would need to be consistent across the state.

“I favor it at this point,” Van De Wege said.

“First of all, it’s low-hanging fruit to help our environment. I like that. And it also brings value to timber.”

Chapman said it would be “really good for our mills to have more paper bags being used.”

“I’m not a big fan of the fee,” Chapman said of the mandatory 10-cent charge for a paper bag.

“I view that as ‘So, your going to take a dime out of shoppers’ pockets and give it to the large corporations?’ It’s like a reverse tax. I’m going to try to mitigate the fee.”

Chapman said he expected the House to vote this week on a bipartisan bill he sponsored (HB 1568) that would authorize port districts to work with nonprofits and other entities that provide training for port-related jobs.

“We have a real job shortage for ports around the state,” Chapman said.

“This will begin to set up some training.”

Chapman said the measure is backed by the ports of Port Angeles and Seattle. He predicted a unanimous vote in the House.

“It’s one of those good bills,” Chapman said.

Van De Wege differed from a 28-19 majority of his Senate colleagues Friday who voted on a measure that would repeal the death penalty.

The state Supreme Court had previously struck down capital punishment as arbitrary and racially biased.

Van De Wege said he has long believed there are “some positives to having a death penalty,” including the safety of corrections officers.

“I think having that hammer is important for their safety,” Van De Wege said, adding that some of the worst offenders in the state serve time at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center.

Van De Wege said the death penalty also has been used as a negotiating tactic.

Gary Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer, led authorities to the bodies of some of his victims in exchange for being spared death penalty in 2003. Ridgway is now serving a life sentence at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

The bill now goes to the House.

Chapman, a former law enforcement officer, said he would oppose a legislative repeal of the death penalty, citing the Ridgway case.

“I guess I would have to hear from prosecutors before voting for it to go away,” Chapman said.

Execution has been extremely rare in Washington, and a governor-imposed moratorium has blocked its use since 2014.

Inslee has said he would sign a bill to repeal the death penalty if it makes it to his desk.

Inslee has asked the Legislature to approve $7.5 million in the capital budget to do preliminary design work for a new mental health hospital to better treat psychiatric patients who have been involved in the criminal justice system.

A new hospital would cost $25 million to design from 2021 to 2023 and $528 million to construct from 2023 to 2025, the Tacoma News Tribune reported last month.

Tharinger said he would favor making investments in local communities to reduce the need for a 500-bed forensic hospital.

“We’re hoping to cut that in half and do a 250-bed hospital,” Tharinger said.

Tharinger and Chapman said they would support new gun legislation that would prohibit large capacity magazines.

House Bill 1068 was drafted to prohibit the possession and sale of magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

“I think 10 rounds is enough,” said Chapman, a past co-sponsor of similar legislation.

Tharinger noted that last Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17.

“I don’t see the need for multiple magazines to be out in the neighborhoods and on the streets,” Tharinger said.

“I think those multiple magazines lead to multiple deaths.”

HB 1068 was modified to define “large capacity magazine” as having the capacity to accept more than 15 rounds.

Despite the change, Van De Wege said he would likely oppose the measure if it came to a vote in the Senate.

“We just passed, by initiative, major gun legislation that is causing consternation around the state,” Van De Wege said, referring to Initiative 1639.

“Now is not the right time to be going for even more.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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