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Reps touch on big topics in town hall
In the middle of another busy legislative session, local state Reps. Steve Tharinger (D-Dungeness) and Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) took a break to meet the public.
A capacity crowd greeted the representatives for the 24th District — Clallam, Jefferson and some of Grays Harbor — with tough questions last Wednesday at the Sequim Library at a last-minute town hall meeting. Earlier they visited Port Townsend and the day before in Elma to speak with constituents.
Van De Wege said all three events had great turnouts.
“We both feel hearing questions and concerns during session is important,” he said.
Response from Sequim meeting-goers was mixed.
Jill Dole said Tharinger and Van De Wege respond well to the community and it speaks highly of them to meet like this during session.
“There are no other politicians like them,” she said. “They explain things in layman’s terms.”
She sympathized with their tough decisions and highlighted Tharinger’s discussion of the financial constraints the state is under.
Ed Bowen traveled from Ozette to ask about marijuana second-hand smoke to see if guidelines for the recently approved drug apply the same as cigarette smoking restrictions near buildings.
“As a disabled veteran with medical issues, to be around that is asking for trouble,” he said. “These guys have a choice.”
Bowen doesn’t believe they’ll look into it as they indicated, but he is confident the state board of health will act.
Tharinger addressed the issue earlier saying different guidelines for marijuana came up often.
“It’s been an interesting session. We’ve been talking a lot about booze and pot,” he said.
But topics bounced around from the audience ranging from health care to liquor to gun control to schools.
A recent decision by the House, Van De Wege said, was proposing a big portion of funds go to schools to offset the McCleary Decision that schools are underfunded by the state. In this year’s proposal, $91 million would go to statewide, all-day kindergarten; $225 million to helping reduce K-2 class sizes; $144 million for creating general opportunity costs for districts’ transportation; and $461 million for operations.
He said all-day kindergarten would first happen in districts performing below average and spread out over the next six years, including Sequim.
Zoey Wolfe and her mom Gerilee Gustason asked about classes being cut and rising tuition at Peninsula College.
Van De Wege said it’s unfortunate there have been some cuts in higher education since at the local level schools make up for it by cutting classes, making it harder for students to schedule required classes.
Tharinger said they are putting a lot of money toward the McCleary ruling in order to get funding back to pre-2007 levels.
One of the difficulties in the state budget, Tharinger said, is funding Washington in 2013 at 1984 levels.
“If you like all of these things, what kind of state do you want to live in and pay for?” he asked rhetorically to one man who asked about “handling the government.”
On creating better industry in the area, Van De Wege said health care jobs are something often overlooked.
“We have the oldest city in the district (Sequim) and Jefferson County is the oldest,” he said.
“We’re also trying to create manufacturing jobs, too. It’s a daily battle.”
The last day for the regular legislative session is April 28.