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Legislative Update Week Ending February 05, 2021

This publication is for the benefit and education of Vermont Farm Bureau members. Please do not forward or copy this for any purpose other than to promote the farm bureau. Thank you.  
Week Ending February 05, 2021
Click for More on House Bills Click for More on Senate Bills

Bills of Interest
IntroducedS.44   An act relating to a Vermont Green New Deal – Five million dollars for weatherization, renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, and the electric vehicle project funded through an income tax increase of 1.6% for those earning between $200,00 and $500,00 and .15% for those earning more than $500,00. 
S.61 An act relating to the definition of agricultural land for the purposes of use value appraisals – The bill would allow a solar array on 1/10 acre or less on land enrolled in Current Use. 
H.120 An act relating to updates to Act 250 – The 45-page bill is similar to last year’s proposal with numerous and complex provisions including, but not limited to, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, ecosystem protection, purpose, permitting powers, exemptions, and authority. 
H.167 An act relating to establishment of the Environmental Stewardship Board – Creates oversite of ANR, to provide input on pollution and solid waste reduction and advise ANR on laws and regulations. The Governor would appoint board members and provide a budget. Membership includes those Fish & Wildlife, VHCB, and other groups concerned with climate, water protection, toxic and pollution reduction. Agriculture was not provided a specified seat on the proposed board. 
H.172 An act relating to trapping and hunting – Dogs would not be allowed to hunt for black bears. Only a licensed nuisance wildlife control officer would be permitted to trap an animal. 
H.186 An act relating to the sale of shell eggs – VAAFM would develop a voluntary label for eggs sold in Vermont produced by domesticated egg-producing chickens in compliance with Vermont’s animal cruelty laws.

Senate Resolution on Executive Order Concerning the NRB  
The Senate passed a resolution, 22-8, disapproving the Governor’s Executive Order 02-21 that reorganizes the Natural Resources Board and the Act 250 district commissions. The Senate voted despite concern voiced in the Senate Democratic Caucus about the possibility that a court case may find in favor of the Administration. The administration believes that both House and Senate are required to vote against an executive order to “kill” it. The Legislature believes only one chamber is required to disapprove.

House Ag Hears Comments on Shelter Bill 
Farmers and advocates offered language to the Committee update the Adequate Shelter bill passed last year. There was some misunderstanding between the intent of the bill and the perception of witnesses. Participants expressed the view that the law impinges upon the rights of farmers who graze livestock by requiring them to offer a building as shelter in each paddock or pasture. Despite assurances from Chair Partridge, farmers visiting with members (beef, diversified farm, and sheep) demanded changes to the law.  Some testifying expressed the belief that there should be no exemption for dairy animals, even though the National FARM program was brought up by the Chair. Several farmers noted they were part of the Animal Welfare Approved certification program but were not going to continue in it, since they did not like the regulations related to buying young stock. Concern was expressed that farmers were getting “turned in” anonymously to law enforcement on complaints from neighbors and folks driving by fields who felt the animals were being abused or neglected. It was noted there is a great need for education, particularly about animal body conditioning and an animal’s ability to withstand weather better than humans. That led to a great discussion with the Livestock Cares Advisory Council the next day.

Livestock Council Members Weigh-In  
Dr. Kristin Haas and VAAFM Senior Advisor Diane Bothfeld met with a joint House and Senate Ag Committee hearing. The Council is developing a pamphlet on animal well-being concerns to be used by Animal Control Officers for handling complaints from non-farm citizens. This pamphlet would focus on body conditioning, used by Humane Society staff, and ACOs. Senator Pollina questioned Dr. Haas and the dairy exemption in Adequate Livestock Shelter language. Dr. Kent Henderson provided excellent background on the required FARM certification on dairies. Diane Bothfeld noted the FARM program (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) has teeth, is enforceable and is required of anyone shipping into the milk market. She said that one farmer in Vermont lost their milk market when they did not adhere to FARM requirements and the farm ultimately went out of business. Senator Starr also questioned the committee on a comment made by a grazing expert during the House hearing, who said farms are losing their Current Use status and getting fines from the Tax Department because they were allowing their animals to pasture in woodlands. (It was unclear whether the land in question was enrolled in the Ag or the Forestry program). Someone from the Tax Department will be in to testify and clarify this situation. .  If you have had any issues with the animal shelter law or complaints concerning animal welfare complaints, please let Jackie know by emailing her at crkdbrks@aol.com.

Senate Ag Continues Dairy Pricing Discussion   
Legislative Counsel Michael O’Grady was back in the Ag Committees to list to comments about what the next steps may be for dairy pricing action. Senator Starr wanted to check with US Senator Leahy’s office on the possibility of working out a Vermont-centric FMMO. Senator Pollina wondered if the farmers were ready to try again to form a union and control their own milk supply. Senator Parent wanted to investigate further why farmers were complaining about lack of technical assistance for risk management and bookkeeping. Senator Pearson wanted language as requested from VAAFM about updating RAPs. Former Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee will be asked to comment on the dairy pricing report next week, along with Dan Smith, an attorney with extensive knowledge of milk marketing orders and the Northeast Dairy Compact.

Housekeeping Bill Shows Up as Draft in House Ag   VAAFM offered language seeking various fixes and modification to existing statute. This proposal would: 
*     Repeal the sunset provision for personal and itinerant on-farm slaughter 
*     Clarify the definition of livestock dealer 
*     Amend the eligibility requirements for the Veterinarians Educational Loan Repayment Program
*     Extend the Payment for Ecosystem Services and Soil Health Working Groups for one more year 
*     Change the wording in Certification of Custom Applicators of Manure or Nutrients to Manure or Agricultural Waste
*     Clarify the type of person or business agricultural records that are exempt from public inspection and 
*     Amend the hemp program to align it with evolving federal law. 

Senate Ag Discusses Priorities for Session  
The Senate Ag Committee is awaiting language from VAAFM’s Cary Giguere regarding the registration of soil amendments, which Cary would like added to the composting bill. The Committee did not come to consensus about whether the language should be added or leave it to stand alone. There was also discussion about dealing with recycling agricultural plastics. There is an ask of $20 million for folks running the Universal School Meals Program and another $1for promoting local purchasing.   Mr. O’Grady noted he was researching a Pennsylvania program that gives farmers tax credits for projects they have done to mitigate water issues into Chesapeake Bay. He was asked to get more information (readily available on agriculture.pa.gov called the REAP program and quite interesting) and noted Representative Harvey Smith was working on a bill involving this concept. There was much interest in this proposal since payment for ecosystems services is another priority for the Committee. Senator Parent again noted his concern that farmers needed more risk management and technical assistance programs, and it was suggested some language could be added to the Housekeeping bill when it crosses over.  Senator Pollina noted he has been contacted by several farmers who would like a further discussion on language in the Adequate Livestock Shelter bill passed last year.

H.58 Right to Repair Heard in House Ag  
Nathan Proctor from the National PIRG group visited with members for about an hour and mentioned AFBF at least 3 times as a strong supporter of this language. Jackie spoke with Senator Pearson who plans to introduce a similar version on the Senate side but have not seen it yet. President Tisbert sent to Jackie the AFBF policy and she will testify next week. VTFB supports the language though there is no mention of agriculture. H.58 is ag-specific. There was no support for this by the manufacturing lobby when it was focused on them last biennium. 

H.67 Bears and Agricultural Crops  
Bob and Beth Kennett, Liberty Hill Farm and Jennie Amerikiaee and Rick Shurtliff, Maple Valley Farm and VTFB testified in front of House Ag regarding bear damage to corn. The Kennetts noted bear sightings have increased incredibly in the last 25 years. They lost 10 out of 130 acres of corn last year to bear damage. Beth noted farmers spend a lot of money feeding the wildlife (bears, deer, beaver, coyotes, and turkeys) while losing crops needed for cows. Jennie and Rick shared that in 2018 they had 65% of their corn crop damaged and in 2020 they lost 48%; the replacement cost for last year’s feed was $21,000. They had photos of their corn crop from last year. Bears go inside the fields and lay waste by eating or rolling in the corn and destroying the crop. VTFB supports policies to protect agriculture from predators that cause economic harm, threaten crops and domestic animals. The Committee concluded it will ask Louis Porter, Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife to testify. H.67 requires 50% repayment of lost feed caused by bears. Currently there is a fund within F&W, that covers deer damage. If you have had any damage by bears or deer and have calculated your loss or have photos, please let Jackie know by emailing her at crkdbrks@aol.com.

Hearing on Dairy Pricing Study By DFR 
Beth Kennett and VTFB will be testifying on Friday, February 5, on the language limiting agritourism liability which never made it through the legislative process last year due to the challenges of COVID-19 challenges. Beth and Mary White have been working on this for several years. Last year’s agricultural fairs were in the defining language of agritourism. The Fairs Association is not generally supportive of being included as an agritourism site believing fairs do not fit the definition. 

From your Advocacy Team -Bridget, Gerry, Joe, Michael, and Jackie   

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