EYE ON OLYMPIA: Peninsula legislators expect expansion of halibut season

OLYMPIA — With several communities voicing opposition to a proposed three-day halibut fishing season this year, legislators from the 24th District are confident it’ll rise to seven days.

In a memo Friday, the three state legislators representing all of Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, Rep. Mike Chapman and Rep. Steve Tharinger, said they met with legislative staff and personnel from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife on Thursday.

Though the state halibut fishing season is determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and implemented by National Marine Fisheries, state officials have some input and have requested a seven-day season for 2017.

Following a public comment period, said Van De Wege on Friday, the legislators are confident that DFW will announce a seven-day season for May 4, 6, 11, 21 and 25, and June 1 and 4.

In the memo, they said that if the “quota has not been exhausted on those dates, the season could be extended.”

If that happens, the additional dates would be posted on the DFW website at http://dfw.wa.gov/.

Part of the problem, Van De Wege said, is that last year’s quota was exceeded by about 69,000 pounds.

For the future, the state hopes to try to develop another method for determining the number of days, said the state senator.

Final determination on the halibut fishing season is expected later this month.

Water rights

Many bills in the House and Senate receive unanimous support once they manage to make it “to the floor” for a vote.

However, the Senate split 28-21 in favor of SB 5239, a bill that would eliminate the role of local governments in determining whether water is legally available before a building permit for a home is issued.

This change would essentially allow someone to drill a well — even if it reduces the water available to others, redirects water to which someone has prior rights or reduces stream flow for a fish habitat.

Van De Wege voted with other Democrats against the bill Feb. 28, saying it would eliminate a key component of the landmark Hirst decision that resolved many decisions about water rights in Washington.

With changes, Van De Wege said he believes he could support it.

The change, he said, would ensure that “Ecology doesn’t end up with too much authority to make sure counties aren’t tasked with too much work in an area they’re not familiar with.”

He noted that the Sequim area is governed by the Dungeness Water Rule and is largely unaffected.

Still, he maintained that Clallam or Jefferson counties could enact building moratoriums for water usage at any time “and really freak people out.”

If resolved by legislation, he thinks the counties won’t do that.

The 2016 Hirst decision from the Supreme Court, Van De Wege said, leaves the question of whether counties have the capacity to determine the availability of water.

Van De Wege said he was confident that the questions would be resolved in this session.

Heroin injection sites

In other action, Van De Wege voted against SB 5223 on Thursday, a measure that would have banned heroin injection sites being contemplated in King County and possibly elsewhere. The bill passed in the Senate, 26-23, but is unlikely to get any traction in the Democrat-led House.

The measure would have removed local authority to establish the “safe” places for users to inject heroin.

Free speech

The senator voted for SB 5064 on Thursday. The bill passed the Senate on its third reading 45-4.

The bill would protect high school and college students’ rights to free speech in school-sponsored media. The bill would exempt school officials from civil or criminal liability resulting from the publication of such media.

Riparian areas

Chapman expressed some pride in HB 1531, which passed 98-0 last week. Both he and Tharinger co-sponsored the measure.

According to the House Office of Program Research, the Forest Riparian Easement Program (FREP) is a program managed by the Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO) in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to acquire 50-year easements along riparian and other sensitive aquatic areas from small-forest landowners who are willing to sell or donate easements to the state. The DNR can purchase easements from small-forest landowners and hold the easements in the name of the state.

The bill would direct DNR to share information regarding the carbon storage benefits of the forest riparian easement program with other state programs attempting to quantify carbon storage or account for carbon emissions, and to promote the expansion of funding for the forest riparian easement program as one part of the state’s overall climate strategy.

A companion bill in the Senate, SB 5394, also received unanimous support, 49-0.

The two bills have to be reconciled before heading to the governor’s office for his signature.

Chapman attended the Association of Washington Business Rural Jobs Summit on Saturday.

He was hoping to hear discussion on the kinds of things the Legislature should be working on to foster jobs and business in rural areas — “what we can do to make things just a little easier for business in the state,” he said.

Levy cliff, McCleary

In an email newsletter, the three Democrats pointed their fingers at Senate Republicans for not allowing a vote on a bill that would extend for one year the ability of school districts to collect levies already set by taxpayer votes.

Currently, the districts’ ability to collect those levies ends in 2018 and some are expected to come up short on the revenue side of their budgets, forcing cuts in staff and programs.

Both Van De Wege and Chapman confirmed that the leadership of both houses are in discussions about funding public education and addressing the requirements of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, though there was nothing new to report yet.

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Assistant Managing Editor Mark Swanson can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55450, or [email protected].