Legislature putting politics before people in killing water-rights bills

State laws can impact your quality of life. So, you should have a voice in the creation of our laws. This is a fundamental tenet of how government should work. Unfortunately for citizens of Whatcom County, that is not how it is working this week.

At the request of local farmers, I introduced a bill that improves their lives and jobs. Yesterday, I received some bad news about this bill; it’s going to be killed. It won’t go out with a bang. As a matter of fact, if I hadn’t written this, you may never have even heard of it. But, for the farmers who needed this legislation, it’s still important. This bill will die quietly by not receiving a vote in a fiscal committee. The chair of that committee, Rep. Zack Hudgins, has said that he will not schedule the bill for executive session so it can be voted on before the deadline, Friday, March 1.

I have no good reasons to give you, as none have been given to me. However, we can be sure that politics is being picked over people. Political maneuvering is complicated – the need for this legislation is simple. The bill, House Bill 1438, is about water — our farmers’ most critical resource. Our farmers need the rights to access the water that is required to grow their crops. It’s just that simple.

And, just as water is vital to farmers, the agricultural industry is vital to us. Farming is the economic backbone of Whatcom County and a cornerstone of our state economy. Agriculture accounts for 13 percent of Washington’s state economy and employs about 160,000 people.

According to the Washington state Department of Agriculture we are first nationwide in the harvest of apples, sweet cherries, hops and red raspberries. It is a group of raspberry farmers who approached me with the need for a bill regarding their water rights. While forming this legislation, farmers consulted with water experts, the Department of Ecology and numerous others to come up with language that would address the problems they have been dealing with for more than 20 years.

Helping produce one of our biggest crops is imperative for Washington. After seeing the work our local farmers put into creating a common-sense solution, I began doing what I could in Olympia. I have made efforts to work across the aisle. I’ve worked with my colleagues to find a bipartisan solution to the issue plaguing our farmers while addressing the concerns of other interested parties.

The results of our efforts have been great bipartisan bills in 2012 and 2013. This year, when the bill was voted out of policy committee it had overwhelming support. But, for the second year in a row we face the prospect of the bill being killed.

Most legislators know that bills dying are commonplace during the legislative session. In fact, of the 1,036 bills introduced in the House this year, more than half will die. While it’s not unusual, it is unacceptable for common-sense solutions that have been worked through the process, and across party lines, to die because of trivial political posturing.

I hope you will join with me in letting the members of the appropriations subcommittee on general government know that this bill needs to be heard. You can find a list of committee members at leg.wa.gov. Let’s ensure that the voices of citizens are louder than politics.

Vincent Buys, R., represents the 42nd Legislative District, which includes the northern half of Bellingham and Whatcom County north to the Canadian border, in the Washington state House of Representatives.

State Representative Vincent Buys, 42nd Legislative District
465 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
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