YAKIMA -- Yakima Valley farmers soon will see an obscure piece of bureaucratic red tape get peeled back thanks to legislation passed this session.
The governor is expected to sign into law Senate Bill 6423, which clarifies that farmers and farm workers do not need a commercial driver's license when they drive farm vehicles to transport products, supplies or machinery from the farm to a storage facility.
Current state law allows farmers and their employees to drive commercial farm vehicles from one farm to another as long as they are within 150 miles of the other, but Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said ambiguities remained about whether the vehicles were strictly required to operate between farms.
King said the Washington State Patrol wanted clarification on the issue in addition to farmers.
"It takes some of the pressure off the farmers and also clarifies for the state patrol when a commercial driver's license is also needed," King said.
Outside of farming, a commercial driver's license normally is required to drive a vehicle weighing 26,001 pounds or more.
Under the new law, a vehicle must not weigh more than 40,000 pounds and must be used within 150 miles of the person's farm. A commercial driver's license still is required to take products to market.
Steve George, president of the Yakima County chapter of the state Farm Bureau, said the clarification could save farmers hundreds of dollars in expenses associated with commercial driver's licenses. George said the biggest cost doesn't come from the license itself but the physical exam and random drug testing for employees that come with it.
"There's other costs and record keeping and hassle factors," George said. "Not only for the employer but for the employee."
The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, passed the Senate with unanimous support and had only one opponent in the House of Representatives.
Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign the bill into law soon, but no official action has been scheduled.
Gregoire also is expected to sign another bill sponsored by King that addresses retainages by the state on prevailing-wage contracts.
Currently, a contractor cannot receive full payment on a completed project until all subcontractors have filed the necessary paperwork with the state upon finishing the job.