Interim legislative workgroups to focus on ag, salmon

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

With unprecedented revenues for a supplemental year, the 2022 supplemental operating budget appropriated over $63 billion. Of particular interest to the agricultural industry, the final budget maintained significant spending on salmon recovery, including multiple workgroups and studies for the industry.

Salmon recovery stakeholder process

The 2022 supplemental operating budget provided $300,000 for the governor’s office to invite stakeholders to participate in a facilitated process to develop policy and spending priorities to improve riparian habitat. The stakeholders involved in the process include federally recognized tribes, legislative leadership, local governments, agricultural producers, commercial and recreational fisher organizations, business organizations, salmon recovery organizations, forestry and agriculture organizations, and environmental organizations.

The budget lays out that the group must work through recommendations on:

  • Improvements to land use planning and development that ensure salmon protection and recovery.
  • Standards to protect and restore areas adjacent to streams and rivers.
  • Financial incentives for landowners to protect and restore streamside habitat.
  • Improving salmon recovery program coordination between state agencies.
  • Additional changes when voluntary measures and incentives do not achieve streamside protection and restoration.

Preliminary recommendations are due to the Legislature and governor by Oct. 1, 2022, with a final report to be submitted by Nov. 1, 2022.

Snake River dams study

The 2022 supplemental budget provided $350,000 for the governor’s office to complete an analysis on options to replace the benefits of the four lower Snake River dams as a part of a comprehensive salmon recovery strategy. The analysis is directed to be completed within an extremely short timeframe, due on July 30, 2022. 

In order to execute the study, the governor’s office contracted with a third party for completion of the evaluation and collection. In a rare move, the governor’s office began the study, stakeholder outreach and contract work prior to passage of the supplemental budget. 

Farmworker study, performance audit

This year, the legislature provided for two studies surveying the services provided to farmworkers in Washington. The first study will be conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy under Evergreen State College. The comprehensive study is intended to inform policymakers on whether the needs of farmworkers are being met by current state administered programs, policies and statutes. The study will look at health and safety in the workplace; wage payment; preventing harassment, discrimination and retaliation; and access to services. The study will also examine how relevant agencies coordinate with one another and provide outreach on the state and federal level. The appropriation lays out the groups that the institute must consult with, namely advocacy organizations, state agencies and nonprofit organizations working directly with farmworkers. Notably absent from the work are agricultural groups and farmers themselves. The study is planned to be completed before June 30, 2025, with an initial report submitted by Dec. 1, 2023.

The budget also grants funding to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) to conduct performance audits of state agency programs and services addressing the needs of farmworkers. Under the appropriation, the following areas of review are noted: wage and hour laws; health and safety standards; laws relating to harassment, discrimination and retaliation; the Employment Security Department’s administration of H-2A programs; and the Department of Health’s rules related to pesticide safety. The audits are intended to assess performance and provide recommendations to improve service delivery and effectiveness.

Net ecological gain report

In line with the session’s strong focus on salmon recovery, the supplemental operating budget appropriated $266,000 for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to put together an overarching report to the Legislature assessing how to incorporate a net ecological gain standard into state land use, development and environmental laws. The addition of the study followed the ultimate failure of House Bill 1117, a partial revival of the Riparian Buffer Bill, that would have integrated salmon recovery planning into local comprehensive plans under the Growth Management Act.

The study requires the department to:

  • Develop a definition, objectives and goals for the standard of net ecological gain.
  • Look at and compare opportunities and challenges, including legal issues and costs on state and local governments, to achieve overall net ecological gain.
  • Provide recommendations on funding, incentives, technical assistance, legal issues, monitoring and use of scientific data to the integration of needs to assess progress made toward achieving net ecological gain into each environmental, development and land use law or rule.
  • Assess how applying a standard of net ecological gain in each environmental, land use or development law is likely to achieve substantial additional environmental or social co-benefits.

The final report to the Legislature is due by Dec. 1, 2022. 

Evaluation of voluntary incentive programs for landowners

In line with the goal of salmon recovery, the Office of Financial Management received $226,000 in the supplemental operating budget to evaluate the voluntary incentive programs for landowners and existing regulatory programs protecting and restoring riparian ecosystems. The analysis is intended to look at the effectiveness, utilization and outcomes of the programs at hand. 

The office is directed to work with an independent entity to complete the analysis. A preliminary report is due to the governor and the appropriate committees of the Legislature by Sept. 1, 2022, while a final report is due by Dec. 1, 2022.