Rep.Steve Tharinger, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege and Rep. Mike Chapman

Rep.Steve Tharinger, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege and Rep. Mike Chapman

District 24 legislators answer questions

Telephone town hall draws 4,000

By Paul Gottlieb

Special to the Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — Issues from a new Miller Peninsula State Park to stray drug needles in Port Angeles were tossed around during a heavily attended telephonic question-and-answer meeting hosted by the North Olympic Peninsula’s three state lawmakers.

Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and Rep. Mike Chapman and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Port Angeles responded to 24th District residents who plied the Democrats with 15 queries on the 105-day legislative session, which ends in little more than three weeks.

The moderator, a House staffer, said the hourlong event on Tuesday night attracted 4,000 participants. Counting internet queries and questions left for the legislators due to lack of time, the lawmakers fielded or pledged to answer 100 questions, a House staffer said.

“This one set a record for any town hall I’ve ever moderated,” the staffer said in an email.

Tharinger, Chapman and Van De Wege huddled in Van De Wege’s Olympia office while residents from Clallam, Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties offered their questions and concerns.

Bills they discussed are at leg.wa.gov. Legislative hearings are at tvw.org and televised with special programming on TVW Channel 74 on Astound cable TV.

A recording of the meeting is at https://vekeo.com/event/whdc24-82033/.

Below is a sample of topics raised and responses given.

Crime

A Port Angeles resident who said he lives near the public library said he often finds drug needles on a church playground in his neighborhood and in an alley behind a grocery store across from the county courthouse.

He asked, “What are we going to do to protect ourselves, and what are you going to do so we don’t have to take matters into our own hands?”

Chapman said the Senate passed E2SSB 5536, making permanent a 2021 law passed in response to the earlier 2021 state Supreme Court State v. Blake ruling that recriminalized most drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Under 5536, law enforcement is encouraged to offer referrals for drug assessment and services in lieu of legal system involvement.

The bill, approved by the Senate, was passed out of House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee earlier Tuesday. It was forwarded to the Appropriations Committee.

Chapman, noting drug distribution continues to be illegal, said treatment should be available to people found guilty of possession.

“We want them to get charged with enough of a crime, with a crime, so they can get treatment,” he said. “One of the things I heard, at least in the last couple of years, is that we are not necessarily getting enough folks referred to treatment.”

Van De Wege said the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s medication-assisted treatment (MAT) drug clinic in Sequim has been “very successful” and is making a difference.

“They’re getting the help they need and getting their lives back in order,” he said.

Capital projects

Tharinger, chair of the House Capital Budget Committee, started the meeting by listing capital budget projects that include funding to move forward with the Jamestown Tribe’s 16-bed overnight mental health clinic, which would be built on the MAT clinic campus.

The spending plan includes $13 million for the clinic, while the Senate budget contains the full $25.7 million requested. As with all budget proposals that differ, lawmakers will negotiate on a final amount.

The $8.3 billion House capital budget includes a Clallam County emergency operations center ($5.75 million), a YMCA early learning center ($2 million), Sol Doc Hatchery modifications ($1.2 million), a Sequim City Band facility ($401,000) and Quillayute School District Spartan Field upgrades in Forks ($350,000).

It includes $4 million for expansion of Jefferson Healthcare hospital reproductive and gynecological health services in the House budget.

Nothing for the medical center proposal is included in the Senate budget, but Van De Wege indicated the project still has a good chance at being funded at some level.

“With Steve as chair, it is very common for requests not being in both (budgets) in hopes that negotiations will result in it all, or close, to being funded,” Van De Wege said in an email following the town hall.

Miller Peninsula

The long-planned project to establish a 2,800-acre area of Miller Peninsula — much of it containing trails and maintained by volunteers — into a state park is penned in for $600,000 for master plan work and an environmental impact statement in House and Senate operating budget proposals.

Asked how they felt about the Miller Peninsula project, Van De Wege said he favored funding and development, adding the state of Washington has owned the property for a long time and state residents are putting a burden on existing parks.

“Frankly, we should probably double the number of state parks we have in the state,” he said.

“The reason, though, that I support that so much is that it’s large tract of land that parks owns on Miller Peninsula. They’re going to develop a small portion of it into a campground with some amenities,” he said, calling camping one of the few cost-effective recreational opportunities for families.

He predicted concerns about the park will be addressed.

“In the end, though, there will be a state park and we’ll have that advantage,” Van De Wege said.

Nikki Fields, State Parks planning and real estate program manager, said in an interview about 10 percent of the park would be developed to hold about 100 campsites, none of which would be in the park’s forested area, where trails might be added.

Fields said campsites would likely be lost at nearby Sequim Bay State Park “whether we like it or not” due to land movement.

Sequim resident Darlene Schanfald said Miller Peninsula “is a very special place” with a forested area that, if compromised, would be destructive to the area.

“We do need alternative kinds of parks, and this is an alternative park the way it is,” she said. “We don’t agree there should be the kind of crazy development that parks wants to do.”

Tharinger said Parks had wanted to build a motel on the property and a zip line.

“There’s a lot of distance between that and some more parking facilities,” he said.

“There’s a full spectrum of possibilities to that 3,000 acres or whatever it is. So it doesn’t have to be, I think, full development.

“I think the community has been heard loud and clear about that, but there is a shortage of campground and parking spaces and camping spaces on the Peninsula,” Tharinger said.

Elwha Bridge

Chapman said construction crews should be mobilizing to begin building the new Elwha River Bridge later this year in a $32 million replacement project, adding the construction contract has been let and a key piece of Olympic National Park property purchased.

The new span will be built next to the old one, which will remain in service during the estimated 30-month construction period to avoid traffic disruption on U.S. Highway 101.

“One of the things were were able [to do] was convince folks not to close off that east-west corridor,” he said.

Capital gains tax,

education funding

The lawmakers said the state Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the constitutionality of the excise tax on capital gains, which are due April 18, affects few North Olympic Peninsula residents.

The tax was approved by the 2021 Legislature in ESSB 5096. It applies to the sale or exchange of long-term assets including stocks, bonds and tangible assets.

The 7 percent tax is imposed on individuals’ capital gains over $250,000.

“We were targeting the hedge funds that really opened up shop in Washington,” Chapman said, adding one hedge fund announced they are moving to Dallas, Texas.

“You could tell right then and there they had no commitment to the state,” he added.

“They literally had a commitment to their bottom line, and the minute we asked the very wealthy, the very largest hedge funds, who provide no service to our state … the minute we ask them to pay a little bit, they beat feet out of here to Texas.

“Well, good riddance to them, and we don’t want their kind,” Chapman said. “The hard-working men and women of the 24th, who live and work and work here every day, well, we’re not asking you to pay.

“And if you have $250,000 in capital gains, then I think you are probably pretty committed to this area,” Chapman said.

“And by the way, Texas has twice the property tax that Washington has, so good luck to you. See how that works out,” he said.

“You know what, I voted against the bill, and I’m still in favor of it, so that happens sometimes.”

Tharinger said the tax was expected to affect about 7,000 taxpayers, with the first $500 million generated going to early leaning operating and capital programs for building day care centers and staffing them.

Funds over that, about $190 million, are expected to go the the common school account, the state fund for K-12 education.

“We actually in this capital budget that we heard [Tuesday], we booked about $60 million of that into school modernization, so schools actually like Brinnon, I think … are going to benefit from that to get a new roof and a new floor in the current budget if we get that to governor’s desk.”

Van De Wege said state Department of Revenue modeling has shows 15 to 18 people a year on average would pay the tax in the 24th District, which is comprised of Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

“The vast majority of our constituents are never going to pay the tax,” he said.

________

Legislative Reporter Paul Gottlieb, a former senior reporter at Peninsula Daily News, can be reached at cpaulgottlieb@gmail.com.

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