MONTESANO — About 50 people turned out for a legislative town hall meeting in Montesano Wednesday night.
The hour-long session was hosted by Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege. The Democrats from Sequim noted that Montesano has been moved out of their 24th Legislative District into the 19th District, but they were both proud to have represented the city in the past.
Tharinger, now in his second year as a state representative, said he’s still figuring out the nuances of the job, but has spent time lately fighting for continued funding of critical access hospitals, like the ones in Forks, McCleary and South Bend.
A proposal by the governor would mean a 50 percent reduction in the Medicaid payments the state makes to the mostly rural hospitals and could force many to drastically cut their services or close their doors. Tharinger says that’s not acceptable. A House bill calling for the cuts received a public hearing during the special session in December, but has not received any committee attention this year.
Tharinger and Van De Wege say they are also both working on figuring out ways to fund state parks and to improve the Discover Pass, which is the annual pass required to access state parks and other natural resource land. One proposal on the table, which they both support, would allow a pass to be transferred between two vehicles. Van De Wege said they tried to figure out how to transfer a pass between physical addresses, but it proved too complicated and they researched ways to give discounts to hunters and fishermen, but Van De Wege said that idea was rejected by lobbyists for the hunters and fishermen.
Several residents at the hearing stood up and told the legislators that they were spending too much time on issues not related to the budget, which faces a $1.4 billion deficit.
“I don’t know if it’s the news or what, but you guys mention all this budget cutting, but I’m tired of hearing about gay marriage,” one man told the legislators. “Don’t we have other things to worry about?”
“We can do several things at once,” Tharinger replied, comparing it to a household that works and also shops. He notes that the budget hasn’t been making news lately because budget writers are waiting for a new economic forecast to come out later this month.
“I have a real problem with the leaders of state and federal government,” another man replied. “They don’t act like we’re broke.”
Legislators also fielded questions and comments from the public related to domestic violence issues, health care, education issues and support for the Stevens Creek Hatchery.
Van De Wege stated he opposed plans to consolidate teacher insurance plans into the state, saying it would just increase bureaucracy.
“I won’t vote for it unless legislators are part of the same health care program,” Van De Wege said.
Van De Wege, whose wife is a teacher, says he also opposes new charter schools legislation and the proposed reform for teacher evaluation.
One woman, who has been hearing radio ads paid for by Delta Dental, urged the legislators not to cut dental care for pregnant women. Van De Wege said such a cut would be a tough sell in the Legislature.
Although the federal Wild Olympics proposal was not brought up during the forum, Tharinger said after the meeting he wanted to correct the record. During a recent legislative forum, Tharinger was quoted as being opposed to the proposal, which would expand wilderness designations around Olympic National Park. Tharinger says he is not generally opposed to the Wild Olympics proposal and is “supportive of the process.”
“I’m not categorically opposed to Wild Olympics,” Tharinger said. “I am supportive of the larger discussion, which I think should also be about forest health in the Olympic National Forest. I think it’s too soon to be categorical about any part of it.”