The state House of Representatives voted unanimously Monday to establish an Eastern Washington state veterans cemetery in Spokane County, capping a years-long push by local veterans and the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
"This cemetery reflects our duty to honor our veterans and their families," said state Rep. Don Barlow, D-Spokane, the legislation's prime sponsor. He's a former member of the Idaho National Guard.
Monday's vote means that the cemetery – slated for one of two proposed sites west of Spokane – is all but a done deal. An identical bill backed by Spokane Democratic state Sen. Chris Marr passed the Senate unanimously Feb. 2. Gov. Chris Gregoire has repeatedly touted the proposal in Olympia and Spokane.
Currently, all honorably discharged veterans and their spouses are eligible to be buried at the existing national Tahoma Cemetery near Kent.
But with an estimated 140,000 veterans living in Eastern Washington – including nearly 52,000 in Spokane County – veterans' groups have said for years that it's impractical for families to drive 280 miles to visit loved ones interred at Tahoma.
State officials had also considered sites in Yakima and the Tri-Cities. The final two sites chosen by the state veterans agency last summer are on McFarland Road near Fairchild Air Force Base and on Salnave Road, off Interstate 90 near Medical Lake.
Gregoire in December proposed spending $7.8 million over the next two years to buy land and build the cemetery. Of that, about $7 million would be reimbursed by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
Republicans pointedly noted that local lawmakers have been pushing for such a bill for years. (Barlow and Marr, both Democrats, were elected in November.)
"This has been a long time coming for Eastern Washington," said state Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane.
"This is one of those bills where, if you don't care who gets the credit, you can get some really fine things done," said Rep. David Buri, R-Colfax.
The bill passed the House 96 to 0.