February 25th Legislative Flavor

For this week’s Legislative Flavor, I thought I should share some of the questions WACD received from our members about legislation this session. I consider it part of my job to be responsive to information requests like these. If there’s a bill you’re hearing about or see on our weekly bill tracker but don’t want to wade through twenty pages of legalese, feel free to email or call!

 

Would SB 5141 give an unelected “Environmental Justice Council” power over natural resource agency spending?

We received this question after an article was published February 9th in the Capital Press. The short answer is that the bill was amended significantly since the article was published, curtailing what the bill would do and the powers of such a council. You can read the plain English Bill Report, but in one sentence the bill would attempt to incorporate the concept of “environmental justice” into several state agencies’ activities (but notably not those of the Conservation Commission). The bill is not without its critics and at least one Democratic Senator is on record in opposition. Should the bill become law, the most direct impact to districts we can forecast is the effect on grant programs that conservation districts routinely apply for with state agencies.  SB 5141 is still alive as of Thursday the 25th.

I’ve heard about this “farming equity bill”, what would HB 1395 really do?

I received this email before the bill died in the House Appropriations Committee last week, but the answer is still worth sharing as indicative of the legislative interest in diversity and equity issues. This bill was introduced by Rep. Melanie Morgan of Tacoma in late January with over 20 Democratic co-sponsors. What was voted out of the House Rural Development, Ag, and Natural Resources Committee (RDAN) would have directed the Department of Agriculture to ensure that “historically underrepresented communities in farming and ranching” were included in their agency’s policy development and rule enforcement practices, and later to write a report on that work with additional recommendations. In public testimony on the bill, organizations like the Washington State Farm Bureau and The Nature Conservancy all were in support of the concept but some were concerned that the bill wouldn’t examine other barriers experienced by many new farmers such as access to farmland and securing the necessary capital to go into farming.