01.03.17

2016 In Review

Dear Friend,

I hope you had an excellent holiday season! It was great to spend some quality time with my family and eat some delicious food. While I’m still recovering from the Peach Bowl, I am still reveling in what was a very Star Wars Christmas (two viewings of Rogue One and a Yoda Christmas mug and a Star Wars pillow from my daughters…they know the way to their dad’s heart).

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The holidays came just at the right time–helping us move past an acrimonious election season and a year when we saw too many legends like Carrie Fisher, Muhammad Ali, and Prince leave us. We have a lot of work to do in 2017. Unfortunately, the election proved our country is a much more divided place than any of us hoped for. We can all agree, though, that we–as Americans–are better than the current state of our politics.

As we look back on 2016, one other thing is also clear to me. We made some good progress on a number of key issues. The way we did that is by following the notion we put into practice in our region – that our boat moves in the right direction when everyone has their oars in the water going in the same direction. It’s really hard to move forward when the oars are out of the water being used to beat each other over the heads.

In that spirit I wanted to take some time to look back at some of the things we accomplished together in 2016.  

Canada, Clean up Your Mess!

Growing up in Port Angeles taught me the value of exploring the outdoors and sharing it with family and friends. I also learned firsthand about a long-standing problem with our neighbor to the North. The simple fact is that, for too long, folks in British Columbia haven’t been dealing with their mess, dumping raw sewage into our shared waters.

Since I first came to office I’ve worked on making sure Canada takes care of the raw sewage that gets dumped into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I’ve reported on the letters I’ve sent, the officials I’ve met with (including the Prime Minister!) and the actions my office has taken to move the needle on this through many newsletters (continued apologies to those who find the topic really gross...for the record, I’m with you).

This year was proof that persistence can pay off. In the fall, the Capital Regional District in British Columbia approved a plan to build a sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt and committed to other wastewater management solutions. This is a positive step toward Canada cleaning up its mess.

Our work isn’t over. Now we need to make sure that the British Columbian and Canadian governments step up to the plate and follow through with the investments needed to open this plant. That was my message when I met with representatives from the Canadian government. They need to take care of this once and for all. In 2017 I’ll continue to press our Canadian partners for a lasting solution so this does not impact our shared waters any longer.

The Seattle Times highlighted how far we come in an editorial you can find here.   

Opportunities for Rural Communities

Another part of growing up in Port Angeles was seeing an economy change. The lifeblood of my town, and other communities on the Peninsula has been the timber industry. I knew a lot of kids whose parents and relatives worked in it. As harvest levels declined, I watched as my friends’ parents lost their jobs and were forced to find new work.

Those experiences motivated me and when I first came to office, I sat down with folks that were often at odds. From conservation groups to timber industry folks we spent countless hours figuring out where we might be able to find common ground and move past old debates. It turned out that both sides agreed that there are some areas where we can responsibly increase our harvest in a way that would benefit the health of our forests.

Healthy forests help keep our waters clean and provide habitat to all kinds of amazing wildlife. That’s why our forests attract visitors from all around the world, who come here to spend their vacations and take in these amazing sites. Our forests also provide an important source of timber that supports our mills, good middle-class jobs, and the local economy.

Conversations we all had with the Forest Service made us realize new approaches were needed to support our working forests. That’s why we officially launched the Olympic Peninsula Forest Collaborative to help us rebuild the trust we need to restore our forests and support our local communities.

We took our show on the road at a series of public meetings across the region. It was a chance to explain to the public what the group is about, get some feedback, and hopefully bring more folks on board.

More importantly, we’ve had some success with green lighting pilot projects that will increase harvest levels and contribute positively to forest health. And we’re working with the USDA to identify opportunities for the Forest Service to help support efforts like this around our state and throughout our region. Stay tuned for more progress in the new year!

Here is a photo of one of our visits!

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There was also another big development this year for rural communities and it starts with innovative cross-laminated timber (CLT) products. Many folks know that I’m excited about this because increased use of responsibly harvested wood could mean more jobs in rural areas of our state. Additionally, using a renewable resource rather than steel or concrete means that buildings can be greener. Plus, these new wood products are strong, fire resistant, and may actually be safer in an earthquake than non-wood alternatives.

Construction sites across the country could soon use sturdy, innovative, renewable wood products grown and manufactured right here in our region. That’s why, for the past two years, I’ve directed key agencies like the Department of Defense to explore using these products when constructing new facilities.

This year, I’ve helped take the next step on this front by introducing bipartisan legislation to promote the production and use of these innovative timber products. The bill would get a few key initiatives started like a new research and development program to advance tall wood construction in our country and reauthorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Tall Wood Building Prize Competition for another five years.

I’m proud to say the bill also includes a provision I authored to ensure that a newly established wood innovation grant program would help rural communities hit by declining timber harvest levels by prioritizing projects that would utilize existing mill infrastructure in areas currently experiencing high unemployment. That could provide a boost to towns like Forks, Shelton, Port Angeles, and others that have experienced mill closures.

Our goal is to make sure Washington state revolutionizes our nation’s economy once again. This time with a product that is part of our state’s DNA.

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Fighting an Epidemic

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 18,893 people died from an opioid overdose in 2014 and 10,574 died from a heroin overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also report that 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose and deaths from the epidemic have surpassed the number of Americans killed in motor vehicle accidents each year.

Attached to these terrible statistics are human beings. Sadly, too many folks have felt the impact of heroin and opioid abuse. This scourge has led to overcrowded jails, overwhelmed medical professionals and emergency responders, and families who simply want to do more to help their loved ones. I’m glad this year Congress passed legislation to help stop the spread of this epidemic.

Specifically, the law includes, among the new initiatives, a requirement that the VA more effectively track opioid use by veterans, modification of drug prescribing practices to reduce the availability of opioids that could be abused and an increase in the use of overdose reversal drugs, along, with allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to administer medication-assisted treatment.

We also passed the 21st Century CURES Act, a law that can help stop the spread of addiction by giving states like Washington a chance to win grants for things like expanding treatment and recovery programs or implementing prevention activities. These are the sorts of things that Congress can accomplish when Democrats and Republicans work together.

Save Our Sound: Puget Sound Initiatives

Throughout the year, I’ve also been hard at work ensuring we continue the recovery of Puget Sound and the ecosystem of life that it supports. In the fall, officials from the Obama administration joined with members of the Washington state delegation to announce some big news. We presented a new Memorandum of Understanding that will solidify a roadmap for how federal agencies will help us achieve our restoration goals.

Now, federal, state, tribal governments, and local entities will all be operating from the same playbook. It means Tribal treaty rights will also be protected. And it will help us go a long way toward protecting the treasures – the water, the salmon, the oysters, and the orcas – for the next generation.

Along with my fellow cofounder of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus, Representative Denny Heck, I also introduced a bill that would help communities stop the spread of toxic stormwater runoff.

When heavy rains hit our cities and towns, the pollution that washes into nearby waterways (like Puget Sound) becomes a toxic mix that hurts salmon, oysters, and the overall health of our waters. Our legislation would assist state, Tribal, and local governments to utilize Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) to help.

GSI uses natural systems (think rain gardens and natural vegetation) and engineered systems to filter out the worst elements of stormwater before they can do damage. If our legislation passes, local communities would be able to access dedicated funding within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for water quality projects that utilize GSI. Our hope is that this can increase the number of breakthroughs that are happening in places like Tacoma to help protect these vital waterways. Stay tuned as we continue our efforts.

Fixing the VA system

I’ve also been working hard to fix the Veterans’ Affairs healthcare system. After stories and reports about manipulated wait times and mismanagement in our VA system, it became clear systemic reforms were needed. That’s why I called for the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review of the overall system and figure out where they could make improvements. The GAO agreed this was the right approach and this past fall released the first in what will be a series of reports on what went wrong.

The first GAO report found:

  • Recommendations not carried out: A number of different recommendations from the internal and outside reviews were given to the VHA central offices to more effectively detail what roles and responsibilities need to be carried out at local and national facilities, better measure how core VHA duties are completed, and the best ways to improve services, planning, and communications throughout the entire system. The GAO found that despite spending more than $68 million on these efforts, the majority of these recommendations were not agreed to or implemented by leadership at the VHA.
  • No guidance on realignment: The GAO discovered that the VHA failed to create a plan for network consolidation, leading to problems in incorporating new VA facilities, managing patient populations, and matching up electronic records correctly.

Based on these findings, Representative Dan Newhouse and I introduced the VA Management Alignment Act of 2016. The legislation calls for the VA to deliver an internal report to the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate and House of Representatives within 180 days of the act’s passage. The report would spell out the roles and responsibilities for senior staff and organizational units within the VA. Most importantly, it would demand a specific plan regarding they’ll work together to promote efficiency and accountability. It would provide a blueprint to improve the system to ensure veterans get the care they deserve. If you serve your country, we should have your back.

Staying Accessible and Accountable

When I’m home it’s important I hear from you. That’s why I spend my time running from pillar to post listening to your ideas and concerns regarding how we can bring “People Power” back to our democracy. In 2016, I held 7 public town hall meetings and three telephone town halls.

That’s not to mention all the service club meetings, parades, VFWs, and chats I’ve held with folks throughout our region. I also continued two traditions.  Firsts, every couple of month, I visit with workers at our region’s largest employer – the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard – at the gate as they head into work. It’s a great opportunity to learn what’s on their minds and find out how I can be a good partner. Stemming from those visits, I’ve worked on legislative initiatives dealing with overtime pay for workers in Japan, travel reimbursement policy, and other priorities. 

Second, I also kept up my “Kilmer at Your Company” visits. Over the past two years, I visited more than 100 employers in our region and got to hear about how the federal government impacts their business (for good and for bad). In many of these visits, I got to do a town hall meeting with the employees of the business. Whether at Harrison Medical Center, State Farm Insurance, or Safe Boats, it’s always valuable to hear what’s on people’s minds. What’s more, in my view it’s important to let local employers and workers know that they’re appreciated. If there’s a company you’d like me to visit in the new year, don’t hesitate to reach out to my office and we’ll try to schedule a visit.

Hopefully we got a chance to chat in 2016. If not, I look forward to the chance to interact in 2017! 

Here are a few snapshots to give you a sense of where we’ve been!

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Making Government Work for You

One of the most important things my office does is help the government work for you. We’ve helped seniors access the benefits they’ve earned, veterans get the recognition they deserve, and small business owners grappling with a federal agency.

We’ve done everything from help reverse a bureaucratic blunder that prevented a widow from receiving benefits to correcting a mistake that would have forced a retiree to give back a large portion of her retirement package. Given that so many veterans call our region home, we also get to help men and women who served our nation in the military. Often that means helping them access VA benefits or even get long overdue recognition for sacrifices they made.   

That’s what brought me to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10018 this year to celebrate the service of SGT Edward Dvorak from Lakebay. Along with the Undersecretary of the Army, Patrick Murphy, I presented a Silver Star to SGT Dvorak for protecting his fellow servicemembers on a November day in 1968.

Unfortunately, for nearly 50 years, Ed did not receive the proper recognition for the bravery he showed that day. So when he decided to submit an application to the Department of Defense, he asked for help from my office. Our office was more than happy to assist in submitting the application for review. During that process, the Department decided to upgrade the award to a Silver Star, our nation’s third highest military award.

I was proud to watch as SGT Dvorak, after so many years, received this well-deserved recognition of his bravery. Ed is yet another example of the extraordinary men and women who serve our nation.  It was an honor to play a small part in making the day happen.

It was also a great example of the work our office can do to help the folks we represent.  But we can only solve problems that we know about. If you need a hand – with the VA, with the IRS, with the Social Security Administration, or with any other agency – please do not hesitate to reach out to my office. Again, we work for you!

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Transformers: 2016

Last spring I was honored to be the commencement speaker at the University of Puget Sound. When I was thinking about what to say, the word Transformers came into my mind. Not the movie but the idea. The idea has a lot to offer. These students have undergone an amazing transformation as graduates and have the power to transform our economy, our political dialogue, and our world.

I challenged them to become part of an economic transformation that enables us to have an economy that works better for everybody, where people can have more stability and better pay and benefits. Where workers can be better respected. Where people feel less squeezed and have more opportunity. And where local communities and our planet can benefit.

For the record, I also told some jokes about Optimus Prime.

It was a terrific day. I look forward to hearing about all the great things these graduates will do.

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Keep in Touch

As always, it’s an honor to serve you. I’d like to thank you again for taking the time to read about some of the progress we made in 2016. Please keep reading in 2017 and let your friends know how easy it is to sign up to receive these newsletters!

All the best for 2017!

Sincerely,


 
Derek Kilmer