Several agriculture-related bills clear Legislature, head to governor
By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- A budget-balancing act was the final big item facing legislators as they prepared to adjourn.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he helped fashion the bipartisan Senate proposal.
"Considering the condition of the state's economy and the fact that the latest revenue forecast was essentially flat, it's appropriate that the bipartisan Senate budget is 'austere,' as one newspaper report put it," he said.
That proposal addresses the needs of the elderly, disabled and mentally ill, fully funds the state's Basic Health Plan, and spends $372 million more on education than the budget adopted by House Democrats, he said.
"I'm also proud of having negotiated the part of the budget that maintains funding for our agricultural fairs and conservation districts," Schoesler said. The House budget would eliminate all $3.5 million in fair funding.
The Legislature planned to adjourn on March 8, after press deadline.
Negotiators will work out differences in the proposals.
Several ag-related bills cleared the final legislative hurdle before going to the governor:
* House Bill 2238 would allow programs related to environmental mitigation to use the forestry riparian easement program, the riparian open space program or the family forest fish passage program to mitigate for environmental impacts.
* House Bill 2329 would authorize the Board of Natural Resources to create a state forestland pool to be managed for the benefit of counties most affected by the downturn in the timber industry.
* Senate Bill 5343 would extend until Dec. 31, 2016, the compliance period for certain electrical generating projects powered by gas from anaerobic digesters.
* Senate Bill 5981 would increase the seed dealer license fee from the current $25 to $125.
* Senate Bill 6082 would require the Department of Ecology to review and consider whether the current environmental checklist ensures consideration of potential impacts to agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance.
The one remaining piece of legislation relating to wolves had yet to be voted on by the full Senate by deadline. House Bill 2365 would designate the gray wolf as a big game species. It would also set a cap of $50,000 per fiscal year to be paid by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to cover livestock loss claims due to predation by bears, wolves and cougars.