Legislative Update for week ending March 19, 2021
MORE INFORMATION ON UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE S.10
We are attaching a graph courtesy of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce as
well as a letter from Associated Industries of Vermont that sets out more data
regarding the proposed 20% increase in Unemployment Insurance benefits in S.10.
If you have employees and are paying UI benefits, please click the links and read the
extra information available. At this point in time (late Thursday afternoon), we are
aware Senator Brock is attempting to amend the bill in the Senate Commerce and
Economic Development Committee; whether S.10 will show up on the Senate
calendar for Friday or be postponed until Tuesday is unclear. The business
community has taken a hard line on this proposal and there has been tremendous
media coverage with their concerns on the effect it would have on employers.
S.67 RIGHT TO REPAIR AGRICULTURAL EQUIPMENT
Several farmers responded to the Vermont Public Interest Research Group’s request
and testified in the Senate Agriculture Committee about their challenges with the
inability to access technical manuals and software to repair their farm equipment.
Brian Carpenter, owner of Champlain Valley Equipment, testified the next day to
committee members that this bill would not have solved their problems and again
defined the challenges to dealers, farmers, manufacturers and repairmen. The same
language was discussed in House Agriculture and did not make crossover; it is
apparent that the Senate bill won’t make it, either. That will leave the bill “on the
wall” with no further opportunity for passage this year. It is still in play for next year.
AG RESIDUALS (COMPOSTING) AND SOIL AMENDMENTS S.102
This bill was voted out of the Senate Agriculture Committee late last Friday and was
sent to Senate Finance, since the Soil Amendments section had fees included. As of
Thursday, it was still there but had seen action in several other committees, including
Jackie Folsom, Legislative Director: 802-426-3579, email@example.com Sergeant-at-Arms 802-828-2228
Senate Natural Resources and Energy and House Agriculture and Forestry.
In the Senate Committee, members were still concerned about removing jurisdiction
for solid waste from the Agency of Natural Resources and giving it to the Agency of
Agriculture, Food & Markets. Senator Bray was concerned that during the rule-
making process when the jurisdiction changed VAAFM would possibly require less
“stringent” rules; the committee also were concerned that plots of land in
downtowns, village centers, new town centers, neighborhood development areas or
growth center designations could be converted into “farmland for composting” and
be exempt from regulation by ANR.
Initially, Senator Bray requested language for a sunset in 5 years. His thought was if
there were problems with enforcement, the new rules for composting could be
repealed. Caroline Gordon from Rural VT was very clear that this could present a
financial challenge for farmers going into these composting businesses as they would
be reluctant to purchase equipment or property with no assurance of continued
business. She also reminded Committee members about the language passed
several years ago requiring all food residuals be composted and stated this bill was a
In the end, there was very little discussion of the second half of the bill regarding soil
amendments and fees. The amendment will state no development of residual
composting in the areas mentioned above; that the rules adopted shall reduce odor,
noise, vectors and other nuisance conditions; and that the rules adopted be equal to
or better than the current rules for composting facilities at ANR. A report shall be
presented by VAAFM in 2022 (and annually) about the farms, the rulemaking, any
complaints and any other information deemed important.
The amendment passed the Committee by a vote of 5-0 and they are waiting for
possession of the bill before posting it on the Notice Calendar.
VTFB did not testify regarding this bill but did agree with Caroline that a sunset
provision for the residuals portion of the language would present difficulties for
farmers in planning for the future.
H.218 EXPANSION OF RAW MILK SALES
The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee passed H.218 on an 8-0 vote and
sent it to the floor for Second Reading this week. There was much discussion and a
focus was on the testing requirements as well as shelf life. Representative Heather
Surprenant, sponsor and presenter of the bill, testified that raw milk has a sell-by
date of four days from milking to selling and farmers must discard anything after
that time, but that consumers probably had two weeks of shelf-life at home in the
refrigerator. There was a scattering of “no” votes but the bill passed to Third
However, Representative Carl Rosenquist noted that he would be presenting an
amendment during Third Reading having to do with testing of pathogens.
Chair Carolyn Partridge from the House Committee called a meeting of the members
of her committee to discuss the amendment. The discussion began at 11:00 and
continued through lunch and until five minutes before members were called to the
floor at 1:15. E.B. Flory, Dairy Section Chief from VAAFM, Dr. Kristin Haas, State
Veterinarian from VAAFM, Representative Rosenquist and a member from Rural
Vermont all testified about concerns with the amendment and answered questions
from the Committee.
There was much pushback from several Committee members as well as Rural VT
about the need for further testing, the cost to the farmer, the availability of lab
services and the turnaround date on the testing. Many members were surprised to
learn that raw milk producers are not tested for antibiotics. Rural VT responded that
to their knowledge all current raw milk producers were either certified organic or
used organic processes and didn’t need to be tested because they didn’t use
antibiotics. Ms. Flory noted that at least twice a year there were positive tests for
antibiotics in organic loads of milk. It was also learned that Grade A dairies are
charged for testing milk for a variety of things, including somatic cell count as well as
antibiotics. Currently the State Lab in Randolph does not offer testing for the
pathogens noted in the amendment but Ms. Flory was trying to get that changed.
Just prior to going to the floor, the Committee decided to postpone discussion of
H.218 for Third Reading on Thursday and will meet again at 8:00 am on Friday
morning with Steve Collier, Attorney for VAAFM, Rep. Rosenquist, Rep. John
Bartholomew and a representative from Rural Vermont to see if any compromise
could be reached on the testing proposal. Chair Partridge noted that she would be
willing to postpone a second time (until next Tuesday) if no agreement was available.
Several committee members said they felt no sense of urgency to get this done and
they wanted it done right; if it didn’t make crossover and there was more time for
discussion, then it shouldn’t be a challenge. Rural Vermont threatened to pull
support for the bill if the amendment was added.
If and when this bill makes it to the Floor and is passed, it will head to Senate
Agriculture for more discussion.
VERMONT TECHNICAL COLLEGE AND THE NORWICH FARM
Patricia Moulton, President of Vermont Technical College, testified in Senate
Agriculture Thursday about the challenges presented by the gift of the Norwich Farm
in southern Vermont to the College. The Farm currently has no milking cows, the
property is for sale, and the College is paying $70,000 a year to maintain the
building for a farmer who is producing cheese on equipment owned by the College
and may have stopped paying his $500 monthly rent. The farm itself – including the
tie stall barn, the creamery and several outbuildings – has been put up for sale but
only sits on 8 or 9 acres. There is currently no agreement with the original donor
that it be used only for agriculture. President Moulton reminded the Committee
members of the financial challenges with all the state colleges and noted the VTC
Advisory Committee which has been working to resolve some of their issues. Mary
White, 1st Vice President of Vermont Farm Bureau, is a member of that Advisory
Committee. There are currently only 26 students in all 4 grades enrolled in the
agriculture curriculum and they would like to bring the cheese-making equipment to
the Randolph site and start a program there, using milk from their 85 cow herd.
ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP BOARD – H.167
This bill was taken up for discussion in House Natural Resources and Wildlife this
week but there was not much support for it from witnesses. This would propose to
set up a committee to “oversee” the Agency of Natural Resources and could be either
advisory or regulatory in focus, depending on language. It didn’t make crossover but
testimony could continue. There is no provision for any farmer on this board, even
though it would watch over ANR. However, Rep. Harvey Smith, R/New Haven, wrote
to say that former DEC Commissioner David Mears testified against the language and
it didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
AGRICULTURE INNOVATION BOARD – H.434
This bill was discussed briefly in Senate Agriculture; it proposes to replace the
current VT Pesticide Advisory Council of 5 members with an expanded board of 15
and change the focus to include policy advice to the Legislature. Our major concern
with this board is two-fold: there is no designated forestry seat and although there
is a seat for a “person engaged in organic farming” there is no such seat available to
“a person engaged in conventional farming”. There is a seat for “a person
representing the dairy industry” but our concern is both seats could be filled by
organic farmers OR the dairy industry representative could easily be a lobbyist, a
staff member of a cooperative or something else. We are going to see if we can get
this more specific in the Senate Committee.
The rest of this week and all of next week will be Floor activity, which you can still
view by going to either the House or Senate webpages (google Vermont General
Assembly and follow streaming links). They will be debating the money bills next
week – always an interesting discussion. And of course, we are all waiting to hear
when the COVID second round of money will drop (half of $1.29 billion this year) and
how the Legislature proposes to spend it. Whether they will extend this session
through the summer or come back later in the year is open to conjecture.
From your team: Joe, Bridget, Gerry and Michael