Constituent policy

Rural commission bill misses the point » Publications » Washington Policy Center

The vast majority of Washington State’s population lives in urban centers. In reality, 80.7 percent of Washingtonians live in suburban or urban areas.

So why the last minute filing of HB 2136a bill to create the Washington State Rural Commission, do you feel so insincere?

Maybe now is the time. Perhaps it is the creation of a committee of 13 people to serve “at the pleasure of the governor”. Perhaps it is the suggestion that a commission should be established to “improve the lives and livelihoods of people in rural areas”.

The USDA estimates that there are approximately 763,300 people living in rural parts of our state. Many people in rural Washington are either directly and tangentially engaged in agriculture; a part of our population that has been largely ignored by our Governor.

If our state legislators really want rural communities represented in public policy, there is no need to create a commission to do so.

All they have to do is start listening.

Every farm visit, every public forum, every testimony that includes voices from rural communities are opportunities for legislators to reflect on what rural people think, feel and believe. Yet often legislators do not actively listen during these opportune times.

During testimony, listen to voters choking on an issue, whether it’s access to water for livestock or maintaining land ownership. This legislative session’s double-buffered bills have rural Washingtonians fearful that they will be able to maintain their way of life. Their testimonies highlighted concerns about everything from maintaining access to local food supplies to a desire to retain generational land ownership.

During farm tours, hear from farm workers who describe their experiences of working with their employers and their fears of having their income reduced by forced changes in their working hours. The phasing in of overtime pay for our state’s 164,000 farm workers has forced farm employers to cut hours, cut wages or both to ensure they can keep everyone employed. their employees. These decisions were not intended to enrich employers, but to try to balance the needs of agricultural workers with agricultural costs that have increased exponentially without additional income.

Rural communities have struggles and issues that need to be resolved. But, if lawmakers really want to serve rural Washingtonians, they just have to listen to us to hear us. People who live in rural communities often choose these communities as a way to escape the limitations and the urban and suburban lifestyle.

Rural communities are often home to tight-knit groups of people who know each other and are ready to help each other in times of crisis. As the bill notes, rural communities have “unique needs.” These unique needs are expressed by the more than 700,000 people who make up rural Washington.

Ask anyone in a rural community what they need and what they won’t say is that they need a commission appointed by the governor to represent them in Olympia. They will say they need legislators to listen and hear what they have to say when they speak.