Lowry signs legislation to improve farm worker housing; help fruit orchardists

YAKIMA -- Legislation aimed at helping cider producers better compete in the marketplace and taking steps to improve farm worker housing were among the bills signed into law today by Gov. Mike Lowry.

During a ceremony at the Washington's Fruit Place Visitor's Center in Yakima, the governor took action on a package of legislation that he said will help farm workers and growers alike.

"These new laws will help provide a more level playing field for cider producers who have struggled with inequitably high tax rates and for fruit processors who ship their products out of state," Lowry said. "Perhaps more importantly, this legislation will help improve living conditions for people who work such long, exhausting hours."

The farm worker housing legislation signed today establishes an exemption from the sales and use tax for labor and services rendered in constructing, repairing or improving new or existing buildings or other structures used for housing by agricultural workers. House Bill 2778 which applies to both seasonal and year-round housing provides financial incentives for the provision of healthy and safe farm worker housing and also will likely increase the availability of adequate housing.

Senate Bill 6279 will help correct a tax discrepancy that has made it more difficult for producers of fermented apple and pear ciders to market their products. Under previous law, hard cider producers were taxed at the rate paid by wine producers, even though cider is more analogous to beer and more often competes with beer as an alternative beverage.

The new law creates an additional classification of alcoholic beverage and establishes a new tax rate for cider that is comparable to the tax rate for beer. Under SB 6279, the total tax on cider is reduced from 22.92 cents per liter to 6.11 cents per liter until July 1, 1997, and 8.14 cents per liter thereafter.

House Bill 2119 will create a more equitable tax policy for fruit and vegetable processors by changing the law that provided a competitive tax advantage to those who hired someone else to transport their products out of state. The new law establishes the same Business & Occupation tax rate for processors who sell their products out of state, regardless of how the product is transported.

Finally, the governor today signed House Bill 2459, which will exempt straddle trailers that carry fruit bins between fields, storage and processing areas from certain weight restrictions. Often, trailers carrying very dense fruit exceed current per-tire load limits. However, efforts to retrofit straddle trailers to accommodate additional tires is impossible without forcing the vehicles to expand to widths that are prohibited by law.

The new exemption applies to trailers manufactured before January 1, 1996 and requires that trailers manufactured after that date be redesigned to meet the new requirements.

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For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office at 360-753-6790.

Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Farmworker Housing

(SHB 2778)

Substitute House Bill 2778 provides a sales and use tax exemption for the construction, repair, decorating or remodeling of farmworker housing. It covers labor and materials that become a component of a single family or multifamily residence, camp, or dormitory occupied by farm workers. It also covers bathing, food handling, hand washing, laundry and toilet facilities used by farm workers. In order to qualify for this exemption, the following conditions must be met:

Media inquiries should be directed to Mike Gowrylow, communications manager, Washington State Department of Revenue, (360) 753-7624.