Agritourism rules dust-up highlights need for better engagement, say Senate ag leaders

Washingtonians continue to cope with the COVID-19 impacts often made worse by unclear, inconsistent and hastily drafted executive orders. The most recent victims of such rushed rules were agritourism businesses.

Late last week, the governor’s office issued rules that essentially shut down the industry, while letting other similar activities take place elsewhere. Farms would have been forced to shutter other attractions such as mazes, hayrides and even letting visitors see animals. Thanks to pressure from industry groups and agritourism businesses, the state reversed course and issued amended rules. Now, leaders on agricultural issues in the state Senate are highlighting the need for increased engagement and a more thoughtful approach.

“This isn’t the first time that the executive’s office has gone far beyond what makes sense,” said the ranking member on the Senate’s ag-related committee, Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake. “Though well-intentioned, the outreach from the governor’s office isn’t there, nor the understanding just what the impacts will be on hardworking families. I’m glad that there has been some resolution for this important part of our state’s agricultural industry, but it shouldn’t have happened to begin with.”

The updated guidance applies only to counties in Phases 2 and 3. Industry groups are still waiting for clarification from the governor’s office on how agritourism can proceed in counties currently in a modified Phase 1. Seemingly safe outdoor farm activities would still not be permitted even with safety protocols in place in Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Chelan and Douglas counties.

“The people in our state deserve consistency,” echoed Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, the Senate Republican Floor Leader. “It doesn’t make any sense to shut down family farms trying to make a living but allow the same activities in other places. My hope is that the governor’s office does a better job actually engaging with people who are going to be impacted by his decisions, rather than this confusing process we’ve experienced.”

Senators Jim Honeyford, Warnick, and Short continue to push for the Legislature to reconvene and comprehensively address the state’s post-COVID recovery. Facing a budget shortfall of more than $3 billion, legislators have grown increasingly concerned with executive overreach and spending decisions.

“The governor needs to provide fair and common sense agritourism rules for modified Phase 1 counties. There’s no reason why corn mazes and animal viewing can’t be done safely and responsibly by our farmers,” said Honeyford, R-Sunnyside. “The arbitrary nature of these rules highlights why legislators ought to be in Olympia in some form to provide oversight. Too many important decisions are being made with zero legislative input that affect our constituents’ mental and physical health, and the health of our local economies. The people we represent deserve to have their voices heard on these decisions. That’s our job.”