EYE ON OLYMPIA: Legislature OKs $100 million for coronavirus response

Bill not yet sent to the governor’s office for signing as of Monday

OLYMPIA — The state Legislature has approved $100 million in the 2020 budget for statewide COVID-19 response, but apparently had not as yet sent the bill to the governor’s office for signing as of Monday.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege said that his understanding is that it is on hold until the last day of the legislative session on Thursday “in case we need to add anything to it.”

Van De Wege, speaking from the floor of the Senate on Monday, is a Sequim Democrat who represents Legislative District 24 along with Reps. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend.

Gov. Jay Inslee had requested the Legislature designate money for the state’s coronavirus response.

Funds would be used at both state and local government level.

Some of the funds will help provide more space in hospitals by moving people who need to be into assisted living or behavioral health centers, Tharinger said, adding that it also will help provide more public health staff.

Budget writers are considering also the economic impact of the unique virus, he said.

“We’re trying to anticipate the economic repercussions of the virus,” Tharinger said. “I anticipate what we might need to do economically, if we have a rapid response to that.

“We’re in for a bumpy ride for the next few months.”

Legislation with the biggest impact on the North Olympic Peninsula will provide those earning $55,000 or less per year free tuition to any accredited secondary school.

“Most of the kids on the Peninsula will have free tuition for any school in state as of September,” Chapman said Sunday.

“For an area where most people make $55,000 or less, that’s gong to be beneficial.”

Chapman worked on negotiating less expense for small businesses, he said; the cost of the measure now will be born by larger industries such as high tech, engineering firms and trial lawyers, which have difficulties finding sufficient trained personnel, Chapman said.

“I put a lot of work into making it more beneficial for rural communities,” he said, adding that he helped change some of the funding mechanism for business and occupation taxes, eliminating the increase for small businesses.

The tax once was to be charged to 85,000 businesses and now will be charged to 15,000, Chapman said.

“It is going to be a big game changer, particularly for families on the Peninsula,” Van De Wege said.

“It’s gong to be huge. It’s going to help people get out of poverty.”

Also passed this session is a statewide ban on plastic bags, phased in over five years, Chapman said, adding that it will have consumers rely more heavily on paper bags which will help mills such as the Port Townsend Paper mill and the McKinley Paper mill in Port Angeles.

Also included in the budgets are money for the Port Angeles unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, the William Shore Pool upgrade in Port Angeles and other projects on the Peninsula, Chapman said.

Van De Wege spoke of a bill that acknowledges the timber industry’s contribution to carbon sequestration, he said.

All said they expect the Legislature to finish on Thursday.

The only thing that would prevent it is if the Capital is quarantined, Chapman said.

“The only reason we wouldn’t finish is if we can’t,” Tharinger said.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].

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