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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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.

Amid a widespread shutdown of athletic events, Washington state has become the 21st state to legalize betting on sports. Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday signed legislation to authorize sports wagers in tribal casinos only.

It will be months before sports fans can bet money on games though, because first the tribes have to negotiate regulatory agreements with the state. And of course, sports leagues have to start up again.

Following the lead of California and several other states and local communities, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday evening announced an immediate statewide "stay-at-home" order that will last for at least two weeks. It requires all residents of Washington to remain at home unless they are conducting essential business or taking a break for some fresh air.

Thanks to coronavirus, one dreaded chore is temporarily off limits. No need to brace for long lines at the DMV to renew a driver license because those offices are closed for now in Washington state and perhaps soon in Oregon.

The infamous long lines at the DMV produced wait times exceeding one hour at several Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services field offices Tuesday, despite federal Centers for Disease Control guidance to minimize gatherings of groups of more than 10 people to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

Washington state is on the verge of ending a large tax break for the Boeing Company and its parts suppliers. This is happening at Boeing's bidding to head off a bigger hit from threatened European tariffs.

Last year, during the spring northbound migration of gray whales along the Pacific Northwest coast, more than 200 whales -- most looking skinny or malnourished -- washed up dead on beaches between Mexico and Alaska.

As this year's long journey gets underway, marine scientists and whale lovers will be watching whether the unusual die-off continues into a second year.

As the death toll from the novel coronavirus continues to rise, many people who feel sick are naturally concerned they might have the infection. Until now, a coronavirus test has been difficult to get locally because of limited capacity and strict rules for who qualifies. However, both of those restrictions may relax soon.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday that his emergency powers would allow him to order the cancellation of large public gatherings to control the growing coronavirus outbreak in his state. However, he told reporters during a briefing in Olympia that he does not plan to use that authority at this time.

Craig Jasmer's family and his neighbors cherish the peace and quiet of their homes in the Cascade foothills near the small town of Randle, Washington. The Cowlitz River flows through their valley past green pastures and snow-capped mountains. The scene would make a fetching label on a bottle of alpine spring water, which is almost what happened to the residents' dismay.

The Boeing Company is bringing an unusual request to state lawmakers in Olympia: please take away our airplane manufacturing tax break. The Washington Legislature seems likely to oblige, but possibly will add some strings to the deal.

A group that wants to bring back wild sea otters to the Oregon Coast is taking a big step forward. The federal government has awarded them a grant to launch a feasibility study for a possible reintroduction effort.

Beachcombing was a blast for soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord earlier this week. An ordnance disposal unit was called out after unexploded military munitions washed up on the beach north of Ocean Shores, Washington.

Legal betting on last Sunday's NFL Super Bowl was a winner for the state of Oregon and a handful of Oregon tribal casinos. This comes as legislators in Washington state ponder whether to legalize sports betting too.

People wear face masks and walk at a shopping mall in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.
Chiang Ying-ying / The Associated Press

Doctors and public health officials in Washington have revealed more details about the first U.S. case of the new coronavirus.

On Friday, a case report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine about the 35-year-old man from Snohomish County who was diagnosed with the virus.

It discusses the progression of the illness, which included fever and pneumonia.

Doctors at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett used a new anti-viral drug that was developed as a treatment for Ebola on the patient.

"What time is it here?" is a question few people feel the need to ask when crossing state lines in the Pacific Northwest. But a committee vote Wednesday in the Idaho Legislature raises the possibility that border cities in the inland Northwest may observe time differently than their close neighbors as soon as next year.

Do you want to own an old ferryboat? A retired Washington car ferry is for sale again after the current owner's many ideas for the boat did not work out.

Effective this October, a standard Oregon or Washington driver's license won't pass muster with the Transportation Security Administration to board a domestic flight. Both Oregon and Washington drivers licensing managers are expecting long wait times this summer as a surge of deadline-driven travelers apply for upgraded IDs that are federally acceptable.

Remember back when it didn't cost anything to visit a state park for the day? A senior Republican in the Washington Legislature says the state's budget surplus should make it possible for park access to be free again.

The Boeing Company is close to maxing out the storage space it has leased at the Moses Lake, Washington, airport for its grounded 737 Max airliners. The plane maker plans to deploy a fresh wave of mechanics across the mountains to maintain the large fleet until those planes can fly again.

The decades-long quest of Chinook tribal members to regain federal recognition gets another airing in court on Monday. A U.S. District Court judge is scheduled to hear oral arguments on cross-claims for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by the tribe against the Department of the Interior.

The panel that sets highway and bridge tolls in Washington is recommending the state follow Oregon's lead and phase in a pay-by-the-mile road tax to make up for expected declines in gas tax revenue. The nonbinding recommendation to the Washington Legislature from the state Transportation Commission drew flak from skeptical taxpayers and faces a bumpy road ahead in the 2020 election year.

In this season of holiday shopping, now is about the time when many of us get stuck and don't know what to get for someone on our gift list. There are at least three Pacific Northwest companies who may come to your rescue with ideas for unconventional presents. A hint: they involve used dolls, a precious, exotic spice and a different kind of gift card.

Unsettling Toy Removal and Rehoming

Airbus has wrapped up flight testing of a pilotless air taxi in eastern Oregon skies and is moving on. The global aerospace company, along with its rival Boeing and many others, is striving to make flying cars an option for your urban commute someday.

A fully electric seaplane has made its first flight over the mouth of the Fraser River near Vancouver.  The maiden flight represents a milestone in the long process of reducing the aviation industry's emissions, noise and costs by electrifying short-to-medium distance commercial flying.

Several hundred people crowded the riverbank on Tuesday morning to witness what they hoped would be a historic moment. They were not disappointed.

Thursday was supposed to be the day that a Washington state ballot measure to lower car registration fees took effect. But the state Supreme Court has let an injunction stand against what is known as the $30 car tabs initiative. That means hundreds of thousands of drivers will get full price bills in the coming months that they thought they had voted to reduce.

New earthquake research to be presented by Oregon-based geologists next week sounds like a B movie plot -- a great earthquake along the Pacific Northwest's offshore Cascadia fault triggers another great earthquake on the northern San Andreas Fault. In what may be a case where life imitates art -- or more precisely, where science catches up to the fertile imaginations of Hollywood script writers -- attendees at a major earth science meeting in San Francisco will hear evidence that this cascade of disaster happened many times over the past couple of millennia.

State officials are worried about a possible mess at Pacific Northwest airports and driver licensing offices. Next October, the Transportation Security Administration will stop accepting regular Washington and Oregon driver licenses to pass through airport screening checkpoints.

It's been more than 15 years since a British Airways Concorde made its final landing in Seattle. The needle-nosed supersonic jet was added to the collection of the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field.

Now, new companies are poised to bring back supersonic commercial flying. A recently-formed industry group wants to designate airspace over the inland Northwest for the flight testing.

Another passenger badly injured in the Amtrak train derailment south of Tacoma nearly two years ago will collect big-time damages. But suing Amtrak like this suburban Seattle woman did will no longer be an option after future crashes.

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