May 7, 2019, Olympia, WA: Today Governor Jay Inslee signed into law a bill which grants liability protection to beekeepers. House Bill 1133 passed the House by a vote of 96-0 and passed the Senate by a vote of 47-1.
The new law grants protection from civil liability to beekeepers who register with the state Department of Agriculture as beekeepers and who abide by all city, town, or county ordinances regarding beekeeping. These rules usually relate to the placement of hives or how many hives can be hosted per square foot or per acre. A beekeeper would not be protected if it is determined that the beekeeper acted with gross negligence or willful misconduct.
The idea for the bill came from a Puget Sound beekeeper who suggested beekeepers should have some liability protection under law. The Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA) legislative team researched the topic and found Virginia and West Virginia have laws limiting beekeeper liability, but their laws require observing a large list of rules written by their state departments of agriculture. “We felt Washington beekeeping is so diverse, from folks who have one hive in their backyard to those who operate commercially with thousands, that no single set of rules could properly regulate all the beekeepers” said Tim Hiatt, WASBA legislative chair. “So we pushed for and achieved a law that says beekeeping, on the face of it, is protected from liability, under certain reasonable circumstances.”
Beekeeping is protected in agricultural areas under the state’s right-to-farm law (RCW 7.48.305) only as far as such activities are “reasonable” and not a “nuisance” or to cause “substantial adverse effect” on the public. The standard for beekeepers under the new law is that their beekeeping may not constitute “gross negligence or willful misconduct.” The new law will appear in RCW 15.60.
“This success represents two years of grassroots efforts from the beekeepers of Washington state,” said Hiatt. “They are to be congratulated for their advocacy on behalf of bees and beekeepers. And they can now rest assured from the threat of lawsuits.” The law, as signed by the Governor, can be found at http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2019-20/Pdf/Bills/House%20Passed%20Legislature/1133.PL.pdf.