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.

Ways to Connect

U.S. Census Bureau photo

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.

WA Employment Security Department

Mirroring the national trend, Washington and Oregon are experiencing an unprecedented spike in unemployment claims caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the last week, 133,464 Washingtonians and 76,500 Oregonians filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits. In Oregon, that represents a 15-fold increase in claims from the previous week. In Washington, the increase was more than eight-fold.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

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.

Office of Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee

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.

U.S. Census Bureau photo

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.

Austin Jenkins / NW News Network

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he wants to avoid imposing a statewide shelter-in-place order, as governors in California and elsewhere have done recently. But he said this will necessitate further voluntary reductions in social interactions by Washingtonians.

The Democratic governor used an unusually stern tone in a media briefing from his office at the state Capitol late Friday, saying "some progress" has been made to slow the coronavirus outbreak, but that "we have not done enough."

ODOT / Flickr - tinyurl.com/jo3k6vk

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.

Boeing photo

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.

John Calambokidis / Cascadia Research Collective

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.

UW Medicine

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.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

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.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

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.

Boeing photo

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.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

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.

Courtesy of Grays Harbor County Sheriff

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.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

A couple of years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states beyond Nevada to have sports betting. Oregon dove in last year. Idaho, Washington and California have held back. Now, Washington state lawmakers are taking a hard look at legalizing sports betting. But they do not seem inclined to copy much from Oregon's playbook.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

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.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

"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.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

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.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

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.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

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.

Efrem Lukatsky / AP Photo

The crash of a Boeing 737 airliner shortly after takeoff from the Iranian capital hit home in the Pacific Northwest Wednesday. The crash victims include immigrant families just across the U.S. border in British Columbia.

Planet Labs

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.

Molly Solomon / OPB 2018

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.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

A holiday wish of many Pacific Northwest rail fans is more roundtrips on the Amtrak Cascades schedule with greater speed and reliability. But in order to beef up train service between Seattle and Portland, a bypass route south of Tacoma needs to be reopened. There is still no fixed date to return Amtrak trains to those tracks where a deadly derailment happened just over two years ago.

The once-every-ten-years census count of everyone living in the United States starts next month, beginning with remote villages in Alaska. West Coast states are spending local tax dollars to boost the response when their turn comes beginning in March.

Washington Department of Transportation

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.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

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.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

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.

News graphic by McKayla Fox / NWPB

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

Pages