Tom Banse

Regional Correspondent

Tom Banse covers business, environment, public policy, human interest and national news 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 heard 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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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Monday signed into law an update to the state's two-year budget. It puts more money into the state's mental health hospitals and pays for costs from last summer's wildfires.

The governor also wielded his veto pen.

Come July, a wider range of fully electric and extended range plug-in hybrid cars will benefit from a sales tax break in Washington state. Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation Monday to raise the cutoff for a tax incentive.

An Oregon-based nuclear company presented a detailed timeline Thursday for the deployment of its first small modular nuclear power plant. An executive from NuScale Power presented the roadmap during a keynote address to the International SMR and Advanced Reactor Summit taking place this week in Atlanta.

People who are interested in solar energy but don't own the perfect roof on which to install solar panels may have the option to buy into a bigger, centrally-located project. These are called shared solar or community solar. There's a boomlet of such projects in Washington state right now, while there are hardly any in sunnier Oregon and Idaho.

But Washington's generous solar incentives are coming under scrutiny.

The unemployment rate in Washington state held steady at 5.8 percent for the fourth consecutive month in March. But in its latest jobs report out Wednesday, the state employment department reported steady hiring across most of the economy.

"Limited" commercial advertising is coming to Washington State Parks. The state park system will begin placing ads in parks as early as this summer to make itself more self-sustaining.

Alaska Airlines management is expressing confidence about integrating its rival Virgin America, whose pending acquisition was announced Monday. Any airline merger poses challenges and this one is no exception.

Alaska Air outbid rival JetBlue Airways to acquire Virgin America in what Alaska Air CEO Brad Tilden described as "a hard fought competition." Alaska Air won the bidding war with a $2.6 billion all-cash offer that was announced Monday.

April 1 is, on average, generally considered the date of the peak snowpack in the Northwest. And around now, is when many irrigation districts begin filling their canals to get ready for watering season.

There are grounds for optimism as well as caution.

Washington state lawmakers have flushed a proposed ban on state business travel to Victoria, British Columbia. The travel restriction surfaced last month in one version of a state budget. It was meant to pressure Victoria to stop dumping raw sewage into shared border waters.

A U.S. bankruptcy judge Tuesday approved the sale of the profitable core of the Haggen grocery chain to rival Albertsons. That brings to a close the dismantling of the Washington-based company.

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has scheduled a press conference Monday morning to give his take on the legislative session that just ended. At the top of the list of topics is whether the governor might take executive action to expand Medicaid under a provision of Obamacare.

The Idaho Legislature has wrapped up for the year without doing anything to address 2016’s highest profile issue: expanding health care coverage for Idaho’s working poor.

Idaho will remain among the 19 states resisting a key provision of Obamacare. The Idaho Legislature adjourned Friday without agreement on whether to explore an expansion of the Medicaid program.

The share of Oregonians and Washingtonians without health insurance has dropped dramatically under Obamacare. The uninsured rate is now at a historic low in the West Coast states.

Idaho has missed out on that trend, largely because the state until now has refused to expand Medicaid eligibility on the federal dime. Idaho's Republican-controlled legislature was teetering Friday on whether to end its holdout.

Idaho has become the 25th state to authorize terminally-ill patients to request unapproved, investigational drugs and treatments. The concept -- also new in Oregon -- has come to be known as the “Right to Try.”

Idaho cities, counties and local voters will not have the option to approve increases in the minimum wage in the absence of action at the state level. A legislative measure to block local minimum wage increases became law Tuesday.

Idaho lawmakers said amen for public school teachers to use the Bible in classrooms. The Idaho House voted 54-15 Monday to allow religious texts, including the Bible, to be used for reference purposes.

Across the West, groundwater reserves are being depleted. Nature can’t replenish the aquifers as quickly as they’re being drawn down for irrigation, industry and drinking water.

This winter, the Idaho Legislature has considered a range of what are sometimes called "message bills," introduced to convey dissatisfaction with how federal agencies are managing public lands. But the latest proposal from one conservative lawmaker went too far even for the Republican majority in the statehouse. 

Idaho counties could declare federal forestland within their borders to be a "catastrophic public nuisance" under a measure approved by an Idaho legislative committee Tuesday.

The Washington Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday morning about the legality of anti-tax activist Tim Eyman's latest voter-approved initiative.

Three anti-government protesters from Idaho will stay behind bars for the time being. A fourth will have his status reviewed Thursday in Coeur d’Alene. This all stems from the armed confrontation near the Bundy Ranch in Nevada in 2014.

Idaho is one of four states with presidential primaries or caucuses Tuesday. Turnout could be high in the Republican primary if it’s like the others this season.

Have you ever wondered about life in the deepest depths of the ocean? Oregon-based oceanographers did, so they dropped a microphone seven miles down. What they heard came as a surprise.

Washington state government workers would be forbidden to travel to Victoria, British Columbia, on business under a budget proviso passed by the Washington House of Representatives. The proposed travel ban is meant to pressure Victoria to stop dumping raw sewage into shared border waters.

Republican Congressmen from several Western states are running with a theme that emerged during the recent armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. 

Oregon and Washington state lawmakers are making another try at introducing a new crop to the Northwest: Industrial hemp, the non-drug cousin of marijuana.

A vote by Idaho lawmakers Monday showed Northwest states are moving toward full compliance with driver's license security upgrades demanded by Congress more than a decade ago.

If you spend any time on the road, you've no doubt noticed erratic or dangerous driving by people using mobile phones behind the wheel. But ongoing efforts in Idaho and Washington state to tighten the rules on cell phone use while driving are stalling out.

Three states, three ways of addressing whether and how to raise the statewide minimum wage. In Oregon this coming Monday, the state House takes up a three-tiered wage increase that passed the state Senate last Thursday. In Washington state, activists are preparing to hit the streets for a statewide initiative. Meanwhile, Idaho lawmakers are mulling whether to block both a statewide and any possible local increases in the minimum wage.

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