The journey to a Washington Working Forest specialty license plate took its first important steps in the recently completed 2020 State Legislature. The process to go from idea to an actual, official state license plate is a long and complicated one. The culminating event is the passage of a bill in the Legislature.
Last year, that attempt was HB 2166, sponsored by Reps. Ed. Orcutt (R-Kalama), John Lovick (D-Mill Creek), Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles), Andrew Barkis (R-Yelm), Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), and Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda). This bill made it all the way to the Senate floor before running out of time on a crowded floor calendar.
The idea to create a specialty plate that recognizes the importance of Washington’s working forests and provides funding to the Washington Tree Farm Program was hatched in 2018. State law provides a roadmap to the creation of a specialty plate. A legislative proposal is best served by being accompanied by the signature of 3,500 Washington motorists expressing an interest in purchasing the plate.
The Working Forest plate went into the session with around 2,500 signatures. Although the Legislature can, and does, allow plates without the full signature list collected, proposals are best served when they are able to show the complete complement.
There’s great competition for new license plates. The 2020 Legislature considered six serious proposals for new specialty license plates. Only two passed: one celebrating Washington potatoes and one for the yet-to-be-named Seattle professional hockey team. The others are left continuing to collect signatures and pursuing passage in the 2021 Legislature that will convene in January.
Although the effort fell short this year, there are reasons to be optimistic about moving forward. The House Transportation Committee Chair, Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), passed the bill from his committee with a unanimous vote. It was the passed off of the House floor with an impressive 95-3 vote, accompanied by floor speeches praising the value of working forests.
Rep. Orcutt said on the House floor: “This is an industry that’s been very prevalent in our state for many, many years, but what a lot of people don’t really know is the first commercial tree farm and the Tree Farm Program was actually started right here in the state of Washington. We’re coming up on eighty years of the Tree Farm Program and the benefit of this plate will go to encourage people to keep forest lands in forest land, rather than converting to other uses. We think that’s the best use of those lands. We think it’s in the best interest of not only the landowners but the state to keep as many of those working forest lands to continue to work as forest lands and providing fish and wildlife habitat, cleaning the air, and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.”
Rep. Fey followed with a floor speech of his own, saying: “Having grown up in the Olympic Peninsula and having virtually all of my family members work associated with the timber industry, I can appreciate the value of making sure that we protect whatever we can and continue to grow this industry.”
This proposal will return the next legislative session and hopefully, it can take that final step into state law and onto the state highways. It will again be a crowded field and competition with other proposed plates will be stiff. In the meantime, it’s critical to get as many signatures on the petition as possible. To add your name to the petition form, click here. The more names collected, the greater the chance that working forests message can appear on the roads, and the Washington Tree Farm program can receive these needed funds.