Egg production fight likely to dominate legislative agenda
By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- Farm Bureau members gathered for the annual Legislative Days Feb. 2-3, getting updates on issues ranging from the minimum wage to the size of chicken cages.
Scott Dahlman, Farm Bureau public policy analyst, said that as the state considers consolidating several natural resource-related agencies, Farm Bureau lobbyists are urging that the state Conservation Commission remain a stand-alone agency, separate from regulatory agencies.
"Landowners are more comfortable allowing (non-regulatory) people on their property," Dahlman said. "And keeping them independent adds a voice to the table in decision making."
He urged Farm Bureau members to ask legislators to support reform that will save money, eliminate redundancy and streamline the permitting process.
Dan Wood, Farm Bureau director of local affairs, said the eminent domain issue needs reform. Bills with bipartisan support were introduced in both the House and Senate last year, but never made it to the floor of either chamber.
Concerning egg production, he alerted Farm Bureau members to the possibility of a ballot initiative in the next general election. The animal-rights groups Humane Society of the U.S. and Farm Sanctuary propose a requirement for much more space per laying hen.
"It's not just about chicken fearfulness," he said. "They want to put animal ag out of business."
Wood said legislators need to hear agricultural voices concerning Senate Bill 5487 and House Bill 1813, which would establish United Egg Producers standards as the state requirement.
Other issues on the Farm Bureau's "hot list:"
* Ask legislators to oppose increased taxes and fees for agriculture.
* Ask legislators to oppose HB1610 and SB5536, which would increase water permitting fees from about $300 to about $10,000.
* Ask legislators to oppose HB1588 and SB5529, which would create a new fee for hydraulic permit approvals. John Stuhlmiller, Farm Bureau director of government relations, said, "This is a tax, not a fee." The program needs clear reform before any fees should be considered, he said.
* Concerning protection of critical areas, ask legislators to support a solution to protect those areas while protecting existing ag activities and maintaining ag viability.
* Ask legislators to demand a hearing for HB1531, which requires that the state minimum wage go up based on actual changes in the consumer price index since the year 2000, not just the past 12 months. Farm Bureau public policy analyst Scott Dilley said state law regarding the calculations is unclear. "House Bill 1531 implements the attorney general's opinion," he said.
* Let legislators know that workers' compensation insurance reform is crucial for the short- and long-term success of businesses and creating jobs.
* Ask legislators to support HB1090 and SB5135, which would enact a temporary adjustment in unemployment insurance for 2011 and ask them to oppose any bill with the dependent care allowance in it. The rates are already among the highest in the nation, according to the Farm Bureau.