Mudslide communities to be awarded state Medal of Valor

OLYMPIA — The communities of Oso, Darrington and Arlington and the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe will receive one of the state’s highest honors next month for the heroism of residents and tribal members in response to the deadly Oso mudslide.

Gov. Jay Inslee will present them with the Medal of Valor in a joint session of the House and Senate set for 11 a.m. on March 18 — four days before the one-year anniversary of the landslide that killed 43 people.

The communities and tribe are being recognized for “countless instances risking injury and death to save or recover victims of the Oso landslide,” according to information provided by the Secretary of State’s office.

Recipients of the Medal of Valor are chosen by a committee of the governor, the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, or their designees.

When panel members began last year to consider awarding the communities and the tribe with the honor, they learned that under existing law only individuals are eligible to receive it.

On Thursday, that hurdle was nearly erased when the House approved Senate Bill 5035 to allow the Medal of Valor to be given to a group of people for efforts to save, or attempt to save, another person’s life.

The bill, which passed the Senate last month, now goes to the governor for his signature.

Since its establishment in 2000, the Medal of Valor has been awarded to only eight people. There has not been a recipient since 2007.

Under state law, it cannot be given to police officers or firefighters, or others whose actions are a result of public duty as a first responder.

Also on March 18, Inslee will award a Medal of Merit posthumously to Billy Frank Jr. for his leadership in the fight to protect tribal fishing rights and to save salmon. Frank died in May.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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