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Washington’s U.S. senators say they’ve asked President Joe Biden to approve a major disaster declaration for eastern Washington towns that were burned by wildfires last fall. Those include the Whitman County town of Malden, which lost about 80% of its homes.

Then-President Trump never responded to two disaster applications from Governor Inslee.

Idaho Public TV screenshot

UPDATED: Friday, 3 pm with response from Idaho House Republicans. 

Idaho’s governor today [Friday] blasted legislative leaders who are pressuring him to end the state’s 10-month-old emergency declaration because of the coronavirus.

Those leaders believe the governor has overstepped his power. They’re proposing a variety of bills aimed at moving some of his emergency authority to the legislature.

A potato processing plant in the central Washington town of Warden burned down in a dramatic overnight fire Thursday. 

By early Friday morning, emergency responders had evacuated nearly a third of the homes near the plant. Flames were licking a large tank of ammonia, and firefighters feared it might explode. 

“This was a very large fire,” Kyle Foreman with the Grant County Sheriff’s Department said. “Certainly one of the top 10 in my career.”

TVW screenshot

Last fall’s wildfires were invoked Friday at a hearing for a new forest health bill in the Washington legislature.

The bill is proposed at the request of Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, who reminded members of a House committee that 2020 was the worst wildfire season in years in Washington.

TVW screenshot

A Spokane legislator is promoting a bill that proposes changes to Washington’s public health system.

Representative Marcus Riccelli [D-Spokane] says the legislature has allowed funding for public health to erode over the years, which leaves it vulnerable when it’s most needed. His legislation received a hearing Thursday before the House Health Care Committee.

TVW screenshot

A Washington legislative committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill that would allow businesses shuttered by the pandemic to partially reopen.

More than 1,600 people signed up to weign in on legislation that takes aim at Governor Inslee’s latest re-opening plan.

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Spokane public health officials say a Covid mass vaccination site at the Spokane Arena could be up and running by next Monday.

Last Monday, Governor Jay Inslee announced the arena would be one of a handful of sites outside the Seattle metro area that would open to vaccinate large numbers of people.

As President Donald Trump prepared to leave office, his Department of Energy was celebrating that a new analytical lab was “ready to operate” at the Hanford Site in southeast Washington.

The lab, being largely constructed by DOE contractor Bechtel National, Inc. is part of a low-level radioactive waste treatment facility meant to make glass logs out of the hazardous goo.

Supply Worries Hang Over Expanded Vaccination Plans

Jan 19, 2021
Washington Governor's Office

The push to vaccinate more people against Covid in Washington is putting health care providers in an interesting situation.

Dr. Chris Dale, the chief quality officer at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, says the uncertainty about supply has some hospitals holding onto Covid vaccines so they have enough to administer second doses, while others are giving as many first shots as they can.

Central Valley Schools Ask Voters To Approve Levy

Jan 19, 2021
Courtesy of Central Valley levy committee

Spokane’s Central Valley School District is one of 14 local districts that are asking voters for tax money on the February 9 ballot. The district’s three-year proposal would replace CV’s existing levy.

The last few years have been turbulent for school districts in Washington. They’ve had to adapt to fundamental changes in the way the state funds public schools. Then came the Covid pandemic.

The state of Washington, hamstrung as many states have been by a slow distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, will deploy the National Guard, set up mass vaccination sites and create a new public-private partnership to lead a renewed effort to get the vaccine into the arms of people.

The move comes as the state prepares to immediately advance to the next phase of people eligible for a vaccination beyond health care workers, first responders and those living and working in nursing homes.

UW Vaccine Expert To Present Live Webinar Thursday

Jan 18, 2021
Courtesy of the University of Washington

On Thursday [1/21], University of Washington microbiologist and vaccinologist Deborah Fuller will give a virtual presentation about how vaccines are made and how they work. Her talk is sponsored by UW Medicine and open to the public.

Doug Nadvornick recently talked with Dr. Fuller about Covid vaccines, starting with the question of whether she’s been surprised by anything that had led up to our current situation.

Spokane Voters Asked To Approve Public School Levy

Jan 18, 2021
Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Fourteen Spokane County school districts have placed measures on the February 9 election ballot. They include Spokane Public Schools’ three-year maintenance and operations levy. That measure would replace the district’s current levy.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

Although it hasn't snowed much in recent weeks at lower elevations, the snowpack in the mountains seems to be pretty close to normal this year.

The Spokane-Coeur d’Alene-St. Joe Basin snowpack is at about 92% of normal.
 To the north, the Kootenai-Pend Oreille Basins are at 104% of normal for this time of year.

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

A progressive Washington group is touting a new poll of people’s attitudes about criminal justice in Spokane. Fuse Washington’s survey asked residents whether they would support a two-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax increase to fund construction of a new Spokane County jail.

The poll says only 40% of the 500 respondents would support paying more sales tax for a 1,200 bed jail.

Hundreds of elderly drivers put their cars in line way before dawn for the opening day of a first come, first serve drive-thru COVID vaccination clinic in Sequim, Washington. The scene provided a dramatic illustration of eagerness among many seniors to get the coveted shots. Hospitals in other medium-sized and smaller Washington communities that have opened vaccination appointment lines to all seniors in recent days report being swamped as well.

Washington’s salmon are “teetering on the brink of extinction,” according to a new report. It says the state must change how it’s responding to climate change and the growing number of people in Washington. 

Idaho Reaches Transition Point In Covid Vaccination

Jan 14, 2021
Courtesy of State of Idaho

The Covid inoculation effort in Idaho is picking up steam. Right now, it's in a transition point, says state public health administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch.

“The health care personnel, long-term care facility will continue to go forward as we continue to work through our vaccines. But now it’s time to start opening up to front line essential workers and people age 65 and over,” she said.

CWU Names Iowa Educator As New President

Jan 14, 2021
Courtesy of Central Washington University

Central Washington University has become the latest of the state’s regional universities to announce a leadership change.

Thursday the Ellensburg university introduced Dr. James Wohlpart as its new president. Wohlpart comes from the University of Northern Iowa, where he is the provost.

Spokane Mayor Declares Emergency Because Of Windstorm

Jan 14, 2021
Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward on Thursday declared a civil emergency as a result of Wednesday’s windstorm. Officials say the designation helps the city qualify for money needed to move and clean up debris that has some effect on public safety.

Work Resumes To Restore Power To Thousands

Jan 13, 2021
Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Crews from the region's utilities are back at it this morning [Thursday], working to restore power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

Avista says Wednesday’s windstorm caused at least 1,600 outages in its service territory, knocking out electricity to about 70,000 customers. As of this morning, the utility says more than 45,000 are still not connected.

The U.S. House voted 232 to 197 Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time.

To keep Washington from facing another devastating fire season, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz is asking the state legislature to create a dedicated fund for firefighting, forest restoration and community response.

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Washington Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz has called for the legislature to support a bill that would provide a dedicated funding source for wildfire response and forest health work.

Franz says the bill would provide $125 million every biennium to fund new firefighters and aircraft and work to upgrade existing helicopters.

Idaho Clarifies Who Will Get The Covid Vaccine Next

Jan 12, 2021
State of Idaho

Idaho state officials have announced which groups of people are next in line for coronavirus vaccines.

Governor Brad Little made the announcement on Tuesday.

Idaho Public TV screenshot

A new Idaho legislative session has begun with a tradition done in a different way.

In normal times, Governor Brad Little would appear before a joint session of the legislature on opening day and deliver his State of the State address. But in this pandemic, he gave his 30-minute speech in a television studio with no interruptions for applause.

Spokane Schools To Begin Covid Testing On Monday

Jan 10, 2021
Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Covid testing will begin today [Monday] in Spokane’s public schools.

The district hopes eventually to institute regular surveillance testing for all students and staff members.

“Even if they’re not symptomatic, they don’t know of any exposures, they can test every week or every two weeks on a regular schedule. It’s just a way to pick out people, they test positive, even though they didn’t know they had it," said Becky Doughty, the district's director of health services.

Courtesy of University of Idaho

Russia’s recent hack of United States government agencies and private companies has brought the spotlight back to America’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

It also brought a spotlight to the reality that the U.S. doesn’t have nearly enough qualified people who work in the cybersecurity field.

The University of Idaho is working to fill the demand with a new bachelor’s degree program.

People age 70 and older as well as some people living with an elder will be next in line for the COVID-19 vaccine in Washington. The state Department of Health on Wednesday provided awaited details for whose turn comes when to get the precious and scarce shots.