Shift’s Newsmaker Interview is with Representative Tom Dent (R – Moses Lake) who is in his fifth term representing Central Washington’s 13th Legislative District (all of Kittitas County, most of Grant County, and the northern portion of Yakima County). He owns his own small aviation company which provides pilot instructions and aviation services for local farmers. He is also cattle rancher.
Representative Dent shares his thoughts on the important agricultural issues being discussed in Olympia, including the bi-partisan riparian (buffer zones along streams) bill he helped to negotiate. He expresses his concern that urban Democrats will not support much needed reform to the state’s current agriculture overtime wage laws which threaten the existence of many small farms and has already caused smaller paychecks for farm workers. He states his frustration over the Inslee Administration’s failure to follow the law by not providing a process for farmers to be exempt from the higher fuel prices due to the governor’s cap-and-trade policy. The representative discusses his bill which will help reduce childcare costs by lifting some of the unnecessary restrictions state government has placed on workers. Representative Dent states his support for law enforcement and outlines legislation important to the state’s aviation community.
You are among the four bi-partisan co-sponsors of HB 1720 which establishes a voluntary riparian habitat restoration to promote salmon recovery. This “buffer bill” is much different than the one the governor surprised legislators with during the 2022 legislative session. Why should your fellow legislators support this bill?
The legislation is the result of many hours of meetings and collaboration by lawmakers, tribal members, farmers, fishermen, landowners, and others to find an effective way to restore critical salmon habitat without imposing restrictive or mandatory laws and regulations like the governor’s proposal. The strong bipartisan work on the bill gives us an opportunity to improve riparian habitat, increase salmon stocks and protect valuable farmland on a voluntary basis.
In 2021 urban Democrat legislators imposed overtime wage rules which have negatively impacted Washington State farmers competitive ability against those in other states and significantly reduces the size of farm workers’ paychecks. This year the agricultural community has proposed a compromise bill (SB 5476) which allows farmers to select 12 weeks a year when a farm worker must work 50 hours in order to earn overtime pay. What are your thoughts on this legislation? And do you believe any Democrats will support the bill?
I am a co-sponsor on the House bill. This legislation is reasonable and would allow agricultural employers limited flexibility to shape work schedules… to best fit the peaks of labor demand for their crops. The 12-week seasonal exemption would help growers plan for bad weather and long harvest periods and protect profit margins that can become slim as food prices are set in commodities markets.
In talking with our agriculture community, they say this is needed law. Many cannot afford to pay overtime. This would be a compromise for the employers and the works. The ag industry is different than all others with the many variables in the work environment.
A Democrat in the House and Senate did sign on to the bill. Unfortunately, with Friday’s cutoff approaching it doesn’t appear they plan on moving the bill.
You have introduced HB 1739 to certify more childcare workers. Tell us about the bill and what you believe it will accomplish.
It requires the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to create a free instructional handbook for all childcare providers that includes material on specified topics related to the care of children.
We do not have enough childcare, let alone affordable childcare. We are driving childcare employers and workers out of the business. There are too many mandatory rules and regulations, including required continued education. The people that do this job, do it for their love of children. We need to focus on the requirements related to childcare and cut through other unnecessary red tape.
This legislation could bring back more childcare workers and keep the quality workers we have in the industry.
Many in the agricultural community are upset that the Inslee Administration has failed to follow the law and has yet to develop a process to exempt farmers from the costly impact of the cap-and-trade policy. What can the legislator do to make the governor to fulfill his legal obligations?
I co-sponsored Rep. Joe Schmick’s bill (HB 1780), that would provide monthly refunds to farmers who can document they paid surcharges attributed to cap-and-trade. Under the legislation, the Department of Ecology (DOE) would have the money for the first allowance.
When we passed cap-and-trade in the 2021 session, Ecology was directed to devise a way to shield farm fuels from cap-and-trade costs. Now it appears DOE is asking fuel suppliers to separate emissions covered by cap-and-trade from emissions exempt from cap-and-trade costs.
This doesn’t seem to be a priority issue for the D’s, so we will have to wait and see if we can address it in the budget.
Crime continues to be a problem throughout the state. What can the legislature do to help make our communities safe again?
The vehicle pursuit issue must be fixed. Local government officials, businesses across Washington state, and law enforcement are asking to address this serious public safety matter.
In the House, HB 1363 is a strong bipartisan solution that has about 40 sponsors, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. It is scheduled for a vote in committee Thursday, Feb. 16. While it looks encouraging in the House, the Senate chair of the Law and Justice Committee has said she will not move the bill. She more interested in studying the issue.
Some of the other public safety solutions we are focusing on beyond vehicle pursuit include:
- House Bill 1380 would add more police officers on our streets.
- House Bill 1415 would recriminalize hard drugs to a gross misdemeanor.
- House Bill 1682 would address the rise in auto thefts.
- House Bill 1456 would redefine retail theft.
Public safety is not a partisan issue. We need to keep our communities safe. I am hopeful we can get these bills passed.
As a professional pilot, what are important legislative issues for the aviation community?
I am working on several aviation-related issues. A couple of them include:
- House Bill 1243 would allow for more representation on airport commissions. It is another tool for communities to manage municipal airports. The bill has been passed by the Local Government Committee and is in the Rules Committee.
- House Bill 1531 would promote economic development in the aerospace and aviation industry. This about getting some of the people with strong aviation backgrounds and minds in our state to discuss how the future of aerospace and aviation. It does not have anything to do with the siting of commercial airports. It passed the Innovation, Community and Economic Development, and Veterans Committee last week. It is now in the Appropriations Committee.
To learn more about Representative Dent and to contact his office, please visit his official website.