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by Doug Nadvornick & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & wo bills that would establish a new state cemetery for honorably discharged Eastern Washington veterans and their spouses are moving forward in the state House and Senate.

The House version, sponsored by Rep. Don Barlow (D-Spokane), was scheduled for a vote in committee Wednesday. An identical Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Chris Marr (D-Spokane), may soon be headed to the Senate floor.

"This is something that's been a long time coming," Barlow says. "It will fill a significant gap for veterans on this side of the mountains."

The state Department of Veterans Affairs considered sites near Spokane, the Tri-Cities and Yakima before narrowing its focus to two: along I-90 near Medical Lake and at the northern tip of West Medical Lake.

"Thirty-seven percent of the 140,000 veterans in Eastern Washington live in Spokane County," Marr says. "That's why the state decided to build near Spokane."

The governor has appropriated $7.8 million in her capital budget to buy the land and start construction. State officials say the federal government will reimburse the state for all but $450,000, the state's share, after the facility opens.

The state will be responsible for most or all of the cemetery's operating costs, about $109,000 per year. Gary Condra, the chief financial officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs, says half of that money will be raised through the sale of veterans' license plates. The state will also collect federal burial benefits for veterans interred at the cemetery.

The state operates two veterans' cemeteries in western Washington and the federal government operates the Tahoma National Cemetery in south King County.
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