Governor signs Hawkins’ utility wildfire bill

A proposal introduced by 12th District Sen. Brad Hawkins to implement recommendations of a key electric utilities wildfire group has been signed into law this week by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The legislation, Senate Bill 5158, directs state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to work with the Utility Wildland Fire Prevention Advisory Committee to implement recommendations recently offered in this report issued in December 2020. According to Hawkins’ proposal, this is to be accomplished by Aug. 1 and the group’s work will be maintained and updated on the Department of Natural Resources’ website. Hawkins’ bill also will build a process into statute for future collaboration between utilities and DNR and calls for a biennial report to the Legislature about ongoing work.

The bill was passed Feb. 26 by the Senate on a 46-0 vote. On April 8, the House added a committee amendment before passing the revised measure 98-0. The Senate voted 48-0 on April 14 to concur, or agree, with the House-amended version, sending the bill to the governor.

“I’m pleased the governor has signed into law this important bill that will help us better address wildfires in the 12th District and other wildfire-prone areas,” said Hawkins. “Electric utilities throughout our state have shown strong support for this bill, including by our own Chelan County PUD. If our utilities and DNR can implement these key recommendations to avoid wildfires and utility liability as well as keep communication flowing at all levels of government, that could be a huge benefit for our state and its PUDs.

“These recommendations are very important to many of my utilities, especially considering the 12th District’s recent history of devastating wildfires,” added Hawkins. “It is important to keep the momentum going on this issue, finalize the group’s recommendations, and ensure ongoing communications with the Legislature.

“I was very excited to partner with Chelan PUD and DNR on this bill. Commissioner Hilary Franz and her staff have been awesome to work with in past years and we accomplished some great things together in my first Senate term. Passage of this bill is a terrific way to start my second term in the Senate.”

During Senate Bill 5158’s public hearings, Chelan County PUD General Manager Steve Wright provided key testimony and appreciates Hawkins’ sponsorship of the bill.

“It’s great to see good public policy such as Senate Bill 5158 succeed with strong bipartisan support. Senator Hawkins’ dogged pursuit of this legislation is what made it happen,” said Wright.

“I appreciate the hard work Senator Hawkins put into this very important bill,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, whose agency led the Utility Wildland Fire Prevention Advisory Committee. “He understands the importance of this collaboration and the importance of continuing to find solutions over the long term. This bill ensures the recommendations put forward by the committee will continue to yield results for the residents of Washington state.”

Hawkins is proud of his strong partnership with DNR. During Hawkins’ first term as 12th District senator, three of his bills related to forest health or wildfire prevention were passed by the Legislature and signed into law. DNR worked diligently alongside him for each effort.

  • In 2017, the Legislature approved SB 5546, which directs DNR to set up a framework for assessing the health of fire-prone lands and treating them. It sets a specific goal of assessing and treating 1 million acres over 16 years, most likely through prescribed fire and mechanical thinning. The bill also includes a stakeholder process and biennial progress reviews to the Legislature.
  • The second measure, Senate Bill 5270, which was passed unanimously by both legislative chambers and signed into law by the governor in 2017, removes the “temporary” label from the contract-timber harvest program operated by DNR. The program allows the agency to hire someone to harvest timber and sort the logs, after which DNR can sell them. It began in 2003 and was expanded by lawmakers in 2009.
  • In 2018, SB 6211 became law. It gives DNR immediate authority to handle revenue and authorize spending under the Good Neighbor Authority agreement signed by DNR and the U.S. Forest Service in 2017.

(Photo caption: A hillside burns during the Chelan Complex and First Creek fires near Chelan in August 2015.)