Capital Press file photo
OLYMPIA — The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee Wednesday passed a Seattle Democrat’s proposal to form a task force to develop a plan for farms to notify the state before spaying pesticides.
The legislation forwarded to the Senate’s budget committee was a much-modified version of a bill that drew strong opposition from farm groups at a hearing last week. Senate Bill 6529 now calls for the task force to recommend a notification protocol for the 2019 Legislature to consider.
“We’ll come back with legislation that I hope you guys will consider next year,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle.
As introduced by Saldana, the bill would have required growers to inform the state Health Department four business days before each pesticide application. Health officials would have then been required to give residents and schools within a quarter-mile a two-hour notice.
Farmers said they don’t know that far in advance whether the weather will let them spray. Also, they said they need to react quickly to diseases and pests.
The bill also proposed requiring farmers and pesticide applications to submit detailed spraying records to the Health Department each month.
The particulars of the bill have been removed. Instead, the bill assigns the task force, led by the Agriculture and Health departments, the job of recommending a “pesticide drift exposure notification system” by Nov. 1.
The task force also would be charged with making a recommendation on making pesticide application records available to the public.
The amended bill passed on a voice vote, though Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said he was opposed.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of concern in the agricultural community about where this bill might lead,” he said.
The bill in its original, stronger, form was supported by labor, education and environmental groups, as well as Columbia Legal Services.
Farmers said they were concerned that making their pesticide records would expose them to lawsuits and harassment, as well as tip off competitors about their practices.
The task force would include legislators and representatives from Labor and Industries, the Department of Natural Resources, the Commission on Hispanic Affairs and the state schools office.
The agriculture director and health secretary would appoint 10 other members. They would draw from farmers, pesticide applicators, labor groups, environmental organizations, farmworker and children’s advocates, and the Washington State PTA.