On March 4, the Orleans County Farm Bureau Legislative Pancake Breakfast will take place in the Irasburg Town Hall beginning at 10:00 am. Please contact Scott Birch at for more information.
       There will be NO Legislative Breakfast on March 4 in Addison County!! However, on March 11, the Platt Memorial Library in Shoreham will host the 7:00 am breakfast, followed by a 7:30 am program.
       Also, on March 18, the American Legion in Middlebury will be the site of the Governor’s Breakfast, again beginning at 7:00 am. 
       Don’t forget Vermont Farm Bureau Day on March 20 at the Statehouse!
       General testimony on this language indicated most were not in favor of the new reporting requirements in the last part of the bill. The Vermont Beekeepers were meeting to discuss their concerns with the bill and generally support the bill except for the exemption of treated article seed and the need for a certified beekeeper program. Further comments from the VBA as they become available.  More testimony is scheduled for H.205 this week; if you have any comments or would like to weigh in, please let me know.
       Senate Natural Resources continues to discuss S.96, which included language for a per parcel fee which is slated for removal. While it is unusual for appropriations to begin in a non-money committee, Chair Chris Bray felt the discussion needed to happen. S.96 is now beginning to focus more on how to spend funds for water quality.
       In the meantime, Rep. Kari Dolan has proposed her own tax ideas for paying for water quality cleanup. They include a 10 cent per bottle tax on bottled water sold, a 15 cent per bottle tax on each bottle of sugar-sweetened beverage sold, a sales tax of 6 % on the value of barbering or cosmetology services and would also raise individual income rates by .05 %. This bill has not been introduced as yet, but she offered the draft to House Natural Resources last week. 
       The Committee did work its way through language offered by Representative Till through H.171 and decided they would not support the bill but WOULD support writing a letter to send to Ways and Means with their thoughts on the impervious surface parcel fee, the Water Quality Occupancy Surcharge and an assessment per ton of asphalt sold in the State as well as the repeal of the sunset. There was NO support for the milk haulers fee.  Rep. Terenzini went on record that he would not sign any letter regarding this bill.
       The Committee also wanted to make clear what the amount of funds for water cleanup would be. According to Treasurer Beth Pearce, $25 million is needed each year, but members were unclear as to whether that included operation and maintenance of programs and decided to request Ways and Means to consider a $30 - $35 million need for water quality going forward. Representatives stressed they would rather pay for water quality cleanup with RECEIPTS (fees and taxes) rather than DEBTS (bonding) and their letter would request Ways and Means hear testimony on the “real” cost.
       Commissioner Louis Porter visited with House Natural Resources to discuss a discrepancy the F&W Department has with figures represented by Joint Fiscal, which helps set budgets. Currently, there is a shortfall in the F&W budget based significantly on the loss of revenue from hunting and fishing licenses. The Administration has suggested closing the Salisbury Fish Hatchery and end research at UVM. JFO has determined adding over $5 to some licenses will help close the gap, but Commissioner Porter contends there are some encumbered funds counted as operational monies and requested assistance from HNR to find a solution.
       The wetlands issue has reached no conclusion and seems to be hung up on two different focuses; the House Agriculture Committee would like to see language that would bring definitions of wetlands for the State closer to the definition used by USDA and NRCS for projects and funding. The Senate Agriculture Committee would like more input from farmers on what is working for them (and heard from several farmers this past week.) 
       There was over three hours of testimony on draft bill 19-0792 regarding wetlands, and Secretary of ANR Julie Moore and Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts both testified on challenges with wetlands as well as tile drainage and surface inlets. 
       Conservation Law Foundation representatives also testified, asking why farming activities get an exemption where wetlands will be disturbed and requesting farmers go “around” wetlands and that language in the draft was too vague and not protective enough of wetlands. 
       Kate McCarthy from Vermont Natural Resources Council testified about changing the wording from “may” to “shall” in the capability and development plan usage and spoke to local and regional plans (criteria 10). Alex Weinhagan from the Vermont Planners Association asked to delay climate change and greenhouse gas emissions from criteria 1. They also want the elevation threshold of 2500’ before a permit is required to be lowered to 2000’ to protect forest blocks and connectivity. They do not support removing the exemption from agriculture and forestry for critical resource areas; they DO support moving all enforcement for any Act 250 activities from the Agency of Agriculture to the Agency of Natural Resources. 
       The Committee spent Friday afternoon working their way through the definitions included in the draft. There was quite a bit of discussion regarding the use of the words “not paved” in the definition for recreational trail; members also wondered how much agricultural or forestry activity was taking place between the 2000’ and 2500’ elevations and keyed in specifically on sugaring. They were going to try and find out from the Agency of Agriculture if there were any records on this. IF YOU SUGAR OR FARM BETWEEN 2000’ AND 2500’, PLEASE LET ME KNOW ASAP!
       Critical Resource Areas definition was also looked at carefully, especially because wetlands are mentioned. Members were reminded that Class 1 wetlands were mapped, but Class 2 wetlands were not and this is the continuing issue for agriculture. Members Morgan, Dolan and McCullough were in favor of keeping wetlands in the CRA definition with the expectation of more discussion when the committee reaches the Jurisdictional portion of the bill.
       Tom Gilbert from Strafford and others were in attendance in Room 11 for a hearing by Senate Agriculture on poultry and composting. They would like the definition of farming to include the “feeding and housing of poultry on compost”. According to Mr. Gilbert, composters with poultry are currently exempt from the FISMA laws, and yet the Agency of Agriculture wants the Solid Waste Districts to regulate them because they are dealing with food scraps. Excellent questions were offered by Committee members, including what other components were in the compost, where did he find his food scraps, and was this process viable and profitable. Unfortunately, I had to leave for another committee before the hearing ended, but to date I haven’t seen any language introduced to support this request.

A committee bill developed by Senate Agriculture was distributed during the poultry/composting discussion on Thursday. It proposes an analysis of the feasibility of developing a milk processing plant in the State; a report recommending financial incentives for water quality; a credit card to benefit water quality; record keeping for commercial slaughterhouses and development of an animal welfare certification program; establishment of an accident prevention and safety training program for loggers and provide grants for a master logger certification program. This bill will be up for discussion next week.
S.23, Minimum Wage passed the Second Reading in the Senate and is slated for Third Reading on Tuesday. More amendments could happen at that point, or it could be voted out and sent to the House.
H.387 holds language that failure to maintain one or more posted signs shall NOT prevent enforcement if someone is hunting or fishing on your property without permission.
H.343 would add an excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages.
H.328 supports Salvation Farms in their quest for funding; last week, that organization requested $500,000 to move from Williston to Rutland and $250,000 for continued staff report for work force development. (There is no funding listed in this bill).
S.122 would make nutrient management plans confidential.
H.274 is an on-farm slaughter bill allowing farmers who raise the animal to slaughter it and requests the Agency of Agriculture to develop Best Management Practices based on the scale and/or the size of the operation.
H.254 focuses on adequate shelter for livestock and is similar language to what former Rep. Ainsworth introduced last year.

There are almost 530 bills introduced so far this session and we’ve heard over 800 will be in by the time the session is over. It doesn’t appear much is moving to crossover beyond the Minimum Wage and the Paid Family Leave bills. This week is the last week before Town Meeting, when the Statehouse closes and the members visit with their voters at home. Please take every chance to interact with your representatives and senators when you see them!  

       From the Team – Joe, Lyn, Humon and Jackie