The states might be ‘laboratories for democracy,’ but for sure they have a major impact on ranching, farming and production operations. But how tuned in are the ones who are affected?
In every state, animal agriculture and farming are significant components of the economy. Although tax rates, educational funding and social issues receive most of the media coverage, there are often legislative initiatives proposed that would impact agriculture and livestock producers.
Unfortunately, the average citizen is clueless about these bills, and I would argue, even many people directly involved in farming aren’t always aware of how elected legislators intend to regulate their businesses.
Here’s a little test to see if that suspicion is accurate. The following are bills that were proposed and passed by either the House or the Senate in the Washington Legislature. On first reading, they all seem to have some merit, but can you guess which one(s) — if any — actually made it into law?
Here is the list:
- SHB 1127. This bill would create an agricultural labor skills and safety program and require the Washington state Department of Commerce to create and administer an agricultural labor skills and safety grant program to provide training opportunities for the state’s agricultural workers.
- SSB 5733. This bill concerning livestock transaction reporting would authorize the Washington Director of Agriculture to establish an electronic system for reporting cattle transactions directly to the department. This bill would allow the system to be used as an alternative to mandatory inspections.
- ESHB 1685. This bill would establish a Washington Food Policy Forum as a public-private partnership for in which state food policy, food-related programs and food-related issues can be examined, improved and integrated. This bill passed the Washington House 53-45 and was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
- SSB 5347. This Senate bill would create demonstration projects for preserving agricultural land and public infrastructure in flood plains. It passed the Washington Senate 48-1 and was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources. SSB-5347 would require the state’s Conservation Commission and the Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and Ecology to jointly identify and assess demonstration projects in three counties that analyze the effectiveness and costs of managing rivers to protect agricultural lands and public infrastructure.
- SB 5603. This bill would change Washington Cottage Food Operations Law that allows people to make low-risk food in their home kitchens and sell directly to consumers. SB -5603 would increase the gross income limit for cottage food operations from $15,000 to $25,000. The bill passed the Washington Senate by a vote of 49-0 and was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources and the House Rules Committee.
- SB 5013. This bill would clarify certain provisions regarding the use of designated agricultural lands. SB-5013 would strengthen provisions for the protection of designated agricultural land, ensuring their future agricultural use.
- SHB 2017. Creating Washington farmers and ranchers special license plates. Passed House 95-3. Referred to Senate Transportation Committee. No action currently scheduled. The bill creates the Washington Farmers and Ranchers special license plate, which recognizes Washington farmers and ranchers. After the costs associated with establishing the special license plates are recovered, funds would go to the Washington FFA Foundation for educational programs.
And the winners are . . .
Okay, there’s the list. Which of those measures made it into law? Can you guess?
There are three: SHB 1127, which creates an agricultural labor skills and safety program; SSB 5733, which establishes an electronic transaction system for reporting cattle transactions; and SB 5603, the Cottage Food Operations Law that increases the gross income limit for cottage food operations to $25,000.
All of the others failed, for various reasons, and I would bet the ranch that not one in a hundred Washington voters had any idea whatsoever about any of these bills, and certainly not which ones actually became law.
How about your state? Would the situation be similar?
At the end of the day, ranchers, producers and farmers need to take an active role in the legislative process. Because if they don’t, no one else will.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator