FOR THE WEEK ENDING FEBRUARY 15, 2019
Folks – I do apologize for the lateness of this report, but committees are beginning to meet on Fridays and – since they are focusing on the Act 250 re-write – I feel it is important to attend those meetings. Unfortunately, that makes it too late for me to get a report to the office for emailing and mailing. Add to that President’s Day, which means no mail, and some of you will get this very late in the week.
The Legislature adjourns for Town Meeting Week, so there will be two more UTGDs before the break; and I’m anticipating this report will go out on the Monday of those weeks. I do apologize for those of you who depend on the US mail for the UTGD, but the change in scheduling at the Statehouse doesn’t give me much choice! We’ll try to figure this out during the second half! Thanks for understanding . . .
UPCOMING EVENTS OF INTEREST
Orleans County Farm Bureau Annual Legislative Pancake Breakfast will take place on Monday, March 4, at 10:00 am at the Irasburg Town Hall. Please contact Scott Birch at
for more information.
Vermont Farm Bureau is a sponsor of the Dairy Reception in honor of the 2+2 Program at VTC and UVM on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, from 4:00 – 6:00 pm in the Cedar Creek Room at the Statehouse. Please join us as the next class is introduced!
VERMONT CITIZENS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Members of this group visited with several committees in the building last week to promote their take on clean water issues. They would enforce polluter pays laws and request regulatory agencies be fully staffed. They also support a per-parcel-fee as the most equitable way to pay for clean water. For more information, please check out their website at
REQUESTS FOR FUNDING
The House Agriculture Committee heard from several different organizations requesting funds for their programs. These included a one-time $500,000 request to move Salvation Farms and their gleaning program out of Williston and into Rutland, as well as $250,000 for operating funds; Farm2Plate asked for $100,000 to replace grants which will not be renewed; ProDairy (a progressive dairy program based in Cornell) requested support in the amount of $1.3 million over 4 years to move the program into Vermont; and a group of dairy farmers representing several of the watershed coalitions stopped by to ask for $625,000 for a planning proposal for 2019 and $3.5 million in 2020 for instrumentation of one farm for testing and setting up a baseline for ecosystem services payments in Vermont.
It was also noted the 2+2 program will be short $18,000 in 2020 due to the successful growth of the program which resulted in a full complement of students enrolled between VTC and UVM.
House Appropriations can request a wish list from committees in case there is extra money left in the budget after all necessary items are covered fiscally. I wasn’t able to find out what requests House Agriculture asked to be fulfilled, but my guess would be they supported the 2+2 program as well as Farm2Plate.
Testimony has been ongoing in several committees on this issue, with no end in sight. The biggest challenges appear to be the differences between the Federal and State definitions of the term “wetland” and which regulations should be followed; oversight of the funding for projects is also being questioned, as farmers are being put in the middle.
This is another topic that seems to find no solution. Jeff Carter, UVM Extension, and Laura DiPietro, Agency of Agriculture, visited with House Agriculture late Thursday and basically presented an over-view to the new members. Some of the preliminary data from the 10 tile drainage sites being tested indicate more phosphorous flowing out of hayfields than cornfields with no clear reason why. Stone Environmental is also doing water testing from tile drainage sites, and the Agency has initiated a Nutrient Management Advisory Council to begin looking at all the data and determining how to advise farmers. At this point, the Agency will NOT look at revisiting recent tile drainage rules.
H.158 CARE OF DOMESTIC PETS
House Ag heard from Rep. Tommy Walz and a member of the Humane Society on this bill dealing with the responsibility of feral cats on property. This meant with resistance in the committee, as mention of “dumping cats on farms” and the definition of “humane euthanization” were targeted by members. I’ll keep you posted.
PAID FAMILY LEAVE H.107
This bill is on its way to House Ways and Means; the program will be funded by a new .93% payroll tax split between the employee and employer. There is NO threshold for a business – one employee means you will pay into the program. There is also no exemption for agriculture in the current language. Please contact your representative if you’d like to weigh in on this bill. (Sargent at Arms – 802-828-2228)
MINIMUM WAGE S.23
This bill is heading to Senate Appropriations and will raise the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by 2024; there is also no exemption for agriculture in THIS bill!
ACT 250 DISCUSSIONS
The Administration introduced its own version of Act 250 changes – H.197 – and the House Natural Resources Committee has asked their legislative counsel to begin developing a side-by-side comparison of the forest fragmentation language. The working draft committee bill used most of the language from last year’s H.233, which was not voted through last year. There are significant differences between the two offerings and it is doubtful this will make cross-over in two weeks, as any final language from House Natural Resources has to visit at least 3 if not 5 other committees before heading to the floor. The Committee will be working on this all next week, beginning Tuesday afternoon and through late Friday.
The committee did reach agreement NOT to lower the elevation of 2500’ to 2000’ to require an Act 250 permit. There was concern about effecting forestry (and possibly agriculture) and also increasing the amount of acreage requiring an Act 250 permit by 513,000! ANR testified last week this would be a challenge for staff.
THE GOVERNOR’S WATER QUALITY FUNDING PROPOSAL
Governor Scott’s inaugural address included his ideas on finding dollars to pay for water clean-up and it received support from the Environmental Protection Agency last week:
$8 million from the estate tax
$2 million from the bottle redemption change made in 2018
$4 million from the property transfer tax
Some legislators don’t believe it is enough and the discussion will continue this week. A per parcel fee as well as impervious surfaces fees have continued to lead the way for funding. Farm Bureau has mentioned to several legislators that any impervious surfaces fees should have a credit mechanism for agriculture, since RAPs improvements may require significant amounts of concrete being laid. Farmers should not be required to put down impervious surfaces or face fines and then turn around and be taxed for something they were required to do.
NEONICOTINOID PESTICIDES H.205
Quite a list of witnesses will be heard on Wednesday in the House Agriculture Committee Room as the question of regulating neonicotinoid pesticides is re-introduced. Please check out the proposed language for H.205 on the legislative website and let me know your thoughts!
AGENCY OF AGRICULTURE BUDGET OVERVIEW
Diane Bothfeld visited with House Ag this week and walked members through the budget, which is “level funded” but requiring a 6.7% increase due to raises and benefits. It was noted all special requests (fairs, 2+2, Farm2School, Farm2Plate and Working Lands among others) remained at FY19 levels.
BILLS IN THE SYSTEM
H.235 This bill proposes to repeal the sunset of the authority to conduct on-farm slaughter.
H.232 This bill would protect agricultural activities from nuisance lawsuits.
H.195 This bill requires restaurants to serve only children’s meals that meet certain nutritional standards and limits milk to nonfat or one% OR A nondairy milk alternative containing no more than 130 calories per container
H.254 This bill would require adequate shelter and ventilation for livestock, as well as exercise for confined animals
H.233 This bill would make labeling “cell cultured food” as meat illegal.
H.171 This is a funding bill for water quality focusing on impervious surfaces, but also contains a line for charging milk haulers a “fee” that would then go into the general fund (not for water quality).
H.81 This would disallow liquids from anything other than mammals be termed “milk”.
As always, if you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns, please contact me or Joe – and make sure if there are opportunities in your county to visit with your legislators, DO SO! Your voices are important!!
From the team – Joe, Lyn, Humon and Jackie