Health, environmental threats focus of legislative efforts for state senator

OLYMPIA — State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege reports that three of the things he’s working on in the Legislature’s new term involve “serious threats to our health and environment.”

Van De Wege, D-Sequim — who represents the 24th District with Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles — will be in the thick of discussions to resolve all these issues. The 24th District covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

The issue closest to home, net pens, came to the fore after 160,000 non-native Atlantic salmon escaped into Puget Sound waters due to a collapse at a Cypress Island net pen owned by Cooke Aquaculture, which has operated a fish farm in Port Angeles Harbor.

Critics of such farms say that non-native salmon are an invasive species that could disrupt the health and sustainability of the area’s native wild salmon, and that the use of net pens releases unhealthy levels of fecal matter and antibiotics into area waters.

Van De Wege chairs the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee and has co-sponsored Senate Bill 6086, which would prohibit new fish pen licenses and increase oversight of existing operations with the ultimate goal of eventually shutting them down. The bill was heard Thursday by his committee, which recommended a pass and forwarded it to the Ways and Means Committee.

In the House, Chapman and Tharinger are co-sponsoring House Bill 2418, which would delay construction of non-native fish aquaculture facilities until studies and analysis are complete.

A public hearing on HB 2418 is scheduled for Thursday with the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Van De Wege and Chapman are expected to provide information about legislation concerning net pens at a public meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday at the Sequim City Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St.

Opioid monitoring

Opioid drug use claimed more than 700 lives in Washington state last year and overdose deaths in Clallam, Grays Harbor and Jefferson counties are much higher than the state average of 9.3 per 100,000 residents.

A major avenue of obtaining increasing amounts of opioids is visiting multiple providers and filling multiple prescriptions.

Washington has a prescription monitoring program in place, but only 30 percent of practitioners who prescribe controlled dangerous substances have registered to use it.

Van De Wege has sponsored SB 6028, which would require medical and dental practitioners to register and use the program.

A public hearing on the bill in the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee has been scheduled for 10 a.m. today.

Bump stocks

The state senator has also co-sponsored SB 5992, which would make gun bump stocks illegal.

“Their only purpose clearly is to give a legal semiautomatic weapon the rapid-fire capability of an illegal weapon,” Van De Wege said.

“I don’t do this lightly. I’m a lifetime NRA member and longtime supporter of gun rights and responsible gun ownership. But these devices pose an emerging and deadly threat to public safety that urgently needs to be addressed.”

This bill is scheduled for a public hearing by the Senate Committee on Law & Justice at 10 a.m. today and for an executive session by the same committee at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Jobs program

In the House, Chapman is the prime sponsor of HB 2177, which would create the Rural County High Employer Demand Jobs Program.

It would help students earn credentials in high-demand career fields and provide eligible students tuition and fees equivalent to a full year of full-time study at a community and technical college.

To be eligible, students would be residents enrolled in a high-demand field of study at an approved college and meet family income and financial aid requirements.

Chapman said that in Clallam and Jefferson counties, nursing and early childhood care are both in high demand. In Grays Harbor, it’s forestry and welding.

The representative said it’s possible there might be an amendment to the bill which would have the state match employer scholarship funds.

Marbled murrelet

Chapman is also the sponsor of HB 2285, which would create a legislative advisory committee regarding the marbled murrelet.

The bird is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act and is listed as endangered by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The committee of stakeholders would advise the state Department of Natural Resources on the murrelet.

According to the bill text, DNR is working on a proposed amendment of the 1997 state Trust Lands Habitat Conservation Plan to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The proposed amendment would amend the existing plan and grant a 50-year incidental take permit for DNR-managed lands.

Water bill update

In the last session, the House and Senate went home in July without passage of the state’s capital budget or, Republicans argued, a permanent fix for concerns over water rights.

SB 6091, sponsored by Van De Wege, would allow property owners to drill new wells and withdraw enough water for typical household use while their communities develop and adopt plans to permanently govern usage.

The Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee recommended a pass and sent it along to the Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.

Van De Wege and Tharinger said last week they are confident that passage of the water rights bill will smooth the way for passage of the $4 billion capital budget.

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