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Legislative Update: Week Ending January 29, 2021

Below you’ll find the next issue of Under the Golden Dome provided by Jackie Folsom from Vermont Farm Bureau. This will be a weekly distribution for our VWA members, typically sent out on Monday. Please note that the e-newsletter includes agriculture, forestry, and business updates as our friends at the Farm Bureau serve a very wide audience. If you have any questions for us or Jackie, please send them along. Also be on the lookout for an announcement on a new webinar to help demystify the legislative process and navigate the legislative website. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Best to all in 2021. Kathleen
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 January 29, 2021
Bills of Interest Introduced Due to the legislative webpage being down and inaccessible, Bills of interest will be updated in next week’s Under the Golden Dome.
Clean Water Board Reports Funding Increase  The Clean Water board called an emergency meeting on January 25th to report an extra $1.4 million in revenue in FY21 along with an anticipated excess revenue of $2.1 million for FY22. This is reportedly the result of an increase in the property transfer tax. While some of the money was re-allocated to the Agency of Agriculture for water quality programs for farmers, other funds were directed to technical support for 3-acre stormwater programs. The balance was moved to FY23. The Board meeting was called because the budget required adjusting prior to the Governor’s fiscal speech on Tuesday.  
Commissioner Snyder in Senate Agriculture Leadership from the Department of Forests, Park and Recreation updated members in Senate Ag last week. It was reported that thirty-two individuals and/or companies received CARES Act funding grants totaling $4.1 million in 2020. The average payout was $50,000. The average number of employees per company was seven. It was also noted that a climate forester was hired to work on carbon issues.Commissioner Snyder has requested $1.2 million from the General Fund to cover refunds from camping cancellations last summer after the parks were closed because of COVID. Senator Starr felt the money should have come from federal CARES Act funds, however, state officials believed this was not an approved CARES Act expenditure.
Act 250 Request from VAAFM  The Agency of Ag is expected to release language on January 29th that will alter accessory on-farm businesses under Act 250. This was not position advanced by the administration when it was offered during the Act 250 reorganizational hearing last year. Since then, the Governor has opted to support the concept and sponsors of the proposal are lining up.The preliminary concept is to “exempt accessory on-farm businesses (i.e., farm dinners, educational farm camps, “see it made” activities, hiking, biking, cross country skiing, etc.) where the total area of improvements does not exceed a half- acre in size.” (Note this was sample language and may not be the same when the bill is fully drafted).   On a conference call earlier this week, there was discussion on whether VAAFM should have input in decisions by towns and how issues such as horse trails or cross-country skiing relate to the farming activity. There was concern about whether this half-acre would be eligible for current use if it were currently designated as such. 
Governor’s Budget and Agriculture  The General Assembly welcomed Governor Scott in a virtual session, Tuesday January 26th, as he presented his $6.83 billion 2022 budget proposal. It contains no new taxes or fees, and no cuts to essential services. Retirement obligations are fully funded in the proposed budget. Three and a half million dollars are proposed to be distributed to the Working Lands Enterprise Fund for distribution to farmers, foresters and related industries. The Governor noted “we have to work harder to find solutions to their problems.” Ten million dollars are proposed to be used to promote and support outdoor recreation with an additional $1 million slated to support the promotion of Vermont tourism. A $20 million investment in broadband improvements was highlighted by Governor Scott. Broadband improvement is a priority of Vermont Farm Bureau. The proposed budget also includes $20.1 million to VHCB for housing. Read the full budget address
H.58 Right to Repair for Ag Introduced  Rep. Emily Kornheiser visited with House Ag on Wednesday to walk through H.58, her offering for Right to Repair focused on agriculture. She introduced similar language last year with no mention of agriculture. The measure did not pass and was opposed by several manufacturing groups. She was asked how many other states actually had this legislation and did not have that number at hand. She also stated that “National Farm Bureau has this as a national priority” which is not true; AFBF does support Right to Repair for Agriculture but it is one of several hundred policies in their book and not listed in AFBF’s Strategic Plan as a “must do” nationally.   While AFBF supports “Right to Repair” for agriculture, Vermont Farm Bureau does not have specific policy language in this regard. Therefore, we will rely on AFBF’s policy to guide us in this regard.   Committee members are concerned with proprietary software, copyrights, and possible warranties being voided from repairs being performed outside an authorized service center. If you have any thoughts or experiences with repairing farm equipment and going through dealers, please email Jackie at crkdbrks@aol.com
Working Lands Enterprise Hearing Witnesses spoke at a meeting of House Agriculture, Senate Agriculture, and the House Commerce and Community Development Committee to share the impact of the WLEB funds in Vermont. Several farmers, including Judith Irving (Fat Toad Farm), Ben Nottermann (Snug Valley Farm), and Ken Gagnon (Gagnon Lumber) testified as to the importance of the grants they had received and how many other farms/companies they interact with that have also received WELB dollars. All supported Governor Scott’s proposed $3.5 million increase for WLEB.   
Monthly Dairy Call with Milk Promotion On Sunday, March 21st, the Miller Farm, a 5th generation 3-family partnership run organic dairy farm from Vernon, VT will host a virtual Breakfast on the Farm. With the event being recorded, it will offer the House and Senate Ag Committees an opportunity to view the video during a meeting. Beth Kennett from Liberty Hill Farm will be recording a cooking segment using dairy products. The Vermont Fresh Network is promoting Hot Chocolate Week from February 1 through the 5th. Robert Foster will submit information to the legislature focused on cover crops.
H.89 Agritourism Limited Liability Bill  House Ag held a walk-through of this language with the lead sponsor, Rep. Yanchatka and Law Clerk Kelly McGill (sitting in for Michael O’Grady from Legislative Counsel). Thirty-three states have a law pertaining to limited liability for certain agritourism activities, including Connecticut and Maine.   This is a revisit from language introduced last year, which did not make it out of Judiciary. Some have expressed concern regarding the terms “negligence” and “gross negligence.” This bill adds the definition of agricultural fairs and would include them in the definition of agritourism. The Fairs and Field Days Association is looking at this language and will testify soon.   The Department of Financial Regulation, which has jurisdiction over insurance companies, has reviewed the language. They feel the proposal would provide clarity and would not create issues in the insurance marketplace.  A section of the bill requires the posting of a warning sign and mentions a signed contract for anyone participating in activities. This may be an issue for some sites.  Anyone wishing to testify on H.89 should email Jackie as soon as possible at crkdbrks@aol.com or call her at 802-426-3579. They will be working on this within the next week or two.
Hearing on Dairy Pricing Study By DFR A Dairy Pricing Study by the Department of Financial Review was recently released. As a result, an extensive list of witnesses signed up to speak to House and Senate Ag Committees. The Department did a yeoman’s job in trying to understand dairy pricing, which is commonly held to be a complex system. The report concludes that “none of the options we explored provides a straightforward or easy solution” to the milk pricing dilemma in Vermont. They recommended that “efforts to revise FMMO pricing methodology and the national level dairy growth management strategies backed by the Vermont supply management working group and Dairy Together appear to be worthy of additional analysis but would require action at the federal level.” VTFB’s 1st Vice President and Chair of the VTFB Dairy Committee, Mary White, testified before the committees.  It should be noted that former USDA Secretary Perdue did not support national supply management. It is too soon to determine what incoming USDA Secretary Vilsack’s position will be in this regard. VTFB reiterated our dairy policies: a national (all-in) supply management program, support for modernization of the FMMO system, and concerns with Efficiency Vermont programs to assist dairy farmers with issues on the farm. Senator Starr offered to request Efficiency Vermont representatives come before his committee to explore what is available and possible improvements.  Rep. Henry Pearl asked “what are we trying to do? Is the issue saving Vermont dairy farms or increasing the milk price?” There did not seem to be one specific response to this, but it is a great question since the answers could lead to different solutions. Many farmers spoke about transitions, environmental issues, science-based regulations, and continuing administration challenges in their business. Leon Berthiaume, DFA/St. Albans, noted the majority of investment in processing in Vermont has been made by the dairy co-operatives, meaning farmers. This investment is not always recognized.Time was scheduled for Friday morning in Senate Agriculture for further discussion. There is a possibility of legislative language being introduced as a result of this study. 
Current Use Advisory Board Meets,Sets FY 21 Rates Diane Bothfeld, VAAFM, explained the formula and how the Agricultural land rates were set for the coming year. The board unanimously passed the Current Use rate of $405.00. The Forest Rate was approved at $152.21, with $114.51 for land greater than a mile off the road.  Board Member Harold Howrigan expressed concern about the sustainability of the program since the costs are increasing every year. Legislative issues surrounding CUV includes a comment from Commissioner Snyder that there may be language proposed to remove “forever wild easements” from eligibility in the program, as well as limiting posting of land enrolled. Also noted was a bill concerning the certification of land enrolled (changing from annually to every three years and only online) as well as the language of H.9 which would allow a solar array on enrolled land provided the aggregate total land mass did not exceed .1 acre. The Board heard an update about the digitizing records. When COVID-19 hit, foresters were told to work from home but all the maps and planning paperwork were in the offices. The Department received CARES Act funding that allowed them to digitize 6,000 plans/maps in Franklin, Grand Isle, Orleans, Washington, and Windham counties. They are working on the remaining counties.Statistics shared included: 23% of enrolled parcels are owned by out-of-staters (19,258 total parcels); 1,810 farm buildings are enrolled at a cost of $305,068,797 (lowest payment is $500, highest is $5.518 million); there has been a 25% increase in transfer applications in 2020 and a total of $17.12 million was sent to the towns per the hold harmless provision to make their tax rolls whole from property enrolled in Current Use. A plan to update the Current Use statute, based on changes over the past 20 years, was placed on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic but the previously appointed subcommittee (which includes VTFB’s Bruce Shields) will be reactivated and start meeting to work on a proposal, probably for 2022. 
House Natural Looking at H.15 and H.3 H.15 would discontinue use of chlorpyrifos, glyphosate and atrazine. H.3 would revisit the land application of sludge and septage. These bills were introduced to House Natural Resources and are open for discussion.  Did you miss the Vermont Farm Show this year?Thanks to everyone who continues to support Vermont Farm Bureau. If you would like to talk about any of the items in this report or offer to testify on issues or legislation, please contact Jackie at 802-426-3579 or crkdbrks@aol.com
From your Advocacy Team -Bridget, Gerry, Joe, Michael, and Jackie         
Enjoy the beautiful winter weather! Thanks for supporting Vermont Farm Bureau. 
Vermont Farm Bureau continues to update our Covid-19 Resource page Take a look. Share.https://www.vtfb.org/covid-19.php

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