Reps. Bruce Chandler and Tom Dent: Vaccine mandates are the wrong answer for ag volunteers
As the Republican leaders of the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee (RDAN) we are directly involved in addressing legislation related to agricultural production and lands, water rights and storage, forest practices, wildfires and much more. When the pandemic hit, the scope of RDAN issues changed as COVID-19 brought new challenges – temporary worker housing and bunk bed regulations, a labor shortage and even the shutting down of recreational fishing and hunting at the onset of the pandemic.
The governor's latest directives – mandating vaccines – have created additional concerns among our ag committee and programs they support. The governor's mandates have generated thousands of emails to our offices from health care workers, educators and many others who are connected to our state government and fall under the governor's recent edict. Among those thousands of emails are many volunteers who have discovered they are also subject to the governor's orders if their volunteer work is in any way connected to state government – that includes programs such as 4-H. Yes, that 4-H. The youth development organization that empowers about six million young people across the country.
The Central Washington State Fair in Yakima is rapidly approaching. As you walk through the exhibits and buildings take notice of the presence of programs such as 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) and the young people engaged and taking pride in their work and efforts.
Unfortunately, the governor's mandates are putting volunteers in a tough situation. Volunteers in the 4-H program were informed by the Washington State University Extension, who oversee the program, that they must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 to continue their volunteer activities.
The 4-H program has been around for more than one hundred years. As two legislators who have been around agriculture our entire lives – not quite as long as the 4-H program – we have seen firsthand the importance of 4-H in our legislative districts and the entire state. The program has become far more in-depth than just agriculture, offering a variety of STEM opportunities – from agricultural and animal sciences to rocketry, robotics, environmental protection, and computer science – just to name a few.
Volunteers are essential to 4-H. Without their time and efforts, the program may not be able to support all the students who want to participate. Now more than ever we need programs like 4-H. The last 17 months have already taken a toll on the mental health of our young people.
We believe the governor's mandates have produced some unintended consequences and moving forward there will probably be more volunteers in similar situations. Volunteers should be able to continue safety protocols like we have done in the past.
No one wants to take this opportunity away from the students and the volunteers are participating and assisting these young people because they want too. Let's make that happen. Let lawmakers and ag leaders be involved in reaching a compromise and solution.
Requiring a vaccine and essentially shutting down an engaging and educational opportunity for our young people is counterproductive and the wrong action to take right now.
Rep. Bruce Chandler represents the 15th Legislative District and is the ranking Republican on the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee. Rep. Tom Dent represents the 13th Legislative District and is the assistant ranking Republican on the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee.