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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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.

Sen. Ted Cruz won the Idaho Republican presidential primary. Cruz pulled in about 45 percent of the GOP vote Tuesday followed by businessman Donald Trump in a distant second place with 28 percent.

Idaho State Treasurer Ron Crane served as Ted Cruz’s honorary state chairman. Crane said Cruz’s values aligned with Idaho’s GOP electorate.

“He connected with Idahoans,” Crane said. “I think his visit to Idaho this last weekend was strategic. His timing was perfect.”

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.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio appealed to Idahoans to revive his presidential hopes during a one-day campaign swing through Idaho Falls and Boise Sunday. Idaho’s Republican presidential primary takes place Tuesday.

March 11 marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Visitors to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon, can now feast their eyes on a living legacy of that quake and tsunami.

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.

The process for getting a new drug approved in the U.S. takes years. If you’re very sick, it can be incredibly frustrating to learn a potential cure is out there, but may not reach the market in time to save your life.

Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter is voicing skepticism that his fellow Republicans in the state legislature can both cut income taxes and do justice to public education. Otter made his remarks during a rare press Q and A in Boise Thursday.

Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter said he's concerned with the number of children who die because their parents choose faith healing instead of traditional medical care.

The scrambled state of the presidential nominating contest makes it more likely that Northwest states will be relevant when our time comes to vote. That starts in less than four weeks with the Idaho Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, March 8.

Republicans in the Idaho and Washington legislatures want to block any more cities from going the path of Seattle and Tacoma in raising the minimum wage locally. In Boise Tuesday, a House committee introduced a state preemption bill.

The privatization of retail liquor sales in Washington state has delivered a sustained boost to the state liquor divisions in neighboring Idaho and Oregon.

The fastest land mammal in North America is again running free in north central Washington after a long absence. In late January, the Colville Tribes relocated 52 pronghorn antelope onto their reservation as part of a reintroduction effort.

A few short months from now, federal and state foresters around the West will purposely set controlled burns to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires later. This is a regular practice in Oregon, Idaho and California, but much less common in Washington state.

Federal agencies and university scientists are making progress on the deployment of an earthquake early warning system for the West Coast. That was one of the messages from a half-day earthquake preparedness summit hosted by the White House Tuesday.

In Salem and Olympia, some lawmakers are looking for a middle way on raising the minimum wage. In both capitals, there's hope that a modest wage increase with business and labor support could head off or trump oncoming ballot measures.

One of the Northwest’s selling points is its cheap hydropower. That’s why in recent years data centers have sprouted along the Columbia River in both Washington and Oregon.

But in north central Washington, an emerging power-hungry industry is meeting with some resistance. It involves the making and managing of the virtual currency called bitcoin.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Once upon a time, the Northwest was home to ten massive aluminum smelters. As of today, just one still operates. And the Alcoa company plans to idle that smelter near Ferndale, Washington, indefinitely in June.

Is it the end for a one-time pillar of the Northwest economy or merely a pause?

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