City, county officials eye smoking, vaping age increase

Government summit also touches on court services, Serenity House

Clallam County commissioners and Port Angeles City Council members agreed to explore raising the legal age for selling tobacco and vaping products from the state-mandated 18 to a countywide-specific 21 during the first government summit of its kind in more than a decade.

In the wide-ranging discussion on May 17, they also discussed the fate of Serenity House and a 10-year joint agreement under which the county provides district court services, taking a wait-and-see stance on both looming issues.

“It’s the only joint meeting we’ve had in my 12½ years here,” county Administrator Jim Jones said on May 21.

Below is a summary of issues discussed in the two-hour session:

Tobacco, vaping products

City Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said if the state Legislature will not impose regulations to increase the legal age, then Clallam County and its cities should.

The general public pays to treat the health maladies of others that are caused by smoking that begins at a young age, he said.

“If a person is not smoking by the time they are 21, the odds are 20 to 1 that they never will,” he said, attributing the statistic to the tobacco industry, adding that 95 percent of people who smoke start by age 21.

The cost for every Washingtonian for smoking-related diseases is $821 a year, he added.

Commissioner Bill Peach said he strongly supports increasing the legal age.

Commissioner Mark Ozias said the county Board of Health broached the legal-age increase at its May 15 meeting and will discuss it again June 19 at a regular monthly meeting.

“There’s certainly a lot of support for adding vaping regulations,” Ozias said.

Ozias said after the meeting that the county would take the lead on establishing the regulations, which would at least include the unincorporated county.

He said he would discuss with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office the extent to which Port Angeles, Sequim at Forks might be included in a countywide ban.

Mayor Sissi Bruch said after the meeting that she expected the city of Port Angeles would readily sign on to ban smoking for city residents younger than age 21.

Serenity House

The adult homeless shelter has said its night-by-night shelter, family shelter and single adult clean and sober recovery shelter will run out of money by July 1 and could close for lack of funding.

The three shelters serve 245 adults and 21 children who would likely be on the street if it wasn’t for the programs, Executive Director Doc Robinson told the Peninsula Daily News on April 27.

If the shelters close, about 200 people will “suddenly become homeless, out on the street,” Johnson said at the joint meeting.

Johnson said Monday he had recently received financial records from Serenity House that he will be examining.

Robinson has said the county and the community should provide the $150,000 for the facilities, not including the clean-and-sober recovery shelter, to stay open until the end of the year.

“Shelter funding remains too low to meet demand for beds and community desire to put roof over heads,” he said in an email.

“(Serenity House of Clallam County) finances are fine, shelter funding is still short.”

County-city contract for court services

A new state law could require the county to seek more funding from the city for the county to continue providing Port Angeles-area District Court 1 services under the terms of a Jan. 1, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2026, contract.

Jones suggested that the agreement will have to be renegotiated — or the county could “exercise our one-year get out” of the agreement.

The city began paying for a range of district court services for misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases including adjudication, sentencing, incarceration and public defender costs for what began at $229,000 a year in 2016 and increases with a cost-of-living adjustment annually for 10 years, Jones said.

But House Bill 1783, which passed in 2018 and applies to what are known as legal financial obligations, changes the underpinnings of the county-city agreement, Jones said.

“The court shall not order a defendant to pay costs if the defendant at the time of sentencing is indigent as defined in RCW 10.101.010(3)(a) through (c),” according to the legislation.

Jones said that he and court Administrator Keith Wills determined that District Court 1 alone would lose $400,000 in revenue compared to outgoing Judge Rick Porter’s estimate of $800,000.

“I would really like to see what happens what actually happens for a decent period of time,” Jones said.

Commissioner Randy Johnson said the impact may be better understood “after three or four months.”

Since 1991, courts have not been allowed to order defendants to pay court costs “unless a defendant is or will be able to pay them,” City Attorney Bill Bloor said.

“What the new law adds is a definition of when a person is indigent.”

Paul Gottlieb is a Senior Staff Writer with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at