COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD – REBECCA WHITE
A bill to protect agriculture tourism businesses from liability in case of injury was approved by the Senate in a 42-6 vote.
Senate Bill 5808, sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, would require landowners to post warning signs to be eligible for the limited liability privileges. The bill was first brought before the Senate on Monday, but members expressed their concerns with landowners having too much protection from liability at the expense of the tourists.
Warnick, who said she had previously criticized attorneys in the legislature, said she greatly appreciated their help clarifying and drafting an amendment to the bill. Warnick said she met with Sen. Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle before crafting the amendment, which adds specific definitions and clarifications to the bill and garnered the bill bipartisan support.
“I think it’ll give people who have a small operation more certainty, more security when they invite people onto their land,” Warnick said. “Because farming and ranching is inherently dangerous at times. Sometimes a cow gets out, sometimes there is a ditch there that you don’t see, so just trying to protect those folks that want to invite people out to find out where their food comes.”
Senate Minority Floor leader Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood voted against the bill. He said the bill introduces special treatment for agritourism that other businesses selling experiences that can be dangerous do not have.
“We have to treat all businesses with fairness,” Liias said. “There are a lot of experiences that are more dangerous than sitting on your couch.”
Erin Leland, nursery manager for Dusty Nursery and Company in Ellensburg, said liability was a concern for the farm during events. She said they had not had a serious accident before and do post “uneven ground” signs, but there is only so much they can to warn and protect visitors.
“We do all we can to make it as safe as possible, but it is uneven ground,” Leland said. “There is only so much you can do when you’re out in nature.”
The bill was voted out of the Senate a day before the cut off for legislation to be passed out of its first chamber. It will now proceed to the house for further consideration.