U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, said Monday that he is "cautiously optimistic" that immigration reform will pass this year. But the House of Representatives is looking to pass several smaller immigration-related bills, a contrast to the comprehensive package the Senate passed last month.
"Just generally speaking, I think Americans are tired of comprehensive bills. When you talk about Obamacare, when you talk about Dodd-Frank, which relates to our financial institutions," Hastings told an audience of 25 people at a Richland Riverside Rotary Club meeting. " Now we have immigration reform bill that was a comprehensive bill put together on the Senate floor."
The House is working on bills that will address individual parts of immigration, Hastings said. If they pass the House, they can be packed together before they go to a conference committee.
Coming up with a workable guest worker program for agriculture is Hastings' priority on immigration.
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"Agriculture is labor intensive and that's a big part of our economy in Central Washington," he said.
He also addressed concerns that a House bill could undergo significant changes in a conference committee with the Senate.
"Once they reach an agreement in the conference, then it still has to go back to the respective houses and get passed," he said.
Also, Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, plans to hold an oversight hearing Thursday on updating the Endangered Species Act, another issue that deals with agriculture in the area.
The act has come under scrutiny while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to implement a 2011 legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity that could create 779 new endangered species listings by 2016.
In Franklin County, local farmers recently funded a DNA study to dispute the proposed listing for the White Bluffs bladderpod, which Fish and Wildlife has said only grows on the Franklin County side of the Columbia River.
The study, conducted by a University of Idaho researcher, reported that the White Bluffs bladderpod is actually the same species as bladderpods that grow elsewhere in Washington, as well as in Idaho and Oregon.
"Which raises the question to me, why should local people have to do that?" Hastings said. "Shouldn't due diligence be done by the government?"
Farmers are concerned that a declaration of critical habitat for the bladderpod on 419 privately-owned acres could threaten irrigation and other practices.
On another issue, Yousef Farawila of Richland, a native of Egypt, questioned Hastings on recent upheaval in Egypt and whether the removal of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was considered a coup. If a country's government comes to power as the result of a coup, it would be ineligible for foreign aid. But officials in the Obama's administration have said the change in government was not a coup.
Hastings said he has limited information because he doesn't serve on the Armed Services Committee.
"I can't say what the outcome is, but I can say it is very, very serious because Egypt is such a big player in the Middle East," Hastings said.
Farawila said Hastings didn't answer his question.
"He essentially said he's not going to second guess the administration," Farawila told the Herald. "Things he doesn't know, doesn't want to tell us."
Howard Rickard of Richland credited Hastings with coming to speak, but was disappointed with the partisan tone of the speech.
"It was very strong party-line GOP," he said. "Myself, like other voters, are very disappointed in the performance of the Senate and the House in getting things done."