By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- A bill to re-authorize and expand the farm internship program continues to progress through the legislature.
Senate Bill 5123, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D- Orcas Island, allows participation by small farms in Chelan, Grant, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Kittitas, Lincoln, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom and Yakima counties.
Susan Soltes of Bow Hill Blueberries told legislators the program meets the needs of both farmers and interns. Interns are not paid minimum wage, but they are given housing, a stipend, a garden plot, weekly family-style meals and a diverse learning experience.
The legislation makes changes to the original arrangement:
* A small farm may employ no more than three interns at one time, rather than per year.
* The unemployment insurance exemption does not apply to government, nonprofit organizations and tribes.
* The agreement between the farmer and the intern must explicitly state that the intern is not entitled to unemployment benefits, and the agreement must describe the anticipated number of hours of curriculum-based instruction provided to the intern per week, in addition to the hours of farm activities.
The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate on March 12. On April 9 it was sent to the House Rules Committee.
April 17 will be the last day for the House to consider Senate bills and for the Senate to consider House bills. Bills relating to initiatives and alternatives to initiatives, budgets and matters necessary to implement budgets, differences between the houses and matters related to the interim and closing of the session.
April 28 is the last day allowed for the regular session under the state constitution.
Waiting to be scheduled for a full Senate vote:
* HB1113, requiring the Department of Ecology to identify beforehand any peer-reviewed science it relied on in preparing a significant agency action.
* HB1209, extending the program establishing Christmas tree grower licensing.
* HB1770, allowing the appointment of nonvoting advisory members to commodity boards.
Awaiting a House vote:
* SB5767, requiring the state Department of Agriculture, upon request by a licensed milk producer, to issue an official individual identification tag (green tag) for bull calves and free-martins under 30 days of age. The bill also exempts inspection requirements for bull calves and free-martins that will not be transported out of the state. Free-martins are infertile female twins of bull calves.