Stuhlmiller: 'Our basic approach is for no harm to result from the session'
By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- Policies sought by the Washington State Farm Bureau may meet a more receptive audience in the upcoming legislative session, the organization's top lobbyist says.
John Stuhlmiller, director of government relations for the state Farm Bureau, said the agenda is "largely the same, as we continue in a recession and with largely the same majorities in the Legislature. Our basic approach is for no harm to result from the session."
The guidelines the Farm Bureau recommends to state lawmakers:
* Ensure the long-term viability of agriculture by maintaining the existing tax policy.
* Review and revise current regulations to allow agriculture to thrive, create jobs and lead the state's economic recovery.
* Ensure that environmental policy is necessary, reasonable and based on sound science.
* Protect access to affordable, quality health care coverage through association health plans.
"We are especially encouraged by the new majority coalition caucus announced this week," Stuhlmiller said. "We think this structure bodes very well for agriculture in particular. We hope the House and governor will follow suit in terms of bipartisan effort."
The Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus includes 25 senators from both parties who have committed themselves to principles similar to the ag community's, including:
* Promoting job growth and a vibrant economy.
* Creating a sustainable budget and living within the state's means.
* Setting priorities for state government and holding it accountable.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, a wheat farmer, said the Senate should "get along just fine" next year. "I look forward to showing that in the Senate we can put policy ahead of politics and govern in a responsible and bipartisan way."
The coalition plans to form six Senate committees with Democratic chairs, six with Republican chairs and three with co-chairs.
On the House side, Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, will continue as chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. He expects representatives will be receptive to the Farm Bureau.
"Existing tax policy is fairly safe, but we've got to have a session where we simplify regulations," he said. "There's a number of us who recognize the stability of the agricultural community and want to keep its place in the marketplace growing. We don't want to upset the apple cart."
Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, a rancher and ag consultant, said his fellow representatives should heed the Farm Bureau's priorities.
"The Farm Bureau is well-rounded organization that gives a balanced agenda," he said. "Its broad membership reflects the diversity of the state, and they offer a common-sense approach to the problems we're facing."
Stuhlmiller said his message to legislators is to "just let the industry go. Farmers will fuel our economic recovery, but we have to minimize the policies that might throttle it back."