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Home » Archives » March 2010 » Farm Bill Signed Into Law

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03/23/2010: "Farm Bill Signed Into Law"

ig_Ranker_FarmBill-001 (58k image)
(L to R: Kevin Ranker; Gov. Gregoire; Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, & SJI farmer Jim Sesby)

A bill sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker has been signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Ranker’s legislation establishes a pilot project in San Juan County to allow farms with gross sales of less than $250,000 annually to create internship programs for future farmers who are not enrolled in classes to work on farms throughout the state without running afoul with the Labor & Industries.

“The average age of a farmer in Washington is 57 years old,” Ranker said. “If we’re serious about promoting agriculture in Washington, we’re going to have to encourage younger people to get into the farms and get their hands dirty.”

“With significant help from farmers and labor, we were able to create a pilot that will help us ensure we preserve family farms in to the future,” Ranker added.

In order to qualify for the program, farmers with gross annual sales of less than $250,000 must submit a written application to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries for certification and include the nature of work and how it will provide the intern with vocational knowledge and skills.

SSB 6349
Synopsis as Enacted

Brief Description: Establishing a farm internship program.

Sponsors: Senate Committee on Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection (originally
sponsored by Senators Ranker, Holmquist, Haugen, Hobbs, Becker, Shin and Roach).

Senate Committee on Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection
House Committee on Commerce & Labor
House Committee on Health & Human Services Appropriations

Background: Generally, an individual who acts directly or indirectly in the interest of a forprofit
business is considered an employee of that business, and a business that permits an
individual to work is considered an employer, subjecting both the employee and employer to
a number of state employment laws, including the Minimum Wage Act, the Industrial
Insurance Act, the Employment Security Act, and the Industrial Welfare Act. Many of the
different employment acts contain exemptions for specific groups of employees and
employers. Referring to an individual as an intern or volunteer, or allowing an individual to
provide services without compensation, does not exempt the employer or the employee from
provisions of the respective acts.

Minimum Wage Act (MWA). The MWA establishes a minimum wage which must be paid
to all employees in the state. Under the MWA, an employee is any individual employed by
an employer except those specifically excluded in statute. Consequently, any individual who
is engaged or permitted to work by an employer is entitled to the state minimum wage. A
number of individuals are exempt from the MWA, including certain agricultural employees
and volunteers for educational, charitable, religious, governmental, and nonprofit

Industrial Insurance Act. Industrial insurance provides medical and time loss benefits to
workers injured in the course of their employment. Industrial insurance coverage is
mandatory, and employers that maintain coverage generally cannot be sued for damages
when an employee suffers a work-related injury. All employers (except for self-insured
employers) must purchase industrial insurance through the Department of Labor and
Industries (L&I), and the workers compensation system is funded by premiums collected
from employers and employees. Premiums are calculated based on the industry risk
classification and the employer's experience rating. Exemptions to mandatory coverage are
specified in statute.

Employment Security Act. Under the Employment Security Act, qualified individuals who
have lost their job through no fault of their own, or for good cause, can collect
unemployment insurance benefits. Benefits are funded by contributions collected from all
employers in the state. Exemptions to unemployment insurance coverage are specified in
statute, and include an exemption for agricultural labor performed by students.

Industrial Welfare Act (IWA). The IWA regulates hours and conditions of labor and other
wage issues not specifically covered by the MWA. The IWA applies to all employers and
employees in the state unless specifically exempt. Agricultural workers exempt from
unemployment insurance are also exempt from the IWA.

Summary: Farm Internships. L&I must establish a farm internship pilot project for San
Juan and Skagit counties and report back to the Legislature by December 31, 2011. Pursuant
to the pilot project, small farms can employ up to three farm interns per year under special
certificates. A farm intern is an individual who provides services to a small farm under a
written agreement and primarily as a means of learning about farming practices and farm
enterprises. Farms seeking to employ interns must submit an application to L&I that sets
forth specific information including a description of the work to be performed, any wages to
be paid, and a description of the farm internship program.

A farm internship program is an educational program that provides a curriculum of learning
modules and supervised participation in farm work activities designed to teach interns about
farming practices and enterprises and is based on the bona fide curriculum of an educational
or vocational institution. Farms eligible to offer farm internship programs must meet
specified eligibility criteria.

Prior to the start of any farm internship program, the farm and the intern must execute a
written agreement that describes the program offered by the farm; explicitly states that the
intern is not entitled to minimum wages; describes the expectations and obligations of the
intern and the farm; and describes any wages, room and board, stipends, and other
remuneration that will be provided to the intern. A copy of this written agreement must be
submitted to L&I prior to the start of any intern program. The farm must also submit a
statement that the farm understands the requirements of the IWA, that the farm must pay
workers' compensation as applicable, and that noncompliance may result in revocation of the
special certificate.

Upon receipt of an application, L&I must review the application within 15 days and issue a
certificate if it determines the farm is an eligible farm without any serious violations of the
MWA or Industrial Insurance Act, that the internship program is reasonably designed to
provide the intern with vocational knowledge and skills about farming practices, that the
issuance of a certificate will not create unfair competitive labor cost advantages nor have the
effect of impairing or depressing wage or working standards established for experienced farm
workers, and that a farm intern will not displace an experienced farm worker. A farm may
appeal the denial of a certificate.

Farm intern certificates must specify the name the farm, the nature of the program, the
authorized wage rate and the period of time during which the rate may be paid, theauthorized number of interns, and any room and board and other remuneration provided to
the intern.

Minimum Wage Act. A farm intern providing his or her services under a farm internship
program is not considered an employee under the MWA. A farm intern can be paid at
subminimum wages only during the effective period of a certificate issued by L&I.

Industrial Insurance. L&I must provide a special risk class or classes for farm interns by
rule. Requirements for obtaining a special risk class must be included in the rule.

Unemployment Compensation. Agricultural labor provided by a farm intern under an
internship program is not considered employment for unemployment insurance purposes.
For farm interns, agricultural labor includes direct local sales of any agricultural or
horticultural commodity after its delivery to a terminal market for distribution or

Any funds provided for the program must be appropriated from the state General Fund.

Votes on Final Passage:
Senate 46 0
House 95 2 (House amended)
House 96 2 (House reconsidered)
Senate 44 0 (Senate concurred)

Effective: 90 days.

The above analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative
members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it
constitute a statement of legislative intent.

John Evans
Greg Hertel
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Teresa Smith
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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