Tom Banse | KNKX

Tom Banse

Regional Correspondent

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Before taking his current beat, Tom covered state government and the Washington Legislature for 12 years.  He got his start in radio at WCAL–FM, a public station in southern Minnesota. Reared in Seattle, Tom graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota with a degree in American Studies.

When not sifting through press releases, listening to lobbyists, or driving lonely highways, Tom enjoys exploring the Olympic Peninsula backcountry and cooking dinner with his wife and friends. Tom's secret ambition is to take six months off work and travel to a faraway place beyond the reach of email.

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Four Washington state tribes have opened negotiations with the state government to introduce sports betting. Earlier this year, the legislature authorized wagering on sports, but only at tribal casinos -- unlike the broader legalization in Oregon.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the state Health Secretary are hitting the pause button on the county-by-county reopening process in response to the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Inslee announced that for at least the next two weeks all counties in Washington state will stay in whatever reopening phase they are currently in -- with a couple of exceptions.

A favorable weather forecast and the Fourth of July falling on a weekend has beach communities in the Pacific Northwest bracing for an onslaught despite the ongoing pandemic. Two beach towns that tend to be holiday crowd magnets are particularly in the limelight this year.

A former state ferry now moored on the Olympia waterfront may be headed for auction for the third time in about three years, this time to remedy months of unpaid port bills. The venerable car ferry Evergreen State was declared "abandoned" by the Port of Olympia on Friday, to the dismay of its owner.

Washington state leaders are expressing hesitancy about opening the door to the final phase of the governor's four-phase reopening plan. By the end of this week, eight rural counties will have spent the minimum three weeks in Phase 3 and can then theoretically apply to lift most remaining coronavirus restrictions.

A consultant's study of what it would take to boost east-west passenger rail service across Washington state effectively threw cold water on the envisioned trains. The report to the state legislature predicted high costs and relatively low ridership.

A study of sea otter restoration in British Columbia is giving encouragement to a group that wants to bring sea otters back to the Oregon Coast. A research report in the June 12 issue of the journal Science found that the return of sea otters yields far more in ecological benefits and ecotourism dollars than in costs to commercial fisheries.

Summer officially begins on Saturday, but it still feels like winter if you study the sailing schedule of Washington State Ferries. With ridership depressed by the ongoing pandemic, the nation's biggest ferry system is sticking to a reduced schedule through what would normally be its busiest season.

An iconic, but disappearing American institution -- the drive-in movie theater -- came to the rescue of the senior classes in several Pacific Northwest communities this month. As luck would have it, a drive-in cinema is well suited for a socially-distanced graduation ceremony.

Impaired driving citations dropped sharply across Oregon and Washington this spring during the coronavirus pandemic. There are multiple possible explanations for the decline, but people drinking and using drugs less does not appear to be a likely one.

Frustration with long delays in getting jobless benefits is boiling over into a lawsuit against the Washington State Employment Security Department. Attorneys representing two laid off workers and the nonprofit Unemployment Law Project filed the case directly with the state Supreme Court on Friday.

Washington's least populous counties will lead the way into the next phase of relaxing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and social gatherings. This next phase allows for the resumption of team sports as well as for libraries, museums, gyms and movie theaters to at least partially reopen.

Fresh salt air and a good night's sleep to the sound of lapping waves might be just what the doctor ordered for Pacific Northwesterners left frazzled by current events. A getaway to the seashore is back in the realm of possibility as many coastal Oregon and Washington towns relax closure orders on tourist lodgings and vacation rentals.

There are a few holdout places along the Pacific Coast that are staying closed to visitors until further notice, along with considerable wariness about reintroducing a virus that has largely spared coastal counties up to now.

A Cessna commuter plane retrofitted in Washington state has taken the crown of biggest all-electric airplane now flying. Redmond, Washington-based electric motor maker MagniX teamed up with flight testing contractor AeroTEC to convert a 10-passenger, single engine Cessna 208B Grand Caravan to fly on battery power.

The county-by-county reopening of Washington state is picking up steam. The state Secretary of Health on Friday approved four additional places where closed businesses can now restart immediately if they have safety plans in place. At least a half-dozen more counties -- backed by antsy business communities -- are queuing up close behind.

The coronavirus is spreading a pandemic of disappointment among Pacific Northwest families and camp counselors via the widespread cancellation of traditional sleepaway summer camps. But some camp operators in Washington state and north Idaho are waiting to make the final call for this summer in hopes that overnight camps can still take place -- albeit with a late start probably. Others are putting an assortment of backup options into play.

There were once big plans for many public events to mark the 40th anniversary of the catastrophic 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The coronavirus pandemic blew up those plans, but many are resurfacing online this week and next.

American and Canadian marine scientists -- and one talented dog -- are seizing an unexpected opportunity presented by the coronavirus pandemic. They are trying to establish whether Pacifc Northwest whales benefit from the current drop in boat traffic and underwater noise.

Given the opportunity to accelerate the restart of shuttered businesses and social activities, six counties in central and eastern Washington wasted no time this week in submitting the necessary paperwork to the state government. Kittitas, Garfield, Columbia, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille County officials hope to hear an answer back from the Washington State Secretary of Health before the end of this week. Lincoln County joined the queue on Wednesday.

More than 100 Washington state parks made the cut to reopen for day use beginning Tuesday, but aficionados of Pacific Coast and Columbia River Gorge getaways will have to wait a while longer.

Outdoor enthusiasts in Washington may be looking forward to the reopening of many shuttered state parks and public lands next week. But a few of Washington's most popular state parks could stay closed because the surrounding communities are worried about crowds and renewed disease spread.

Distance learning, ordering groceries online or applying for unemployment, those are all kind of difficult without a good internet connection. So, at least seven public utilities spanning Washington state are setting up drive-up Wi-Fi hotspots amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The purpose is to provide free high speed internet to families, especially rural students, who don't have access at home. Many traditional public Wi-Fi access points such as libraries and coffee shops are currently closed.

More than 500 firefighters and EMTs in the Pacific Northwest have been temporarily quarantined after suspected exposure to the coronavirus over the past two months. The Washington State Council of Fire Fighters and the Oregon Fire Service Coronavirus Response Team have been monitoring the number of first responders taken out of service. Fortunately, only a small fraction have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Coronavirus risk and ongoing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) are leading fire departments around the region to rediscover the enduring truth of the idiom, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Since the virus epidemic emerged in the Pacific Northwest, the fire service has changed tactics, improvised and resorted to creativity to keep first responders healthy and available to serve the public.

Fresh numbers of initial claims for jobless benefits showed some moderation in the past week in the staggering wave of layoffs across the Pacific Northwest caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But the level of unemployment claims continues to hover at record levels, as reported Thursday by the state labor and employment departments of Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Protective surgical gowns are one of the most scarce and eagerly sought items in the current coronavirus pandemic. Responders-turned-MacGyvers in at least three separate places, including two in Washington state, have independently hit upon a do-it-yourself alternative using common construction house wrap.

The unemployment rolls in Washington state and Oregon continue to swell like never before. Washington's Employment Security Department said Thursday that close to half a million workers have applied for jobless benefits over the past three weeks. Oregon recorded just shy of 270,000 new claims in the same period, which is far more than the 147,800 net job losses in Oregon over the whole duration of the Great Recession.

There are hundreds of thousands of additional jobless workers waiting in the wings to file claims, including part-time and gig economy workers and self-employed who qualify under expanded federal benefits. But they are temporarily frozen out. The wait for overloaded unemployment systems to catch up is leaving some of them frustrated or anxious.

When the coronavirus outlook got scary and hairy in mid-March, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recruited an outsider to join his crisis management team. He convinced a retired vice admiral to temporarily move cross-country to serve as Washington state's COVID-19 hospital "czar." Dr. Raquel Bono says she is now cautiously optimistic the state's health care system can handle a surge of ill patients.

Give yourself a pat on the back if you have already responded to the 2020 census. Residents of Pacific Northwest states are doing an above average job fulfilling their civic duty. But there is still a long way to go amid a virus pandemic that has forced many adjustments.

An inventive TV producer could script a complete game show with all of the unusual or borderline situations that Census Bureau workers may encounter while carrying out the once a decade national headcount. Then on top of it all, the current coronavirus outbreak introduced a plot twist that has delayed some 2020 Census training and field operations.

Yet, the census count is now underway in the Pacific Northwest. You might have recently received a letter with an invitation to complete the census online or by phone. Census takers were to follow up beginning in April with people who didn't get a mailing or ignored it, but that operation has been pushed back to launch in May, in part to protect the health and safety of census takers.

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