Ag issues on docket in 2023 Washington Legislature

| May 1, 2023 1:00 AM

OLYMPIA — The 2023 Washington Legislature session included bills to support agriculture. House Bill 1138, concerning drought preparedness, is one piece of that legislation.

“We’ve been working on that for two to three years,” said Rep. Tom Dent, a sponsor of the bill. “So we get into a drought in different areas of the state and the drought committee comes together and puts together a plan to help people in the drought-affected area to mitigate the effects of the drought, whether it means through use of emergency wells, financial assistance, (or other measures).”

HB 1138, requested by the Department of Ecology, adjusts the circumstances in which the Drought Committee is authorized to convene. The bill amends these circumstances to include when a drought advisory is in effect and when a drought emergency order is in effect.

“So if something were to happen and the drought committee came together, we can act quicker and get the funding out there to make it happen soon,” said Dent.

Dent explained that many droughts tend to happen in August when legislative staff doesn’t usually work, so they needed to create a way to operate during that time better.

“So then we get into kind of a jam because we can’t get things done because we don’t have staff,” he said. “So we were trying to put together a bill that could be functional, that we can function without having staff here all the time and meet the needs of the people.”

Another aspect of the bill includes that the information that Ecology is required to provide the committee while a drought emergency order is in effect must include details on drought grants that have been applied for or issued.

The bill also expands funding for the Emergency Drought Response account by authorizing the state treasurer to transfer the amounts necessary to bring the balance of the account to $3 million from the general fund.

“We really need it to be ready in case of a drought,” Dent said.

The bill passed the House 96-1 and the Senate unanimously. As of press deadline, it awaits the signature of the governor.

“It’s a good bill, I’m glad it passed,” he added. “It’s not exactly the way we wanted it but it’s pretty close.”

Other bills this session that can impact agriculture include, as of press deadline:

HB 1019 – Creating a pesticide advisory board. It passed both the House and Senate and awaits the governor’s signature.

SB 5156 – Expanding the farm internship program. It passed the House and Senate unanimously and has been delivered to the governor for consideration.

HB 1523/SB 5476 – Authorizing agricultural employers to select 12 weeks a year to employ workers for up to 50 hours a week before overtime applies. Neither made it out of committee this session.

SB 5150 – Concerning the beef commission’s levied assessment. It passed the Senate 37-12 but did not make it out of committee in the House.

SB 5353 – Concerning the voluntary stewardship program. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House 94-3. It has been delivered to the governor for his signature.

HB 1412 – Addressing foreign ownership of agricultural lands. The bill received a public hearing but was not passed out of committee.

HB 1552 – Directing the state conservation commission to conduct a study of urban agricultural opportunities and barriers in the state. The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously and awaits the governor’s signature.

The final status of these bills was not available at press time. Look in next month’s Basin Business Journal for updates.