Ag-related bills in the Legislature

Senate Bill 6392 – Expanded farm internship program. In 2010, the Senate agriculture committee heard testimony that Washington is facing a crisis of aging farmers. The average age is 56, and 70 percent of farmland is expected to change hands in the next 20 years. To help bring young people into farming as a career, the Legislature established a farm internship pilot program for San Juan and Skagit counties in 2011. This on-the-job training opportunity is exempt from minimum wage requirements and unemployment insurance. L&I was directed to create a special industrial insurance risk class for farm interns. SB 6392 expands the farm internship pilot program to Whatcom, Kitsap, Pierce, Jefferson, Spokane, Yakima, Chelan, Grant, Kittitas, Lincoln, and Thurston counties. (Passed the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee on February 21).

Senate Bill 5996 – Protecting farmlands. The Open Spaces Taxation Act allows qualifying resource land to be valued at its current use rather than market value. The purpose of the program is to encourage retention of land in agricultural, forestry, or other approved open space uses. Multiple contiguous parcels that are managed as part of a single operation and owned by members of the same family may be added together to meet certain requirements. Family farms can be handed down for generations and operated by family members other than children. SB 5996 would expand the definition of family to include aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, great-grandchildren, and any other relative that is a lineal descendent of an individual who has held title to the property. (Passed by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on February 21).

GrainSenate Bill 6423 – No CDL needed to haul agricultural products from farm to storage. Farmers are exempt from Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) requirements when they use farm vehicles to transport agricultural products, farm machinery, farm supplies, or any combination of those materials to or from a farm. The definition of a farm vehicle, applicable throughout the broader Motor Vehicles code, is limited to those vehicles only incidentally operated on public highways for the purpose of going from one farm to another. SB 6423 would harmonize the definition of farm vehicles in the Motor Vehicle code with exemptions under the CDL. This will allow farmers to move their products to a storage facility without having to obtain a CDL. (Passed by the House Transportation Committee on February 16).

Senate Bill 5292 – Exempting irrigation and drainage ditches from the definition of critical areas. This is my bill from last session which passed the Senate on February 8. It would essentially clarify that the drainage side of irrigation districts are not considered “natural” streams so they should be excluded from designation as “critical areas” under the Growth Management Act. Ports also have a need to be exempted from that designation as they have similar artificial facilities. (Passed by the House Committee on Local Government on February 21).

House Bill 2488 Exempting certain phosphorus fertilizers from the statewide restriction of phosphorus fertilizers. Confused? So was I when I heard testimony on this bill in the Senate Environment Committee Tuesday. Last year the Legislature passed House Bill 1489, which prohibits the use and retail sale of turf fertilizers that contain phosphorus, as well as the application of turf fertilizer that contains phosphorus to turf. The prohibition goes into effect on January 1, 2013. However HB 2488 would exempt certain commercial fertilizers that contain phosphorus as long as they are organic.

Several good bills unfortunately didn’t make it out of the Senate, including Senate Bill 6152 (Streamlining water right permitting and appeals), and my Senate Bill 6026 (Maintaining and enhancing the viability of agriculture), Senate Bill 6431 (Harmonizing federal exemptions for agriculture practices with state law), whereas Senate Bill 6397/House Bill 2413 (Proposing restrictions on pesticide use) and Senate Bill 6298/House Bill 2637 (Requiring labeling of genetically modified foods) are all stuck in committees where they hopefully won’t see the light of another day.