State waterfall bill heads to Inslee

Murrow News ServiceMarch 5, 2014 

Photo taken Feb. 23 at Palouse Falls State Park. View from below canyon rim on Franklin County side. Ice is gone and green grass is starting to appear on canyon ledges, reports Tom Foster of Pasco, who sent in the photo.

COURTESY TOM FOSTER

OLYMPIA -- Washington will soon have a state waterfall, thanks to 29 children from Washtucna.

House Bill 2119, which designates Palouse Falls as the state's official waterfall, passed the state Senate this week after passing the House last month. It now awaits the signature of Gov. Jay Inslee.

The bill was drafted by third- through sixth-graders from the Washtucna School District, who attend school about 17 miles from the 198-foot high waterfall on the Franklin-Whitman county line

Janet Camp, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher for the district, said she hatched the idea with third- and fourth-grade instructor Amy Whipple when the two teamed up for a classroom social studies assessment.

The two teachers decided to give their students a real civics lesson: drafting a bill.

After deciding on the topic of a state waterfall, the teachers invited Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, to their classrooms in October.

Schmick visited some of his youngest constituents to explain the legislative process, and when the children presented their bill idea, he agreed to sponsor it.

"They actually drafted the bill," he said. "We did have to send it to the code reviser, to make sure it was legal, but they did a pretty fine job."

Students researched everything about Palouse Falls, said Camp, including historical, cultural and geographic information. They also took a field trip there in November, she added.

The students wrote letters to the House committee that heard the bill, and five students traveled to Olympia in January to testify in person, Camp said.

The bill passed the House unanimously Feb. 12, and moved to the Senate, where students again provided letters to a Senate committee, as well as video of Tyler Bradt's 2009 world record kayak drop over the falls.

Tuesday afternoon, at the end of the school day, students learned the bill had passed the Senate 46-3.

"They just about jumped out of their seats," said Camp, who added that students watched a video of the floor debate and voting the next morning.

As for the three senators who voted against Palouse Falls, Schmick was perplexed.

"Who could vote against those kids?" he said.

Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, did, but he said his vote was nothing against the students. He said he was simply looking out for his district and nearby Snoqualmie Falls.

"It's a better falls," he said with a laugh. "If we're going to be naming state waterfalls, Snoqualmie clearly should have won."

Snoqualmie Falls, about 30 miles east of Seattle, is taller than Palouse Falls at 268 feet.

Both falls are well frequented by visitors. Schmick said 80,000 to 100,000 people visit Palouse Falls State Park annually.

"This is one of the few state parks that actually runs in the black," he said.

Camp said she is waiting to hear when and where Gov. Inslee will sign the bill, and added it would be cool if he could sign it at Palouse Falls.

-- Tri-City Herald intern Matt Benoit is a Washington State University student: 509-947-9277, mbenoit@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_

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