A measure to improve Washington’s emergency readiness passed the state Senate, after a lawmaker agreed to bend to insurance industry insistence that the $5.7 million needed come from the state and not a surcharge on insurance plans.
The bill passed on a 39-0 vote, with 10 lawmakers excused. It allocates 20 percent of the money to emergency management plans at the state level, and moves 80 percent of the money to local and regional governments.
Under the measure, “Washington state will become the best in emergency management in the nation,” said Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, prime sponsor of the bill. “That should be the goal of people in the Northwest, considering many of the hazards that we have.”
The money would be used to develop management plans and public education on disaster preparedness, put weather radios in public buildings and improve training across agencies.
Kastama had originally sought to impose $2 to $4 surcharges on home and commercial property insurance plans — paid by the policyholder to the insurer– but was fought by the insurance lobby.
“It’s a rather unfair burden to put on insurance policy holders,” said Kenton Brine, regional manager of the Property Casualty Insurers Association. “This is a societal issue. The problems that befall Washington state will affect everyone. We tend to be concerned when one segment of society is asked to pay for that.”
Kastama said he didn’t have the votes to pass the measure unless the surcharge language was removed and the money allocated from the state’s general fund.
But Marty Brown, legislative director for Gov. Chris Gregoire, said that while the governor liked the idea of Kastama’s bill, “there’s nothing in the budget for it.”
The measure must pass the House before it is sent to Gregoire.
The Washington State Emergency Management Council reported in 2004 that the state needed to establish disaster planning regions, local management districts and a stable source of revenue for emergency use. Emergency officials have cited the need to prepare for the possibility of powerful earthquakes, a Mount Rainier eruption or a bird flu pandemic.
Maj. Gen. Tim Lowenberg, head of the Washington National Guard and director of the state’s emergency management division, would help coordinate use of the additional money. He said most of it would be used to shore up gaps in the state’s emergency system, specifically in small communities.
The federal government provided the state with around $42 million in homeland security support last year.
The measure requires a biennial report to the Legislature on the status of emergency management, as well as a study of how effectively the money is used. It also creates an advisory committee to revisit the idea of collecting an annual, per-policy surcharge on insurance plans.
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