By Marcy Stamper
Since the start of the Legislative session this year, state lawmakers have considered nine bills directly related to firefighting and fire recovery, but most of the proposals are still languishing in committee.
The bill that has made the most progress — having received unanimous support in the House and been advanced to the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee — would give school districts a checklist to help them obtain financial support and other information in an emergency.
That legislation was introduced in part to avoid the situation that confronted the Pateros School District, which suffered more than $2 million in damage from the Carlton Complex Fire but had no central list of resources for help.
The other bills that have moved beyond their first committee hearings relate to firefighter training and the creation of fire-protection jurisdictions.
After being amended to set priorities for firefighter training by the state academy and to outline how firefighters will be reimbursed, the firefighter training bill has been read by the Rules Committee, meaning it could come before the full House.
A bill that would allow two or more adjacent fire-protection jurisdictions to form a regiona l fire-protection authority has been revised to require approval by a super-majority of voters, instead of a simple majority. The changes also clarify how tax collection for these jurisdictions would work. The bill has moved from the House Local Government to the House Finance Committee.
A bill that would allow the state’s mobilization system to be used in all emergencies, including wildland fires, floods and disease outbreaks, will have an executive session in the Appropriations Committee this week.
Four other bills related to firefighting had hearings in the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 5, but have gone no further as of this week.
The committee heard about legislation that would allow a county to create a local forest-fire protection division to prevent and respond to forest fires. The Okanogan County commissioners are hoping to use that authority to launch a pilot project to handle firefighting locally and with local resources.
The commissioners’ proposal would also create a communications system for initial attack. They are seeking for approval from the state, which includes $1 million over the two-year pilot project, in time for the 2015 fire season.
The Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee also heard a proposal that would require the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to give first priority to contractors geographically close to a fire.
Another proposal that would require DNR to use local resources whenever DNR cannot respond or suppress a fire in a timely manner also got a hearing on Feb. 5.
The last bill heard by the Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee would permit landowners to fight a fire on state land and to cut timber as part of fire suppression, without incurring civil liability.
A bill that would provide $500,000 to the Carlton Complex Fire Long Term Recovery Group to help with economic recovery in Okanogan and Chelan counties had a committee hearing in January but has not been taken up since.
Legislators have until March 11 to consider bills in the house they originated in. The Legislative session ends April 26.