Washington Gov. Jay Inslee won't face penalties for bringing homegrown apples picked in Olympia to a fire-devastated town in Eastern Washington, apparently violating a law meant to protect the state's No. 1 crop from apple maggots.
Inslee presented the apples Thursday to Malden's mayor in Whitman County. The agriculture department informed the governor's office Monday that taking apples from maggot-infested Western Washington to maggot-free zones, such as Whitman County, was illegal.
"The governor won't be ticketed, and we wouldn't do that to anybody," agriculture department spokesman Hector Castro said.
"Our goal is that people be aware of the quarantine and adhere to it, and we've found education is the best approach," Castro said. "He was trying to do something nice. We've reminded them there is a quarantine."
Inslee said he and his wife, Trudi, picked the Honeycrisp apples that morning at the Governor's Mansion, the Cheney Free Press reported. Technically, breaking the quarantine is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The agriculture department posts highway signs informing motorists about the quarantine. It does not pursue criminal penalties, Castro said.
Republican Sen. Mark Schoesler, whose district includes Malden, said the governor or his staff should have known better.
"I appreciate the governor's gesture in coming to Malden, but this was just a case of poor judgment," he said. "Our leaders are expected to know the law."
Washington leads the U.S. in apple production, producing around $2 billion worth of apples annually. To protect the crop, homegrown apples from Western Washington are banned from 18 counties that are entirely or partly pest-free.
"After serving for nearly eight years as governor, it is disappointing he hasn't learned more about the laws created to protect the state's second-largest industry," the Washington Farm Bureau said in a statement.
The agriculture department works hard to enforce the quarantine, but Thursday's incident shows a lot of people don't know about it, Washington State Tree Fruit Association President Jon DeVaney said.
"It's very important. Once this pest becomes established there is no way to control it, except for fairly aggressive pesticide use," DeVaney said.
The governor's office said it was looking into the matter, but had no immediate comment Monday.