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Posted on Jan 20, 2016

Gorge surcharge back in Olympia

OLYMPIA — Supporters of a bill that would create a surcharge on tickets to outdoor amphitheaters such as the nearby Gorge Amphitheatre are hoping this legislative session brings better news for the stalled legislation.
With lawmakers only days into the new legislative session, there’s been a “big push” this week at the state capital from supporters of HB1009 and SB500, said Rep. Matt Manweller (R-Ellensburg).
Lobbyists representing those in favor of the legislation have been putting pressure on the speaker of the House to get the bill out of the Rules Committee, where it has sat since last spring, Manweller said. Several state associations representing emergency responders and the medical industry also have thrown their support behind the bill, he said. And both the Port of Quincy and the city of Quincy have representatives lobbying in support of the bills.
“We really have some new energy,” Manweller said. “I am more optimistic than I was at the end of the last session.”
Sponsored by Manweller in the House as HB1009 and Sen. Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee) in the Senate as SB5000, the proposed legislation would impose a $1 surcharge on admission tickets of $20 or more to concerts and festivals held at outdoor amphitheaters in rural communities. The money collected from the surcharge would be divided between hospitals and fire districts to pay for emergency medical care provided to injured concert-goers.
The bill was drafted with the Gorge in mind because of ongoing concerns raised by the Quincy Valley Medical Center that some concert-goers treated there are not paying their bills.
At a meeting of local leaders earlier this week, hospital Commissioner Randy Zolman said since 2013 the hospital has “eaten” $800,000 in costs related to treating concert-goers and increasing staffing for the busy concert weekends.
“That’s a pretty good hit on anyone’s financials,” Zolman said.
The hospital tried to get a loan last September with a local bank and was refused because of its debt related to the Gorge, Zolman said. The hospital at this time also has a nearly $3 million warrant line with Grant County.
“Right now, we have everybody coming at us from all sides and we’re stuck in the middle, fending off punches,” Zolman said.
Last legislative session, Grant County commissioners sent an email to local legislators saying they did not support the proposed legislation. County Commissioner Carolann Swartz on Wednesday said she was disappointed in Manweller’s support of the bill because this is a local issue. The hospital’s financial problems go much deeper than nonpaying concert-goers, Swartz added.
“I don’t think a dollar surcharge on 27,000 (Paradiso concert) tickets is going to solve their issues,” she said.
County Commissioner Richard Stevens, who was also at the leadership meeting, argued numbers given to the county show that while 75 concert-goers did not pay their hospital bills last year, 2,600 people from Quincy also did not pay their bills.
The original bill gave county commissioners the power to levy the surcharge monies; however, if county commissioners choose not to use their authority, then local hospitals would have that power, Manweller said.
If the legislation makes it way out of the Rules Committee, it then would go before a vote of the House and Senate. Manweller is confident the bill would pass in the House.


— By Jill FitzSimmons,